Posted on Leave a comment

Surround Your Children with Beauty

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links support the website at no extra cost to you.

Recently my baby was given a present of a lovely cloth baby book, for which I was very grateful. I was so thrilled to see that someone was making attractive things for children.

We develop a taste for what is presented to us as children. Children who grow up being fed only fast food often have a hard time developing a taste for either vegetables or fine wines. If you want your children to have a healthy taste for beautiful objects, ideas and actions, you are going to have to present beautiful objects, ideas and actions to them. I personally believe that this starts almost as soon as the child develops the ability to see clearly.

The first step is trying to give your child attractive, classy toys rather than garish, ugly ones. Then, as your child grows older, you will probably want to read books to him or her. (Reading books to your children is one of the best predictors of future academic success.) Now, there are a lot of kids books out there, and a huge range of quality. I suggest that is important both to choose ones with attractive, realistic pictures, and good ideas.

You will also want to decorate your house, and your kids room. Family photos are always a good choice for putting on the walls, but usually you want something else too. And when you choose your wall art or your decorating style, you should remember that it will be a major influence in your child’s life. What do your decorations say about you?

Then there’s the videos your kid will watch. I think that, in general, we are pretty good at making sure that the movies our kids watch don’t “have anything bad in them” by which we mean that there is nothing too graphic in terms of sex and violence. But that’s not what I’m talking about. (I’m also not going to argue about whether or not your kids should be watching movies at all and at what age. Too many other people have written about that.)

This might sound a little snobby. What does it matter if your baby’s toys are carefully chosen since your baby will probably rather play with plastic storage containers in your kitchen, or cardboard boxes out of the trash. Babies don’t have high-class taste. Why does it matter? What does it matter if your kid watches a few dumb cartoons, as long as “there is nothing bad in them?”

Yes, your baby will probably rather play with an empty kleenex box than with the carefully chosen toys you have gotten for him or her. But you still made the effort to choose attractive toys for your kid, and the commitment to choosing good things is what matters. Your child will outgrow her desire to play with empty boxes, and will appreciate the beautiful things you have gotten—if they are there to appreciate.

If you want your children to grow up to have good taste, who admire the truly beautiful, think beautiful thoughts, and do beautiful works, you will have to show them these things.How can your son or daughter appreciate them if he or she has been surrounded by ugliness and vulgarity?

Your child deserves to be treated with respect, and if you think the video style is ugly, then it isn’t good enough for your child either. The ideas presented are likewise important. If you think a cartoon is stupid and dumb, then it isn’t good enough for your child. If the characters are small and mean and selfish, and do not grow, the story is not good enough for your child. If the characters are immature and materialistic, then they aren’t good enough for your kids to hang out with.

And, yes, if your kid reads a couple of mediocre books, or watches one or two lame videos now and then, it’s probably not a big deal. But if you show your kid these videos on a regular basis, and make no effort to choose high-quality books and pictures, how is he to know the difference? If your child has been shown beautiful things, and told good stories his whole life, he will know the difference. It won’t take him long to learn, either. Your seven-year old should be able to tell the difference.

If you have taught your child, mostly by example, what beauty, order, and goodness are, they will be able to choose beautiful, good things for themselves as soon as they are able to choose. If you have surrounded him with good people, good characters in the stories you read him and noble ideas, when it comes time for him to choose his own friends, he will be able to choose more wisely.

 

Here are some books and toys that I think are great for small children:

A classic story of determination and kindness. Lovely cheerful old-fashioned pictures.

I loved this book growing up. It’s one of those stories that has a repeating element to it, and kids love to have it read out loud. It’s also a super cute story. The illustrations are old woodcut style.

Robert McCloskey’s gorgeous illustrations are the best part of this heartwarming story about a family of ducklings surviving in the big city.

This is a cute story about a girl having a new experience and learning something about life. This would be a great story to read to a kid who just lost her first tooth.

This is a retelling of the classic story of the resourceful traveler who tricks the stingy householder into feeding him. The pictures are wonderful.

My baby loves these stacking rings. They are nice colors, and made out of woodThese little buckets stack and nest, making them great for practicing motor skills, and playing games. They can be used for counting and color recognition games later.

This elephant is so cute

The animals in this little fabric book are so nicely drawn and are made of different materials and textures. My baby already likes petting the cat and pulling the mouse’s tail.

Posted on Leave a comment

Making Memories or Growing Up?

I have an eight-month-old baby right now, and she is very charming. I am fully aware of this, and I am appreciating and enjoying it. But when I go places with her, people tell me, “You need to enjoy this time with your baby. They grow up so fast!” I feel tempted to retort something like, “I hope to enjoy that too!” Or, “What, are you expecting me to raise a monster?”

Now I get it, babies are charming, and innocent, and sweet, and helpless, and it is a lovely phase… But it is only a phase, and if it lasted more than a year, there would be a serious developmental problem.

Appreciate What We Have

I agree that we should appreciate the different stages in our lives. Each phase happens only once, and has unique features that set it apart from other stages of life. And taking baby pictures and making baby journals can be happy and useful activities. (If nothing else, 20 or 30 years later, when your kids ask you how to deal with babies, you’ll have something to tell them because you will be able to refresh your memory with the journal and the photos.)

But “enjoying” your baby can become an obsession, too. In fact, some people are so overwhelmed by being told to enjoy their babies, that it comes as a relief when people tell them that it’s okay that you aren’t necessarily enjoying your sleepless nights, and being bitten by your teething baby. Some mothers end up with unnecessary feelings of guilt because they are not taking enough baby pictures, or not getting professional pictures taken.

In a few years, people will probably start telling my child that she should enjoy this time when she has no responsibilities, because “Life will never be so carefree again.” Then in highschool, she will be told by well-intentioned adults that, “These are the best years of your life, you need to enjoy this time, because once you’re an adult all the fun is over.” And then she will graduate, and if she starts thinking about getting married, the message that will face her everywhere is that the wedding is great, not the marriage, and it all goes downhill from there.

Now, once again, I do think that children should enjoy their childhoods and that teenagers should have some fun in highschool. And it is true that adults have more responsibilities than children, and that responsibilities can be hard. (See my article about why responsibility is actually amazing) But there is no reason why the rest of their lives must be pointless drudgery.

Babies are supposed to grow up; that’s what babies are for. Children are supposed to become adolescents and adolescents are supposed to become adults. And the more you grow as a person, the better your life should be. Your experiences are there to make you grow. And the goal of growth is maturity.

Experiences Are for Growth

Each stage of life comes with experiences that are unique to it. And the purpose of these experiences is to allow us to grow into better, more mature people—to develop virtue, as philosophers would have once said. A baby is working on developing physical virtues when she sticks her toes in her mouth, or crawls, or takes her first step. This is why these events should be celebrated, not because they are “memories” that you will be able to savor in your later life.

Your baby grows into a child. Soon your child can not only walk, but run, talk, and read books. Each of these events should be celebrated, because each of them marks a stage of development toward the virtuous adult that your child is meant to become.

And then your child becomes a teenager. Teenagers have an instinctive desire to grow up. They want to take responsibility for their lives, but they aren’t very good at knowing what good decisions are. Their behavior is often looked upon as rebelliousness by their parents, and in a way it is. It is the adult attempting to put away the things of the child. But teenagers lack the control that an adult needs to handle adult responsibilities alone. He or she should be helped to reach that goal. But if the teenager is told that teenage years are basically just an extension of childhood, and that he will have no new responsibilities, but continue to be treated as a child, he is bound to be frustrated. Or if he is told that being a teenager is the best time of his life, he is unlikely to take the effort to learn the self-control needed to become a responsible adult.

The teenager’s attempts to gain independence should be celebrated too, even as they are disciplined and directed, because they are an attempt to develop the virtues of the adult. It is also important to make the teenager realize that responsible adulthood is the goal to which he should be striving, and not “having fun” or “making memories.”

It is strange to me that people still tell teenagers that highschool is the best years of their lives despite the prevalence of teenage depression and even suicide. I wonder how many of them are depressed because they have been told that life goes downhill from there, and they find that life is already unbearably bad.

A more useful tactic would be to give them a mission to accomplish, something to take their minds off the feeling of pointlessness they so often have. What we should tell them is something more like what Jordan Peterson says in 12 Rules for Life: “We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for our individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.”

Now of course no teenager can do this alone, or without direction. They will need guidance to find their own way to make the world better. And if they do this, and only if they do this, their own lives will become better, as they themselves grow and develop.

Let’s Empower Ourselves

A mature adult is one who has accepted responsibility for is or her own life. The mature woman has recognized that she can make a difference in her world, and that she has the duty to do so. She cannot blame someone else for all her problems, which might seem hard at first. If you can blame someone else for your problems, then you can momentarily feel good, “It’s not my fault.”

But the victim mentality is the most dis-empowering mentality in the world. If nothing is your own fault, then you can’t fix anything. If you can’t fix anything, then life is hopeless, and you might as well give up now. And I think it is closely tied up with the “making memories” mentality: the idea that you must try to get the most possible pleasure out of life, right now, rather than doing something that is meaningful and good, just because it is meaningful and good.

“Just enjoy them while they’re young. Soon they will be teenagers.” Implied in this seemingly innocent comment is the idea that your children will be awful when they are older, and there’s nothing you can do about it. When people tell children or teenager that they need to enjoy their lives now because being an adult is harder, what they are really telling them is that they will have no power to make their lives better. In fact, they are telling them that the more power over their lives they have, the worse it will get.

Let’s stop trying to “make memories,” and start trying to learn and grow. And if making baby albums helps us and our children learn and grow, then let’s make baby albums. Let’s stop telling our kids that their lives are better now than they ever will be again, and start helping them develop the skills and virtues they will need to make their adult lives more satisfying and fulfilling every day.

And finally let’s do good things just because they are good, and fun things just because they are fun, and not because some future version of ourselves will be able to sit in a rocking chair and say, “Remember when…”

Posted on Leave a comment

The Secret to Having Friends

If you want to have a friend, be a friend. Everyone wants to have friends, and having friends makes you happier and healthier. But fewer people are willing to make the effort to be a friend. Many people are unaware—or try to forget—that being a friend requires work, that it’s a give and take, often with more giving than taking.

But though a friendship will always require some effort, sometimes it is harder than it ought to be because we don’t know what we’re doing. Friendship, like any other human activity, can be done successfully or unsuccessfully, well or badly. Here are a few secrets to making your friendships deeper, more meaningful, and more lasting.

Secret 1: Observe

Observe your friend. Try to figure out what your friend likes, what her favorite things are, what she wants in life. Analyze her moods and her patterns of behavior. Get to know what your friend looks like when happy or sad, and learn to identify triggers. Learn what subjects interest your friend, and what things bore her.

Now, some of you might be thinking “Stalker! Creep!” This is not what I mean at all. By no means do I intend to imply that you should read your friend’s diary, listen in on her conversations, read her emails or text messages, or stalk her social media pages. All it means is that instead of thinking only about yourself while spending time with your friend, you think mainly about your friend, and pay attention to what your friend tells you, not only directly in words, but also by reactions, expressions, and emotions.

Once you know your friend better, you will be a better friend. Why? Well, what do friends do? They do things together, help each other, talk with each other, enjoy each other’s company, and sometimes give gifts.

If you know your friend likes hiking, and you want to go on a hike, then that will be the friend you ask to go with you, not the one who prefers shopping, or craft projects, or painting her nails. If you know what your friend looks like when happy or sad, you will be able to ask the right questions, either to let your friend share her sorrow and make it lighter, or share her happiness and make it greater. You might even be able to tell when your friend won’t be able to handle it if you share your sadness or happiness with her at that moment.

You will have more satisfying conversations if you remember what things interest your friend, what things she was doing lately, and what topics bore her to tears. And you will know, if you pay sufficient attention, what things your friend wants, and what she doesn’t want, and thus will be able to avoid the pitfalls of gift-giving. We’ve probably all gotten a gift at some point thought, “What on earth will I do with this?” Observation is the only way to avoid being that friend.

Secret 2: Listen

In some ways this seems like a repeat of Secret 1, and it is related. We have all experienced a time when we really needed someone to talk to. Someone who would just listen. Now, most of us probably have the idea that listening means not talking. (Your parents or teachers probably told you so.) But it’s only partially true. There’s a lot more to it than not talking.

First of all, don’t look at your phone. Look at your friend. Not that you need to stare at her, but look in her direction at least occasionally, and don’t focus on something else, especially not your phone. Most people find it unnerving if you look them directly in the eye for very long, but you do want to “make eye contact.” The solution is to imagine a triangle formed by the eyes and the nose and look at the middle of this triangle. This helps you avoid seeming either confrontational—by looking directly at the eyes—or seeming insecure or aloof—by looking at things other than your conversation partner.

Next, don’t just sit there like a rock. Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Hearing is passive, while listening is active. Really listening will involve making noises like “mhmm” at the right moments, making gestures like nodding, and also asking questions. Asking questions is an essential part of listening. Wait for your friend to stop or pause, and if you still don’t understand after listening carefully to what was said, then ask for clarification. It often helps to repeat part of what your friend said to you, and then ask your question based on that. This shows that you really were listening, and that you care.

Also, if you friend really needs to talk, do remember that while you may have what seems like the perfect solution to her problem, you might need to wait for her to be done before suggesting it. And, there’s also the possibility that your solution won’t work, and you only think it will because you don’t understand what the whole situation is yet.

One more thing: a listening friend needs to be a safe person to talk to. If you are going to go and blab you friends troubles and secrets to the world the moment her back is turned, you won’t be her friend for long.

Secret 3: Help

We all know that a friend is always willing to help, and we are usually willing to help others when they ask for it. But if you really want to strengthen a friendship, you might need to ask for and accept help.

A lot of people have trouble accepting help, probably because they dislike the feeling of being indebted. But this can be a mistake in two ways. One, you might think that you have a friend when in reality you only have someone who you help. Worse, you might be stunting a real friendship.

Benjamin Franklin discovered that often the best way to gain a friend is to ask for a favor. This is called the “Ben Franklin effect,” and has been tested multiple times in various studies. The Ben Franklin effect is thought to be a result of cognitive dissonance. We tend to want our beliefs and acts to match. If they don’t we get “dissonance,” which is resolved only by changing either the beliefs or the actions. We help our friends, and therefore the people that we help must also be our friends.

Also, we tend to get a warm feeling of satisfaction if we genuinely help someone. So refusing help can actually be a selfish act, putting our own reluctance to feel indebted over our friend’s desire to be of assistance.

Secret 4: Relax

Your friends will not always do things your way. And that’s fine. It is important to be flexible and allow things to be a bit different than you imagined. Your friend might also do things you don’t like. That’s probably fine too. In most cases, your friend isn’t actually deliberately trying to annoy you. Realize this, and your life will be much easier and less dramatic. Also, your friend might say something bluntly. If so, be grateful! If you ask your friend if a dress makes you look fat, and she says yes, thank her! If your friend tells you something you are doing might be bad for you, be grateful. It means she actually cares about you enough to tell you the truth

This does not mean that you should seek out people who say negative things for the sake of being negative. People like this can be unhealthy to spend time with. A friend who tells you the truth even when it hurts, however, is a gift whose value cannot be underestimated.

Lastly, if you want friends, you need to get over the fear of rejection. You might ask someone to do something with you, and she might say no, but then again, she might say yes. Someone might not want to be your friend even if you ask, but no one will want to be your friend if you never ask.

This might sound like a lot of work. It is. But every worthwhile thing in life requires work, and friendships—meaningful loving relationships with other people—are perhaps the most worthwhile things in life. Forming more and better friendships will enrich your life as well as the lives of others.

Posted on 4 Comments

Three Friends Every Girl Needs

Like Anne of Green Gables, all of us are, whether or not we admit it, looking for “kindred spirits.” Everyone wants to have friends. It is one of the deepest human desires, and its fulfillment can mean the difference between happiness and misery. In fact, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely, “The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.”

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has written that, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,”

This implies that not only will friendship make you happier, it will also do more for your health than dieting and exercise. So, the best thing you can do for your health, both mental and physical, is to go out and make some friends.

But how to know what sort of friends to make? Some people say that their “friends” bring them down, and make it harder for them to make good decisions. Sometimes “friends” get people into drugs or gangs, while other so-called friends are simply there to use you. These are not real friends. A real friend is one who wants the best for you, who genuinely cares about you, and would be sad if something bad happened to you.

Having real friends of various sorts can make your life more fun, more fulfilling, and can also provide you with a valuable safety net, protecting you from dangers as widely varied as depression and financial setbacks.

Fortunately, friends come in all shapes and sizes, and can be any age. They also come in various types, and every girl needs at least one of each of these three types.

The Buddy

The buddy is the one you first think about when you think of a friend.

She’s the one you call if you’re sad, the one you hang out with wherever, the one you go to the movies with. You go shopping together, and when you get married, she’s the one you’ll want to be the maid of honor. If you’re lucky, she’s your roommate.

She’s the one you share ideas with, the one you tell your dreams, the one you laugh with.

A good buddy must:

  • Live reasonably nearby, or at least be available to talk frequently.

  • Be able to keep secrets.

  • Be enjoyable, and enjoy your company.

  • Know how to make you laugh at yourself.

  • Like some of the same activities that you do.

It’s important for every girl to have at least one buddy.

The Big Sister

The Big Sister is a more experienced woman that you can go to for advice.

The Big Sister doesn’t have to be an older sister. She can be a cousin, an aunt, your buddy’s mom, or the old lady who lives down the street. She doesn’t have to be related to you at all, or even be older than you. What she does need is to

  • keep your secrets.

  • know more about (at least some part of) life than you do.

  • be someone you can feel comfortable asking awkward questions.

  • be kind.

The Big Brother

The Big Brother is a male friend who has no romantic or sexual intentions toward you.

If you’re lucky, you have an actual brother who fills this position in your life. Sometimes a cousin or friend can do it too. This is the person you call when you want a male opinion without a personal bias. He might also be the one you call when you need to move your furniture, are afraid someone broke into your apartment, or if you need advice buying a present for a boyfriend. He’s also helpful for chasing away unwanted attention from other men, if you happen to need help with that.

A Big Brother will ideally:

  • Care about you in a brotherly way.

  • Be strong.

  • Be level-headed and patient.

Each of these friends plays an important role in making a girl’s life happier and more fulfilling, and giving her a wider understanding and experience. Each of them is worth the time it takes to either find one or become one.