Saturday, January 3, 2015

Is YOUR relationship healthy?

There is plenty of research out there on what is an ideal, healthy relationship. There is plenty of information available on what is an unhealthy relationship, as well. But, in the real world full of gray areas and ambiguity, what does an actual, happy relationship look like? I know hardly any people who fit neatly into either of those two extremes of "bad" or "good" partnerships.

I hear all kinds of things that seem contradictory:

"Couples who are happy rarely ever fight!"
"It's normal and healthy for couples to fight!"

"Happy couples know each other because they talk all the time!"
"Couples who are happy know what the other is thinking without having to say it!"

"Opposites attract!"
"Happy couples are a lot alike!"

So, I was curious. I got curious enough to make a survey and ask my Facebook friends to tell me what their happy relationships are really, actually like. Most of my sample is therefore white and middle class, but as a fellow white-middle-class-er, I'm mostly interested in my own culture's perceptions of partnership satisfaction (at this point).

I asked participants to self select based on only two criteria: the relationship must have lasted at least 2 years, and they must consider it to be a "healthy" relationship. I asked for at least two years of time together, because I wanted to get only couples who were out of the honeymoon phase. I also hoped to end up with only couples who had lived together for some time, though I didn't ask that.

The questions were thought up by me. Most were based on what I personally think is an indicator for a healthy relationship, though some were thrown in because OTHER people told me they were supposed to be indicators, and I wanted to see if they were right.

 General Feelings About The Relationship:

1 how's it going

 Wow!! 75% of happy couples are thinking about how great their relationship is MULTIPLE times per week. That means their relationship is likely on their mind a lot in general. This makes sense, because you'd expect it to be a priority in their lives if it's doing well.

93% of happy couples only worry about the status of their relationship a couple of times per year, or less. That seems really high to me. But hey, I didn't say you'd get eaten by a dragon if you lied, so there's that.

We can conclude from this that it may be a red flag if you often think that things aren't going well in your relationship.

This may seem obvious, but think about it: if you're in an unhealthy relationship and are thinking to yourself several times per week that things aren't going as well as you'd like... and you ALSO think that this is NORMAL and EVERYONE feels this way, this frequently.... you might not accurately assess your own relationship, and you might fail to work on important things (or you might continue with a relationship that is clearly not working out).


header 2.1 disagreement

Half of happy couples almost never have "bad" fights. The ones who do only have a couple every year... with a few spitfires seeming to marry other spitfires, over in the monthly category ;)

This is a big one. People often say that fighting is normal, and it is. But, just because something is normal... does that make it ok? And what exactly is "fighting" anyways? If most couples are NOT happy, then who cares how often the average couple is fighting? My happy couples seem to be pretty mild mannered.

And what about those disagreements that DON'T go nuclear, but DO get addressed? Well, my survey seems to say that disagreements are certainly frequent enough. But they're not every day, and usually not even every week, for most happy couples.

header 2.2 disagreement

The research says happy couples have five good interactions for every negative one (that seems low to me, but compared to couples headed for divorce who have one bad for every one good... sounds pretty good!).

Getting The Good Stuff:

header 5 affection

How often are happy couples affectionate with each other? ALL THE DAMN TIME.

There's already plenty of polling on sex, so I didn't include it in mine. Happy couples have sex on average 2-3 times per week, and all couples have sex on average of 1-2 times per week. But, those surveys don't ask if it's GOOD sex, so I'm wondering... if these couples REALLY enjoy each other's physical company, they'd be voluntarily doing stuff that is not The Sex, right? Right. So keep touching each other, you naughty monkeys. 


header 6 finances

Conclusion? Happy couples talk about finances regularly.... and they rarely disagree about it. I think this gets filed under basic compatibility. If you don't have the same ideas about finances, your day-to-day life is going to be pretty rough as you try to come to compromises constantly, or if you're under stress because one spouse is bad with money, etc.

But what about raising kids? Arguably the most stressful job of all time?

7 child rearing

Happy couples talk about child-rearing regularly. 79% of them almost never disagree about it, or only fight about it a couple of times per year. That's funny, because 67% of couples say they are less happy together after having kids. (Which is a question I didn't ask- how did having kids affect your relationship?) But that's a poll of ALL couples, not just the ones that identify as happy. So, perhaps raising kids is a lot easier if you've got a strong partner by your side. Makes sense.

(Don't ask me why the options above are out of order, I'm not sure what happened...)

Ok, how about talking about your feelings? Love is a feeling. We are with people because we love them, so I assume people talk about those feelings, or they wouldn't have known the other person loved them and then they wouldn't be together. Right? Right.

header 4 share feelings

73% of happy couples talk about their emotions at least a few times per week. This is one of those things I hear about a lot, from friends in unhealthy relationships. They have NO idea what the other person is thinking and feeling.

One thing I forgot to ask with this question is.... who's sharing? Is just one person opening up, or are BOTH people equally open with their thoughts and feelings? I'm assuming that the next question addressed this, at least in part.


My theory is that you need ALL PEOPLE INVOLVED in a relationship to be equally involved, otherwise it's just one person pulling a bolder uphill, while the other person is sitting on top of it saying "Pull harder! I'm pushing as hard as I can back here!"

And my numbers support my theory.

8 hard work

Most happy couples are working equally hard to keep that relationship healthy. Good relationships are hard work! But, it's always worth it when the other person is equally committed. 


Drama is when things get.... well, dramatic. You have a couple of real life movie moments, and you find yourself thinking, "who would watch this movie??"

9 drama

Unsurprisingly, most happy relationships are pretty drama-free. But every once in a while, they may need a good kick in the arse.

Thank you to the 55 happy couples who contributed (one was me)! And if you're reading this and thinking "Well, shit, I don't think we're quite there yet", then good luck to you on your journey... whether you decide to cut and run or buckle down and give it the ol' college try (just make sure your partner is trying, too!). And I hope these survey results can help point you in the right direction so you know where to concentrate your energy,  and so you know what is actually reasonable to expect of your partner and of yourself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Parenting: It Sucks! And You Can Too.

Photo on 10-23-14 at 8.31 PM

He still wakes up at night- this time it's to talk in his sleep ("I don't want to go to school!" "Is that a helicopter?"), or to ask me to hold him, or to try and wiggle from his twin bed into our double bed, or to cough, or to get a drink of water...

Parenting is a 24/7 job, unless you can afford to pay a sitter. I think that's one thing I'm discovering about myself... that I really don’t like that about parenting, and that’s ok. Hard stuff is hard, and that’s ok. Sleep deprivation is hard in the long-term form, just as it was in the short-term form. But things are always getting better.

As a member of the "one and done" party (which I’m awfully surprised to be a member of), I am finally ready to admit that kid stuff (and especially little kid stuff) just isn't very fun for me. It was all I knew for a while, so I enjoyed it better than other things I wasn't suited for, but working full time (both outdoors and in an office setting) has really proven to myself that I have nothing to feel guilty about: my skills, personality, and personal challenges just all mesh better with an adult environment.

Kids games are boring. The songs drive me nuts. I can't wait until Luca is old enough that we can hang out together at film festivals or on camping trips... until then, I'm going to pretend I enjoy all this stuff because I enjoy spending time with him. I'm not going to try and convince myself that to be a good parent, I have to enjoy being a parent all the time more than anything else in my life.

Photo on 10-23-14 at 8.30 PM

Actually, thanks to my part-time parent status due to my full-time job, this stage is the first one I’ve been able to really laugh-out-loud enjoy. Every word that comes out of his mouth is either hilarious, poetry, or screaming. It’s all black and white with him, but it’s oh-so-adorable as well (and a hell of a lot easier to handle in the short pieces I receive it, as a working parent).

He sings a lot. That’s really great.

He is 30 lbs now, but I still hike with him on my back in the carrier. He refuses to walk most places. He can’t pedal his tricycle, his legs are too weak. This kid seems to hate exercise as much as I do.

Photo on 9-14-14 at 7.43 AM

Every day when he gets home from school, he gives me an emotional report card: who cried, who laughed, why they cried, who was told to stop by the teacher, who was mad because who took what from whom…. he’s incredibly sensitive and has obviously inherited my emotional empathic abilities (a blessing and a curse!).

It’s a challenge to be as present as he demands. All children demand mentally and emotionally present parents, but I work half my hours from home, and sometimes have to eat food instead, so he has a hard time understanding. And being aware of my unmet needs, I find it very hard to be patient when he needs me so much. Ash gives me all kinds of parenting advice all the time, which is hilarious because I’m the one that has read 800 parenting books. He can just FEEL the right thing to do. It’s very intuitive for him. He’s a great parent.

Luca’s class has a soccer lesson every Wednesday, but almost every time I come to pick him up, he’s sitting on the sidelines paying with pieces of grass and paper while his classmates are scoring goals (also gets that from us). He prefers to get his energy out by running as fast as he can from one side of the grocery store to the other *eye roll*.

He already plays with words. For example, Ash was signing “Velvet Goldmine” and Luca made up a parody called “Velvet Gold-Yours”. He notices little details like that.

He also corrects us if we aren’t completely literal. If he says “Meow meow!” and I say “Are you a kitty??” he says “No, I’m Luca. I’m just pretending to be a kitty.”

Photo on 9-1-14 at 4.24 PM #2

He likes to talk through inanimate objects, like his stuffed animal Yoda or his halloween pumpkin, when he needs to work through more difficult feelings, like fear. He will tell Yoda all about the monsters he is scared of, and then assure Yoda that monsters are not real. This kid is way more emotionally mature and aware now than I was for all of my young adult life.

We currently live in a rented 800 square foot town house built in 1968. We miss our little natural house, but feel like this amount of space is just perfect for us. I’m currently trying to work out how we can afford to build something of similar size. We also really like living with people all around us. Everyone here is pretty quiet, there are kids for Luca to play with occasionally, and it feels somehow more safe to know there are hundreds of quiet people everywhere. Maybe that’s just my anxiety talking. I feel like you wouldn’t set a horror movie here, that’s all I’m saying.

Photo on 9-1-14 at 4.19 PM #2

My new job is really great still. I like providing support to college students, because I remember how hard it was, and the ways in which I did not get help that would have been useful to me. My coworkers are great, my supervisor is great, and I’m proud of the product we make and how it is a piece of the puzzle in education reform, and the reform of the textbook industry. I like learning about technology as I continually embark on my never-ending quest to figure out how EVERYTHING works on the entire planet.

Ash is absolutely in love with massage school. He says it’s like summer camp and therapy and hippy school, and he is sad because it’s Wednesday and that means he won’t see his friends until Monday. I have never seen him light up and shine this much. He is so happy! And I get at least one free massage every week, so there’s that too. He is learning so much about anatomy, which means Luca sometimes says random latin words that mean nothing to me, and that’s awesome too.

Photo on 10-23-14 at 8.27 PM #2

Being an Aunt is the ABSOLUTE BEST! I get a whole other baby, and I don't have to carry it or feed it or anything. And he's cute. And he SMILES! And he's my Redford. He and Luca get along very well already. Luca likes making him laugh. I feel like, since my depression made me not really "around" when Luca was a baby, I get to actually experience what a baby is really like now. This one cries a lot less. This one needs me a lot less. And it's very healing to be in the presence of a baby and not cringe, panic, or even run away. I often left public places when hearing a baby cry, after Luca was born. My nerves just couldn't take it. It was like a touch of PTSD or something. But Redford's love has been very soothing and has allowed that reflex to back off quite a bit.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Seeded Sandals

seeded 3

 People have been buying shoes in pre-made sizes for many centuries, and even "mass production" of sorts has been around for a few hundred years (at the rate of one pair of shoes every couple of hours). Back in the 1800's, a pair of shoes cost a day's pay or more ($1, or about $27 in today's money). They were always made of high quality materials like leather. Even if worn to work they would last a couple of years. Sunday shoes would last a decade.

Nowadays, we have a lot of choice when it comes to our shoes. You can buy a pair of flip-flops from Wal-Mart for $5, which will last you one season if you're lucky. You can buy a pair of sandals for $20 at Pay-Less, which were probably made in the same factory but will maybe last you two seasons due to slightly different materials. Or, you can buy a $400 pair of Prada sandals which will probably last forever... but will likely only last until the Next Big Thing. All of these shoes are likely produced in factories where workers are subject to conditions and paid low wages unimaginable to the majority of the US workforce.

Price is not always an indicator of quality, and it certainly is not an indicator of the ethics behind the brand.

seeded 2
Our economy is one where wages are kept low enough and prices are kept high enough that most people can't afford anything but the bottom-shelf crap from Wal-mart. I realize that. This post is not for you.

But if you're one of the many people lucky enough to be reading this on your very own computer, you can probably afford yourself a little 19th century luxury: shoes made by fairly-paid people out of high quality materials.

Likely, you have been convinced that "Low low prices!!" are all you can afford, but that's a kind of false scarcity designed to force you buy many pairs of shoes more frequently.

I am not immune to this. I can't tell you how many times I've been suckered into buying two pair of shoes because it was "Buy one get one free", and neither of them were bearable on my feet for more than an hour or so. Or, if they were, I would eventually come across a documentary or a petition to sign and LO AND BEHOLD there were my shoes causing misery for thousands of real human beings and providing a third Mercedes for another one somewhere else.

And that's where Seeded comes in.

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Screenshot 2014-08-11 20.10.22
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They're made in Tanzania, a place my friends (and founders of this company) have lived in, and whose occupants they have gotten to know intimately. The company is run by locals and is filled with local artisans who hand-sculpt and bead these sandals. The leather comes from nomadic herders, and the beads come from a fair-trade factory in eastern Europe.

This is actually the first time I have ever worn leather shoes. It feels so amazing. I'm never going back to cheap crap ever again!!

So do yourself and the rest of the world a favor: invest in a high-quality pair of shoes you can be proud to wear.

Here is an end-of-summer coupon code for you, readers, good until the end of the month: "august"! This will give you 30% off. They've got many different styles and colors; have fun shopping!

P.S. I normally wear an 8, and I wear a 9 in these!

Thanks to Caroline and Tony for being amazing and starting this company.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Checking in with yourself

Let's do an exercise.

Get out a piece of paper, and write "ME" in the middle. Now, around you, write down the names of major people in your life, and major things or activities in your life (like a job, an illness, a hobby).

Now, draw arrows going to and from these things. A full arrow means a lot of energy/support is going/coming, and a dotted arrow means a little energy/support is going/coming.

This is a great exercise to do when you are feeling overwhelmed and you don't know why. It's also a great exercise to do when you know you have to cut SOMETHING in your life, because you just don't have energy for it all, but you can't decide what makes the cut.

Here is mine for an example:

2014-08-05 16.43.08

So if we do the math, we get 4 "incoming" and 5 "outgoing" (I count the dotted arrows as half a point, and the full arrows as a full point). Aha! Now I see why I'm so stressed out. I'm operating at negative 1. There are more things in my life draining me of my energy than supporting my well-being.

Let's evaluate them one at a time, to see if there's anything we can do about it.

-Ash and I mutually support each other. Don't want to make any changes there!

-Luca, while being cute and being my son whom I love, is almost 3 and takes a good bit out of me. I don't think there's any changing that relationship for a while.

- My parents ask very little of me, maybe a phone call now and then, a few photos of their grandson... but they help me a whole lot. They buy me groceries when they come visit, and they take Luca for a weekend (or a whole week!) so Ash and I can sleep in.

-Ash's mom sends us money so Luca can go to Montessori school. She provides emotional support for Ash. She asks for very little in return, just a phone call every week, a visit once per year, and regular photo updates of her grandson.

-My siblings... right now my sister is pregnant, and while I don't help her nearly as much as I want to because I live an hour away, for a while she is going to need more support than she can give. And that's ok. My brothers don't ask anything of me and I don't ask anything of them, right now.

- Work. I work more than 40 hours per week, but still do not make enough money to pay for everything in my life on my own. There isn't much I can do about that for a while, until I gain more experience. I already have recently upgraded to a job with health insurance, paid time off, and all those lovely luxuries. It's amazing that it's still not enough, but what else can I do??

So it looks like I'm pretty stuck here. The only option is to add another element... something that takes NOTHING from me, but gives me plenty.

2014-08-05 16.56.39

Maybe there's a free/cheap yoga class? Or a meditation session? Or a few bike rides a week? I have no creative outlets in my life at the moment, in addition to no hobbies and no exercise.

I'm glad I did this exercise, I was feeling confused about what my life was lacking, being blinded by achieving the short-term goal of obtaining a better job.

What does YOUR diagram show?

EDIT: I completely forgot to mention that this exercise is adapted from something I read in a book... but I can't remember which book, because I got it from the library. It might have been this one, but either way, this book has similar ideas and is very helpful:

The Mindful Way Through Anxiety

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Major updates!

My last post, in January, was a bit negative.

But can you blame me? No. Not if you are reading this and you are a parent.

2014-07-04 10.41.21

2014-07-04 10.41.12

But boy, things have improved! In April, Luca went to stay with his grandparents for almost a full week. ALL BY HIMSELF! Ash and I had a much-needed break, and Luca had the time of his life in the infinite-play-land that is my parent's house. When he came back, he didn't have time to ask to nurse before he fell asleep. The next day he nursed for the last time.

Screenshot 2014-07-09 22.21.45march 23 2014 2
(Playing at Mamaw and Papaw's! By the way, I blurred the photo because he has started expressing an unwillingness to change his clothes and diaper around others. I consider that a sign of needing some privacy.)

Shortly thereafter, he decided to start sleeping through the night; and in his own bed too! I am experiencing a deep brain cleansing from finally getting the sleep I need. Combine that with monthly trips back to Mamaw and Papaw's house (which allow me to NAP), and my mood is just all-around better. He still wakes occasionally, like if he's not feeling well or if he is having a growth spurt. But hey, that's life.

I also just started a job. A new job. A REAL job. The kind with sane hours and fair expectations. The kind with living-wage hourly compensation and health benefits. The kind where you finally get off of government benefits and stop crying about money all the time. We're not rolling in it (heck, I don't even think we're "middle class" just yet) but boy did it take some weight off of my shoulders.

What's the big deal about having an average desk job, anyways? Can it really be that different from those low-wage jobs that make up the majority of the economy, like in retail and food service?


1. I don't have to fill out government forms every 3 months anymore. Don't even get me started on the phone calls with social services. I don't mean to sound ungrateful for these social safety nets. But, they don't make it easy to obtain, keep, or keep track of. The amount of our food money was always changing, and it never covered more than half of our food at the maximum level. But, we definitely couldn't have got by without it; even with both of us working.

2. I get to CHOOSE where Luca goes to the doctor, instead of frantically calling places and begging to get him on their Medicaid wait list. And my husband will have health insurance for the first time in ten years. 10 YEARS! No more LONG ASS WAITS at the community clinics!

3. I can do things like buy a waffle at a restaurant, or get a haircut, or buy myself a book and not feel EXTREMELY guilty and like I'm risking my entire livelihood. I get to go to the movies more than once per year.

4. I can do things like make a dentist appointment, because I know what hours I will be working ahead of time. And I can even skip work sometimes to go do stuff I need to do, like go to the dentist or take care of my sick kid, or whatever.

5. I can go on vacation.

6. I can have more than 1 or 2 days off per month. Actually, I get two whole days off EVERY WEEK! And then I get PAID TIME OFF!! Who knew that existed??

7. I can stay home from work if I am sick.

8. I can ask for things that I need. I can even eat whenever I want to. Today I got up and made myself a cup of tea, and I didn't have to ask permission. If my back hurts, I can lay down on my desk for a minute or go for a walk. People care if I am in physical pain. My body is not at risk for serious injury at this job.

9. I am treated like an adult in general, and it is assumed that I know what I'm doing and I can handle things without messing it up. My opinion is heard, and valued. I am given everything I need to do my job; I didn't have to pay for my own uniform (nor am I being forced to wear one), nor any of my own office equipment.

10. People have finally stopped asking me if I'm still in school, or if my position is just an internship. Ya know, some people wait tables because THIS IS NOT 1995 (or 1950 or whatever they remember as being a normal job market). 40% of people with bachelor's degrees today are working jobs that do not require education (sales and food service).

EDIT: 11. All the anger, resentment, and jealousy I felt has vanished. When you see everyone around you (living in houses that don't leak when it rains and aren't infested with cockroaches, driving cars that rarely break down, saving money for retirement) doing so much better than you are, it really gets to you and makes you think horrible negative things... not just about strangers, but about people you love, too. I am not trying to shirk responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings. I was working very hard on improving this all the time, with little progress. But these feelings have surprisingly vanished with the lifting of the financial pressure cooker.

EDIT: 12. I have felt another major shift, socially. No longer am I a problem to be solved. I now have the capacity to be a solution. Money is definitely power. And without power, you lack the ability to execute any dreams or visions for a better world. You can't even donate $5 to freaking NPR. Now that I have days off, I can volunteer. Now that I have basic needs covered, I can contribute to others' projects and my own projects. Feeling paralyzed in a world that desperately needs more Soldiers of Good is a desperately low feeling.

Now, imagine how hard all that stuff in the past would have been WITHOUT all my privileges! Without my safety net of my supportive family, assuring I would never be hungry or homeless. Without my whiteness, my education, my able body.

Basically, I am more comfortable, healthy, and happy than I have ever been. My job is the "easiest" I've ever had, and it pays BY FAR the best. So count your freaking blessings (and dollars) if you have one of these precious jewels of a job.

2014-07-09 11.48.53

Anyways. Back to cute little boys.

Next month, Luca goes to SCHOOL!! This fall Ash is starting Massage School and Luca will need childcare 3 days per week (oh yeah, that's another far-off dream I can now afford). He will be going to a wonderful Montessori school run by some ladies we have gotten to know very well this past year. Ash's mom is generously helping with tuition (Like I said, we ain't even middle class yet. Working on it!).

Ash and Luca have been spending a lot of time together. They are best buddies. Ash is an excellent father; there is truly nothing I would alter about the way he handles Luca's ups and downs. I mean, that's one of the big reasons I had a kid so stupidly young. I knew I could do it with Ash by my side. Ash has really taken charge with the parenting thing. It used to be me that did all the research etc about parenting, and now he has completely taken it over... going to workshops, giving people advice on Reddit, checking out books from the library... he IS super dad. And we are becoming better and better "Gentle Parents" all the time thanks to his leadership. We are getting good at only setting limits that are necessary, and not setting them based on our own fears or limitations. We are getting good at seeing the world from his eyes, and understanding his feelings regarding seemingly everyday things that prompt big reactions. Compassion is a crop you must tend to dutifully... but the rewards are many.

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For example... choosing your battles. Luca was a terrible sleeper, and after a while of trying everything found in every book, we finally gave up and just let him do whatever, while still modeling good sleep habits ourself (we went to bed whenever we were tired, with or without him). He did weird stuff. He asked to go to the park at 7:30pm and we said yes. He fell asleep for naps at 4:00 and slept until 8pm, and we never woke him up to prevent that. He stayed up until 9 every night and woke up at the crack of dawn. And we just watched him sleep whenever he wanted to, scratching our heads. And then... magic. He starting asking to go to bed whenever he was sleepy. He started crawling into bed whenever he needed to throughout the day, and either just resting or even falling asleep by himself. He started sleeping through the night, in his own bed, with no hassles. He started crying less at bedtime and being happy when he woke up.

I know for some kids, that would absolutely not work. But I'm glad we just took the path of least resistance and let things take their course with him... because it looked like, in the end, all he needed was a little less energy around bedtime and a little more autonomy. Once all the negative associations with enforced sleep times went away, he starting treating sleepiness how we WANT him to: as his body's way to tell him something important... something he should honor.

This is how we have always handled food. He eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants, just like we do. Our job is to provide an environment of healthy choices that makes it safe for him to have that freedom. "Freedom within Reasonable Limits" has become our motto.

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This week, we even felt brave enough to push the family bed APART for the first time!

We will be moving to Asheville this fall, if we can find an affordable place. It just makes sense, with me working there and Ash going to school there. So, basically all our dreams are coming true!

(Except for when we went on vacation and I ended up in the emergency room with severe dehydration... seriously, it happened RIGHT before losing my health insurance when I turned 26. It was SO LUCKY! But now we can afford to fix the AC in the car, so that won't happen again!)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Still not sleeping. Seriously.

My child is intense.

That feels like an understatement. Or an overstatement. I'm not sure which, because I'm so tired.

My child is... exhausting.

He cries a lot. He cries when we change his diaper. He cries when we brush his teeth. He cries when I leave for work, and when I come home. He cries before bed, he cries first thing when he wakes up, and he even wakes up in the middle of the night to cry some more. He cries before nap. He cries during his nap. He cries after his nap. And he cries for normal things too, like when we run out of pretzels, or when the paint is purple instead of pink, or when we can't make it start snowing, or when we can't go to the library because it's President's Day.

We have tried everything (legal) to get this child to sleep or at least calm down. Curtains. Leaving the lights on. White noise. Human noise. Homeopathic remedies. Ibuprofen. Valerian. Lemon balm. Kava kava. Catnip. Bedsharing. Not bedsharing. Babywearing. Acupressure. Essential oils. Doing more. Doing less.

I'm running out of ideas.

If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Technology: blessing or curse?

I observed two things in this video: the obvious message, of smart phones preventing humans from enjoying what is going on around them, and the second less intentional message. The further we get from ourselves and our loved ones, the more we feel a great urge to reconstruct what we have lost through media. For example, taking selfies constantly ("look at me I have friends, this photo proves it", "look at me enjoying parenthood, this smile proves it"). We are fighting to build a sense of identity and fulfillment, but are in fact fighting fire with fire. Pretty soon, you have a chicken-or-the-egg thing going on.... because people don't realize why they are unhappy. "Look at all the awesome shit that happened to me this year, on my facebook timeline!" Too bad you weren't there to enjoy any of it.

And then there's the physical reality of it to consider, too. More stimulation = needing more stimulation... that's a scientific fact. We browse our phones because... we browse our phones. Real life doesn't happen fast enough to keep us engaged anymore. This is why we pick them up even when we don't need information from them. But this can be easily solved by simply putting it down. A moment of self-control can bring several moments of calm and connection, later. If the habit can be made, it can be unmade. But doing must be replaced by non-doing.

Ash and I struggled a lot with this last year. I get annoyed when he is on his iPhone, he gets annoyed when I am on my laptop. What we are really asking is for our unmet needs to be met: we need connection and consideration from others. Through communication, we have worked out how to gently give each other signals when we feel lonely or irritated as as result of this habitual behavior. We are also working on how to allow each other the time to do important work that needs to be done in the cyber world (that could be called "adjusting expectations"). As long as we are using technology to enrich our lives and not to satisfy our urges, we can use it in a healthy way. As long as we frequently check in with each other and ourselves about what our needs are, we can be sure of what stage we are in (enrichment or itch-scratching).

For those of you who have not begun these discussions in your relationships, I give you these words of encouragement: it DOES get better!

PARENTING with technology:

 I watched a TED talk on the research on the topic, which I highly recommend... to summarize, for every 3 hours of screen time, you need at least one hour of highly engaging real world time to make up for it. Roughly. This is based off of the correlation between screen time and ADD, which I think is a great indicator of how much is too much. For every 1 hr of screen time, the risk of ADD goes up 10%. And for every hour of visiting a museum, playing outside, doing puzzles with daddy... the risk goes down 30%. Obviously it's seriously oversimplifying the situation to think like this... but it's all I have at the moment to go by!

Every parent knows screens are a GOD SEND for when you need to get stuff done. Just keep this nifty little ratio, 1:3, in mind as a guide for when enough is enough, and when more is more.

If you are unhappy with the current amount of screen time your family uses, here are some ideas to try that worked for our family:

1) Model the behavior you wish to see in your child. Use technology during designated hours only, to enrich your life, and not compulsively or in social situations (including family social situations). Enrichment can take the form of work, play, learning, or communicating with others (yes, this includes Facebook!). Model appropriate responses to violating these rules (don't beat yourself up, just check in with yourself and express gratitude to yourself for doing so).

Sometimes this means only using technology after dinner or before dinner. Sometimes it's a screen-free day once per week, or once per month. Or it could be never using a device for more than 2 hours in a row. But it's important to have a clear understanding of when it is hurtful to others to be on your Gameboy (at the dinner table, in the grocery store, etc) and when it is beneficial (when you're in the waiting room at the dentist, on a long car ride, etc). There's a time and a place for everything, and a whole new set of etiquette to figure out.

2) Don't use it as a reward, or withhold it as a punishment. I'm not a fan of this parenting strategy for anything, but that's another topic. THE INTERNET IS NOT A COOKIE!! It is an amazing tool for self-betterment. It is, in my opinion, a human right to access information for free at any time they wish. I am also a firm believer that, given the choice, a healthy child/person will not choose to stare at a screen for hours every day. An hour to two, sure, don't you?

If a child turns to TV or video games for several hours a day, chances are their real life is lacking something that they need. This may be because everyone else is staring at a screen and they aren't connecting with others. Or it may be because school is stressing them out and they crave that dopamine spike that comes from the instant gratification of the virtual world. Or it may be because they lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Do some exploring.

3) I have seen the same results from the technique I use with junk food, with screen time. Keep in mind, my kid is only 2... but I used to use these ideas with older kids I babysat, too.

(Edit: My food strategy is: I don't keep stuff at the house that I don't want him to eat. I allow him to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I cook meals and if he doesn't eat them, whatever. No battles! And with no bad choices around, his diet is perfectly balanced, long term.)

First step is, if you don't want them to be on screens all the time, DON'T HAVE A BUNCH OF SCREENS IN THE HOUSE. In other words... if there is too much screen time going on, there may be too many screens in the first place. Figure out a good number of screens that works for your family to fulfill everyone's needs. This will require you to retire some of your old justifications for why you had them in the first place. Which is hard to do.

I'm all for kids having cells phones for emergencies, to take pictures with their friends, to communicate with them, whatever. But just pick the cheapest piece of crap they have in the place. They will get over the social embarrassment by having superior people skills.

One laptop per family is convenient. Two laptops per family is a luxury. One tablet, smartphone and computer for each person is completely overkill. There is no way you could justify "needing" that many devices. The right number of devices varies by family... but again, if you are feeling like there is too much screen time, then you should probably seriously reconsider the number you have now.

Video games are tons of fun, but are still material luxuries and should be treated as such. Consoles should be kept in a communal, family place and not in children's bedrooms. They should be a bonding experience, not an isolating one. If you buy an Xbox, sell your PlayStation. SIMPLIFY!

If you need further motivation to stop buying so many electronics, then so some Google searches on all the shit going down in Africa. Half of those conflicts are caused by fighting for control over the mining industry, which provides the metals used to make our luxury products. It's blood diamonds all over again.There are also websites which can tell you which electronics companies are actually making an effort to solve this problem.

4) When talking about this subject, be delicate. We're discussing real human needs and feelings... this is not the time for an "I'm the parent and I said so" power game. Be vulnerable and honest about your feelings, and you are more likely to get your needs met... while learning about the needs of your child as well.

"When you rush upstairs to play video games after school, it makes me feel lonely, and distant from you. I really love spending time with you and hearing about your day, because you are my child and I love you. I was wondering if you would mind spending 30 minutes each day after school with me, just relaxing and chatting. Then you can do whatever you need or want to do afterward. How do you feel about what I just said?"

For clarity on how to do this, I highly recommend the book "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenburg. He also has a lot of YouTube videos, for you screen junkies!