Entries in parenthood (10)


Catching Fertility

As a 40-something, married father of two, I’ve experienced a lot of transitions in my life, including some particularly big ones over the past decade or so. I started a new job, got married, had a kid, bought a house, and had another kid. Importantly, I’m not unique in this regard --- many of the people I know my age have gone through most, if not all, of these same transitions (albeit perhaps in a different order).

Although I didn’t really notice it at the time, my movement through these life transitions generally occurred in the ballpark of my friends doing the same things. How can I forget the ‘wedding years’, when I was finally forced to buy a suit. And then there was the breeding extravaganza that happened a few years later. Is it a coincidence that many of my friends also have kids within a few years age of my own? Perhaps not.  In fact, it’s very likely that the decisions my wife and I made about starting a family were influenced by what we saw going on around us.

Simply put, others influence our thoughts about fertility. For example, adolescents are more likely to become sexually active, and make choices about whether to do so and take appropriate precautions, if their friends are doing the same (You don’t use condoms? Then me neither! Let’s compare babies and rashes!). In a recent study, researchers wanted to see just how far a reach friends have on women’s sexual and fertility behaviors by testing whether female friends’ transitions to parenthood increase a given woman’s own transition to parenthood. Put another way: Is a woman’s fertility contagious?

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Opting Out of Parenthood: How Couples Navigate the Decision to Not Have Children

You likely heard this song at some point in your childhood (though likely with different names, depending on who was being teased that day): “John and Jane sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.” These types of songs reflect the social pressure couples experience as their relationships develop. Even if society doesn’t assume that babies naturally come after marriage, a couple’s family members may drop some not-so-subtle hints about their desire for a new baby in the family. For many, getting married, starting a family, and having children isn’t a choice, but rather the default option, or more simply put, “just what people do”1 But what about couples who make the conscious decision to not have children? Given the various pressures and expectations that conspire to encourage procreation, opting out of parenthood is a big decision for relationship partners to make.  

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America Speaks: Ideal Age for Parenthood

According to a recent Gallup Poll, "Americans see 25 as ideal age for women to have first child." The poll results have received a lot of attention in the popular media, so we thought we should chime in as well. As it turns out, we've previously summarized the scientific data regarding how mom's age affects child outcomes in our book. An excerpt from that chapter is below.

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Six Ways Parenthood Benefits the Brain

Parenting can be tough. You may not get enough sleep, you may struggle with the ever elusive work-life balance, and you may all too regularly find yourself in debates about proper attire, proper nuitrition, and proper amounts of television to watch. Any one of these experiences can make your brain feel like mush, but there are actually several ways that parenting may in fact benefit your brain.

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The Birds And The Bees: When And How Should Fathers Talk To Their Sons About Sex?

How are adolescent boys learning about sex these days? By pointing, clicking, and streaming through a seemingly endless supply of Internet pornography. That’s right…online porn is now the default form of sex education for a growing number of young boys because they simply are not getting the information they need elsewhere. Personally, I find this prospect kind of scary. I mean, do you really want your son to learn everything he knows about sex from watching Ron Jeremy?

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Baiting the Hook to Catch a Fish

Being a scientist, I draw many research ideas from my personal life and, admittedly, my personal life provides much to draw from! I have been married and divorced more than once, have traveled the world and tried out many different types of relationships, and I now find myself a single mother of a toddler and preschool aged boy. I also live with my newly retired mom. Talk about being sandwiched. After taking a break from any relationship that remotely smacked of romance for some time now, I have decided to re-enter the dating world.

This column will document my adventures. I know my personal analysis will generate more questions than I initially pose, but that is the scientific process! Putting my personal experiences out there for public scrutiny is a little intimidating for me. But, if my successes, failures, and embarrassing experiences can be used as a way to teach and generate more research questions about relationship science, or at the very least get you to laugh with or at me, I am willing to be the sacrificial lamb. So, here goes.

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Co-Sleeping with Infants Reduces Their Stress Reactions

Researchers assessed infants’ cortisol following a routine (but often distressing) bath at 5 weeks of age to determine whether sleeping arrangements affect how infants manage stress. Infants who co-slept, spending at least half the night in the same room with their moms (most were not in the same bed), had lower cortisol after bathing than did infants who slept in their own rooms. Other variables (e.g., breastfeeding, maternal responsiveness) did not account for the results.

Tollenaar, M. S., Beijers, R., Jansen, J., Riksen-Walraven, J. M. A., & de Weerth, C. (2012). Solitary sleeping in young infants is associated with heightened cortisol reactivity to a bathing session but not to a vaccination. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37, 167-177.

image source: farm6.staticflickr.com


Teenagers: Perhaps Not as Evil as You Think

Researchers had teenagers and their parents read about situations in which the parents asked their kids for help, requiring the kids to give up their own plans with friends. Parents and teenagers agreed that the teenagers should help their parents, particularly when the parents really needed the help.  In situations where the parental request for help was not particularly urgent, however, the teenagers reported feeling more responsibility to help than the parents thought they should. 

Smetana, J. G., Tasopoulos-Chan, M., Gettman, D. C., Villalobos, M., Compione-Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2009). Adolescents’ and parents’ evaluations of helping versus fulfilling personal desires in family situations. Child Development, 80, 280-294.

´╗┐image source: blog.bluemountainlodges.ca


Stress: It Does a Marriage Good

Couples who report larger amounts of stress outside their marriages also tend to report less satisfaction within their marriages. You have probably heard the classic “joke” about a person being mad at the boss, but she can’t yell at her boss, so she goes home and yells at her husband, who, in turn, yells at their son, who then kicks the dog, who wonders what it did wrong.  Perhaps not a very funny joke (or not funny at all), but it does illustrate a phenomenon that researchers call stress spillover: when stress from outside the marriage causes problems inside the marriage.

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The High Costs of Parenthood

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the costs of raising kids. To be clear, I’m not talking about the monetary costs ($118k to $250k in the U.S. by the time the kid reaches age 18, and that’s not counting college). Rather, a lot of the popular press writing on the topic has focused on the drop in marital and/or life satisfaction individuals experience following the birth of a child. Both New York Magazine (All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting) and a more recent story on CNN.com (Does having children make you happy?) paint a gloomy picture regarding the impact children have on individual and relationship well-being.

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