All Joy, No Fun?

A good friend posted yet another writeup on the “childfree argument” and the trials and tribulations of Parenthood:

An extremely well-written overview of recent studies showing how and why the fun has gone out of parenthood:

All Joy and No Fun

Why is this important to the childfree by choice? Well, the next time someone says, “You’ll regret not having kid.” or, “Parenthood is such a joy, you’re missing out” you can send them a link to this article.

And, I was compelled to respond…

That’s a detailed writeup with lots of references to well-founded studies, no doubt.  But, I do not think it is putting forth an argument that has no “other” side.

I quote from the writeup… “A few generations ago, people weren’t stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy. Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters.

The question is, why are we beginning to examine this new “choice”.  Is it really because it’s better for the planet to have less resource-depleting human beings on it?  Or could it be self-centeredness on our part?  Or hubris?  Just the pursuit of our own happiness/comfort/convenience, above all else?

Once again, I quote from the writeup… “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak. This scene, which isn’t even all that awful or uncommon, makes it perfectly clear why parenting may be regarded as less fun than having dinner with friends or baking a cake. Loving one’s children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing.

Re-read this para in light of the questions I asked earlier.  Yes, travelling across the world or catching a movie with friends can be infinitely more satisfying to us as individuals, than the trials and tribulations of “parenting”, in spite of the limitless love we may have for our children.  So why do some of us do it?!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Parenting is not for everyone.  And, I don’t mean to imply that being childfree is not an option.  But, there’s gotta be more to the reason than individual comfort and convenience, don’t you think?!

Every Life has a purpose, even though, at times, it may not be quite apparent to us.  And, being a part of nature’s creation process may be the one thing that brings us all closer to Nature herself, and by extension, to God (or whatever life-force we believe in!)

We may each have our reasons for doing what we choose to do (and not doing so, too)!  The next kid that walks this Earth may not invent cold fusion, but that doesn’t mean that his/her time on this planet was purposeless…

Emergency Child Care

I recently discovered a very useful parenting resource called KidsHealth which offers tons of tips and writeups on topics concerning kids and parenting.  One such example is their fine collection of Emergency Child Care sheets that you can readily print out and use:

It’s practically impossible to parent a child from infancy to adolescence without encountering a situation, be it minor or major, that requires medical attention either at home or by a health care professional. But we’ve taken the guesswork out of what to do in some common scenarios.

Check out these sheets – or print them to keep in a folder for easy access – to help you handle some common childhood emergencies and less serious, but still scary, situations…

The list at KidsHealth covers everything from Animal Bites to Vomiting.  Some of this information may already be known to you, while some aspects will be new.  But, when it comes to matters concerning your child’s safety, the most important thing is to have the right information handy, when you need it the most!

I chose to print out a few of the sheets that I thought would be more frequent in occurrence, and stick them on the home cupboard. 

Get the full list, here.  And, have a safe trip…

On Being ChildFree

A good friend recently introduced me to a fantastic site “on being child-free“.  Frankly, up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of the phrase!  I’m a parent of two adorable children, and have a number of friends who aren’t married, and don’t have kids yet.  But, I’ve never thought of them as having consciously opted to be ‘child-free’… I always figured, it was a matter of “when”, not “if”!

So, it was with much interest and enthusiasm that I devoured whatever I could read on the subject.  This would be an opportunity for me to learn something from an entirely new perspective – not an easy thing to come by, these days. 

I read the Top 100 reasons not to have Kids, and went through the Best FAQ page on being Childfree, and understood what it means to say Yes to ChildFreedom.  And, once I did all that, I was able to really appreciate the arguments of the other side.

I fully agree with my friend – Joy – on the fact that people will spend hours, days, even months researching before buying an expensive gadget, but won’t stop to think before bringing another human to this planet!  More people need to think about what it means to have children, consciously, before it “happens” to them.  And, making an informed decision is a great start indeed. 

But, there is also an argument against making rational arguments.  Behavioural studies show that, in most situations, we humans have already decided which course we want to pursue in a matter of seconds (or milliseconds).  We then go about finding enough data (pros and cons) to basically support our choices.  (We both know that you can find enough data to support pretty much any argument, don’t we?!)

I’m not saying every one should be a parent.  Frankly, I think they ought to issue valid licenses for parents!  And, I do agree that every couple (every individual?) should be able to choose their own path, irrespective of what society thinks is the acceptable norm. 

But, the experience of being a parent is unlike any other.  

There’s something magical about being a parent to a child that can make you appreciate Life in all it has to offer…  It’s one of the rare things in life where the sum of its parts is not as much as its whole.  Therefore, any list of Top 100 reasons or the likes will not even come close to experiencing the sheer joy of holding a newborn in your hand. 

The choice should be your’s.  And, it should be an informed one.  Remember though, after all is said and done, the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of… John Dryden.

Recommended reading: Happily Childfree

Three Tough Questions

I love the stuff they churn out at HowStuffWorks, especially because they cover so much of Science and Technology.  Therefore, even I was surprised to read this, recently:

Over the years, you give your child a great deal of information in answer to his questions both trivial and serious. Some of your answers are very brief, just “Yes” or “No”; others are longer. Some consist of facts, plain and simple, and others express emotions, values, or philosophy. With the first “Why?” question you answer, you establish your own unique style of giving information, and your child knows from then on what to expect from you when he asks a question. However, some of your child’s questions will be easier to answer than others.

Among the most difficult questions you will have to answer for your child, are the ones on Death, Sex and Divorce.  In a well-written post, HowStuffWorks offers some really sensible advice on each of these three.  I am including a brief extract from each, to give you a sneak peek of what’s in store:

On Death

To counter denial, tell your child as often as necessary that yes, Grandpa is dead, and will not return, but those who love him will always remember him. Do not use misleading terms such as “sleeping” and “gone away”; the first may well make your child afraid to go to bed, and the second leads her to expect Grandpa’s return. And do not use confusing euphemisms such as “called home” and “happy in heaven.” Your child will find it hard to understand why people are sad when death sounds so good…

At some point after the death, your child may feel a great deal of fear — fear she will die, fear you will die and leave her alone and uncared for, nameless fear that if Grandpa can die, anything terrifying and horrible can happen. In spite of your constant reassurance, your child may regress in areas in which she had recently made strides foward, such as night waking, toilet training, or eating. Bear with her; the stage will pass…

On Sex

The best answer, wherever and whenever the question comes up, is brief and factual: “They grow inside their mothers.” Later, when your child has absorbed this bit of information and comes back with more questions, you should be equally matter-of-fact in explaining, probably in the following order, that the baby grows in the mother’s uterus, a special place in the mother’s body; comes out through a birth passage called the vagina; and is conceived when a cell from the father’s body joins a cell in the mother’s body…

Your hesitancy about explaining sexuality and reproduction to your child is natural and common among most parents. It disappears as you become more accustomed to answering the questions and giving the information so important for your child to have. Do remember to include the roles of love and intimacy and respect in your talks about reproduction with a child of any age. If you do not, you are telling only half the story…

On Divorce

Even very young children should be told the parents are separating before the departing spouse moves out, if possible. You should tell them the truth — the parent who is leaving will not come back to live. However young they are, they should not be told Daddy is going on a business trip or Mommy is going to visit Grandma. Divorce is somewhat similar to death in that it is final; euphemisms and lies or half-truths do more harm than good and ultimately have to be corrected…

Probably the first question a child of any age will ask is “Why?” Your answer may be something like this: “Because we aren’t happy living together, and we think it would be best for all of us if we lived apart.” The second question may be unasked, but don’t doubt that it is in your child’s mind: “If you can stop being happy together, can you stop being happy with me?” To attempt to dispel this fear, it is very important for you to say to your child, “We will both always love you; that will never change.”…

Do take the time to read the entire post.

Building Self Esteem

Babycenter posted an excellent article on “Ten ways to build your child’s self-esteem” in which it detailed simple strategies that each of us can use to boost our child’s confidence. 

The suggestions ranged from giving unconditional love to supporting healthy risks.  What I found most noteworthy, however, was how the writeup distinguished between “Praise” and “Encouragement”:

Provide encouragement. Every child needs the kind of support from loved ones that signals, “I believe in you. I see your effort. Keep going!” Encouragement means acknowledging progress – not just rewarding achievement. So if your child is struggling with a math problem, say: “You’re trying very hard and you almost have it!” instead of “Not like that. Let me do it.”

There’s a difference between praise and encouragement. One rewards the task while the other rewards the person (“You did it!” rather than “I’m proud of you!”). Praise can make a child feel that he’s only “good” if he does something perfectly. Encouragement, on the other hand, acknowledges the effort. “Tell me about the game. I saw you really hustling out there” is more helpful than saying, “You’re the best player on the team.” Too much praise can sap self-esteem because it can create pressure to perform and set up a continual need for approval from others. So dole out the praise judiciously and offer encouragement liberally; it will help your child grow up to feel good about himself.

Don’t give this one a miss.  It has long term implications for your child’s Life.

Supporting the Homemaker

This one is about how to be a good partner to your stay-at-home spouse.  Steve at BripBlap has posted an excellent writeup on the subject that covers his ten tips on what you can do.  It not only includes a simple explanation of what each suggestion refers to, but also deals with the problems that ensue and offers solutions to them. 

What more can you ask for, really?  All that’s left to do is implement.  Here’s the list in brief:

1. Don’t ‘decompress’ for an hour after you get home.
2. Take care of chores without ‘dividing them up.’
3. Give the gift of break time.
4. Don’t be selfish with your own ‘me time.’
5. Remember you are less expert in your child’s moods and needs.
6. Back off.
7. Don’t bring work home.
8. Try not to undermine ‘wind-down’ time.
9. Turn it off.
10. Remember that this is a team effort.

Read the entire piece; it’s well worth the time.  In the end, you’ll surely be happier if you have a relaxed spouse and happy kid(s)…

Safe Surfing

A series of links led me to an excellent writeup on Komando.com listing the 10 Commandments for Kids Online.  Here are just a few…

I will not try to win free things or buy things on the Internet without my parents’ permission. If I get a message that I won something, I will show it to my parents. If I get an e-mail asking for passwords or other secret stuff, I will ask my parents.

I will never tell anyone online or post online that I am home alone. I won’t give out my last name, my home address or telephone number, the name of my school or teachers, where my parents work or their telephone numbers without getting my parents’ permission. I will never give out my friends’ screen names, e-mail addresses, names, addresses and telephone numbers, and I will remind them to keep mine a secret.

I WILL NEVER, EVER MEET WITH ANYONE I’VE TALKED TO ONLINE WITHOUT FIRST TALKING WITH MY PARENTS.

This is just an excerpt, of course.  And, depending on the age of your child, you may or may not subscribe to some of these.  But it’s a great concept, and one that deserves implementation on some level.

It also got me thinking about other things you can do as a parent, to keep your loved ones safe.

Here’s a link to another excellent writeup from Komando on Limiting your children’s Screen Time.  It features many useful tips on parenting controls and how to use available Technology to make your job a bit easier.

And, here’s a link to OpenDNS – a (free) service that helps you keep your online environment safe through phishing protection and other forms of security, without the hassle of complicated software installation and configuration.

Safe surfing…

Dangers of Praise

A remarkable article in the New York Times expounds the Power and Perils of praising your kids.  If you have children, you simply cannot afford to ignore this finding…

Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day — We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.

In a similar way, we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise.

A series of experiments reveals that it’s not just the praise but the kind of praising that gets different results…

For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly. 

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized — it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

Luckily for us, there are a few things we can do differently…

In the first stage, I fell off the wagon around other parents when they were busy praising their kids. I didn’t want Luke to feel left out. I felt like a former alcoholic who continues to drink socially. I became a Social Praiser… 

Then I tried to use the specific-type praise that Dweck recommends. I praised Luke, but I attempted to praise his “process.” This was easier said than done…

… every night he has math homework and is supposed to read a phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying, “You played great.” And if he worked hard to get to the ball, I praised the effort he applied.

Just as the research promised, this focused praise helped him see strategies he could apply the next day. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.

Read the entire essay.  This one is a must-read.

How to Photograph Children

If you are a parent, you most likely spend more than 80% of your memory card (or film?!) photographing your children.  As a photography enthusiast and parent, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some helpful tips on making the most of this pursuit.

Does the camera matter?

Any camera is basically a device that lets you capture light in an instant. To that end, if the available light is adequate, just about any camera will do. However, when it comes to photographing young children, you will do a whole lot better with a camera that has a fast response-time.

Most modern DSLRs (or SLRs) offer ultra-fast startup times and shutter speeds that will allow you to capture that “Kodak” moment in a flash! For the more technically inclined, there are decisions to be made about shooting modes, film/ISO speeds, lens choices, etc.  As a rule of thumb, higher ISOs will allow you to extract the most from available light, especially when you’re shooting indoors. And, using a fast lens (with a large maximum aperture) in Portrait or Aperture Priority mode will work wonders, especially when photographing children. If you are trying to capture a moving child or pet, choosing faster shutter speeds (or switching to Shutter Priority mode) will help you snap that action shot without causing motion-blur.

What about the Technique?

As with any subject, learn to hold your camera steady so that your movements don’t cause blur in the pictures. If you’re planning an outdoor trip or vacation, avoid taking a camera that you are unfamiliar with – the last thing you want is to miss a great shot while trying to figure out which settings to change in your camera. If you’re using Flash, know that most modern cameras have a red-eye reduction mode that lights up the flash bulb more than once for each shot – this can confuse your young (or even older) subjects, so turn that off before you begin. My personal preference is to avoid using the built-in Flash as far as possible – you get much better skintones and the results look much more natural if you can work with the available light.

Coming to the actual shooting, it’s been said countless times that photographing children is best done when the child is comfortable with the surroundings and the photographer.  Whatever you can do to make them more comfortable will help, and whatever you do to cause stress will not! If you’re unfamiliar with the location, it may help to do a small walk-around and plan your shots in terms of where the children will feel most naturally at ease.  Candid shots may yield far better results than your attempts to make the child pose in a certain way, but sometimes a child’s attempt at artificially posing can make for a memorable photograph.  If your camera has a burst mode, you can get interesting results of your kids in action as the camera tries to capture one motion in a series of shots.

Most importantly, try to get down to their level and see their world from that height – the photographs you shoot from their height may turn out to be the ones you most want to keep.

For good measure, read this excellent article from Digital Photography School on How to Photograph Children; it also sports some great children shots for inspiration.

Happy clicking!

Changing the Education System

A few weeks ago, Rajesh Jain in a post entitled ‘Rethinking Education‘ blogged about the various approaches towards changing the prevalent Education system in India, and about his own thoughts on what’s needed:

One approach is to work within the current system and see what best can be done. It assumes that the legacy that exists will be very hard to change — everyone has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Parents are not keen to take risks with their kids, the ones in the education business would prefer to stick to the status quo since they are already in the business, the government seems to be quite happy with the way things are, and the kids don’t have much of a choice anyways.  So, even as some of us believe that the current education system needs a dramatic revamp, it is not easy to figure out where to begin. (Perhaps, there isn’t an entrance at all for those not already in.)

The second approach, advocated by Atanu, is to create a parallel system from scratch — encompassing K-12 and beyond. This thinking starts with the belief that the current education system is fatally flawed and there is no way to apply band-aid. What is needed is a new system, a new standard. And there will be early adopters among parents and kids who will be drawn to this new system.

My personal vote goes for the second approach.  The world has changed a lot, especially in the past couple decades, and the simplicity that needs to be there in the education system has vanished. One hears of kids as young as two and three years going for coaching so they can get into the preferred school of their parents. IIT coaching now starts in the sixth standard. It is reaching ridiculous heights (or lows). And then look at  the quality of the product that comes out of this system.

This is a burning issue for many parents, and naturally, Rajesh’s post saw a flurry of comments in a short span.  Here’s what I wrote in response :

My view is that disruptive innovation has a place in many things, but not in something as well-rooted in society as our present education system… There is just too much at stake for parents.

… most people within the system are averse to change of any sort – that is typical human response to any new idea. However, with a new system, even if you get some folks to switch over, many others will not fearing what will happen to their children once the system’s runway ends.

Already, I hear many concerned and informed parents voicing their fears of how their children will eventually have to cope up with the “mainstream” once they graduate from their gurukuls or whatever liberal-minded school system they follow. That fear is what keeps many of them from sending their kids down the less-trodden path in the first place! And until a critical mass of people *do* choose the new route, the fear of the majority would always remain…

… I think a more agreeable option would be to make small but significant changes in the existing system (even if that takes more effort), so that more and more people eventually benefit from the changes.  As a parent of two, I would certainly welcome a move in that direction.

Rajesh sent me an email in reply, later that day, in which he mentioned that the best solution may well be a combination of the two approaches.  What do you think?