We are what we eat, but are we also what we drink? When it comes to breast-feeding infants, we very well may be. Researchers are increasingly studying the links between the early environment of a child’s life and later life outcomes for that child, with a particular focus on how mom’s biology and behavior can influence the way that children ultimately respond to stress (which has enormous implications for health across the lifespan). In a recent study, researchers tested what they refer to as “lactational programming,” which is fancy science talk for the idea that a mom can influence her child’s biological development, for better or worse, through her breastmilk. Think of it as secondhand hormones – if mom experiences stress, she’ll have higher levels of stress hormones, some of which will be passed along to her breastfeeding infant. And because infants’ bodily systems are still developing, those secondhand hormones influence the infants’ own biology and behavior.
Entries in parenting (37)
My wife and I don’t always agree on the best way to parent our two kids. We sometimes have different ideas about how to broaden their palates, limit screen time (here’s hoping one of those freakish talking animals turns on Diego very soon), and how to blend our respective family holiday traditions. When we’re grappling with these and other parenting issues, we engage in what researchers call co-parental communication, which generally refers to how she and I communicate with one another and our children when parenting.
The Scene: My three-year old daughter and I are at Grandma H’s viewing where I racked up parenting fail #315, because I did not want to talk about death with my kid.
The Kid: Who is that? (She asks after spotting the casket at the front of the room in which a coiffed and suited Grandma H resides.)
Mama: That’s Grandma H.
The Kid: Is she old?
Nailed it, right? Ok, not so much. I would like to say that my daughter and I had a deep conversation about death and dying after Grandma H’s viewing…that I was able to talk to my daughter in an age-appropriate and snappy way. It was fall after all, a seemingly good time to talk about dying, given the decay around. I could hear myself now, “Grandma was like a leaf…”
But, I let the moment pass. The month before Grandma’s funeral, I fast-forwarded through the part in the Lion King when Mufasa dies. How do you explain that to a three-year-old? My apparent inability to discuss death with my kid is not that unusual. In Western culture (and in my white, Protestant, middle-class background), most of us do not have explicit conversations about death and dying1. I did not talk to my daughter because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing and of having to explain that I am mortal, too. I wish I had been as quick as a friend who, after she asked him about dying, took his daughter to a graveyard to explain that he would die someday and turn into the dirt she loved to play in.
Our daughter was barely 3 years old when she started asking about the birds and the bees. She wanted to know how mommies got babies inside their tummies and how babies came out of their tummies. Her curiosity has always kept us on our toes. Our son (now nearly 8 years old), in stark contrast, has always been relatively uninterested in learning about the “facts of life.” The last time we raised the topic, he responded, “Do we have to talk about this stuff again? I just want to be a kid!”
Regardless of your child’s curiosity level, most parents find themselves broaching the topic of sex education at some point with their children.
Do Russian same-sex couples with children need to begin seeking asylum in other countries? According to a Russian journalist and LGBTQ activist, that’s exactly what they need to do.1 Earlier this year, Russia made adoption, foreign and domestic, by same-sex parents illegal and also passed what they call the “anti-propaganda” law, which all but criminalizes same-sex sexuality. For example, it is illegal to display rainbow flags, to compare same-sex relationships to heterosexual relationships, or to speak about sexual diversity in a positive manner (even in the press). Earlier this week, things went from bad to worse when a member of the Russian Parliament put forward a bill that would remove children, both biological and adopted, from households with same-sex parents. If this new bill passes, children with same-sex parents will become wards of the state, similar to children who are deemed to have "unfit" parents for reasons of abuse, negligence, or drug addiction. Many of the recent changes to Russian laws that have been infringing on the rights of LGBTQ individuals have taken place under the guise of "protecting children" from potential sources of sexual abuse and from learning about same-sex sexuality as a "viable" alternative to heterosexuality.
What do women look for when selecting a sperm donor, and how does it differ from what they desire in a relationship partner? In two studies of women, aged 18-25 and 30-40, respectively, researchers assessed the characteristics women value when selecting males as long-term relationship partners versus selecting males as sperm donors.
I am one sandwiched woman. Between living with a retired mother with health concerns, trying to manage two preschool-aged boys, and balancing a full-time career, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the demands of life (hence the absence of my column the last few months!). Mix in my mother’s recent knee replacement surgery (bad) and an upcoming promotion at work (good), I have struggled the last few months to carve out quality time with The Consultant. Although an intimate relationship is very important to me (and everyone), my career and family take priority; I can juggle only so many proverbial balls at a time!
As a parent, how much should you help pay for your child's college education? How much should you help with their homework? The parent-child relationship is based on parent's helping their child. But sometimes parents can help too much. A recent article in the New York Times examines "helicopter parents" and how parents can help so much, that it actually hurts the child.
I Dislike the Dog that Likes the Rabbit that I Dislike: Why Do We Like Some People but Dislike Others?
The notion that people prefer similar others is as empirically-validated a research finding as they come in our field (see here, for example). Similar people make us feel better about ourselves, and who doesn’t like somebody that makes us feel better about ourselves? In fact, the preference for similarity is so common that it is considered a general characteristic of the human condition, and it’s not hard to imagine how preferring to hang around similar people, and avoiding dissimilar people, might benefit survival.
Recently, researchers have begun to identify exactly how early this preference for similar others begins to develop. One can’t help but wonder whether this “universal” preference for similar others is nature (i.e., we’re born with it) or nurture (i.e., others, such as our parents, teach us to like similar others and not like dissimilar others).
Having a first child can be a stressful time for couples for many reasons. One factor that may contribute to new-parent stress is whether the new parents agree on how to parent. In a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers examined whether new parents had similar parenting styles and felt like they were working together as team in raising their new infants; they also assessed whether this teamwork was related to parents’ mental health and relationship satisfaction. New mothers and fathers who felt like their parenting styles were similar had more positive moods and experienced less depression in the months following the birth of their first child. In addition, perceived agreement in parenting styles was related to mothers’ overall relationship satisfaction.
If you are in a romantic relationship, it is nearly inevitable that you will experience conflict with your partner at some point. How you deal with conflict influences your relationship. When disagreements arise, some people manage them better than others. For example, some are able to talk through their problems in a supportive and respectful manner, whereas others fail to express their concerns and resolve their disagreements. These different conflict resolution skills (or lack thereof) come from many places, but recent research in Psychological Science suggests that your family climate during your adolescence may have something to do with how you manage conflict as an adult.
I’ve kicked off this year’s SPSP in N'awlins by attending the close relationships preconference – an all-day relationship research extravaganza that precedes the official conference. One of my favorite aspects of this event is its signature “data blitz,” in which ten up-and-coming relationship researchers are each given just three minutes (!!!) to quickly tell us about their most exciting, hot-off-the-presses data. Here are some of this year’s highlights:
Common sense suggests that people should get their financial ducks in a row before having children. Indeed, couples frequently put off having children because they first want to be more financially secure. There are definitely some important upsides to this strategy; for example, kids tend to be healthier and happier when their parents are more well-off. But might there also be downsides to pursuing wealth before parenting?
I have not been able to see The Consultant much the last few weeks due to his travel schedule. When he is in town, our ability to find time to spend together has been further complicated by the fact that we both have kids. Faced with the possibility of not seeing each other at all over the long Thanksgiving weekend because of our childcare obligations, I proposed “running into each other” at a local museum. He was looking for something to do with his tween girls anyway, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Political scientists often wonder what makes someone liberal versus conservative. Fortunately, there are several well-studied clues to predicting individuals’ political attitudes. For example, disgust sensitivity, which refers to how easily you are repulsed by gross things, increases the likelihood that you call yourself a conservative and vote for conservative politicians.1 How do the researchers explain this effect? The emotion of disgust may have evolved in part to help humans avoid poisonous or diseased substances (that’s why dog crap smells so foul to us) and we also generally associate immoral behavior with feeling disgusted. When people feel disgusted, they also express harsher, condemning attitudes toward social behaviors they feel are immoral (like incest). Conservatives, who happen to be more easily disgusted in general, also have more critical perspectives on stigmatized social behaviors (like same-sex sexual contact).
High conflict with an ex-husband spills over negatively onto women’s relationships with their children. In a recent survey of a random sample of 1,239 divorced mothers, conflict with an ex-husband was associated with increased feelings of parental stress -- the greater the conflict, the more mothers felt their children were challenging to deal with (acting out, tantrums, etc.). This stress reduced the quality of mother-child interactions. The researchers proposed that mediated communication between ex-spouses, such as with a lawyer or psychologist, could help alleviate some of this conflict and improve family relations.
Hakvoort, E. M., Bos, H. M. W., Van Balen, F., & Hermanns, J. M. A. (2012). Spillover between mothers’ postdivorce relationships: The mediating role of parenting stress. Personal Relationships, 19, 247-254.
image source: parentdish.co.uk
My daughter is 4 years old, and has proven to very evasive when asked about her daily life at the Montessori she attends daily. A typical dinner conversation will go something like this:
Me: How was your day?
Me: What did you do? Who’d you play with?
That pretty much captures it. And I will admit that it absolutely drives me crazy. Why? Because if the details of her private life are this elusive to me now, there’s no way I’m going to make it through her adolescent years without some intense therapy. I always want her (and our son) to feel comfortable confiding in me and keeping me informed about what’s going on in their lives --- something that will become increasingly important as they age and spend more and more time in their own private social worlds.
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?
A recent study by University of Texas sociologist Dr. Mark Regnerus is receiving a large amount of media attention. The study, published in Social Science Research, supposedly calls into question the empirically-based argument that children who grow up in households with two mommies or two daddies generally show no differences on a host of outcomes relative to kids who grow up with a mom and a dad. You can read a summary of the work, written by the lead author, here.
As William Saletan, of Slate.com writes, however, the devil is in the details. The survey methodology, analytical strategy, and overall conclusions drawn by the reseachers all suffer from serious limitations (never mind the role of the funding source for the study). Saletan does an excellent job of evaluating the work and highlighting how the findings, if anything, argue for marriage equality.
This work, and the ensuing discussion/debate, demonstrates once again how conclusions drawn from research are only as sound as the science behind the research.
image credit: blogs.orlandosentinel.com