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The Importance of Offering Children an Intergenerational Identity

I grew up in a family of story tellers and talkers. They’re known for chatting, for saying goodbye, and then taking 45 minutes to make it out the door. It’s what they’ve always done, tales of triumph and failure the narrative patches holding the pieces of the family quilt together.


This skill, then, should come naturally to me. That’s why an exchange with my daughter over a game of Uno unsettled me.

“I used to play Uno with my Papa,” I told Wren. “He’s the one who taught me how to play.”

“Who’s Papa?”

“Like your Pappy. He was my grandfather.”

“Why have I never met him?” she asked.

“He died when I was your age.”

She looked sad, and I felt my stomach drop like an elevator on free fall. My grandfather was one of the biggest characters in my life, one of the most important people who played a role in my formative years and beyond. His death leveled me, and my nine-year-old daughter had no idea who he was. I’d never shown her pictures or told her stories.

His death was followed closely by the collapse of my parents’ marriage and the rearranging of family members that felt like tectonic plates shifting without end. I buried the pain, and in the process, I buried the memories.

I did exactly the opposite of what I should have done if my goal was to raise emotionally healthy children.

The importance of the narrative

My motive for keeping my family’s history quiet might have been to protect my kids from the hurt and confusion of death and divorce, or it might have been to avoid sharing my own mistakes and missteps from the past. Whatever the reason, it was the wrong choice. Researchers agree that children need to know that they have a place in a bigger story than their own.

Children who have what is called an intergenerational identity feel more in control of their lives, according to research by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush from Emory University. Knowing where they fit in a story also seems to paint a rosier view of the family overall, since children in the study who knew the most about their families viewed their family units in a more positive light.

Telling our kids family stories may even lower the chances of anxiety and depression, even when world events stand to trigger a negative response. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush followed up with the kids who had participated in their study only months before. Those who knew they had a place in a larger family story were more resilient than those who scored low on what they knew about their families. An intergenerational identity helped serve as a shield between these kids and catastrophe.

There’s also the benefit of having kids who are less likely to become narcissist. Being a part of a bigger story means not being the center of the universe, a fact we want to instill in our children. We can give them both self-confidence and humility by sharing family stories, helping them develop a sense of self-worth and resilience without losing empathy and becoming solely self-focused.

Author A.J. Jacobs, organizer of the Global Family Reunion, points out another advantage of children knowing their family history: they may become interested in going even further back, looking deeper into genealogy. Their interests can create opportunities for them to find out that we live on a very interconnected planet. “It’s eye-opening,” Jacobs said during an interview. “It’s much harder to be racist and narrow-minded when you see how closely linked all the races are.”

How to tell the story

Not every narrative form is equal. Researchers recommend the oscillating family narrative when sharing family history with children. This style deals with both positive and negative events and enforces the strength of family and perseverance throughout. It avoids sharing only the ups or only the downs, instead presenting a more realistic view of life. Family life, like life in general, has good and bad.

I can use the oscillating family narrative to tell my kids about my younger years and all the memories I have with my parents and grandparents. That will eventually lead to divorce and death, obvious setbacks, but we can then move to stories about how we found ways to heal and move on. This leads to the family they have now, full of both biological and step-grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles who are focused on making a family environment for them.

Good can come from hard times, and that’s the point of the oscillating family narrative. Children will know not to expect everything to be perfect when raised on these types of stories, but they will know that even during trials, people persevere. Mistakes from our families’ pasts can serve as road maps for others, even if they are just evidence of what not to do.

Considering a child’s maturity level is key when sharing family tales. Being honest is always a win, but giving details that are appropriate to a child’s age and understanding is important. Dr. Alisha Griffith recommends parents “meet them on their level, be direct and honest, and use simple language that they would understand. It’s also important to listen to their concerns … and answer their questions.” The point of a family narrative isn’t to overwhelm kids with TMI but to allow them to see where they fit in the big picture.

Getting started

Dr. Fivush created a “Do You Know?” questionnaire that asked children in the study to answer 20 questions about their family stories. It contains questions like: Do you know how your parents met? Do you know the source of your name? Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up? These questions are a great way to start the conversation.

When it’s time to share, there’s no one way to go about it. Family reunions are a place my late uncle entertained generations with his elaborate tales. Any meal or gathering where the family is together can be a time for sharing. One friend I have even videotaped her grandparents telling family stories from their lives. Those videos are now in the hands of younger generations, preserving family stories that can continue to be passed down.

Regular occurrences, like a game of Uno, can even spark memories and offer a time to share. Family stories can take the place of books during bedtime a couple of times a week.

The reaction when I finally started unearthing some memories to pass to my kids was priceless. They winced when they heard the one about how I accidentally hit my sister in the face with a bat, laughed at my Papa mistaking poop that had fallen from my sister’s diaper for chocolate (family stopped him before he ate it), and begged for more stories as bedtime approached.

It wasn’t difficult for me to see the immediate benefits of these stories. My kids laughed, they were engaged, and they seemed to feel they were growing in the knowledge they possessed about their family members. They are learning with each knew story that they are connected to people who succeed, fail, and find ways to overcome, and that’s a gift that can be passed down for generations to come.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Toxic masculinity is having a cultural moment. Or rather, the idea that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic is having one.

For parents who are trying to raise kind boys who will grow into compassionate men, the American Psychological Association's recent assertion that "traditional masculinity ideology" is bad for boys' well-being is concerning because our kids are exposed to that ideology every day when they walk out of then house or turn on the TV or the iPad.

That's why a new viral ad campaign from Gillette is so inspiring—it proves society already recognizes the problems the APA pointed out, and change is possible.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) youtu.be

Gillette's new ad campaign references the "Me Too" movement as a narrator explains that "something finally changed, and there will be no going back."

If may seem like something as commercial as a marketing campaign for toiletries can't make a difference in changing the way society pressures influence kids, but it's been more than a decade since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while the campaign isn't without criticism, it was successful in elevating some of the body-image pressure on girls but ushering in an era of body-positive, inclusive marketing.

Dove's campaign captured a mainstream audience at a time when the APA's "Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women" were warning psychologists about how "unrealistic media images of girls and women" were negatively impacting the self-esteem of the next generation.

Similarly, the Gillette campaign addresses some of the issues the APA raises in its newly released "Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men."

According to the APA, "Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health."

The report's authors define that ideology as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The APA worries that society is rewarding men who adhere to "sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men's ability to function adaptively."

That basically sounds like the recipe for Me Too, which is of course its own cultural movement.

Savvy marketers at Gillette may be trying to harness the power of that movement, but that's not entirely a bad thing. On its website, Gillette states that it created the campaign (called "The Best a Man Can Be," a play on the old Gillette tagline "The Best a Man Can Get") because it "acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."

Gillette's not wrong. We know that advertising has a huge impact on our kids. The average kid in America sees anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 commercials on TV each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, and that's not even counting YouTube ads, the posters at the bus stop and everything else.

That's why Gillette's take makes sense from a marketing perspective and a social one. "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man," the company states.

What does that mean?

It means taking a stance against homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment and that harmful, catch-all-phrase that gives too many young men a pass to engage in behavior that hurts others and themselves: "Boys will be boys."

Gillette states that "by holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come."

Of course, it's not enough for razor marketers to do this. Boys need support from parents, teachers, coaches and peers to be resilient to the pressures of toxic masculinity.

When this happens, when boys are taught that strength doesn't mean overpowering others and that they can be successful while still being compassionate, the APA says we will "reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide."

This is a conversation worth having and 2019 is the year to do it.

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Teaching a young child good behavior seems like it should be easy and intuitive when, in reality, it can be a major challenge. When put to the test, it's not as easy as you might think to dole out effective discipline, especially if you have a strong-willed child.

As young children develop independence and learn more about themselves in relation to others and their environment, they can easily grow frustrated when they don't always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally.

It's crucial that parents recognize these limitations and also set up rules to protect your child and those they encounter. These rules, including a parent's or caregiver's follow-up actions, allow your child to learn and develop a better understanding of what is (and what is not) appropriate behavior.

Here are a few key ways to correct negative behavior in an efficient way:

1. Use positive reinforcement.

Whenever possible, look to deliver specific and positive praise when a child engages in good behavior or if you catch them in an act of kindness. Always focus on the positive things they are doing so that they are more apt to recreate those behaviors. This will help them start to learn the difference between good and poor behavior.

2. Be simple and direct.

Though this seems like a no-brainer, focus your child using constructive feedback versus what not to do or where they went wrong. Give reasons and explanations for rules, as best as you can for their age group.

For example, if you're teaching them to be gentle with your pet, demonstrate the correct motions and tell your child, "We're gentle when we pet the cat like this so that we don't hurt them," versus, "Don't pull on her tail!"

3. Re-think the "time out."

Many classrooms are starting to have cozy nooks where children are encouraged to have alone time when they may feel out of control. In lieu of punishment, sending a child to a "feel-good" area removes them from a situation that's causing distress. This provides much-needed comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own.

4. Use 'no' sparingly.

When a word is repeated over and over, it begins to lose meaning. There are better ways to discipline your child than saying "no." Think about replaying the message in a different way to increase the chances of your child taking note. Rather than shouting, "No, stop that!" when your toddler is flinging food at dinnertime, it's more productive to use encouraging words that prompt better behavior, such as, "Food is for eating, what are we supposed to do when we're sitting at the dinner table?" This encourages them to consider their behavior.

The above methods help create teachable moments by providing opportunities for development while making sure the child feels safe and cared for. It is important to mirror these discipline techniques at home and communicate often with your child care providers so that you're always on the same page.

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To the mamas awake in the middle of the night,

If you are one of the many moms with a little darling who doesn't sleep through the night, I feel your pain. I really do.

Having been blessed with two wonderful sleepers (aka my first and second babies), my third baby has been a shock to my system. He hasn't slept through the night since he was born and he's now 16 months. I do everything "right." I put him down sleepy but awake so he can settle himself to sleep. I keep the room dark and quiet.

But one simple fact remains: When my son wakes up in the night, he wants me. And he'll scream the house down if he doesn't get me.

Last night my 1-year-old woke at 3:30 am. He was stirring a bit at first, then started to really let it rip, so I got him up out of his crib and brought him into bed with me. We cuddled for a while. Then suddenly, he wanted to get off the bed and I said no. Then he started to scream and throw himself around on the bed before eventually being sick everywhere.

It was now 4:30 am. I dutifully changed the sheets, changed my son, changed myself, and then we climbed back into bed, the smell of vomit still lingering.

I tried to put him back in his crib around 5 am but he woke right up. I brought him back into bed with me, but quickly realized this wasn't what he wanted either. He was thrashing around again, trying to figure out a way off of the bed.

Finally, close to 6 am he decided he wanted to go to sleep. After about 10 minutes of watching him sleep, I felt brave enough to try to put him back in his room. I gently lifted him up, placed him in his crib and quietly crept back into my bed.

This left me with just enough time to fall back into a deep sleep, which meant I felt exhausted when my alarm went off just after 7 am.

Sadly, last night wasn't a one-off. This is a fairly frequent occurrence for me (although dealing with vomit is luckily quite rare!). Which means that when I say I understand what it's like to have a baby who doesn't sleep, I really mean it.

So here's what I want you to know, mama.

If you are awake in the night because your baby needs you then you are not alone. Despite what you might read, it's common for babies to wake up through the night. So if you're sitting in bed feeling like you're the only mother in the world awake, trust me, you're far from it.

There are mamas like us all over the world. Sitting there in the dark. Cuddling babies or soothing them to sleep again. Some, like me, might be changing sheets or abandoning any hope of getting sleep that night at all. Others might be up and down like a yo-yo every few hours. The rest might just be up once and then will be able to go back to sleep.

There will, however, also be mamas who are sound asleep. Mamas who have older children who no longer wake in the night. And they would want you to know that it will be okay. It won't be forever. One day, you'll realize that your baby no longer needs or wants you in the night.

And while you'll be so glad for your sleep you'll probably also be a little sad that there are no more night time cuddles.

It's hard to cope with a baby who doesn't sleep well at night. Really hard sometimes. You may feel like you can't deal with it anymore or you may be wishing that this phase would just stop already so you can get some rest.

Exhaustion often means that you struggle to get through the day. It can mean that you find it hard to drag yourself out of bed. Or if you're anything like me, you might be irritable and snap at the people you love. Or maybe it means relying on caffeine, sugar and Netflix to get you and your kiddos through the day.

But here's the amazing thing about mothers—no matter what has gone down during the night, we get up as usual. We go about our day just like everyone else. We care for and love our children, without giving them a hard time for disrupting our sleep. We don't moan, we don't complain. We just get on with it.

And when night comes, we go to bed knowing that there's every chance we'll be awake in the middle of the night again...

We get up without fail when our babies need us and we do what we need to do for them. Because we are the nighttime warriors. We are mamas.

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No one decides to be a stay-at-home mom for the paycheck—but if we were to earn one, it would put us in league with some CEOs. Although it doesn't do much for the bank account, a survey that calculated what the average salary would be for a stay-at-home mom is mighty validating. (Remember this next time anyone asks what you do all day.)

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