Entries in childhood (14)


Spend Less Time with Your Kids: They're More Resilient than Your Marriage

From my outsider status as a never-married woman with no children—caveat and full disclosure—I’ve pointed out that the state of parenting today makes me not want to parent. Sure, I could do it my own way, and I would if I did. Even still, observation from the outside more than intimidates—it frightens.

Recently, while watching another marriage crumble and after talking with someone struggling through the wobbliness of marriage after decades spent focusing on nothing but the children, I mused that individuals—children and youths especially—have resilience that marriages do not.

Though we like to believe marriage a firm, lasting, and irrevocable bond, we know otherwise. Researchers have debunked popular statistics about divorce percentages, yet even without real numbers, we all have seen the marriages among us crumble.

Marriages are fragile.

Children will always have more resilience than marriages—and a little less doting may do them good. (We’ve all heard the criticism of “helicopter parents” and the “everyone wins” culture.) A kid won’t wither because his parents spend a little less time and attention on him in favor of focusing on each other—especially if it means their marriage grows ever stronger as a result.

And lest you argue that adults already have less time for parenting than ever—a common guilt, with few parents feeling they spend enough time for their children—let me point to studies showing that people spend more time actively engaged with their children than they have in the past. Fathers have nearly tripled their kid time since 1965, according to research from Pew Research. The same Pew study found that today’s mothers spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s—and more mothers work today (full- and part-time) than they did back then.

Perhaps we could redirect some of today’s extra focus on the children toward nurturing the marriage—which, I’d think, would only help with parenting well and in harmony and with raising healthy, happy kids who see the value and treasure of a positive and loving romantic partnership.

But what does someone spouseless and childless know?

What do you think?


Face It: Childhood Wasn’t That Great

Deep down, you know the truth: Childhood didn’t exactly satisfy.

  • Children get no respect. Adults see your opinions and desires as cute, not legitimate. You can’t buy something in a store or order something over the phone. The adult on the other end of the transaction doesn’t trust you.
  • Children have no autonomy. As a child, you do whatever your parents demand and desire. You go where they go. You eat what they want you to eat. You play with other people you don’t like because your parents spend time together. You can’t legally labor for funds (other than chores for allowances), so you have no money with which to do anything. With your allowance, you can only buy what your parents allow you to buy. You can’t drive. After a certain hour, most cities and towns require you to stay inside unless you have an accompanying adult (or the police will confiscate you). In fact, if you go almost anywhere without an adult, people will look at you with concern (or suspicion).
  • Children face unparalleled peer pressure. Adults don’t live in states of constant anxiety that people think them cool or, at minimum, won’t make fun of them or shun them. Adults have built enough life experience and self-esteem to reject most peer pressure. Adults rarely do things they truly don’t want to do simply because their peer group does them.
  • Children have limited self-knowledge. Adults know themselves—their stances, thinking, feelings—well enough to feel confident about decisions and choices. Children, still evolving, don’t know themselves well enough to know how to react or behave—and they still castigate themselves for every flaw and quirk that doesn’t conform to the norm or the cool.
  • Children suffer awkwardness extraordinaire. Children go through gangly and puffy growth spurts and acne and braces. Also, as they have no autonomy, their parents often style their hair badly and put them in ridiculous clothing.
  • Children cannot defend themselves. Adults can take advantage of children emotionally and physically. To defend themselves legally, children need an adult proxy. Physically, children rarely have the strength and the weight to defend against a bigger human.
  • Children have limited perspective. You learn what teachers make you learn, but you don’t know enough to put it in context or truly understand it. The world makes no sense most of the time. You take everything for granted. Things that happen in school—from grades to interpersonal relations—excessively elate or devastate because you have nothing else against which to compare them. You have a claustrophobic, limited world view.

Completely forgetting the actual experience—perhaps befuddled by Hollywood portrayals—we think of childhood as a time of simplicity, magic, joy, and bliss. But childhood wasn’t simple or carefree—not in the moment. Only in retrospect.

Sure, childhood has its positives: You don’t have to pay electric bills, for example. But I’d rather pay an electric bill than have limited autonomy and respect. I’d rather go to a job I love and earn money I can spend at my discretion than feel powerless.

Do you romanticize childhood? Why?


The Marshmallow Study Revisited

Unless toasted in a s'more, I can pretty much always resist a marshmallow. July 28, 2013.

In an earlier post, I cited the 1972 marshmallow study, in which researchers found that children willing to wait for two marshmallows had more success in life than children who chose one marshmallow immediately.

The researchers used the findings to posit a genetic basis for self-restraint. Yet a recent revisit of the experiment determined that children given reason not to trust others often chose to get what they could right away.

The new theory for the reasons behind self-control does not alter the original research’s findings that people who exhibit greater self-restraint in childhood become more successful adults. Rather, the researchers argue that self-control stems from nature and nurture—and perhaps nurture most of all.

The news heartens me:

It indicates that a society can continually improve the way it cultivates children, helping an increasing number of people perform at their peaks through stability, promises kept, and better guidance and behavior.

Accomplishing this means a collective societal effort—not just a parental effort. Governments, educational systems, communities, and progenitors must come together to ensure children have the security needed to cultivate the ability for smarter decision making.

Doing so will benefit children, the communities in which they live, and future generations. How would our world look if a greater number of people made decisions from a place of self-control and with a wider, more rational perspective?

Tall order? Yes. Nearly impossible, I concede.

Yet I think we can make it happen—if we stay conscious of the future benefits. If we practice our own measure of self-restraint. If we keep our eyes on the end goal. I want to believe we can.

Can we?


Mom and Entrepreneurship

My mother and me at brunch. December 2010.

My mother is an entrepreneur.

I know what you’re thinking: Aha! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Maybe so. But if you’d asked me even in graduate school if I would start companies someday, I would have scoffed: No way. As a child, I planned to turn into a writer. In college, I thought academia lay ahead. After I tried academia, I went into publishing as an editor and freelance journalist.

Me? An entrepreneur? Not in the plans.

And then something happened. I saw a better way to do something. I saw a business opportunity. And then I started FrogDog.

That was 1997. I haven’t looked back. I’ve even started a second company and am assessing a third.

At the time, a friend called me brave. It didn’t feel like bravery. It felt natural. Not easy, not simple, and a little scary—sure. Yet starting a business, knuckling down, making business happen—even with a background in academia and publishing—felt completely, well, normal.

Thanks, Mom.

Currently, my mother serves as the CEO of her seventh company. The first company she started in my infancy. As I grew up, I spent time in conference rooms, corporate lobbies, and board meetings. I watched her give presentations. I saw her receive awards. I attended business dinners. I heard her talk with my dad over meals about business successes, challenges, conundrums.

I grew up watching an amazing woman build powerful businesses in a time when few women had careers—much less worked as CEOs. (Alas, few do even today. We need to change that.) She had few peers. She blazed a trail.

And I sure as hell benefitted.



Me playing Pac-Man at about the same age and in about the same belly-flop position I would have read and written past lights-out. (No one caught a photo of that.) c. 1980

Ready for me to out myself as the most boring person on the planet?

In my youth, I got into trouble most for reading and writing past lights-out.


No surprise to my followers here: From the moment I gained the ability, I loved to read. (Before then, I loved to have someone read to me.)

I’d read by the dim glow of the Disney night light plugged into the socket by my bed. When my parents remodeled the room and the bed no longer abutted a wall, I’d sneak as close as I could to the edge of my bedroom without risking detection to read by the hall light, which we kept on to scare away boogeymen (mainly vampires).

Also, as I wanted to be a writer, I’d take my notebooks of novel into the same dim circle of hall light to sprawl on my stomach and pen as many scenes as I could.

My dad made a sport out of catching me. I could sometimes hear his knees clicking as he tiptoed toward my room to ensure I slept—but not always. Looking back, I detect his pure delight in making a “nab.” Back then? I felt too terrified to notice the game. He’d jump out of the darkness and boom: “What are you doing?” and “Get back in that bed right now!”

My punishment? Lost privileges. No television, for example.

I can’t say that hindered me much.

For which deeds did you get into the most trouble growing up?