PhD in Parenting - 5 new articles

Goodbye dear blog readers

I'm done.

I could take you down a long winded path of words to tell you that, but that has never been my writing style. I'd rather be direct.

For seven years, I wrote here. I shared my thoughts about parenting, feminism, social change and the intersection between them.  I wrote 200 posts about breastfeeding and another 600 or so on other topics. Even I find that hard to believe. But I've had less and less to share as my children get older. I feel like I've written just about everything I wanted to write about parenting (and I don't like repeating myself) and I also find there are less common topics to discuss as our children get older. 

As I wrote previously:

I'm parenting inside a relationship that is many years in the making.

Within the walls of that relationship, the books, the magazines, and the experts mean a lot less than my intuition does. Every once in a while, I read an article that catches my interest or inspires me, but I spend a lot less time deep diving for ideas than I once did. I look to my children to show me how to parent them, not to some outside source of expertise and validation that knows nothing about who my children are, who I am, or what our relationship is like.

The interesting conversations about parenting, I find, are more often in one-on-one situations with people who know my children and who know me. My Internet interactions about parenting have become less about big issues and more about daily anecdotes. Those anecdotes don't often make it to the blog, because it is hard to write a full blog post on something that is easily said in 140 characters on twitter.

With each year, the number of blog posts I have written has dwindled. In 2014, I only wrote 14 blog posts. Barely more than one per month. This year, I've only written one prior to this one. I've been planning this blog's demise for a while, but needed to find the right time. Since then, numerous other bloggers have announced similar ends to their blogs. Others seem to be on their way out too.

The blog isn't going anywhere. I will keep PhD in Parenting on the Internet.  Around 2000 people still visit the blog on an average day, 86% of them for the first time.  Keeping content on the Internet isn't free. I'll still have to pay for hosting and the domain name. If you visit the site and find the content useful, I would appreciate you clicking on my Amazon links and making purchases. It is no additional cost to you, but a small percentage goes to me and helps me cover the cost of the blog.


I'm not going anywhere either. While I'm done focusing on parenting, I've been online for almost 25 years now and I don't plan to leave the Internet altogether anytime soon. If you want to know where to find me, drop me a line and I'll let you know (please do not send press releases or requests for product reviews). 

If you're new to the blog and want to dig in a bit, you're welcome to read through my archives and check out the most popular posts on the blog. Comments are still open now, but I'll likely shut them down soon so that I don't have to keep an eye on comment moderation and spam.

To those of you who have read my blog over the years: THANK YOU. I've appreciated interacting with so many of you in discussions in the comments, on facebook and twitter, and on your blogs.  Goodbye.


Pssst...I think the feminist parenting is working

The upside of having two working professional parents who believe in equally sharing household and parenting tasks is that the burden doesn't unfairly fall on my shoulders by default, like it does with so many women in so many families. We split up household tasks and share the important things (i.e. the parenting) and we've done so right from the beginning, yes even when I was breastfeeding. 

I realize how much he does when he is travelling for work (just as I'm sure he realizes how much I do, when I'm travelling for work). It isn't the solo parenting that I find particularly hard while he is away, it is doing all of my chores while also doing all of his chores, while also parenting and also working. For the most part, when he is away, I do the day-to-day things that need to be done (e.g. cleaning the kitchen, doing the dishes, putting out the garbage on garbage day), but I leave the things that can wait until he gets back.

Last year, I wrote about a study on parents, household chores, and the impact on their children's attitudes and aspirations. I wasn't entirely convinced or overwhelmed by the results and I'll admit, I've been waiting to see what the impact of our choices will be on our children. Or whether it will even have an impact at all, considering that societal and peer influences could outweigh anything they see in our home.

But this week, as I've been solo parenting, my 10 year old has been voicing observations. I'm not entirely sure if they are innocent observations or developing snark.

Conversation One

Son: "Did someone sneak into our house while we were sleeping?"

Me: "No. The alarm was on. Why do you ask?"

Son: "Someone cleaned the bathroom. Daddy is away, but someone cleaned the bathroom."

Yes, I cleaned the bathroom. I cleaned the countertops, the sinks, the toilet, the floors and more. No, I didn't like it. No, I don't plan on making a habit of it. But the puke fest that visited our home over the weekend unfortunately required it.

Conversation Two

Son: "I hope Daddy is back from his work trip soon"

Me: "Why? Do you miss him?"

Son: "Well, yes. But also because someone needs to do the laundry soon. I don't have very many clean socks left."

Daddy does the laundry

Oh dear innocent and/or snarky child. I'm glad you're learning that cleaning toilets and doing the laundry are not a woman's work. Little do you know that you may soon be learning they are a tween boy's work.


Self-Control vs. Distraction in the Digital Age

When I was in school, my digital distractions were pretty limited. We had a television, but I had to watch the shows when they were on. There was no PVR or Netflix or 24-hour Disney XD. There was a fixed schedule and a rainbow of colours that appeared along with an annoying beep during the hours when you were supposed to be asleep. Add on top of that the fact that I had to share the television with my three siblings and the number of hours I sat in front of a screen were pretty minimal.

At some point in my teenage years, we got a Nintendo and a computer. Those were fun, but again limited. We could only have as many games as our birthdays, Christmas and allowance or babysitting money could buy. There weren't thousands and thousands of free apps providing constant entertainment and diversion. There weren't ways to connect with our friends online.

In fact, the first time I interacted with anyone digitally was in 1992, the year I graduated from high school. That is when I got my first 1200 baud modem and joined a few local BBSes. Even then, the number of people, the number of conversations, was limited. I would reach a point of boredom and log off.

For three of the four years that I was doing my undergraduate degree, I didn't have a television. The one year I did have a television, we got a grand total of three channels. While I had a computer in my room, it didn't connect to the Internet. I had to go to a computer lab or a library to do that. Tetris and solitaire were as good as it got.

When it came to getting my reading done and my essays written, the only distractions were the clouds floating by outside, the allure of a nap, or making myself a snack. Other diversions were possible, for sure, but required more effort. Going shopping, meeting up with friends, or watching one of my few loved televisions shows were welcome diversions to plan for. They weren't things tempting me, one click away, 24 hours per day.

I was organized. Perhaps even a bit obsessive compulsive organized. I would plan out my week in terms of the classes that I needed to attend, the reading and writing I had to get done, and the diversions that I had carefully planned (Seinfeld at 9:30pm on a Thursday, dancing with friends on Friday evening, a Sunday afternoon nap). If I didn't struggle through four chapters of Aristotle, I didn't get to laugh with Jerry.

My organization brought rewards in the form of great marks and a feeling of accomplishment.

But these days? OMG it is harder. So much harder.

It is hard for me, as someone with YEARS of practice at staying on task and on schedule and getting things done. It is hard for me, as someone who gets to put money in the bank or buy nice things as a reward for getting my shit done. Even as I write this, I also have facebook open in another tab and the little (1) in the corner is nagging at me. Can I finish this paragraph before I go and see what it is all about? Will I get this article finished before I need to go and pick up my kids at their birthday parties and play dates?

What if I don't? Meh. In this case, no one is counting on me. Maybe you like reading my blog and would enjoy this article. But if I didn't write it, would your day be ruined? Not really. Would I be uanble to feed my family? Also nope. Would I experience any negative consequences? Perhaps a little nagging feeling that it would have been nice to get an article written. But it would also be nice to see what is happening on facebook.

You get my point, right? 

Now the real reason for writing this: My kids, our children. I wonder sometimes, in this day of constant digital distractions and instant amusement at the click of a button, if they'll ever be able to develop the willpower or the skill or whatever it is to ignore the nagging of the digital distractions. Right now, as their parent, I can set limits and enforce them. Whether on a schedule or in terms of rewards dolled out for getting things done, I can impose limitations and motivation.

But what happens when I am no longer there to provide structure and rules? What happens when the school no longer has rules about no electronics at school or at least no electronics in the classroom? Will they ever come to a point of self-control? Will it be easier for them to control themselves (because they've almost always had these distractions, the way I always had clouds floating by)? Or will it be harder?

The reason I was motivated to write this article is that I decided to check in on facebook instead of unloading the dishwasher while my kids were playing minecraft and watching Netflix. When I went on facebook, I saw an article called Measuring Students' Self-Control: A 'Marshmallow Test' for the Digital Age, posted by my friend Emma Waverman who writes at Embrace the Chaos when she isn't busy being distracted by twitter (or doing her other writing jobs).

Quick Tangent: Months and months ago, Emma tagged me and asked me to write a blog post about my writing process. Another thing that I haven't done, because we finally got Netflix and I watched all of Orange is the New Black and Brooklyn Nine-Nine this summer. Sorry, Emma. But in fairness, Emma still owes me a guest blog post from YEARS ago. So perhaps, this can stand in as my blog post about my writing process. Basically, my process is:

  1. Come across something that inspires me enough to write (the article Emma posted)
  2. Find the time to write (kids at birthday party/play date)
  3. Limit other distractions as much as possible (sitting in a coffee shop, avoiding the little (1) on the facebook tab)
  4. Write, write, write, add links, add pics, publish.
  5. Edited to add: Go back hours later and edit the typos that don't appear until after the blog post has been published.

Where was I?

Oh yes...the article I read. In Measuring Students' Self-Control: A 'Marshmallow Test' for the Digital Age, the article discusses a distraction test given to students. Students are given the choice between doing math problems, watching videos, or playing a video game. Here is an excerpt from the article explaining the test:

So they devised a task that uses behavioral responses to measure academic diligence, which they define as “working assiduously on academic tasks which are beneficial in the long run but tedious in the moment, especially in comparison to more enjoyable, less effortful diversions.”

The rationale behind the test is that with many subject areas or skills, such as mathematics, the basic process of building fluency and mastery involves a lot of practice. It requires “hard work that is perceived as tedious, even though people know it’s immensely important,” D’Mello said. “But that’s just the reality.”


To measure this skill in a scenario simulating real life, D’Mello, who is an assistant professor of computer science and psychology, designed the diligence task with a split computer-screen interface (click here for a demo). On the left side, students can choose to do a series of boring skill-building math problems — simple, single-digit subtraction. On the right side, they can play Tetris or watch short, entertaining YouTube video clips of movie trailers or sports highlights. The test is delivered online.

Overall, the teens doing the test spent about half of their time on the math problems, but some did a lot more math than others. What would motivate them to do that and what does that mean in terms of other outcomes for their lives? The students who did more math problems were more likely to graduate from high school and had higher IQs (chicken, egg?).

Some students gamified the math itself, challenging themselves to see how many math problems they could complete. That is definitely something that I employ myself in my work and in my fitness activities. I think my personal trainer has figured this out about me and is using it to push me even further and harder. But is that something that is hard wired in my genes and if so did I pass those down to my kids and if so why am I not seeing it yet? Or is it something that is learned and that I developed over time with my planning and scheduling and rewarding myself with diversions?

Some children legitimately have ADHD and are well served by pharmaceutical or non-pharmaceutical interventions to manage that. But what about the rest of the kids out there who don't have ADHD, but still experience the nagging of that digital device that wants to distract them from the things they need to get done? Are they going to figure it out on their own eventually, find that motivation, and push through? Or is there something that we should be doing as parents and educators to help them learn self-control?

I don't have the answer, but I'm certainly open to ideas and suggestions. Being a self-starter and an "I can do that" person is something that I think serves people well in life in terms of their success and their happiness. But does that fire need to be lit or does it kick in on its own?

So, I got the article written. The dishwasher will need to be unloaded when I get home while I try to motivate my children to do their French homework.


Olivia Wilde's Glamour Breastfeeding Photo: What's the Point?

It is World Breastfeeding Week and Glamour magazine released its September 2014 issue with series of photos of Olivia Wilde. The photos feature Wilde in a diner. In some photos she has her baby with her and in others she is alone. One photo, a glamourous breastfeeding picture, shows Wilde sitting in a booth nursing her naked diaperless baby.

Do we need breastfeeding images in the media?

As with all breastfeeding imagery in mainstream media, this one is causing quite a fuss. I would argue that as long as they continue to create a fuss, we do need them. Until the photo of her glamorously nursing her baby causes no more fuss than the picture of her glamorously looking into her baby's face or glamorously sitting on a diner stool, then I think the photo is very much needed.

Why? Because breastfeeding is still seen by way too many people as something shameful or disgusting. Because mothers who want to breastfeed their own baby have often never seen another woman breastfeeding before they try to latch their own baby for the first time. Because breastfeeding is a part of mothering for the majority of women and there is absolutely no reason to hide it away and pretend it never happened.

But even if breastfeeding imagery is important in general, do we really need famous people breastfeeding in the pages of fashion magazines?

On facebook, my friend Rebecca asked:

Apparently, it's national breastfeeding week, which I suppose partially explains Olivia Wilde's couture-ballgown-nursing-in-a-diner "glamour shot"... I'm feeling conflicted about that. On the one hand, normalization and increased visibility of breastfeeding is great. On the other, commodification of a vestige of non-capitalist exchange by selling images of mother-child moments (and, let's be honest, cleavage) to sell magazines is something I find... troubling. Any thoughts?

Of course, I have thoughts and while I started to answer them in the comments on Rebecca's facebook post, I thought my blog might be a better place to share my thoughts. Of course I agree with Rebecca that normalization and increased visibility of breastfeeding is great.

But what about the commodification part?

In general, women's magazines are about commodifying images of women. For the most part, the images are of thin, white, young, heterosexual, able-bodied, tall, beautiful, childless women. Every time those magazines feature a woman of colour, a plus-size woman, a disabled woman, a mother, or anyone else who doesn't fit the very carefully crafted image of what the media considers to be "beautiful", then I think we've made progress. With that image, we've told a girl or a woman who identifies with that celebrity that she deserves to be seen too.

When I asked my readers last year what it means to them to support breastfeeding, I received a variety of incredibly insightful answers. Many of them touched on normalizing breastfeeding and one in particular said: "pop culture should be immersed in the normalcy of nursing to help reverse the sexualization of breasts". I would agree. Every time I see breastfeeding on a television show or in a movie, particularly if it isn't the subject of the scene, I think that helps. Every time I see a breastfeeding image in a magazine or a newspaper, I think that helps. Every time we see images of a celebrity breastfeeding her child, I think that helps (although sometimes I think it would be better if the image stood on its own without their words to go with it...take note please Gisele Bundchen).

Maybe Olivia Wilde's photo shoot will help a young expecting mother consider breastfeeding or maybe it will help mothers who never would have thought to take pictures of themselves breastfeeding to take the opportunity to document that special time with their baby through a photo session or at least a few iphone pictures. Like it or not, people try to mimic what they see in pop culture. So let's at least give them something worth mimicking.

My own breastfeeding "glamour" shot

With my son, I had a huge battle in order to be able to breastfeed him. I was proud of the way I persevered and what I had accomplished. I was thankful for those who helped me. I was grateful for the breastfeeding relationship that we were able to develop. Although I have a few pictures of me nursing him, for the most part, the hours and hours and hours of nursing went undocumented. It was a big part of mothering for me and one that is not nearly proportionally represented in the imagery of his first few years.

With my daughter, I knew that I wanted to have more breastfeeding pictures. I got others to take some, I took some myself, and we had a professional photographer (Annie Lance) come to the house to take family photos and breastfeeding pictures.

Yes, I too had my breastfeeding glamour shot. I wasn't nearly as made up or dressed to the nines as Olivia Wilde (but then again, I never really am). But we did move furniture out of the way and I was sitting in a place that I wouldn't normally nurse because we wanted to get a particular type of photo.

Capturing and sharing the real moments

My friend Jill who blogs at Baby Rabies had her third baby last year.  “Why do I always forget how miserable I am after having a baby?”, she asked her husband in a post where she writes about the difficult aspects of her postpartum recovery.

In the post, she included this picture of her sitting on the bed, nursing her baby, with laundry strewn around her, a half consumed drink and off-kilter lamp shade on the bed side table, and the breastfeeding pillow on her lap and more pillows behind her back to provide the needed support in those early days. Then there is the part the image doesn't show. The nipple pain that she said was absolutely horrible (see also: Does breastfeeding hurt?). This is reality.


Is Olivia Wilde's Photo a Slap in the Face to the Rest of Us?

Olivia Wilde's reality is not reality for most of us. In fact, the breastfeeding experience portrayed in her image it isn't even reality for her on most days. She doesn't usually nurse in a designer dress and heels and her baby isn't usually diaperless when they are nursing. I would assume this is probably true of most photo shoots with models, whether there is a baby on the breast or not. How many of them would lounge around the pool in stiletteo heels, diamond jewelry and a designer bikini on their day off?

In the LA Times, Sarah Rohwer wrote about Wilde's breastfeeding photo:

She embodies the public image that has become ubiquitous in the world of celebrity mothers: that not only can you be both a mom and a glamazon, but you can do so while effortlessly breastfeeding your infant.

It’s a fantasy and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But when regular women are still being kicked out of public (and virtual) places for breastfeeding, or have to sue their employers for appropriate accommodations in which to pump breast milk for their infants at home, the glamorous fantasy of the publicly breastfeeding celebrity mother can be a slap in the face to the rest of us. 

She goes on to say that "We could all stand to see little less fantasy about motherhood and a little more reality."

I can't disagree with that. But I do think Wilde's photo could be a tiny step towards making mothers feel like breastfeeding is something to talk about, take photos of, and not simply hide away.  If we all feel like mothering deserves to be seen and talked about, then maybe more mothers will be willing to talk about it and maybe we won't be called "mommy" in a condescending fashion by the media when we do.

What do you think? Is Wilde's Glamour breastfeeding image the commodification of fantasy-style mother-child moments or is it a small step towards telling mothers that they deserve to be seen and that their stories matter?


Why Do So Many Children Die in Hot Cars?

This post previously appeared on, but I'm reposting it here as we re-enter the period of warmer weather. Each year, tragically, this issue comes up again. Be aware and be prepared.

Safe Kids USA shared a sad milestone three years ago in June 2011. The number of children to die from heat stroke after being left alone in a car had reached 500. In the United States, an average of 38 children die this way each year.

The Danger of Leaving Kids Alone in the Car

According to Safe Kids USA, “heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia) occurs when a body’s thermostat is overleaded with heat; children are at a great risk of this as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than adults.”

This Public Safety Announcement from Kids and Cars warns parents of the danger of forgetting your child.


Are Rearfacing Seats To Blame?

Car safety experts know that it is safest for babies and small children to be in a rear-facing seat in the car. In the event of a crash, they are best protected that way. In March 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its car seat recommendations. The new policy recommends that children remain rear-facing until the age of 2, unless they reach the maximum height and weight of the car seat at an earlier age.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, the lead author on the AAP’s new policy statement, explains that: “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.” The AAP says that deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes are decreasing, but are still the leading cause of death of children ages four and older.

While experts agree that a rear-facing seat is the best place for the child to be in the case of a collision, some experts are now questioning whether that puts them at a greater risk of being forgotten in a car. According to Parent Central (article no longer available), “the last time experts pushed a new campaign to put more children in rear-facing seats — in the 1990s, to cut the chances of being killed by air bags — the number of children who died in hot cars spiked.” They go on to explain that more children died from being forgotten in cars than from air bags.

It Won’t Happen to Me

Most parents believe this could never happen to them. In a Safe Kids press release, Reggie McKinnon, a father who left his 8 month old in the car when he went to work, was quoted as saying: “Before this accident, every time I would read of a child dying in a parked car of hyperthermia, I too would ask, ‘how could they forget their child?’ I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug-addicts, not me.”

Parent Central (link no longer available) reported that it is often parents who are tired, distracted, stressed or who have made changes to their routine who end up forgetting a child in the car. It can be a costly mistake. These parents not only lose their baby, but they are also often perceived as monsters and sometimes even charged with manslaughter and child abuse.

What Can Parents Do?

Although the concern about rear-facing seats is understandable, I don’t think that the solution to one safety problem needs to come from ignoring another safety issue. If parents want to keep their children as safe as possible in the car, but also remember to take them out when they get to their destination, what can they do?

Parent Central also reported that there are companies developing technical solutions to help parents remember that their child is in the backseat. This includes simpler solutions like playing “Twinkle Twinkle” when the car stops as well as more technically advanced ones that would sound an alarm if a child is left in the backseat. 

Other parents have developed their own approaches, such as leaving their purse in the back seat below the car seat so that they have to look in the back to get it out.

When our children were rearfacing, we used a child mirror that allowed us to see them whenever we looked in the rear view mirror. For a driver following normal safety precautions and looking in the rear view mirror regularly, this means that there would be a constant reminder that the child is there. While we didn’t purchase the mirror specifically to ensure that we never forgot the baby, I’m sure that having it did contribute to remembering that the baby was there.

What do you do?

What do you do to help ensure that you won’t forget your baby or toddler in the car?


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