Dating for Dads

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced for almost a year and I’m just getting to the point where I’m thinking about dating again. My kids (8 and 10) and I have a very close relationship and we talk about everything. But when I mentioned dating to them, instead of being happy for me, they were angry. Is there anything I can do to get them to be a little more supportive?

A: Close relationships between parents and their young children are wonderful for everyone. But occasionally lines can get blurred, which is exactly what happened with you. Your social life will undoubtedly affect your children—especially if you get into a serious relationship. But it sounds like you’ve given them the impression that their close relationship with you entitles them to an actual vote in the matter. It’s really none of their business. You’re their parent, not their friend, end of discussion.

Aside from the boundary issue, your children may simply not want to share you with anyone. It’s been just the three of you for a long time, and they enjoy having you all to themselves. Any time you spend with other people—whether it’s going out for a beer with a buddy or dating a woman who’s not their mother—is time you won’t be spending with them. You’re in a delicate spot here, but here are few steps you can take to get your kids on board (or at least to reduce their hostility).
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Pregnancy Dreams Up in Smoke

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are just about ready to start a family and we’re really excited. The problem is that we disagree about what she (and I) need to do to get ourselves physically ready. Two things in particular are causing some friction: I read an article that suggested that women start taking prenatal vitamins even before they get pregnant. My wife says prenatal vitamins are for pregnancy only. She and I both smoke. I say she should quit, she says she’ll just switch to e-cigs. What do you think?

A: I think you’re right to be worried about both issues and I suggest that you shelve your discussions about pregnancy until after you’ve got them resolved.

Let’s start with the prenatal vitamins. One of the most important reasons your wife should take them now is that they contain a lot of folic acid. Folic acid (or folate) is a B vitamin that plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects, which are major defects of the brain and/or spinal cord. These defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy—often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Since about half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, pediatricians recommend that every woman of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folate—which is what’s in most prenatal vitamins—every day, just in case.
Interestingly, there’s some intriguing research that indicates that you could benefit from a little extra folate yourself. A recent study by McGill University researcher Sarah Kimmins found that babies born to fathers who were folate deficient were about 30 percent more likely to have birth defects than those whose dads were getting enough folate. Granted, Kimmins’ study was on mice, but she believes that the findings will be similar for human dads. How much folate you need isn’t clear, but good sources include asparagus, avocados, bananas, beans, beets, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark green veggies, eggs, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
Now, on to smoking. When a mother-to-be inhales regular cigarette smoke, her womb fills with carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, and resins that inhibit oxygen and nutrient delivery to the baby. Maternal cigarette smoking increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies and miscarriage. There’s also some evidence that paternal smoking is just as bad. If you think the baby is somehow protected from your smoke by being inside your partner, you’re dangerously wrong. Bottom line: Quit now, and try to get your wife to do the same. A lot of men put off quitting—or asking their partners to quit—out of fear that withdrawal might lead to some marital tension. Bad choice. The potential danger to your baby far outweighs the danger to your relationship.
Oh, and as for e-cigarettes? Don’t go there. While they’re less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, and they cut down on second-hand smoke, they’re hardly safe. Most e-cigs use liquid nicotine, which, besides being addictive, can cause high blood pressure and other heart-related issues in your wife, and can reduce blood flow to the placenta, potentially doing permanent damage to your baby. E-cigs may also contain propelyne glycol, which, when heated can turn into a powerful carcinogen, according to Stanton Glantz, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Glantz and his team also found that far from being the “harmless vapor” e-cig companies claim, the stuff smokers are inhaling contains nanoparticles, which can irritate the lungs and aggravate asthma and other breathing issues. And the second-hand-smoke exhaled by e-cig smokers contains those same chemicals and nanoparticles, so no vaping for you either.

Back(pack) to the Future

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me, and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A: You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck, and shoulders.
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The Best National Parks for Family Trips

Dear Mr. Dad: My family hasn’t had a vacation in years—we haven’t been able to afford it. But we really need some time off. We’re thinking of doing a driving trip over the 2-week winter break. Can you suggest some affordable family-friendly places to visit?

A: Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you won’t have to leave the state to find a super-low-cost, amazing vacation spot. I’m talking about our national parks, most of which offer a range of activities, from just plain fun to educational to knock-your-socks-off gorgeous hikes in nature. Whether you’re planning to spend your whole vacation in one place or want to explore several locations, the National Park Foundation (http://www.nationalparks.org/) and the National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/) can help you find a park that suits your needs. But here are a few favorites, some of which were sent in by readers.
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When Should Bedwetting Stop?

Dear Mr. Dad: My 7-year old still wets his bed. He’s terribly embarrassed about it and doesn’t want to have sleepovers with friends—at our house or theirs. He seems really stressed about it, and the problem is getting worse with time. How common is it for a 7-year old to be wetting his bed at night? What could be causing it—is it something we’ve done or is he doing it to send us a message? And how can we help him to stay dry?

A: Let’s start with the easy stuff: Nighttime bedwetting is a lot more common than most people think. According to Steve Hodges, co-author of “It’s No Accident,” 20% of five year olds, 10% of 6-year olds, 7% of 8-year olds, and 5% of kids over 10 have occasional or frequent accidents at night.

Before we get into the causes and cures, it’s important to understand that bedwetting is rarely anyone’s fault, and it’s really unlikely that your son is doing it to get back at you. However, you could be making it worse if you’re shaming or punishing your son (more on that below). He already feels plenty of shame, and the toll it’s taking on his self-esteem could be what’s making the problem worse.
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When Nutrition Guidelines Backfire

Dear Mr. Dad. A few weeks ago you wrote that parents shouldn’t try to force kids to eat their vegetables because it could backfire. I see the logic in having only healthy foods around the house and letting the kids decide how much they want to eat. But what are we supposed to do when they’re at school? Is there some way to get cafeterias and snack bars to serve only healthy foods?

A: Great—and very tough—question. Yes, it’s possible to get schools to serve healthy foods. This past summer, I read a great article about lunches at one school in France, where all the food is locally sourced and prepared (including freshly baked bread every day), the menus are reviewed by a certified dietician, and the only beverage is water. Unfortunately, attempts to nudge American schools in that direction have been both heavy-handed and unsuccessful.
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