J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Parenting (Page 1 of 2)

New 6-Week Experiment: Living With a Disability


On the evening of Dec. 9th I stepped off my skateboard the wrong way and broke my foot (three fractured metatarsals — see above). Thinking it was just a bad sprain, I took a Lyft home and rested on the couch, watching my foot swell up to alarming proportions. Come Monday: doctor’s office, x-ray, a compression splint, the threat of screws and surgery. But after many scans and tests, I managed to dodge a bullet. No surgery required, just six easy weeks in a cast.

So, it’s my turn to learn. What’s life like with reduced mobility?

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The Awkward Question That Could Save Your Child’s Life

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Every time our seven-year-old daughter has a playdate with a new friend, Kia asks a simple question.

“Do you have any guns in the house?”

She gets nervous about asking, but so far nobody has been offended by the question. Her own father keeps a gun in the house. So do several of our friends. But it’s something we want to know about. If the answer is yes, the follow-up question is:

“What’s your gun safety plan?”

The general reaction to the question is “I should be asking the same question.” Accidental injury and death is a real threat to children in the United States. A few sobering bullet points:

The real numbers are even higher. Many accidental gun deaths are reported as homicides. The same article gets into details re: what ages children are most at risk. Three-year-olds, who are old enough to manipulate objects but don’t understand the dangers guns pose, are particularly vulnerable.

This is not a screed against personal gun ownership. It’s a just a reminder. Kids are curious. Kids will explore every nook and cranny of your house. Kids do things without considering or understanding the consequences. Kids and loaded, unsecured guns are a potentially lethal combination.

Don’t leave your damn guns lying around. If there is even a small chance of a child setting foot in your house, store them locked and unloaded.

And ask that awkward question.

How To Organize and Prioritize Your Family Calendar

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Last week we narrowly averted a collective emotional meltdown encompassing three generations of our family. The issue was a schedule conflict in our daughter’s schedule, and how to resolve it. The schedule conflict occurred *despite* everyone involved thinking they had done everything right, following the correct procedures, and “checking” with everyone else. The main problem was that our shared scheduling system sucked.

A family meeting and a compromise calmed everyone down, and we avoided a full-on crisis. Still, it was time for a new system.

The Old (Bad) System

Parent One enters things in the shared family Google calendar, which we both subscribe to via Calendar on our Macs and the built-in Android calendar app on our phones. Parent Two coordinates childcare with various grandparents.

Parent One “confirms” new family dinner date by waving text message in face of Parent Two, who is drinking wine and playing cards. Parent Two says “Fine — looks good.”

Schedule conflict surfaces on day of both scheduled events. Parent Two informs Grandparent One of schedule conflict. Grandparent One is not pleased, having previously scheduled playdate with friend of Child (and double-checked with Parent Two regarding time of playdate). Child is in tears because Child was looking forward to said playdate (and has little control of own schedule and parents keep changing it).

In the end we worked it out, but we realized we need a new system.

The New System

Child has own dedicated Google calendar, which parents edit and grandparents can ALL view.

Considerations

While the system change is relatively simple and straightforward, a lot of thought went into it.

  • For parents fortunate enough to get childcare help from grandparents (we’re very lucky in this regard), it’s important for parents to respect the scheduling considerations of their own parents. It’s reasonable to provide grandparents (and other regular childcare participants) with the “big picture” on your child’s schedule.
  • A physical “main calendar” in the kitchen is great for the nuclear family, but it doesn’t do much for the extended family. Shared digital calendars with different view permissions are a necessary complexity for a complex extended family.
  • A single “joint” calendar is fine for a couple scheduling dates, but it isn’t sufficient for the entire family when children start having their own engagements.

Calendaring and Kid’s Feelings

A big “a-ha” moment for me was during our family meeting, our daughter was expressing exactly why she was so upset about the change of plans. It wasn’t only that she was looking forward to the playdate herself, but she actually felt a sense of obligation to her new friend, who she had promised she would “buddy-up” with to reduce her friend’s anxiety about her first session of a martial arts class. In short, my daughter didn’t want to flake! I really felt for her at this moment — I remember being seven and having very little control of my own schedule. It seemed that adults would sometimes change things on a whim, with no regard for my feelings.

Sometimes work or other adult realities trump the feelings of children, but it’s important for parents to remember that children have complex emotions that impact them even more than the emotions of adults — they haven’t yet fully developed the self-regulating capabilities of the frontal cortex.

How to Resolve Conflicts?

There are different ways to resolve scheduling conflicts.

  • First on the “main” calendar wins.
  • Paterfamilias or materfamilias — the dominant head-of-household or schedule boss “puts their foot down” and gets their way.
  • Values-based approach.

Of these, I’m a fan of the third. By “values based” I mean the values of your family in particular. What does it mean to be a member of your family?

If there is a schedule conflict, which event supports the highest held value in your family? Friendship? Earning money? Keeping up appearances? Winning at sports? Once the underlying values behind a choice are revealed, a “difficult” choice may become much easier to make.

Family Values — A Different Take

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In the United States, the phrase “family values” tends to be associated with a conservative “1950’s style” family structure and lifestyle, including a heterosexual marriage, a bread-winning father, a homemaker mother, and multiple children.

There’s nothing wrong with that kind of family, but it’s not accurate to consider this kind of family as “normal”. Most families in the United States don’t look like this.

The way the term “family values” is used politically angers me — it attempts to marginalize families with gay parents, single parents, even couples who elect not to have children.

What makes a “real family”? Love and commitment. That’s it.

Maybe it’s time to reclaim the phrase. What if “family values” simply referred to the particular values that your family holds?

The idea is simple: sit down with your family and discuss what’s important to all of you. What values can you agree on? What does it mean to be a member of your family?

This isn’t a new idea, but rather a trend that’s gaining momentum. I can’t remember where I first read about this particular exercise, but here’s another post that describes it.

Our daughter is six, and you can see a six-year-old’s voice in the some of the items below. First-graders tend to make fun of each other mercilessly, and she decided she didn’t need that at home. So for now, we’ve agreed to not make fun of each other.

Our daughter sees these more as “rules” — she doesn’t quite get what a value is. Kia and I see the list as aspirational. It’s what our family looks like on a good day (or week).

What is your family about? Articulating your values is powerful. Co-defining your values pulls your family together, like gravity (but doesn’t bind you, like glue).

Values ripple out. Your small (or big) family unit may be more influential than you realize. Values are contagious. Like cold viruses, values spread through children.

Here’s the list my own family came up with (in no particular order, redundancies and family slang included). If you do the exercise, feel free to post your own results below.

What does it mean to be a member of our family?

  • We take care of each other.
  • We help each other with projects and tasks.
  • We share enthusiasm.
  • We listen to each other.
  • We prepare and enjoy healthy meals together.
  • We make good food.
  • We accept each other for who we are.
  • We celebrate birthdays and holidays* together.
  • We are polite and respectful and nice to each other.
  • We go on adventurecations together.
  • We learn together.
  • We go to family camp together.
  • We read together.
  • We don’t make fun of each other.
  • We go on bike rides together.
  • We go to the movies together.
  • We play games together.
  • We spend time in nature together.
  • We help our community together.
  • We help our friends and extended family.
  • We try to make the world a better place.
  • We are loving towards each other.

* we celebrate all of the Jewish holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween … we are equal-opportunity observers (and yes I’m an atheist — but I don’t think religious practice needs to be tied to beliefs)

What was the result of completing this exercise?

As I mentioned above, our daughter has assigned herself the “enforcer” of the “family rules.” Even though she is selective and self-serving in her enforcement, her reminders do sometimes get us back on the right track.

What happens when you explicitly define your values is that inevitably you start to notice discrepancies between your stated values and your behavior.

A less-developed mind will shout “Hypocrisy!” and condemn the value setter.

But what’s the alternative? Lower standards? Not stating and therefore not knowing what your other family members hold dear?

Some “falling short” is inevitable. But it’s also inevitable that once you search your heart and then mentally focus your feelings into values, you’ll find yourself moving towards them.

Explicitly stated values vs. habitual behaviors create friction and tension within the mind. That leads to growth.

So slowly, day-by-day, we’re getting a little closer to what we all consider to be ideal family relations and activities.

In addition to growth, I have a secure feeling that I know what we’re about, as a family. It won’t be the same as your family (though there might be a lot of overlap). Each family is unique.

Conscious Growth — Personal vs Familial

Defining our values as a family made me consider what my own personal values are. The exercise served as a catalyst for my own personal growth. I ended up following-up with a series of exercises where I defined and prioritized both my positive and negative values (things that I want to have both more of or less of in my life). I’ll describe this process more in a later post.

Values as Cultural DNA

I sometimes think about my eight great-grandparents, and how they influenced me. I only knew one of them personally, and of course she was a really old lady when I was a little kid — I never got a good sense of what she was about.

But I know those eight people shaped me, not only through bits of DNA, not only via their life events that activated or inactivated various genes via epigenetic methylation, but through values, implicit and explicit, that they held and lived by. My strengths, my weaknesses, my hopes and fears, everything about me was greatly influenced by those eight people — even though I only met one of them.

Their values were passed down to my grandparents, to my parents, and then to me. No doubt some changes were made along the way. Sometimes we reject our parents’ values, because those values suck. But that kind of change takes tremendous self-analysis and effort, and even then we can find ourselves walking in our parents’ footsteps.

Take the time to consider your own values, and what values you’re passing on to your children (or whatever children you come into contact with in your life, even if they’re not your own). Make the passage of “cultural DNA” a little more conscious, a little more intentional.

 

Another Reason to Send Your Child to a Less Affluent School

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A while back I wrote about why we chose to send our daughter to an under-performing, high-poverty public school in our neighborhood. Basically, a high rate of parental involvement and good teachers allayed any fears we had regarding low test scores (the concept of relative rank¹ was also a factor). Our daughter is now thriving in first grade, both academically and socially. School standards are high, and PTO fundraising has helped develop programs in art, poetry, and science (ideally tax dollars would pay for these things, but California schools are still struggling financially).

Yet Another Reason to Avoid the Affluent Schools

Recently Kia forwarded me this article which points out that vaccine opt-out rates in California have been on the rise for the past seven years. This had resulted in both measles and whooping cough epidemics. Research clearly showed that higher vaccine refusal rates fueled the epidemics.

Why are parents opting out? Fears linking vaccines to autism is the most likely reason, even though such research has been completely refuted. We still don’t know definitely what is behind rising autism rates in the U.S. (rates vary significantly by state). SSRI use during pregnancy is one possible factor, though a Danish study noted that depression itself is a risk factor, and that there was no difference in autism rates of children born to depressed mothers who had been taking SSRIs and those who had not. It’s also possible that more children are being classified as being on the autistic spectrum — a change in diagnostic trends. Bottom line, we still don’t definitively know. But vaccine avoidance isn’t helping anything, and is having devastating effects on herd immunity.

What’s herd immunity (or community immunity)? If your child is vaccinated, they’re safe against that disease, right? Unfortunately not. While being vaccinated reduces the chance of infection if a child is exposed to a disease agent, an additional benefit come from not being exposed in the first place. In other words, the protective effects of vaccines are cumulative, depending on what percentage of the kids are vaccinated.

Notably, wealthier communities, and wealthier schools within those communities, tend to have higher vaccination opt-out rates via the “PBE” (personal belief exemption). Marin county, the wealthiest county in the Bay Area, had an average 8% PBE opt-out rate (San Geronimo Valley Elementary in Marin had a whopping 79% PBE rate). Private schools also have higher PBE rates than public schools (on average).

Less affluent public schools (like our daughter’s school), tend to have a PBE rate of only 1%. Now there’s some community immunity!

Does Affluenza = Influenza?

Not all wealthy communities have high PBE rates. The San Francisco average is quite low (1.64%). Maybe Marin County, the land of crystal healers and psychics, just has lower scientific literacy.

Vaccines are not entirely risk-free. [CDC.gov] But in terms of cost-benefit analysis, the tiny risk of most vaccines is worth the protective effect against the disease. Just as importantly, you’re not only protecting your own child, but your child’s classmates.

If you’re considering NOT vaccinating your child, I can empathize. I considered it too — there are scary stories out there on the internet, real (but rare) cases of children being injured by vaccines. But please ALSO consider the risks of the diseases themselves, and check the published research in terms of the actual probability of serious injury. It’s far more probable a vaccination will save your child’s life than cause them any harm.

 

¹ On relative rank … sending your child to a school comprised mostly of elites can negatively warp their confidence and self-worth. If most of your child’s classmates are richer, smarter, more socially connected, more sophisticated, and/or more competitively oriented, your normal or above-average-under-normal-circumstances child might end up feeling a bit beaten down. Relative rank matters. On the other hand, if your child’s school is comprised of a more diverse cross-section of society, it’s more likely they’ll get a chance to shine in at least one area.

 

Back to School — Getting Bedtime Back on Track

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This is the last week of summer for Oakland Public Schools — school starts on Monday. We let bedtime for our six-year-old slip a little later over most of the summer. Even on days she had camp, the camp drop-off was usually later than her regular 8:30am school day. Like many kids she gets a huge energy burst right as it’s time to go to bed, so bedtime is often a struggle.

Ever since we did our no artificial light experiment several years ago, we’ve been turning lights way down in the evening. Even so, our daughter wasn’t getting to sleep until 9:45pm up until last week. Knowing we’d all have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7am once school began, we started to worry about how to get back on schedule.

Luckily we remembered how well turning off the lights had worked in terms of getting all of us to bed earlier, so we tried that. If our daughter hadn’t already brushed her teeth before the sun went down, we allowed her to bring her flashlight to the bathroom, but no overhead lights, no lamps, etc. When it’s dark, it’s time for sleep … so get the book reading in early while you still can.

We’ve added some fun rituals: lighting candles, a few minutes reading by a low-lumen wind-up flashlight, the adventure of getting to bed in the semi-dark.

Short explanation: blue-wavelength light (emitted by light bulbs and screens, but not candles) prevents serotonin from converting into melatonin. The latter makes you sleepy. So keeping lights off in the evening helps you get sleepy (and thus go to sleep) earlier. Think camping.

The other factor is FOMO: fear-of-missing-out. With all the lights off in the house, our daughter is less concerned with what we are doing while she’s supposed to be going to sleep. A dark house seems more boring, which in this case is a good thing.

So the experiment is working … we’ve shaved 15 minutes off of bedtime every night since we started, and last night she was asleep by 8:45. The goal is 8:30 so we’re getting close. Most kids her age need at least 10 hours (at least if you want a kid in a good mood who can pay attention to stuff), so that works.

As for myself and Kia, we’re still staying up late on the laptops, or reading. I’d like to be getting to sleep a little earlier myself (if for no other reason than to get up before my kid and get some writing in), so I’ll probably put a “devices off by 10pm” rule in place for myself. Even with f.lux installed, computers keep me up later than just reading by lamp light.

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