Cookies before dinner.

You tell yourself you are just going to try it. To see what all the fuss is about. I mean its free, right? So there is no harm done there and besides, all your friends are trying it too.

It's pretty fun actually. You have a good time, play some silly vampire vs werewolf games, find out your stripper name, poke some people, catch up with old friends and even find some new ones.

You start doing it more and more. You start adding pictures of your life. What you made for dinner, what you did that day, funny shots of the kids. You like more of your friend's stuff and your 'friends' like your stuff too. Soon you are sharing all kinds of things with all of these friends. Things that you like and things that you think they will like too. And they do, they really, really like YOU and all your things!

This all starts to feel really good. Whenever you share a picture or a status or a post, it gets liked and then YOU feel good and popular and LIKED. And repeat

and repeat

and repeat.

.

.

.

.

And then one day, somewhere between a healthy dose of keeping in touch with friends, obsessive ranting about EVERYTHING, and scrolling through your timeline to like as much as you can and see how many likes you have that day, it somehow becomes more important to constantly update your Facebook status and check on all your "friends", than it is to actually spend time with the real live people in your life.

.

.

.

This is your wake up call....

for you and your kids!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This past weekend I attended a lecture by Dr. Gordon Neufeld on Raising Children in a Digital World. My friend Nancy has been bugging me for years to go to one of his talks and I finally listened to her.

Baby with iPad

Dr. Neufeld is a clinical psychologist  and the author of the wonderful parenting book, Hold On to Your KidsIf this book is not in your possession yet, then I highly recommend it (just maybe wait for the updated edition coming out this summer). Dr. Neufeld's research and field of study is that of human attachment and how this affects development in our children. His book is all about why parents need to matter to our kids more so than their peers and his theories and practical application of them is even more relevant in the bright lights of the digital revolution than ever before.

Dr. Neufeld started his talk with a quote from Marshal McCluhan, who said that for every tool of the media that extends our reach (and I guess that would include social media these days), there is an equal and proportional amputation of something else.

What I learned at Dr. Neufeld's talk is that we, the parents of all of these "digital native" kids, are quite possibly that "something else" at risk of being amputated from our kids lives!

In his book and in his lectures, Dr. Neufeld talks about a phenomenon he calls peer orientation. Simply put, this means that children become more attached to their peers than to their parents or the adults responsible for them.

Attachment is the most significant and pre-eminent need of human beings. We need to connect with each other. This is true of the newborn baby needing closeness and proximity to their mothers and it is also true for the toddler who is having a complete temper tantrum and needs a hug far more than he needs a time-out. It is true for the teenager who is desperately looking to belong and to simultaneously be their own individual and it may very well be true of the grown-up on Facebook, trying to make connections with people who are like her, who understand her, and who can validate her life.

So what does this all mean? What are we, the parents, to do in this digital age when our kids have such easy access to their peers practically 24/7?

We can't turn back the clocks and take away all the digital media in our lives, so how do we make sure that it is not RUNNING or RUINING our lives and the lives of our children?

Dr. Neufeld gave a very simple analogy at his talk that made everything so very clear to me.

Cookies.

Yes, cookies.

Cookies are delicious treats and everyone likes them.

BUT...

There is an optimal time for cookies.

If we eat cookies before we eat dinner, than we will ruin our appetites for the real meal that fills us up with all the vitamins and nutrients that our body needs to grow and stay healthy.

In the digital world, cookies are the internet and all it's fudgeo, marshmallow-y, gooey chocolate chip fillings!

The cookies he is talking about refers to any form of digital media - Facebook, texting, gaming, Instagram or the new and in my opinion, kinda sketchy, Snapchat. The MEAL is the attachment we have with our children, our connection to the people in our lives that are closest to us. We need to fill our children with a good healthy meal of attachment, of love and trust and respect (for self and for others) before we let them out into the digital world to have cookies.

And even then, when we do let them out into that world, we have to make sure that they are not INGESTING more cookies (information) than they can actually DIGEST. This can be a tricky thing to figure out and is probably different for every kid, but one thing is certain, we are putting these devices into the hands of our kids, giving them unlimited access to all of this information and education, and what we are failing to realize is that they are then re-purposing them as a means of connection and attachment. If we are not filling them up with that kind of connection with US, that sense of belonging and sameness, then all we are doing is sending them out into this world hungry for those connections and that intimacy.

And intimacy they will find online. IN SPADES. It will be a superficial kind of connection though, one that is empty and does not actually provide any kind of lasting fulfilment. Just like cookies. They are delicious, but they don't fill you up properly and in an hour, you are just hungry for more cookies.

At the halfway mark of Dr. Neufeld's talk, I literally grabbed my head and gave it a shake, because what he was saying just then, quite literally BLEW MY MIND!!

He was talking about his sabbatical in a small town in Provence, France and how he coud not figure out why he and his wife where not getting good service from the local merchants in town. It wasn't until a resident told him that he was being "barbaric" in his interactions with people, that he understood the problem. He had not been making eye contact, getting a smile and a nod from the town merchants, before launching into his needs or wants from them. In other words, he was not using basic manners for human discourse! It wasn't until they understood this concept of "collecting", this face-to-face setting of the stage for human interaction, that things started to turn around for them in town.

Now take this concept and apply it to FACEBOOK!

There is no 'collecting' in social media. There is no eye contact, no smiling, no acknowledgment of 'Yes, I SEE you, I KNOW you.' Basic manners and rules of human interaction have left the building people! Trust me, I've been in one too many Facebook "conversations" to know that this is precisely the case. Digital intimacy is EMPTY because this simple attachment invitation does not get across. Nowadays parents, not only do we need to talk to our kids about unsafe intercourse, we have to talk to our children about the dangers of UNSAFE DISCOURSE!

Dr. Neufeld points out that the consequences of this kind of empty digital intimacy can be just as devastating for our children:

  • it spoils the appetite for true intimacy and meaningful connection
  • it takes them away from their parents who are meant to be their 'answers'
  • it fuels obsessions and addictions (new research from Germany shows that digital addictions are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol)
  • the preoccupation arrests the maturing process, rendering them stuck in immaturity
  • and ironically, it increases feelings of loneliness and frustration

And really, it's not just our kids who are in danger here. These kinds of empty and superficial connections are affecting grown-ups as well and perhaps this is the real danger. If we are spoiling our own appetites for meaningful connections, if we are not being fulfilled in our own relationships and are depending more and more on superficial ones via social media, than how on earth are we to be the example for our children and show them how to foster proper human attachments?

I went home Sunday night with my mind abuzz with so many swirling thoughts about my own dependency on social media, and what and how I can keep that attachment component of parenting alive within my life and with my family. The concept of attachment seems so easy when they are babies. You just keep them close to you physically. Wear them, breastfeed them, sleep with them - Easy peasy, lemon squeazy as my kids like to say!

The real challenge of parenting comes as they get older, as they start to learn that they are not the same as us and as they start to emerge as their own separate beings, with their own ideas and thoughts and intentions. This emergence does not signify a release from us and from attachment. It means that we need to work harder to keep those attachments viable, even when we are apart. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT ATTACHMENT MEANS! It is EXACTLY about how to stay close, especially when we are apart.

We wonder all the time "what is wrong with kids these days?" Where is the empathy? Where are their manners? Where or when or how did things get so messed up?

You don't have to look far to figure some of this out. Dr. Neufeld points out that we are routinely use a child's need for proximity against them. We use time-outs for discipline, we do "123 Magic", we shun them when they misbehave and do the one thing that is the polar opposite of attachment and we send them away from our presence. We also use the things that children are attached to against them - do this or that/don't do this or that or I will take away your lovey, your soother, your leap-pad, your phone, MYSELF. This is a dangerous game we are playing, parents, and we are the ones courting a lack of attachment and empathy because of it.

But fear not! All is not lost and we CAN still make a difference for our little digital natives!

Dr. Neufeld finished his lecture with some key tools and behaviours for moving forward and parenting in this digital world of ours.

He says that we need to:

  • Believe that we are what our children need (and not just as babies and toddlers, but well into the teenage years).
  • Invite dependence in other ways. No one can compete with Google, so share something that only you can teach them, be it cooking, wood-working, drawing... Whatever it is, invite your kids into your world and give them a legacy that is from you and only you.
  • Create rituals and rules that safeguard healthy attachment. Make family meals a priority, have a game night with no electronics, have weekly or monthly family date night, vacations together, etc...
  • "immunize" our children by fulfilling their attachment hunger. Don't let them out into the world hungry and looking to fill up on cookies, because they will find them, they always do!
  • Be the example for our children and take the lead with our own use of digital technology.

We all know that being a parent is a tough job. Throw the digital revolution into the mix and things just get that much more complicated. We can't stop our kids from being a part of the revolution, but we can equip them for it. And I don't mean by getting everyone their very own laptop, iPad, iPod, smart phone and Facebook account.

We must equip them with the knowledge of our love, our trust, and our respect, and by fulfilling their need for attachment TO US! So that when they are out there navigating their way through the digital world and they get lost, they always know where and who to come back to to reset the compass.

And you know what, we should probably put that jar of cookies away from us for a time too...

Natasha~

 

Photo credit: Henriksnet's Photo from Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence.

 

 

 

 

Bizarro World and a Foot Rub

Something weird happened last Sunday. And by weird I mean, like bizarro world, everything is backwards weird.

I worked the Mommylicious trade show in Edmonton on Sunday. I was on my feet from 9 Am until 4:30 PM fitting mamas and daddies with beautiful baby carriers and running the show's stroller check (check in your stroller and 'check out' a baby carrier while you shop). I also got to have some amazing sleepy 6-week-old snuggles with my friend's sweet baby girl who slept on me for about 2 hours! It was a great day.

And a long day.

Natural Urban Dad was home with the kids all day and I got a few texts from him as the day went on about what they were doing. Seems the kids were having a day of "let's not listen to Daddy and therefore not get to go to "Fish Mouth" with him." (Fish Mouth is what they call the undersea adventure area at West Edmonton Mall).

I know that he too was having a long day with the kids.

We all met for dinner at our favourite neighborhood sushi place after I was all done at the show, the kids behaved themselves rather well and then we headed home.

Once in the house, Natural Urban Dad proceeded to immersed himself into cleaning the kitchen.

All I wanted to do was sit down and put up my feet (which were totally KILLING ME) for five minutes and close my eyes after a long day, but no, the kids needed some mommy time.

And it was bath time and someone obviously wanted to be alone with the dishes.

And then it hit me!!

Like a weird bizarro world smack up side the head!

Natural Urban Dad was doing exactly what I usually do when he gets home.

I turn over the kids to him with an "I am DONE!" expression on my face and start cleaning up or cooking dinner.  And I fully admit that for the most part I don't even think about how long or hard his day has been.

So I sucked it up, bathed the kids, got them ready for bed, read them a story and tucked them in.

And then I sat on the couch and asked for a foot rub.

I don't know if I have a real point to this post, except to say that NO ONE EVER WINS in this. Men and women have always had and will continue to have the "you have no idea how hard I work all day" discussions no matter who is with the kids and who is on the job. For me, I guess this day just really emphasized this dynamic in what we do at our house and made me realize that I need to appreciate my partner and what his day is like just as much as I expect him to appreciate all that I do in and around the house and with the kids every day.

We made our choices as a family. I would be the stay at home parent and he would be the working one. A lot of couples make this choice. It is important to keep the gratitude in our lives and for each other and remember to not take one another for granted. Each of us has an important job to do for the well-being and success of this family.

This past weekend was my reminder of this. Did Natural Urban Dad see the same thing? Maybe he did.

'Cause it was one very long and very nice foot rub!!

 Natasha~

 

 

Perspective

 The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance.

I have been reluctant to write anything either here or on Mom Nation for the last few weeks. My last few posts brought out some strong emotions in a few people and some of the comments made either directly to me or indirectly and very passive aggressively on various social media platforms gave me my first taste of the dreaded 'trolls'.

And although I heeded the advice of many a blogger who has walked that bridge before me and did not feed the trolls, I would be lying if I said that the comments that got personal, the ones that questioned my integrity, my compassion and my right to say what I mean and mean what I say, well... they got to me.

Now don't get me wrong, I knew when I wrote that particular post that what I had to say might make some people uncomfortable. I am not a subtle woman, never have been, and never will be. I do not like to play games or mince words (I am way too old for that!). I did appreciate that my words made people think, that they did indeed illicit an emotional response and that perhaps they made some people look at themselves or others in a different light, be it good or bad.

I love a lively debate as much as the next person and these days, what better way is there to connect online and discourse than within the "blogosphere". A blog post is the starting point and the comments are the conversation. I truly do love that about this medium!

And also, it can totally suck! People can hide behind pseudonyms and anonymous comments. They can completely miss the point of a post and forget to click on the links to get the whole story or background information needed to understand what is being written and why. They can have knee-jerk reactions, spurred by their own feelings of resentment or guilt or regret or what-have-you THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH what was written by the blogger and they send out into the universe words, tweets or comments, that are personal attacks and that live on in perpetuity.

This whole aspect of blogging, and social media in general, the part where it gets ugly, really makes a person rethink why they are doing this, why they are putting themselves out there for all the world to see and read.

And then comes some perspective for (and from) the writer.  In this case, me.

If you had asked me two years ago if I considered myself a writer of anything, I would have given you a funny look and said, "Uh, no, NOT at all!" When the Natural Urban Mama blog was started in 2009 it was a struggle for me to write anything. And to be perfectly honest, I had not really written anything of substance since my university days in the late 1990's, and what I was writing then was mostly scientific in nature (yes, I once had aspirations of being a lab/research geek).

It wasn't until I was invited to participate in the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival of Blogging in the Summer of 2010 and had to write a post a day for 14 days about my nursing experiences and thoughts and advice about breastfeeding that I really started to find my writing 'voice'. I realized then what blogging is about.

It is about telling a story. My story.

And what I found was that my story resonated with others. People started commenting on my posts, asking me questions, thanking me for sharing and in turn sharing my posts with others. And that felt good.

Here is the thing...I became the parent I am and by extension the parenting advocate I am very organically . I did not 'plan' to do a lot of the parenting practices that I now think are very important and yes, even essential in our world and definitely in our household. I was not a cloth diapering mama, I did not have a ridiculous baby carrier collection, let alone a babywearing business. And I had planned on breastfeeding for 6 months max!! Oh, how these little beings we bring into the world change us...

And so I began telling my story and sharing my passions and my experiences and my learnings here on my blog.

And more and more, my story has evolved, as have I as a person...and a mother, a business owner and a writer.

I blog for me, to get my thoughts about life and parenting out of my head and onto the screen. To make these thoughts and ideas more clear to me and perhaps to others too. It is a very public journal of sorts!

I blog for my readers and customers. I want to share my experiences. I want others to learn from my mistakes and my triumphs. I want to share my expertise and educate others about the things that I am passionate about like babywearing and breastfeeding and natural childbirth and cloth diapering and elimination communication and gentle discipline. Parenting practices that, believe it or not, can be done without trading in your designer boots for a pair of Birkenstocks and signing up for your Hippie-Mom Card.

I blog for a cause. What is that cause you ask? I blog for women. For mothers, for girls, for daughters, for wives, for women of all colours, creeds and yes, parenting 'styles'. I write to empower others to find their own voices, to live their dreams, to own their choices in life and live without regret. To be the kind of people they want their children to be.

I don't believe in hiding behind a facade of perfection. I don't believe in striving for a life/work balance just to be constantly disappointed and exhausted. I don't believe in being a fake friend or pretending that we all must get along just for the sake of appearances. I don't believe in living with regret or allowing negativity to permeate my head space or my online space!

I was in Canmore this weekend for my sister-in-law's wedding. Canmore is my happy place, where I witness magic and majesty at every turn and where I can just stop and breath and appreciate all the beauty that is around me. We took the kids to our favourite tea shop for lunch and on our way out I saw this card.

And it hit me to my core....

It was as if the universe was speaking to me and about me.

THESE are the things that I strive for in my life. How I choose to live and how I want my children to live too.

This is perspective to me and what matters and why I will not let the noise of a mere handful of people, drown out my inner or my outer voice!

Natasha~