A nurse has had her one-year-old son taken from her after a social worker said the way she let him sit in a Bob the Builder toy car was “inappropriate” for his age.
The social worker told a private family court hearing in Reading she had concerns about the woman’s “basic parenting skills”.
She said the woman had also not fed her son or changed his nappy appropriately.
Judge Eleanor Owens ruled the boy should live with relatives.
She added the child would be able to stay in touch with his mother, who she described as having an “extremely low range” of intellectual ability.
The social worker described how she had watched the woman “spend about an hour holding the boy who was sitting in the Bob the Builder car”.
She said the mother “maintained limited eye contact and communication” and that the toy car was “inappropriate” for his age because there was “a potential risk of the boy falling if the woman lost control of him”.
Judge Owens said all professionals involved were concerned about the woman’s “lack of insight” and “ability to meet the needs of the boy”.
She said the social worker had “highlighted” some of those concerns.
“These include…not feeding the boy in an appropriate position, not changing his nappy appropriately, and placing his nappy changing mat very close to a metal table leg when he was moving around on the mat,” the judge explained in her ruling.
When my wife returned to work after parental leave, I took my first trip to the grocery with two kids.
Little did I know I would return home feeling like a hero.
On a Monday morning, I pushed the green cart with flame decals through the second set of sliding doors and toward the deli. My 3-year-old son was strapped in the seat and my 3-month-old son was wrapped against my chest.
As a stay-a-home father strolling through the grocery, I felt conflicting emotions — love for caring for my sons and frustration with being an unemployed 37-year-old man.
At the deli, I exchanged pleasantries with a young woman behind the counter and ordered a pound of sliced turkey breast. I was immediately surrounded by a group of female employees. They leaned close to admire my infant son as he raised his bald head from the green cloth wrap.
“I never could get mine to like the wrap,” one said.
“I bet y’all have so much fun together,” another said.
“You are the best dad ever,” another said.
I swelled with pride. Maybe they’re right! Maybe I am the best dad ever.
I soaked in the praise before tossing my sliced turkey into the cart and heading toward the produce.
As I strolled, more comments came from fellow shoppers, and I absorbed them, giving little thought to the reason why I merited heightened attention.
“Nice baby wearing,” a young woman said.
“That is one way to keep ’em warm,” an elderly woman said.
“Man, you are taking this dad thing to the next level,” a bag boy at checkout said.
The series of verbal high-fives inflated my ego and, after receiving the receipt from the cashier, I smiled and pushed our flaming green cart through the sliding doors like a rock star walking offstage.
I enjoy the attention I receive as a stay-at-home dad; it’s nice to have impressed eyes turned on me.
My rationale for basking in the compliments is that I spend most of my time wading through dirty diapers, spit-up, and spilled Cheerios. I deserve some praise, right?
I thought so, until one Sunday morning I sipped coffee and read an article (a rare kids-free moment in the kitchen) about faux male feminists. The article included comments from Tal Peretz, a sociology professor at Auburn University, who described a concept called “the pedestal effect.”
As I read, my male privilege became uncomfortably visible. The pedestal effect refers to when men receive undeserved praise, attention, and rewards for performing work traditionally done by women, like carrying a baby in a wrap.
At the grocery store, I willingly stepped on the pedestal and used my privilege to gain attention for basic child care.
And as I reflected on Peretz’s words, other pedestal moments flashed in my mind. This realization was not something I could ignore.
If you believe in gender equality, it is not hard to understand why it is problematic to place one gender on a pedestal for doing the bare minimum, while another bears the bulk of the child care. Not only is it unfair, but it’s also not in the best interests of families and can place stress on them when parenting roles are unbalanced.
For men who value gender equality and healthy families, assisting in lowering the pedestal is imperative.
After reading Peretz’s comments, I wrestled with how to respond and, hopefully, how to help other dads become more aware of this privilege. I reached out to him to discuss the pedestal effect, and he offered practical ways to counter male privilege.
He reminded me of the complexity of privilege and how it operates on different levels — individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural.
We cannot dismantle institutions and structures by ourselves, but we can start with naming our privilege and giving credit to women wherever it is due.
Naming our privilege through raising awareness is a good place to begin, because men have been socialized to interact with women in particular ways, and it can be difficult for us to see how we are perpetuating gender inequality.
Peretz recommends using resources such as privilege checklists to identify your advantages. These resources can help us move unconscious thoughts and behaviors into the light of awareness. Ideally, this work will lead to interpersonal change.
Men can make the effort to closely listen to women to understand how they perceive male privilege. And, most importantly, we need to believe women.
Maybe you remain skeptical that a pedestal effect exists for fathers. Ask a mother whether she believes fathers benefit from undeserved praise. Her answer might surprise you. Men get attention and praise for doing work women do every day.
Raising awareness and listening are important steps, but I also wanted to know how to best respond when given undeserved attention.
Peretz recommends reacting “with humility and a sense of humor,” while bringing attention and awareness back to the work women have been doing for a long time.
For example, at the deli, I could have redirected the conversation. I could’ve used one of these playful responses suggested by Peretz: “Yeah, I’m really glad that my wife did all the heavy lifting of pregnancy and childbirth so I’d get to enjoy this little monster,” or “I really appreciate that, but it’s nothing my mom didn’t have to do for me!”
I want to do a better job of stepping off the pedestal and challenging sexist beliefs about parenting.
I want to better align myself with the women who have been doing this work for generations and assist them in creating more balanced roles within families. And I want to share the most important lesson I’ve learned while reflecting on this issue, which is that not only should I do this work because it is the right thing to do, but also because I need it.
Men need to be liberated from the rigid forms of masculinity that create a pedestal in the first place. Only when we step off them can we hope to be free.
This story originally appeared in the On Parenting section of The Washington Post and is reprinted here with permission.
(CNN)The man had desperation in his eyes while his three children held an ailing puppy in their arms. At that moment, Sean Owens knew that he had to help.
Owens, a veterinarian and professor of clinical pathology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, was doing volunteer work in the Baja region of Mexico in 2014 when the man came to him in hopes Owens could treat his children’s sick puppy.
Parenting Without Borders considers how parenting trends and methods differ — or don’t — around the world.
“His family had a special bond with this animal, especially their kids. The father looked at me, and the look he gave — without us speaking Spanish together — basically said, ‘I love my children; my child loves this dog; what can you do?’ ” Owens said.
“I realized that the puppy had parvovirus, which tends to be fatal if you don’t have a thousand dollars or more to treat the animal in a hospital,” he said. “So we started an IV. I gave the dog antibiotics, and I gave it fluids. I sent it home with them, and I came back for three days in a row, and we treated it. The puppy lived.”
A few years later, during another trip to Mexico, Owens saw that father again.
“It’s a small town where we are, and he came over — still I spoke very little Spanish; he spoke very little English — and he reached out and shook my hand. He had tears in his eyes,” Owens said. “This was a hard-core farmer guy, salt of the earth guy, not the kind of guy who cries. He’s almost like an American cowboy figure, and he said, ‘gracias.’ He said ‘thank you’ in Spanish, and I thanked him as well.”
Families, like that man’s in Mexico, can develop a special kind of bond with the animals in their lives, but the type of animals in a household can vary, depending on where the family lives.
Of course, state by state and country by country, there are also rules and regulations governing the types of animals families can integrate into their homes, both for the family’s and animal’s safety and well-being and for the local environment if the animal somehow enters the wild.
Here is a sampling of the animals that some children around the world grow up with.
Crickets in China and rabbits on the rise
“Having goldfish are very common around the world, or koi, freshwater fish. People have, to a certain extent, birds and reptiles and beetles are popular in Japan as sort of a trendy animal,” Owens said.
In particular, stag beetle collections fuel a large and lucrative market in Japan, involving more than 700 species from all over the world, with more than 15 million specimens imported a year, according to a study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation in 2012.
‘Miracle workers’? Meet the therapy animals of Portland
One study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science in 2016 found that the agile wallaby, or Macropus agilis, was suitable to be kept as a pet.
The study analyzed behavioral needs, welfare, human relationship risks and overall “pet suitability” among 90 wild mammal species selected based on data from vet visits, petting zoos, animal shelters and rescue centers in the Netherlands.
Of those species, the following were judged suitable to be kept as a pet: Sika deer, agile wallaby, tammar wallaby, llama and Asian palm civet, the study found.
“In China, people have crickets. Wherever you go, in restaurants and places like that, people will have these little cricket cages, and they’re seen as good luck,” he said. “But they’re not traditional pets, and all the kids that have been exposed to contemporary and popular media all want dogs and cats like we do.”
Globally, ownership of pet rabbits appears to be on the rise — something that emerged in the late 20th century when rabbits began to be more commonly kept as indoor companions.
In the United Kingdom, 24% of households own pet dogs, 17% own cats, 8% indoor fish, 2% rabbits, 2% guinea pigs, 1.5% reptiles, 1% domestic fowl and 1% hamsters, according to 2017 data from the UK Pet Food Manufacturers Association.
An estimated 800,000 domestic rabbits are kept as companions in 2% of the world’s homes, making them the third — without including fish — most common pet companion animal after dogs and cats, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
In the United States, 36.5% of households own dogs, 30.4% own cats, 3.1% own birds and 1.5% horses, according to the latest pet ownership data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, published in 2012.
“I’ve seen parents come in with their kids, when I was in practice, and I’d watch the children play on the exam room floor with their dog or cat. They would tell me the dog or cat’s name. I would hear a story about them, and those were magical exam visits, because you’d see a child light up,” Owens said.
Furry friends as status symbols
In other parts of the world — including many Central American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, European and African nations — cats and dogs are not as common in children’s homes as they are roaming the streets. Therefore, owning a pet is more of a luxury.
Sometimes, street dogs can pass diseases, which has become a global public health concern. An estimated 59,000 people die from rabies around the world each year, with about 90% of these deaths occurring among children living in rural areas in Africa and Asia, according to the World Health Organization. It published new guidelines last month on rabies prevention, control and elimination with the help of immunizations.
“The US culture and the way in which we grow up with dogs and cats and traditional pets is very, very different than the rest of the world,” Owens said, adding that when dogs do become part of a family, oftentimes, it can be for protection.
A former veterinary resident from Uganda whom Owens taught at the UC Davis teaching hospital told Owens how the concept of a “good dog” differs dramatically in the United States compared with in his home country.
“He said in Uganda, a good dog is a mean dog that’s on your property, doesn’t bite you but bites other people who try to steal your stuff,” Owens said. “Here, a good dog is a dog who doesn’t bite anybody.”
Overall, in many countries, “resources are scarce, and it’s a challenge to provide the level of care that the people need and the animals need,” Owens said. For some families who can afford pets for their children, having a dog or cat can be something of a status symbol.
“You can look at countries like China, where the veterinary market there is exploding because the middle class now has enough resources to be able to purchase pets,” he said. “If you have a dog, it suggests that you not only have enough money to take care of yourself, but now you have enough money to take care of something that sort of is an extravagance.”
The precautions also include looking for a pet with a gentle disposition, never leaving a young child alone with an animal, teaching children not to put their faces too close to the animal, not allowing children to tease the pet by pulling its tail or taking away its toys or bone, and making sure your pet is immunized against rabies.
The academy also notes to make sure your child doesn’t disturb the animal when it’s sleeping or eating.
If your child has been begging for a dog, “with a grain of salt, read about different breeds. There are some animals that are better with children than others,” said Bernard Rollin, distinguished professor of philosophy, biomedical sciences and animal sciences at Colorado State University.
He added that parents thinking about a pet for their children should consider adopting from shelters.
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“In some ways, there’s a big debate about whether you should adopt a puppy or an older dog, and there are advantages to both. If you adopt a puppy, you’ve got to housebreak, you have to train, et cetera. On the other hand, you get to mold that dog a little bit more,” Rollins said.
“When you adopt an adult dog, you’re getting a package you don’t necessarily know what’s inside, but you don’t have to house train and so forth, and a lot of shelters have the previous owner write up a detailed account of that dog,” he said. “The bottom line is, there are so many wonderful animals in shelters.”
Tesco is removing “best before” labels from many of its fresh produce lines, which it says will help reduce waste.
The supermarket will remove the advice from about 70 pre-packaged produce lines to avoid “perfectly edible food” being thrown away.
The items that will lose the label include apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons, other citrus fruit and onions.
“Best before” labels indicate that the quality of a product may deteriorate after the date indicated.
In contrast “use by” dates indicate when it becomes less safe to consume the food.
“We know some customers may be confused by the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded,” said Mark Little, Tesco’s head of food waste.
He said fruit and vegetables were among the food most frequently thrown away by consumers, although many are ignoring “best before” dates already.
“Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the ‘best before’ date code on the packaging,” he added.
Use By – Cannot be sold, redistributed or consumed after this date. Applied to foods which are highly perishable – such as fresh fish, meat and poultry – and therefore constitute an immediate danger to human health
Best Before – Can be sold, redistributed and consumed after this date. Applied to all other kinds of food
Some products aren’t legally required to carry a date label
Only one date label is recommended for each food item
Tesco said removing the information on the label would encourage customers to make their own decisions about the freshness of produce.
However, all the produce affected will be items sold in bags or boxes and so are less easy to handle. Individual items, such as loose lemons or onions, already do not carry “best before” labels.
The supermarket said that although customers would no longer be able to differentiate between bags of produce to determine how fresh they were at purchase, there were “rigorous stock rotation procedures in place” to ensure older items did not remain on shelves.
Advice issued jointly last year by anti-waste campaign group Wrap, the Food Standards Agency and the Department for the Environment suggested fewer foods should be labelled with “use by” dates, including pasteurised fruit drinks and hard cheese. Greater use of “best before” dates should be encouraged, they suggested.
But a recent survey by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes found that less than half of respondents understood what “best before” means.
However, more than 70% had a clear understanding of “use by” labels.
Justine Roberts, founder of parenting website Mumsnet, said: “Mumsnet users are keen not to waste food or, just as importantly, money.
“When it comes to ‘best before’ dates, most parents on Mumsnet take very little notice. Sad-looking veg often ends up in the slow cooker, leftover portions are put in the freezer for pot-luck nights, bread gets grated for breadcrumbs.”
Children who have suffered abuse and neglect can often become violent and distressed at the thought of being loved, developing attachment issues. Some adoptive parents say they are left unprepared and unsupported when trying to care for them.
“Her anxiety level can go through the roof,” Diane tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. “Trying to go through the school door into the classroom she can have a panic attack.”
Diane and her partner Adrian adopted their daughter, along with her brother, two years ago.
Both had been neglected by their birth parents, which is thought to have led to their daughter having severe attachment issues.
“She can’t cope if she’s not the centre of my world,” explains Diane – whose full name we are not using for safeguarding reasons.
“She either has a hissy fit or will do something like put a finger up her nose and make it bleed, so I have to stop what I’m doing and attend to her.”
There are different forms of attachment issues, often down to trauma experienced during childhood.
Many children are at first afraid of being loved, but then once shown affection, they are fearful of it going away.
Diane’s daughter has now been diagnosed as having “anxious-ambivalent attachment”, which sees children become distressed when separated from their carer but also resist contact when the carer returns.
On some days, Diane says, her daughter can be “clinging to the school railings sobbing her heart out, refusing to leave the school grounds” when she picks her up at home time.
“So I end up sitting in the middle of the school driveway rocking her, with her sucking my finger like a dummy, me singing a lullaby, and all the other parents walking round me wondering what on earth I’m doing.”
It is estimated that three-quarters of the 70,000 children in the UK care system have suffered abuse or neglect.
This leaves them more likely to develop behavioural problems, fall behind at school, and in later life become alcohol or drug-dependent and go to prison.
Adoptive parents, teachers and charities have all told the Victoria Derbyshire programme they believe many of the reasons these problems develop is because the children have attachment issues and their behaviour is misunderstood.
They also say parents are not being prepared for this when they adopt.
Adrian says that with their two children, “the background information we had was quite limited – it was more about the birth family than the children themselves”.
It was a year before they were able to get the children assessed and for them to be seen by a therapist.
“The only advice we were given was to go to parenting classes. But they’re for bad parents, not for parents who’ve adopted children with complex emotional needs.”
Forty per cent of children have some form of attachment issue, it’s estimated.
More than 10% of children have an avoidant attachment, because their parents were dismissive of them. They can be clingy but also avoid physical contact by appearing to deal with their own distress.
Another 10% have an ambivalent attachment, which develops as a result of inconsistent parenting. These children become distressed when separated but also resist contact when a care-giver returns.
About 15% have a disorganised attachment, mainly resulting from abusive parents. They seek physical contact but approach it looking fearful. They often appear dazed or can completely freeze.
Attachment issues can also arise if a parent or young child becomes ill, such as through postnatal depression, or if a child’s parent dies.
Another adoptive parent who felt “very let down by the system” was Daniela Shanly.
She says that while her son’s mainstream school tried as hard as it could to support him, teachers did not have the training, resources or the time needed.
“The first time teachers hear about [issues surrounding] attachment is when they have a child in their class whose needs they can’t understand,” she says.
The Department for Education says schools “receive £2,300 of funding for each child adopted from care, to make sure they get the support from their education that they deserve”.
“From September, schools will be required to appoint a designated teacher for children adopted from care to help them at school,” it adds.
Ms Shanly has now set up Beech Lodge School in Maidenhead, Berkshire, which is one of only a few schools in the UK that specialises in children with attachment issues.
One of the school’s pupils is Mary. She was put into care at just three years old, and had two different foster families before being adopted.
She is now 16 and recognises she had severe problems with attachment.
Mary says her birth mother was violent towards her – an experience that left her “scared of the outside world”.
“I didn’t want to be by myself – I was afraid something was going to happen to me. I just played up all the time.”
Mary went to mainstream school but says she hated it.
“Lots of people were being naughty, and I was naughty with them,” she explains, regretting her time there.
“I always thought I was going to be left alone, so I just went against everyone’s idea to get me happy.”
Now at Beech Lodge, she says she likes to go out and explore life – and even wants to begin travelling.
‘Unable to sleep’
The charity Adoption UK says that while all adoptive families have the right to an assessment of their child’s needs, “this is often not happening, and where assessments are made, appropriate support is not always readily available”.
“Adoptive families are passionate advocates for adoption, and are experts in parenting some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. We need to listen carefully to the things they tell us they need,” it adds.
Diane and Adrian hope change will come soon.
They say adopting their children was the best thing they have ever done but the experience has affected Diane’s mental health.
“I’ve been put on anti-depressants for the first time ever in my life,” she says.
It has also left her unable to sleep and she has quit her job.
“Parents need respite, first and foremost,” she says. “This is an extremely difficult job.
“But we also need access to proper funding so we can send our children to get proper therapy.”
This column is part of a series called “Voices of Women in Tech,” created in collaboration with AnitaB.org, a global enterprise that supports women in technical fields, as well as the organizations that employ them and the academic institutions training the next generation.
I could always pinpoint the exact moment of disappointment in the middle of a job interview, when the interviewer would discover the gap in my resume. “Oh,” they would say, “how are you going to get back up to speed?” The change in tone was palpable. I was no longer a candidate; I was a liability.
Four years prior, I had made the decision to leave my technical project manager position in order to better support my family. As my 3-year-old son grew, he required more care than he had when he was baby, when his needs were met by simple acts of feeding, bathing, and snuggling. I knew I didn’t want to lose the best years with my child, who now needed me to be present in the moment, to be engaged, to have energy. But when I made the difficult decision to take a break, I never imagined that my career wouldn’t be waiting for me when I was ready to return.
As I hit the pause button on my professional life, I planned to return to work when the time was right. But once I started my job hunt, I realized I had a harder road ahead of me. Interviewers would dwell on the skill sets they imagined I had lost, or the challenges they feared I would face when reintegrating into the workforce. It felt as though my past experience was deemed obsolete, even when I met all of the stated qualifications. My career pause had turned into my resume’s black eye.
“My career pause had turned into my resume’s black eye.”
Many working parents face re-entry issues, but the challenge can be more pronounced in the tech industry. According toresearch by AnitaB.org and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute, “the mid-level is perhaps the most critical juncture for women on the technical career ladder, because it is here that a complex set of gender barriers converge.” Indeed, 56 percent of women at high-tech companies leave their organizations at this point. According to Harvard Business Review, of the women who voluntarily leave work, only 40 percent return to full-time professional jobs.
With women leaving organizations at the mid-career level, it is no surprise that we have a shortage of women in senior positions. Only 5 percent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. The pipeline for women in technology to senior-level roles has a leak. Many companies are taking an innovative approach to supporting women in the workplace, especially women in the technology industry, through a new kind of initiative: “returnships.”
Returnships are a type of internship program that provide a way for organizations to recruit and on-board mid-career men and women who have taken a break in their careers and want to re-enter the workforce. Most returnships include technical training, with some providing soft skill trainings and mentorship to help increase the returnees’ confidence. The nice part of returnships? You’re not starting at the bottom of your career all over again; instead, your skills and past experience are recognized as a part of the program for you to build from.
More than 160 companies worldwide are investing in these types of programs as a way to meet the demands of this workforce. Nonprofit organizations like Path Forward partner with a variety of companies to offer mid-career paid programs to companies, which can provide resources and tools to help companies create their own returnship program.
“Returnship programs let highly skilled workers rejoin the workforce — a critical benefit to companies looking to close the leaky pipeline and hiring gaps.”
As a member of the first cohort of the Intuit Again program — the returnship program at Intuit, which led me to my current position of senior technical program manager at the company — I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having been a working professional before, I wasn’t looking to start all over, but I also recognized I could take the chance to upgrade my technical skills. When I started the program, I was surprised to further hone my skills in agile methodologies and be paired with a mentor who offered me guidance and coaching on re-entering the workforce. Oftentimes, it can be an isolating experience to start a new role, so the support from my mentor and manager made the transition easier. And even if I didn’t take a job at Intuit, the new technical and soft skills I learned gave me the confidence that I was still marketable.
Returnship programs let highly skilled workers rejoin the workforce — a critical benefit to companies looking to close the leaky pipeline and hiring gaps. By returning to work at similar levels to the roles they occupied before putting their careers on hold, these women technologists are able to continue up the career ladder and thrive in a supportive and inclusive environment.
There are early indicators that these programs are successful. Goldman Sachs, for example, stated that about half of its returnship participants now work full-time. At Intuit Again, about three-quarters of participants join Intuit full-time.
As more organizations adapt to workforce changes, I’m encouraged to see more opportunities than ever before for those returning to work. For me, the sense of fulfillment and pride I receive from my career bleeds positively into all aspects of my life, including as a mother.
Most parents photograph or film their children growing up, but James Breakwell (previously here and here) has another way of documenting the precious moments he shares with his 4 daughters. Since April 2016, the comedy writer and family man from Indianapolis uses Twitter to share the daily conversations he has with his girls.
With over 1M followers and counting, James claims that his little ones love the attention. “They like what I do on Twitter mainly because it’s all about them,” Breakwell told Buzzfeed. “On one hand, Twitter makes me a better father because I spend more time with my kids. On the other hand, Twitter makes me a much worse father because I only do it to get more material.” Scroll down to check out why there’s so much buzz around the Breakwells and upvote your favorite tweets.
The next episode airs 11:00 BST Tuesday April 17, repeated 21:00 BST Monday April 23 and on the BBC iPlayer
And that “data” is coming from microbes and the chemicals they produce. They provoke a reaction in the immune system that can last a lifetime.
Prof Rook says: “The initial setting up of the immune system occurs during the first weeks and months of life.
“We know that because there’s a window of opportunity during those first months of life when if you give antibiotics you can disrupt the microbiota and then in adulthood those individuals are more likely to have immunological problems and are more likely to put on weight.”
This is the idea that some parents are buying into when they perform vaginal seeding.
Do dogs boost a baby’s microbiome?
Even the type of home you bring your baby back to may affect their long-term health.
Research has shown households with dogs have lower rates of asthma.
The idea is they help us swim against the hygiene tide by traipsing their muddy paws round the house and sticking their noses into everything.
“The speculation has always been that the dog brings, from the outside, microbes that are helpful in stimulating the infant’s immune system,” says Prof Anita Kozyrskyj, from the University of Alberta.
She is analysing data on about 3,500 families in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study.
One of its findings is that the microbiomes of three-month-olds is far richer and more diverse (a good sign) if there is a pet in the house.
Two types of beneficial bacteria seemed to be more common.
“The Oscillospira have been associated with leanness and the Ruminococcus have been associated with reduced risk of allergic disease.”
Breastfeeding or formula, antibiotics and method of delivery all affect the microbiome.
But studies into the microbiome and long-term health have often been too small to be definitive.
The Baby Biome study is aiming to collect faecal samples from 80,000 babies.
That will be a lot of soiled nappies to analyse, but it will be an unparalleled resource for interrogating the impact of decisions made around birth.
Many of those will be out of parents’ hands.
No doctor or parent would hold back on life-saving antibiotics because of an uncertain long-term impact.
Breast milk feeds gut bacteria
This study will let scientists see which microbes the body first hooks up, what that means years later and, tantalisingly, whether damaging relationships with the wrong bacteria can be repaired.
The faecal samples will end up at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and in the hands of microbial enthusiasts such as Dr Trevor Lawley.
“My latest favourite microorganism is Bifidobacterium,” he says.
“It is one of the first bugs to colonise humans early in life, and we believe they feed off sugars in the breast milk.
“So, there’s a very sophisticated evolutionary set-up where the bugs are passed from the mother to child and the mother nurtures that bug to establish the early microbiome.”
Dr Lawley’s lab will be trying to uncover every microbe that colonises a newborn and what that means later in life.
He thinks the end result of the project will be to change policy around avoidable antibiotic use and Caesarean sections.
Or, alternatively, “maybe we could culture the bugs from the mums to purposefully colonise the babies to allow their microbiome to mature and develop properly” – in other words, a scientifically controlled version of vaginal seeding.
So are some parents just ahead of the game?
Prof Brocklehurst says: “At the moment some parents believe this hypothesis enough that they are doing their own vaginal seeding.
“Now, there could be real downsides to that.”
One concern is dangerous bugs could be transferred.
Up to a quarter of women are thought to carry group-B strep in their vagina, and exposing babies to this bacterium could be fatal.
Prof Brocklehurst says: “It too early to start introducing bacteria artificially into the baby until we’ve got a good handle on how likely this is to be the mechanism or not.”
It’s believed to be the first state in the nation to pass such a law.
The measure essentially changes the state’s legal definition of neglect, meaning parents won’t be prosecuted for letting their children (of appropriate age) do things like walk to school by themselves, go to the store alone, play outside unsupervised, sit in a vehicle alone or stay at home by themselves.
The lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, Republican state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, said he wanted to keep police and state agencies from arresting parents for things like letting their kids walk to school unaccompanied.
“It’s not neglect if you let your child experience childhood,” Fillmore told CNN affiliate KUTV last month. “The message is you need to protect your kids but we are not doing kids any favors if we shelter them to the point where they are not learning how to function.”
The bill does not define what the appropriate age is to allow children to be on their own, KUTV said.
(CNN has reached out to Fillmore for comment but hasn’t heard back.)
The free-range movement is considered a pushback on helicopter parenting — the idea that kids need to be supervised all the time.
Free-range parenting gained steam about a decade ago with the publication of the book, “Free-Range Kids,” by Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, television host and author. Skenazy was called the worst mother on the planet after she wrote a story in 2008 on why she let her then-9-year-old son take the subway by himself.
(CNN)A couple of years ago, when my older daughter was 8, she gently told my wife and me that she’d gotten too old for us to read her books anymore. We didn’t try to talk her out of it or numerate the many benefits of reading aloud to a child (even after they can do so themselves). We were disappointed but respected her agency.
When she was a toddler, we began a nearly daily ritual called Milk & Books. It quickly became the best part of any ordinary day as we devoured picture and chapter books that ranged from hilarious Shel Silverstein poetry to the dramatic prairie recollections of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some titles came from authors prevalent in our own childhoods (E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Virginia Lee Burton, Dr. Seuss, Kay Thompson), and more came from the ever-growing list of contemporary greats (Mo Willems, Jon Muth, Kate DiCamillo, Andrew Clements).
Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn’t face.
When our daughter declared that she’d outgrown our family ritual, I suspected that a classmate made her self-conscious about it, perhaps one whose parents had done away with reading books to them. But I didn’t ask her why she wanted to stop or reveal my sadness. She loves reading, so maybe our work was done, I thought. And I consoled myself with the notion that I had years of happy memories with her and more good years of M&B left with her little sister.
Two weeks after stopping our bedtime readings, though, my older daughter asked whether we could start again. She simply enjoyed the ritual too much to let it go yet. As she later explained, “Everyone likes to be read to, even adults.” We’ve continued uninterrupted since. Right now, we’re deep into Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.”
The value of reading to our kids — for them and us — is reinforced by the growing body of research on the topic. Just last week, a meta-analysis of 19 studies published in the journal Pediatrics found that reading aloud was significantly beneficial to children and their parents.
In most of the studies — which involved more than 3,000 families — the parents were assessed as well as their kids, and reading aloud appeared to strengthen parents’ feelings of competence, improve the quality of their relationships with their children and even reduce parental stress or depression.
Reading aloud to children improves a young mind’s cognitive development (thinking, problem-solving, decision-making) and reduces behavior problems, research shows. As with playing board games, reading to them increases concentration and attention spans. Reading aloud even outperforms conversation when it comes to exposure to vocabulary and advancing a child’s literacy.
And yet, too many of us stop before the kids want us to. In Australia, more than a third of children aged 6 to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted to continue.
Improving a child’s reading skills and cognitive ability is important to their success in school, work and life. “If you are going to get anywhere in life,” Roald Dahl is credited with saying, “you have to read a lot of books.”
The conversations children have around themes and ideas in books help them make sense of the world. And it’s a joyful way to connect and be close with your kid. While reading in bed, my daughters and I lie next to each other, sometimes leaning into one other. We laugh and are surprised together and have deep conversations sparked by the novels. It’s as high a quality as quality time gets.
And because reading aloud is pleasurable, parents and teachers reinforce a child’s habit of reading because they create a positive association with it. It’s one of the most virtuous circles of parenting and teaching.
My first job out of college was as a middle school reading teacher through the public service program Teach For America. In the first week of school, students told me how pointless my job was, since they could already read. I was inexperienced and underprepared and frequently believed they were right about my pointlessness. But one ritual my students grew to love — even those who derided it at first — was how I spent the first 15 minutes of each class reading aloud to them. I read Stephen King short stories, S.E. Hinton, J.D. Salinger. Unlike in math, science and English, rarely were students late to my class. I’m not sure how much I did right, but reading to them was a slam dunk.
Ritualizing book reading, or even bringing it back
Turning book reading into a ritual is as simple as repetition paired with a certain time or situation. Reading to kids just before bed is popular because routine makes for easier bedtimes as well — a twofer!
Once they’re hooked, however, don’t threaten to take it away as a punishment. There was a brief time where my wife and I would leverage the loss of reading time as a way to cajole cooperation with bedtime routines. We threatened it because we knew they cared about it. But it always felt wrong and counterproductive to us, like punishing them by not serving a favorite vegetable at dinner. We want to read to them as much as they want to be read to. So we knocked it off.
If you’ve stopped reading to your kids and it feels like that era is over, don’t close the book on it forever. Try to bring it back. Maybe don’t make it a ritual, in this case. Ask whether you can read them something short (maybe funny too) as one-offs. Try to sneak it in. Maybe wait until they’re sick and read them the book they’re reading to themselves for pleasure or school.
Or model reading to your partner and point out that, as my daughter put it, “Everyone likes to be read to.” Reading aloud to another is like a personal audiobook! Nothing baby-ish about that. In fact, it’s how my wife falls asleep many nights.
Or ask for a single exception — one book you have your heart set on reading to them above all others. I have a couple of these, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” For my wife, it was Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and Elizabeth George Speare’s “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.”
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When my daughter asked to stop being read to two years ago, I asked whether we could make one exception for a book I wanted to read to her if she ever got sick enough to miss a couple of days of school. The book was William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride,” and we read it last year, starting when she was down with a 24-hour bug. Sharing the book was as magical as I’d hoped.
When my daughters tell me it’s time to really stop reading to them, I will be sad that chapter has ended. But I won’t regret that I didn’t get as much quality time as I could with them and the books we collectively love.