Friday, July 23, 2010

The Science of Parenting

In the past, I have been accused of being rigid or inflexible. I am a scientist, a physicist and engineer by training but also at heart, and, like most science-minded people, it is in my nature to seek out truth and objectivity. So, I was very pleased to find an extremely interesting and helpful new website about parenting. It covers all aspects of child development and care (i.e. breastfeeding, sleep training, social skills, etc.) but, for every claim it makes, it sites a study supporting it. And, while I have not reviewed every study for credibility, this site is miles away from Baby with its political agendas being pushed under the guise of real science. The site is:

You will often hear moms say things like "There is no right or wrong way to parent, it's about whatever works for you and your family." I strongly disagree. There are definitely wrong ways to parent. And, thanks to the plethora of anthropological, neurological and psychological studies that this website has brought together, the "thinking parent" now has a credible guide to help them make the best decisions for their child. While I don't claim that I have always made the right decisions for Dahlia, I was pleased to find that most of the parenting behaviors sited in these studies as being best for kids, were things that come naturally to me and to most parents.

For example, while it is hard to believe, there are actually women out there who purposely deprive their children (even babies under a year) of affection! Most of them do this not because the child did something wrong, but because they think it will make them independent or because they believe their infant is trying to manipulate them. This is just DUMB. But, put more eloquently ...

"By definition, securely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them" (Mercer 2006).

So, as may seem obvious and intuitive to most of us, routinely ignoring a child's desperate pleas to be held or cuddled will not only fail to make them more independent, it will create an individual without the sense of emotional security necessary to ever achieve independence. Because the need for attachment and affection is innate in humans, a parent will never be successful in conditioning a child to not want this. By repeatedly ignoring them, they will only ensure that the child spends the rest of its life looking for what they chose not to give.

This is just one of the topics covered in this amazing website. I would recommend it, not only to parents but to anyone wanting to learn more about child development and human nature.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Seven Deadly Sins

I am not a religious woman. However, I feel that a few of the seven deadly sins are, to this day, an accurate depiction of the worst in humanity. That which is destructive to the "spirit" and, in some cases, to society as a whole. I have listed them, in order of severity, according to Dante's Divine Comedy and Wikipedia:

Lust: "Unlawful sexual desire, such as desiring sex with a person outside marriage."

Interesting that this was #1 in Dante's time. Taking this definition of lust, it would surely rank at the bottom if it makes the list at all which, in my book, it does not. Society has a lot more to worry about than horny teenagers.

Gluttony: "Wasting of food, either through eating too much food, drink or drugs, misplaced desire for food for its taste, or not giving food to the needy."

Guilty. Overeating is indeed a problem for me, as it is for many Americans. The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. is proof of this. Most restaurants in this country offer portions too large for people to actually consume. Still, many people sit there and stuff themselves to the point of nausea in an attempt to clear their plates. There have been multiple studies that confirm this phenomenon. They have shown that the amount of food that people will eat is proportional to how much they are served. It is no wonder why, throughout history, the idea of beauty has been tied to sacrifice. When food was scarce and having to work outside in full sun was the norm, a beautiful woman was one that was rotund and pale. Now that most of us work indoors and have more than enough food to eat, beauty is thin and tan.

So, are taxes on sugary junk foods the answer to our country's obesity "crisis"? Not likely. For one, people will not trade in their Twinkies for carrot sticks just because they have to pay a little more for them. But much more importantly, it is blatant assault on personal freedom to punish people for what they consume. Being fat and unhealthy is a personal choice that one should be allowed to make without government intervention. If the State is given the right to decide and enforce rules as to what foods are best for us, then we have opened up our bodies to their governance and, consequently, relinquished sole ownership. If we are not free to decide what goes on within the confines of our bodies, then freedom means nothing at all.

Greed: "Greed is when somebody wants more things than the person needs or can use."

There is a fine line in the minds of most people between "greed" and "ambition". Wanting more than you need, well ... who doesn't? All we need to survive is food and shelter. So almost all people would be greedy if you take that definition. I think it is important to want more. Wanting more is what keeps civilization going. If people were satisfied with just the bare essentials, there would be no invention and no technological growth. We would all live in caves or, less dramatically, we would all be dirt poor and happy to stay that way. If there are people out there who really want to stay poor, I have nothing against it. I just don't know anyone that does.

So who is to say how much is enough? Who should decide when you have accumulated enough wealth? I think the answer is obvious - YOU should! If you have reached a point in life where you are exactly where you want to be and have as much as you ever want to have, then you are part of a fortunate minority. But to chastise others for wanting more, is to claim authority over them and the right to decide the limits of their success. On the other hand, gaining wealth at the expense of another person's right to work to achieve their own is criminal. This is how I define true greed. The greedy person willfully deprives others to fulfill their own love of excess. They don't need it, they simply want it -even if they have to take it from someone who does needs it and is willing to work for it.

Sloth: "Laziness; idleness and wastefulness of time that a person has."

This is one of my personal pet peeves. Not only is sloth revolting to me, it is also infuriating. The lazy person, via their action (or inaction), asserts that they should be exempt from pulling their own weight. I see sloth as a form of entitlement. In almost every social structure, physical work is a necessity and a precursor to co-operation. The lazy person is essentially saying that they are entitled to rest while you work and they benefit from your efforts without contributing their own.

Wrath: "Inappropriate (not right) feelings of hatred, revenge or even denial, as well as punitive desires outside of justice."

Guilty. When I feel like someone has seriously wronged me, I want revenge. The problem with this is that wrath and justice need not go together. While I'd like to think that I would only take an eye for an eye, people often forget that this biblical phrase was originally conceived to inspire mercy. It is in humanity's nature (with a few exceptions, I'm sure) to seek retribution that matches the degree of misery that they have had to endure. Since events affect people differently, this will not always amount to punishment matching misdeed.

Envy: "Hating other people for what they have. Dante wrote that envy is "Love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs""

Dante said it beautifully. I cannot compete but I will start by saying that, by definition, jealousy and envy are different. Jealousy is a normal, and often healthy, human emotion. Envy is something else entirely. Courtesy of Merriam Webster:

Jealous: intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness

Envy: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage

So "envy" implies pain or resentment on the part of the person feeling it. Most people have looked at someone else and thought "I wish I had a car like that" or "I wish my body looked like hers!". I think the difference is in what happens next. For example, the jealous man, after seeing a guy with a more expensive car, may say to himself "That's a nice ride. He must make a lot more money than I do. I need to get a better job!". But he will harbor no ill will and soon go on with his day, oftentimes with new determination to better himself. The envious man, however, will be consumed by thoughts of worthlessness and by anger.. He will feel true hatred toward the guy with the nice ride and toward himself. The envious man will experience prolonged suffering at his own hands.

Envy seems to make people see things through a skewed lens of injustice. If the life of someone they know is going well, they will find erroneous reasons why that person doesn't deserve it, or why their happiness won't last. Envy is a damning emotion. It deprives the people who suffer from it of ever achieving lasting happiness. This is simply because their happiness and sense of self worth is measured in the misery of those around them and in the failures of the people they call "friends".

Pride: "A desire to be important or attractive to others or excessive love of self (holding self out of proper position toward God or fellows; Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor")".

Originally, the seven deadly sins were eight "evil thoughts" from the mind of the 4th century monk, Evagrius Ponticus. The main differences are that envy was excluded and there were three additional vices, "acedia", "despair" and something called "vainglory".

Vainglory (Latin, vanagloria) is unjustified boasting. Pope Gregory viewed it as a form of pride, so he combined the two in his 590 A.D. revised version of the list. I have to disagree with Pope Gregory here.

If you take the definition of pride given above, then the prideful man would view his own life and pursuits as objectively more important than that of his neighbor's. And, while I believe that self-preservation, self-interest and self-love (and interest, love and preservation of one's own family) are the most important human drives, they should never come at the expense of someone who has done you no harm.

By contrast, vainglory makes no mention of actually believing that you are better than anyone else. It involves unjustified bragging. A person could fit that description in a number of ways. They may be prideful or their boasting may be a defense mechanism to cover their insecurities. They may simply be delusional. My point is that the above definition of pride (which is not what I would normally associate with the word) is much more nefarious than that of vainglory and the two should have never been joined.

In conclusion, the "seven deadly sins" not only sound wickedly cool, they also describe the drive behind some of man's most horrible deeds. You need not be religious to agree.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Parental Duty

I always knew I wanted children. I always knew I wanted a career, as well. What I never knew was just how much internal conflict would exist between these two roles. Before Dahlia was born, I thought that perhaps many women used their children as excuses to sit on their asses all day. Having been a stay at home mom for the first 18 months of my child's life, I now know that I did everything except sit on my ass. In fact, I do a lot more sitting on my ass now, as an Engineer, than I ever did as a Homemaker. And while I still think that some moms use their children as excuses not to jump into the workforce, I am willing to bet that their fears are of anything BUT hard work.

Many of the fears I experienced before starting my career were around the welfare of my child in the care of someone else. In fact, Dahlia was over a year old before I let anyone other than her Grandmother watch her. I would describe my apprehension about leaving my child in the care of someone else as a paranoid panic. In my mind, anyone could be a pedophile or a sadist. How could I leave her alone with anyone, if I would never really know what happened while I was gone? I still recognize that anyone can be a sicko. To deny that would be to deny the reality of the news we hear everyday. But now, I drop my precious offspring off with people I barely know everyday -at a place called daycare.

I did a lot of research before choosing a daycare. I called local police departments to make sure that no incidents had been filed around a particular facility and I spoke to each and every person that worked there and found out what their plans for the future were (which, to me, translates to how much they have to loose). I made sure they were all CPR certified and on and on until I am sure they all wanted to strangle me but their reactions didn't matter to me. I did all my questioning in the most polite and non-intrusive way possible. Besides, it is my parental duty to ensure my child's safety within the confines of what my family can afford.

Still, 5 months of daycare later (late last week to be exact), I notice a large but hard-to-see bump on Dahlia's head, near the hairline. Having had no incident report from the daycare, I worried. I worried because I am almost certain that it didn't happen at home and the daycare workers claim to have no idea how she got it. So one of two things are probable: 1. It happened and no one noticed or 2. They noticed and didn't report it. I really don't know what is worse but both would be equally as infuriating, albeit not as sinister. Then comes that familiar guilt. "Because I choose to work and make money, I expose my baby to neglect" and "I will never know how that bump got there." and " What if someone hit her?" and "What if next time it is worse?", etc.. So, yesterday, Dahlia and I are headed to the potty (a new endeavor worthy of its own post) and she refuses to sit on it and starts yelling "No! No potty! Dahlia fall down!" That's odd, I thought at the time. She has never fallen off of the toilet at home. Then I remembered the mysterious bump and arrived at my current conclusion (which I accept is based on several assumptions): my child, at some point, fell off of the potty at daycare and it went unnoticed or was not reported.

Now, I consider two choices: pull her out of this daycare based on a whole lot of assumptions and force her to leave her little friends and teachers and an environment that she has grown to love and crave. Or, swallow my suspicions and assume that there was no ill intent and that it was either just a momentary (and isolated) lapse in supervision or, less likely, that it did happen at home and that she simply did not cry.

No matter what, I am left with that sinking feeling of guilt. Am I not fulfilling my duty as a parent by failing to protect her from injury, from seemingly constant illness associated with the petri dish that is daycare? The fact is that no one would care for Dahlia like my husband and I do. It would be delusional to claim that she wouldn't be better taken care of at home. However, at the same time, she would not be as socialized (if at all) and would not learn as much in the process of becoming socialized. Our family would not be as financially stable and my child's future nowhere near as bright. Would I not be failing at my parental duties then?

All in all, nothing can change that I MISS being with her. I think about it everyday. "What is she doing right now?", "What will she eat today?", "Is she happy?". I have chosen to deprive myself of that knowledge in the short-term but, hopefully, she will be all the better for it in the long run.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Differences between Men and Women

This has long been one of my favorite topics of conversation. I was listening to public radio and this Neuropsychiatrist by the name of Louann Brizendine was on the show discussing the differences between the male and female brains. I was on my lunch break and caught the show after it had begun but what I did hear really caught my interest, so I thought I'd share. She made a few really interesting comments:
  • It's been shown that when a woman is pregnant, she secretes pheromones that fundamentally alter the neurochemistry of her mate (assuming he is around long enough to receive them). Some effects of these pheromones are to decrease his testosterone (making him less prone to violence), increase his prolactin, transmit the symptoms of pregnancy (called couvade or sympathetic pregnancy) and make the auditory centers in his brain react to the sound of a crying infant more efficiently. That means a man can actually hear a baby crying from a longer distance in his wife's last trimester compared to before she got pregnant! This is extremely interesting because it seems like nature prepares a man for fatherhood through the mother. Her neurochemistry is the source of much of his paternal instinct, as well as the sole source of her own! I've always noticed how most little girls pretend to be mommies when they play with their dolls and how this innate parental instinct, which manifests through play, seemed completely absent in boys. Now, I've actually heard the science behind it!
  • There is such a thing as a "monogamy gene". One type of prairie dog is monogamous, while another very similar type is not. They found that the only real difference between the two animals is that this one gene is longer in one than in the other. I can't remember if it was the longer gene or the shorter gene that belonged to the monogamous prairie dog but when they were switched, the promiscuous prairie dog suddenly turned monogamous and the monogamous one started to take on multiple mates! They found the same gene in primates, as well as humans! So, while the research is still very new, this suggests that whether or not you can really trust your mate is actually a matter of genetics.
  • Men are more given to solving problems than understanding emotion (big suprise, right? lol). Many times a woman will approach her husband with a problem she is having and he will jump right into trying to solve the problem. This offends many women because, in general, we want to know that he understands how we feel (or can at least acknowledge our emotions) before we get advice on how to solve our problem. Brizendine explained how the areas of the male brain responsible for recognizing emotion do not activate for as long as those of a woman do when hearing someone talk about a problem they are having. Instead, this region is almost bypassed in men and, instead, neural activity is diverted to the areas that handle problem solving. So, I guess the take-home for me was that perhaps I should be more understanding of my husband in these situations. It is not that he doesn't care about how I feel. On the contrary, his reaction is a sign of just how much he does care.

I know ... I'm a big nerd. However, if anyone is a as interested in this stuff as I am, here is the link to her website:

and directly to the broadcast I refer to: