Parenting – How to Beat Stress

Being a positive parent is not always easy. Most parents find staying positive the most challenging part of rearing a child. If you find yourself feeling like you’re going to go off the deep end, the main culprit is almost always stress. By reducing your stress, you can increase your patience, get a handle on difficult situations, and be the positive role model that your child needs.

1) Count to three. Sounds silly, but your brain’s reaction to a quick stressor is to yell or become angry. Fortunately, the primal instinct to yell only lasts for two seconds. So, if something bad happens that causes sudden stress, such as a gallon of milk busting on the floor, or your child has covered the bathroom in a liter of shampoo, you can count to three to get past the knee-jerk reaction time of your brain and react how you know you should.

2) Come up with a plan on how you will handle a difficult situation. Planning to react in a certain way will make you think twice before you have a negative reaction. Set rules with any other caregivers in the child’s life. Consistency is so important on many levels of brain development. For example, you can decide that an appropriate punishment is time-out. Make sure that all of the adults in the child’s life are “performing” the time-out in the same manner.

3) The most effective way to handle time-out is not to yell and scream all the way to the designated spot, but to purposely give no attention to the bad behavior. Quietly lead the child to the corner. Do not respond to fits, questions, threats or other attention-getting behaviors (unless the child is endangering themselves, of course). Only give positive attention for positive behaviors. The child will instinctively learn that positive behaviors get them the attention that they need for survival. Whatever the form of punishment is, you will find yourself experiencing less and less outbursts, yelling, anxiety, guilt and stress.

4) Train your body to react how you want it to. If you go nuts and stress out over things that are bound to happen while raising a child, then you train your body to react to stressors in this way. The cortisol surge that sends you flying can last for a very long time causing anxiety and health problems. When there’s a plan, your brain won’t be searching for a reaction because after those first two primal seconds, the routine of the plan will be apparent. Your stress levels will respond as you train them to and recover more and more quickly.

5) Lower the stressors in your life. TV’s blaring, computers running, lights in your eyes, clutter and a long to-do list can cause so much underlying stress that you’ll feel ready to blow at the drop of a hat. Purposely lower stress levels by leaving the lights off whenever possible. Set aside ten minutes of every hour to spend relaxing with your child. Do something that they want to do, or get something done that needs to be done daily. Babies and toddlers love to throw clothes into the washer or pour the laundry detergent. Get things done while giving your child some positive attention. Let them help you hang their clothes on their baby hangers or infant hangers. Anything that they can do to help will help keep their stress levels down as well and in turn help you keep yours under control.

An Ounce of Prevention – How “The Pill” Inadvertently Changed America

In “Brave New World” Aldous Huxley wrote of a disturbing future in which all the desires of society had become it’s ruin. He described a future in which the irrelevant and trivial ruled, sex was devalued and all was held in place by a tiny pill called “soma”. Though Orwell is commonly appointed as the most referenced visionary in regards to our future ills, it is perhaps Huxley who got it right, and far sooner than anyone imagined. It began in 1960.

A New Era Begins

“The Pill”, at that time known as Enovid, was approved by the FDA on June 23rd, 1960. It’s use spread rapidly throughout the decade, generating enormous social impact and, perhaps, unforeseen consequences. The reasons for its immediate ascension were obvious. It was more effective than most previous reversible methods of birth control, giving women unprecedented control of over their fertility, its use was separate from intercourse (requiring no special preparations), and the choice to take the pill could be made entirely in private.

The immediate benefits to usage were equally apparent. As prescriptions soared, so too did college attendance and graduation rates for women. The newfound ability for women to control fertility without sacrificing sexual relationships allowed them to make long term educational and career plans. Young women poured into the work environment, continuing the initial foray of their mothers before them during WWII. The appearance of women in previously male dominated environments became increasingly prevalent. The world began to change.

Due to the effectiveness of the pill, attitudes and activities in the bedroom were impacted as well. Never before had sexual activity been so removed from reproduction. The debate raged regarding the moral and health consequences of pre-marital sex and promiscuity. For a couple using the pill, no longer was sex purely a means of reproduction, it was now an expression of love or a means of physical pleasure. Or both. In response, The Roman Catholic Church re-emphasized their stance regarding birth control in the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, stating, “artificial contraception distorts the nature and purpose of sex.” Despite this proclamation, or perhaps in spite of it, the Sexual Revolution rolled on unrepentantly.

This time period saw too, the rise of “Feminism”. Women now had choices to make and with leaders such as Betty Friedan and Robin Morgan at the forefront of the movement, they had a voice as well. The 1960’s saw unprecedented change sweep across gender lines and attitudes in forms of legislation (Equal Pay Act of 1963), books, organizations, and protests. The 1960’s were a time of love, change, and for many women, freedom. No longer were they bound by the roles of gender and the expectations of society. Finally, women had a say in their role and, overwhelmingly, they were choosing the workplace. But the next two decades would witness a none-too-subtle altering of society and family life.

The Times They are a-Changing

With the much needed equality established, or at least progress being made, the “Swinging 60’s” came to a close. That sexual attitudes and liberation experienced throughout that decade and most of the next, came to a sobering halt in the revelation of AIDS. The party was over, but the change had just begun. First came marriage.

Prior to 1960, the average age of a married couple was in steady decline. This resulted in the male marrying at approximately 25 and the woman at 22. A scant two decades after the introduction of oral contraceptives, those ages had increased to 27 for men and 25 for women. A fairly dramatic shift considering the relative consistency demonstrated over the previous 60 years. As women chose to complete their education and perhaps begin a career first, marriages began later and later. The same cannot be said, however, for childbirth.

Initially, the number of live childbirths in the US declined after the so-called “baby boom” of the 1950’s and, assumption would be, the introduction of “the pill”. The reasons for this are varied. Some would blame society in general, some the economy. Others would point to the prevailing shift in attitudes toward family in general, or specifically, responsibility. Whatever the reason, childbirths did indeed decline, reaching a low-water mark of approximately 3 million in 1975. Since that time, however, we have seen a rapid increase in childbirths, peaking with 2007 realizing a historical high of 4.3 million. More to the point, however, would be the revelation that the same year also brought the unwed childbirth rate to its highest mark at nearly 40%. As one researcher adequately noted, for a variety of reasons it has become acceptable for women to have babies without a husband. Regardless of the attitude, there is a growing trend among all adult women to have children regardless of their marital status. Though women have, for the most part, gained their hard fought independence, and unequivocally should it be so, one must wonder, where have the men gone?

Papa was a Role-ing Stone

The most recent numbers show us that more than 28% of households with children under 18 are single parent homes. Further examination shows us that in 84% of those homes, the mother is the custodial parent. That number too, is reflective of a continuing trend, up from 77% in a span of just 6 years. Whether this is occurring due to a psychological shift in society itself or some other underlying cause would have to be debated on a case-by-case basis. However, we do know that the children of single parent households are generally less exposed to specific, or traditional gender roles. Additionally, Single parenting is strongly associated with an increased risk of a number of negative social, behavioral and emotional outcomes for children. Few would argue this is due to lack of effort, but primarily is a result of the situation itself. The primary caregiver is most often the primary breadwinner as well. This duality obviously and necessarily leads directly to a scenario in which the child must look to a greater variety of outside sources to learn his or her role in society.

Gender roles play a significant part in who we are, how we act, what is deemed acceptable, and how we interact in society today. These roles are established at an early age and the key points are reinforced or defined throughout a child’s life span. Adults perceive and treat female and male infants differently. How they do this is, at least in part, in response to the expectations they were exposed to children. Traditionally, most males would engage the sons in activities involving building, fixing, sporting events, etc. Whereas the mother would prepare the daughter in much the same manner with skills she feels useful in the coming years. Children then receive recognition for quality performance by the respective parent. Additionally, these roles are reinforced by friends and schoolmates in the form of either praise or ridicule.

Unfortunately, it can be confusing for a child growing up without a clear understanding of what is expected of them as a young man, or woman. Often times, a blurring of these gender lines occurs in the absence of the appropriate role model. In our gender identity-based culture, this has never been more prevalent than it is today, nor have the results been more varied.

External social pressures can lead some people to attempt to adapt their persona to one more appropriate for their particular setting while maintaining and entirely different identity in private. Although we have witnessed a rise in social acceptance of “new” gender roles here in the U.S., childhood can still be difficult for these individuals. Although perceived to be different, to a certain degree the same types of traditional gender role adoption can be cited within the homosexual community as within the heterosexual, giving rise to such delineations as “Butch” or “femme”.

What Does It All Mean?

We can never truly discover the root cause for societal shifts either during or after they occur. At best, we can only hope to analyze the information we have, attempt to learn what these behaviors are telling us, and, hopefully, determine where we are going. But, to understand where we are, we must first understand where we started.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote. The righting of the obvious injustice, was a watershed moment for American women. Progress had begun in leveling the playing field, but it was slow in coming to say the least. In truth, it would take another significant event to push the cause forward.

The Second World War plays an important role in our tale. As one generation had fought for and won, the right to vote, the next proved equality in a much more personal arena. The workplace. With multitudes of men being called away to active duty, the nation turned to women to fulfill needs in what were typically male dominated industries. This effort, led by figureheads such as “Rosie the Riveter”, served not only to keep the military initiative afloat overseas, but provided a much needed lift to a previously lagging economy here as well. Another, perhaps more subtle, side-effect of this involvement was a boost in confidence to women in general. The gap between the genders narrowed once more. Then the war ended.

As the soldiers returned home and, more specifically, to work they would have found a much different environment than they had left. Some women remained at their new found jobs, but many returned to the roles they had filled prior to WWII as wives and “baby boom” mothers.
As the birthrate skyrocketed to historical highs, the wartime progress they had made and women’s movement in general, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and put to bed beside the next generation of hopefuls.

It’s easy to see, or at least guess at the psychology of the average woman when “The Pill” was unleashed in 1960. After consecutive generations of faltering progress, finally the remaining biological obstacle was lifted from the path of women everywhere. The race to make up for lost time began. What began as a movement, quickly became a stampede, as women everywhere sought to change the balance of power and find a voice wherever they could. Birthrates plummeted as women chose newfound options over the staid paths of yesteryear. For the first time, women were in control of the bedroom as well. Sexual attitudes shifted dramatically as bedroom discussions vanished and procreation gave way to recreation. The fashion world raced to keep up with the rapidly changing population as hemlines climbed and climbed again. The miniskirt was born and men everywhere rejoiced.

“Free love” reigned throughout the land and, for a time, there was joy. Men felt a lifting of burden as culture no longer dictated they be the sole breadwinner. The taboo of sex had all but vanished. Men everywhere had awakened, seemingly overnight to find a simpler, free-spirited, and certainly more erotic world. The long shouldered burden of responsibility was sloughed to the ground in the midst of wine, women, and song. It is at that moment the problems began.

Women, eager in their quest to prove their equality, gladly relieved the opposing sex of whatever burden they wished to toss off. Men for their part were equally willing to part with their load, divesting themselves even of accountability for not only their actions, but more importantly, the future.

Marriages and births happened later, if at all. And, for perhaps the first time, it became socially acceptable for the two to be mutually exclusive. Women who wished to have children, simply made the decision to do so. Single parent households became prevalent. Mothers valiantly soldiered on to work, with baby in tow. They did the best they could to prepare their children for the world and define their roles as they saw them. But the pressures of work and income, prevented mom from being there as much as she would like. Far too often dad is still content with allowing the woman to prove she can do it all.

It is in this manner that a young boy grows up without a true male role model, but instead learns a watered down version of manhood from his mother and a caricature of it from friends and media. He is left to form his own opinions of what a “man” should be, or struggles to do so in time with the misguided, periodic clich├ęs provided by an absentee father. It is in this fashion, that male accountability slinks further and further away.

Meanwhile, a darker consequence comes to bear. As one gender struggles to redefine itself, so too must the other. As women begin to exhibit more dominate traits, some men began to exhibit subordinate ones. Some however, on a more primal level, seek to display openly their dominance. The rise in instances of sexually predatory behavior, spousal abuse, and a multitude of other deviant acts directed toward the female population is clear indicator of this internal struggle.

It is my belief that we are on a downward spiral that continues today. I do believe that the “Pill” or the introduction of it, played a key role in the creation of the psychology of the decade and, to a certain degree, the continued perspectives of today. However, knowing what began a problem and placing blame are two separate things entirely. We cannot change what has occurred. We can only look to the future and begin the arduous work of setting things right. First, we must admit we are to blame. Male and female alike. Men have ceased being the role models they should have been, and struggle to display the once inherent traits. In this absence, women have accepted far too much responsibility in the world today, allowing men to become lazy. Additionally, women have blinded themselves to the simple truth that they need partners in their lives, just as the opposite is true. The simplest truth is this: It is okay to need someone. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. I am certain that we can correct the mistakes of yesterday and make a better tomorrow. The only obstacle that remains is our own arrogance and unwillingness to admit that we have a problem now.

The Primal Nature of Women As Evidenced in Youth Football

My son, Eli, was a reluctant football player. He loved the camaraderie, and disliked the level of exertion and toughness of the actual “play”. He was one of those big, athletically gifted kids whom the coaches salivated over, then spent the rest of the season trying to instill the “killer instinct” in a kid who was better suited to be the team chaplain.

Whatever Eli lacked along the competitive lines was made up for by an awakening of some latent, primal fierceness in his mother. You have to be a little tough to even sign up for football in Minnesota: us moms, Halloween just around the corner, standing in the slush, bundled in blankets and stuffed in snowmobile suits, with blaze orange knit caps or whatever is in the back of the truck (I once donned a horse blanket), watching our 5th graders battling bravely. I guess you could say it builds character, or something.

One thing it does build, for sure, is the capacity of an introvert to arrive at the game field, set up her folding chair, make sure her toddler is installed on a blanket with some toys, exchange pleasantries with the other Rebels moms, and then undergo a Hulk-like transformation from mild-mannered-mom to bloodthirsty Valkyrie.

That a classical musician, charm school alumna, public servant and veritable church lady could morph into an aggressive, shouting sideline nutcase who would run the length of the field as though carrying the ball herself, really mystified me. Who was this person, anyway? Was it a link back to ancient queens who, like Olympias, the quintessential scheming, over-involved mother of Alexander the Great, would stop at nothing to ruthlessly promote her son’s rise to glory ahead of his rivals’? Is it the nature of mothers to promote our offspring as though the fate of the Empire depended on it?

I always knew I’d do anything to protect my children. I didn’t think that same primal instinct would also extend to promoting them. There was clearly something in me that caused me to act outside my comfort zone without even thinking about it. And to my horror, the behavior didn’t just stop at energetic enthusiasm. I found myself sneering at the opposing moms. I uttered a couple of low-volume vituperatives when the umpire or referee, whichever one does football, made a bad call. I almost made an unladylike gesture, but caught myself before the finger flew. I had the potential to be one of those parents!

This awakening dismayed me as much as it intrigued me. My personal code of conduct had no room for un-sportsman-like behavior, and I pitied, somewhat contemptuously, the aggressive stage mother model. Well, as Walt Kelly, the Pogo comic strip creator so aptly put it, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us!” Intellectually I knew that behaving badly, even bad behavior born of the best intentions and motherly love, wasn’t going to benefit Eli one bit. I liked the thrill of cheering on the team, but didn’t like the confrontational behavior I saw developing in myself. I had to find a way to reconcile the Amazonian warrior queen with Lady Astor.

Learning to appreciate the primal origin of the behavior was Part One. I was still a wonderful person. A wonderful person who loves her boy like crazy, but doesn’t have to GO crazy doing it! The primal instinct of a mother allows us to hear the water boiling in the next room, to know how not to push the swing too high, to respond to the newborn cries that start the milk flowing. This is a wonderful thing. Cherish it and be thankful for it.

The competitive nature of motherhood, properly channeled, is also a good thing. We care if our kids aren’t doing as well as they could and we push them for their own good. We try to position them in places that will benefit them. We look out for unfairness and call it when we see it. The same spark that makes us want to stop the baby crying allows us to advocate for her later. My own mother stepped in when I wasn’t chosen for the concert choir in high school, because she knew I had a great voice and was already taking private voice lessons. She thought the director had not been aware of that. Into the concert choir I went, and majored in vocal performance in college. We do have to choose our battles wisely, though. Sparks can start fires.

So, I learned to love my internal Olympias, without resorting to treason, murder and mayhem as she did. I respect motherhood in a way I never had before, realizing the powerful drive we have to promote our offspring and the responsibility we have to “keep it clean.” My son’s class in pre-school made paper-plate angels one Christmas. The angels were all lined up on a table when I came to pick him up, and I cooed, “Oooooh, look at all the beautiful angels!” My sweet 3-year-old corrected me: “No Mama, dey are Mudders.” This Mudder on the sidelines is determined to be more angelic. Gotta run….I thought I saw a bad call.