At the Dentist’s Office
I don’t know about you, but I always feel awkward when the lady cleaning my teeth asks me questions. It normally goes a little something like this:
Dental hygienist: So, where are you from?
Me: *trying not to get that yucky toothpaste on my tongue* Uh, Rexburg.
Dental hygienist: Oh. Do you like it here?
Me: *trying not to drool on myself* Uh-huh.
Anyway, I think you know what I’m talking about. It’s not the easiest thing to carry on a conversation while someone’s hands are inside your mouth.
But this last dentist visit, conversation was even trickier than usual.
When the dental hygienist found out I’d just had a baby, she offered the token congratulations. When she found out I recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree, she once again congratulated me.
Then she asked me a question, one that shouldn’t have taken me by surprise:
So now what?
She asked if I was planning on graduate school, or what career I hoped to have. I struggled to explain to her that while I want to go on to grad school one day, I wouldn’t be doing it right now. And my husband has a solid job secured that will provide well for our family.
So, I said, I would be focusing on taking care of our baby. I want to be a mom.
She just kind of looked at me, as if being “just a mom” was a totally foreign concept.
This conversation was getting more uncomfortable by the second.
It was as if she couldn’t comprehend why someone would go to college and graduate, only to stay home changing diapers and doing laundry. (And some days I feel like that too, especially when I’m scrubbing poop out of yet another onesie.)
Although I’ve long advocated for motherhood, I’ll admit that I didn’t adequately explain my future plans to this puzzled dental hygienist. So today, dear readers, I hope to at least partially make up for that by letting you all know why I chose to be a mom.
Moms Make a Difference
Growing up, I was never sure what I wanted to be. Because I enjoyed most subjects in school, one day I’d want to be a band director and the next day I’d hope to become a biologist. It seemed to change from week to week, but one thing always stayed the same: I wanted to make a difference.
There were a few years as a teenager when I didn’t want to be a mom. I thought because I’m not naturally your have-some-milk-and-cookies-sweetie kind of gal that I just wasn’t cut out for mom-hood. I thought I could make a bigger difference as a counselor or a nurse, a teacher or a medical researcher.
But then I realized something important: you don’t have to be a cookie cutter mom to make a difference. You don’t have to be good at crafts and canning and cute-outfit-planning. You just have to love.
My little girl doesn’t always have an adorable outfit on with matching hair bow. And sometimes I less than cheerfully get up in the middle of the night to feed her. But my baby still grins at me all the same. Her eyes tell me, “It’s okay, mom. I know you love me.”
And I do. Whether she looks cutesy or not, boy do I love her. And it’s that love that makes all the difference.
Loving Mom, Healthy Kids
There are a lot of ways moms can have significant impacts on their children. It turns out that loving moms can make a big impact on their children’s physical health. For instance, research shows that a mom’s love can offset some of the health challenges normally associated with poverty. Kids who would usually be at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are instead likely to be physically healthy as adults.
Not only this, but mothers can also help their children have healthier relationships. One longitudinal study found that when kids have a healthy attachment with their mothers, they tend to have better social skills, better emotional regulation, and better conflict recovery — all things that help them form more secure relationships in the future.
Being an involved and concerned mother can also help my children educationally. While some may think that staying at home with my kids is a waste of an education, my decision to be with my children is doing a world of good for their educational future. According to research from the National Education Association, when parents are involved in their children’s education, kids are more likely to perform well in school and go on to graduate. And this is “regardless of family income or background”!
That’s Why I’m a Mom
Don’t get me wrong: anyone from a counselor to a nurse, a teacher to a medical researcher can certainly make a difference. I’m so grateful for all the people who choose professions to help other people. And for those moms who either have to or choose to work outside the home, I applaud you for being able to juggle it all!
But I guess what I wish I had explained to the dental hygienist is that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom because I want to make a difference too. And just because I’m not getting paid to do it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
Marriage means different things to different people. For some, marriage is just a piece of paper. (In fact, the Pew Research Center found that almost 4 in 10 Americans think marriage is obsolete.) For others, marriage is a nice but perhaps unreachable ideal. And for others still, marriage is desirable but just hasn’t happened yet. (More Pew Research data found that about 6 in 10 unmarried Americans want to get married.)
Regardless of what people think about marriage, here’s the question: Does marriage really matter? Is the institution of marriage obsolete, or is it something that can benefit individuals, families, and society as a whole?
Here are a *few reasons why social science suggests that marriage really does matter.
1. Marriage Strengthens Families
While non-traditional families can still have a great deal of love, social science research shows that marriage promotes even stronger relationships. For example, according to the Institute for American Values, when parents are married, they’re more likely to have positive relationships with their children.
Marriage also provides a more stable family environment for kids. An international report from the Social Trends Institute found that children born to cohabiting parents are “more likely to see their parents split by age 12 than children born into married families.”
2. Marriage Improves the Economy
Marriage may have great benefits for families, but it’s not just the families that benefit. Research shows that marriage does a lot to improve the economy! Marriage both reduces poverty and increases wealth. In fact, the Heritage Foundation says that marriage may be “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty”!
3. Marriage Helps with Physical Health
Surprisingly enough, having a healthy marriage can lead to physical health benefits too! One meta-analysis explains that the physical health benefits of marriage “may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.”
Read that sentence again. Yeah, you read it right! Marriage may do as much for your health as it would to quit smoking. That’s a pretty big health benefit right there.
Marriage may also lead to not just a healthier life, but also a longer one. Research shows that on average, married people live longer than unmarried people do.
4. Marriage Helps with Mental Health
Marriage does more than just help your physical health; it can help your mental health too! One international study found that married couples are happier overall, even compared to couples who live together. And as marriage researcher Paul Amato explained it, married people “report fewer symptoms of depression and are less likely to think about suicide.”
5. Marriage Reduces Crime and Domestic Violence
Healthy marriages can help reduce crime for both parents and children. Studies show that married women are much less likely to experience domestic abuse. Not only this, but kids who grow up with married parents are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. (Check out the US Department of Justice’s report on how family life affects crime here!)
If marriage really does matter so much, then what should you do about it? Here are some things to consider.
- Share the facts. People in the world today don’t always realize just how great or important marriage is. So share it with them! (You can start by sharing this article. 😉 )
- Teach your children. Because much of the world says marriage isn’t important (remember that Pew survey?), your kids won’t see why marriage matters unless you tell them. And perhaps more important than telling them is showing them.
- Strengthen your marriage. These benefits are found most in healthy marriages. So do what you can to strengthen your marriage, and you’ll be much more likely to see the plus side of marriage.
Now you may be wondering, is marriage the magical cure-all for personal and societal problems? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Most of these benefits are associated with healthy marriages, which takes work and effort. (For example, check out Dr. Rob’s article about the importance of being intentional in marriage.) But as we try our best to improve our marriages, we’ll have happier, healthier families and a happier, healthier world.
*The idea for this article came from the Institute for American Value’s publication, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences. Check out the summary of it in their PDF here.
I still remember the first time I gave a Christmas present as a child. I had carefully chosen a few things from the school book fair that I knew my siblings were just going to love: a pink fluffy pen for my sister and a small teddy bear figurine for my little brother. While the gifts were simple, I was excited to share some things I liked with people I loved.
Though I really loved giving gifts, at first my Christmases were all about getting. And with all the wish lists for Santa and Christmas ads on TV, it’s easy for children to focus on themselves. But how can we help our children get excited not just about getting, but also about giving? Here are a few ideas.
1. Give to the community.
There are so many needs all over the world that it can be hard to know where to start. But a great way to give is to serve close to home! Check out www.justserve.org for ideas on how to help out in your communities. Whether it’s volunteering at your local soup kitchen or helping out at the animal shelter, serving as a family in the community can really help your kids learn to give this Christmas.
2. Give to individuals in need.
Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by big service projects. But giving in small ways can be just as meaningful! Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd teaches that parents can help their kids expand their circle of concern by teaching them to find people who might need help, such as a lonely classmate or a kid who is bullied. As you help your kids find people in need and then serve them, your children will think a little more about giving and less about getting.
3. Give to each other.
Sometimes we forget that one of the best places to practice giving is in our homes! Kids can practice giving every day as they interact with parents and siblings. And as Dr. Weissbourd explains, that daily practice is vital: “Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition . . . makes caring second nature.” Whether it’s giving a small gift to a sibling for Christmas or having a *family service advent calendar, serving each other will help your kids focus more on what Christmas is really about.
‘Tis the Season to Give!
This Christmas time, take the time to teach your kids to give! As you help out in the community, reach out to individuals in need, and serve each other with love, your kids will learn that Christmas is about more than just getting.
*Every December, we created a special advent calendar. We would each draw 4 names randomly (there were 6 of us total, which worked out well) and write down a special act of service for that person. Maybe they would get breakfast in bed, maybe we’d do their chore for the day, or maybe we’d play their favorite game with them. Then all the papers were mixed up and pinned to the advent calendar. Each day, it would be someone’s turn to open a paper and see the special service promised. We were always so excited for our simple but special advent calendar!
I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.
Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )
But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.
At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”
As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.
While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.
Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.
One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?
I sincerely hope not.
While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.
Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.
And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.
On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:
“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”
Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.
Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.
With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.
So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.
If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.
I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.
Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free
In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.
As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.
Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”
When I first got married, I’m pretty sure that everyone and their dog wanted to give me marriage advice. Some advice was practical. Some was silly. And some was just plain wise!
As the advice poured in, I began to notice a simple but common theme: communication. The need to communicate openly, to talk about emotions, to make decisions together, to speak kindly to each other — these and more came up as important needs to address in marriage.
Most people who gave me advice had little to no qualifications (other than being married themselves). But perhaps not surprisingly, research backs up the importance of communication in marriage! A 2014 study found that both how much couples communicate as well as how they communicate can really affect relationship satisfaction.
Through one longitudinal study, Dr. John Gottman found four communication patterns that can be really damaging to a marriage and even lead to divorce. Watch this *short video clip from the Gottman Institute for an intro to them:
No matter how wonderful your spouse is, you’ll probably always find things you could complain about. Maybe they forgot to take out the trash, maybe they leave their socks on the floor, or maybe they forgot to tell you they’d be home late. Whatever it is, you’ve probably had something come up that rubs you the wrong way.
While complaining isn’t the healthiest of practices, it can be outright damaging when you let it shift into the realm of criticism. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman explains that while complaining “focuses on a specific behavior or event,” criticizing “expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other’s character or personality”. A complaint would say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the trash like we agreed.” On the other hand, a criticism blows up the issue by making it a personal attack, saying something like, “You never remember to take out the trash! I have to do everything around here.”
So how can we avoid this damaging criticism in our marriages?
The Antidote: Express your needs and feelings using “I” statements.
Instead of criticizing your spouse, try to let him or her know what your needs are. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about the garbage (or anything else, for that matter), say something like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and it would really help if you could take the garbage out. Can we figure out a plan together?” It’s okay to tell your spouse what you need; what’s not okay is turning your frustration into an attack.
If criticism goes unchecked, it can turn into outright contempt for your spouse. Dr. Gottman says that when issues go unresolved in a marriage, you’re more likely to experience these negative thoughts that have boiled up.
In the garbage example, let’s say your spouse continues to forget to take out the trash. You started out complaining, then criticizing. As the issue isn’t addressed properly, you start to view your spouse differently. When your spouse tries to suggest a solution to the garbage problem, you just laugh and say, “Oh, like that’s going to change things! You’ll never step up and help.” This contemptuous response shows a level of disrespect and a lack of affection.
Clearly, contempt isn’t a healthy communication pattern to have. So what’s the best way to prevent contempt from seeping into our relationship?
The Antidote: Treat each other with respect and show appreciation.
Instead of rolling your eyes or answering sarcastically when your spouse suggests a solution, take a moment to acknowledge his or her efforts. Remember, your spouse is a person too and deserves the same respect you do!
I think most of us are familiar with the deadly horseman of defensiveness. It can be all too easy to respond defensively, especially if we’re feeling belittled or hurt. Being defensive is a natural way to respond to criticism or contempt in an effort to protect ourselves.
In the garbage scenario, a criticism such as, “You never remember to take out the trash!” may be met with a defensive response such as, “Well if you didn’t keep nagging me all the time about it, maybe we wouldn’t have a problem!” Defensiveness only escalates the problem and pushes blame onto your spouse.
But what can we do instead when we start feeling defensive?
The Antidote: Accept responsibility for your part.
This antidote takes a huge amount of humility. While it doesn’t always seem like it, most problems aren’t caused by just one person. Your spouse may be freaking out too much about the trash, but you can take a deep breath and acknowledge your part in the conflict: “I’m sorry, I should have taken out the trash today. I totally forgot.”
The last of the four horsemen is perhaps the most deadly. After a long time of repeated negative patterns, a partner can get really overwhelmed. In fact, one study shows that damaging communication can lead a partner to become emotionally flooded, leading the partner to try to avoid the conflict altogether. In order to steer clear of a total explosion, the partner may simply withdraw and disengage completely.
If this garbage scenario has been going on for long enough, along with frequent use of the other horsemen in communication, then stonewalling could become a problem. When one partner tries to bring up the issue, the other partner may turn on the TV or just tune out altogether.
While taking a break can be good, stonewalling isolates partners from each other and can get in the way of healthy and positive communication. So how can we overcome stonewalling?
The Antidote: Take a break and cool off, then come back to the conversation.
When a situation gets too emotionally charged, taking a break is a good thing. Let your spouse know you need to calm down a little, but that you do want to figure out how to solve the problem together. Odds are, a break will help both of you.
It turns out that no couple has perfect communication all the time — even those people who gave me marriage advice. But as you look for the four horsemen in your own communication and try to use the antidotes instead, your communication can improve. And better communication really just means a better marriage!
In order to really benefit from what you learned, how about some practice? This week, keep a log of the four horsemen in your marriage. Keeping track of when you fall into those patterns will help you be aware and start to make those changes.
The Family Good Things team would love to hear about your experiences! Comment below to let us know how this homework goes for you.
*Watch the rest of the video here for an explanation of the four horsemen and their antidotes according to the Gottman Institute.