Things I Want to Teach my Kids (That I Regret Not Learning as a Kid Myself)

Flossing

Like most kids, I didn’t take the whole flossing thing seriously. I’d try to start flossing after every dentist appointment but after a few days I’d just forget. Besides, flossing was annoying. Who wants to get their fingers all covered in saliva? Or their circulation cut off by floss? It was just too much of a hassle. Honestly, if it weren’t for my little Reach flossing thing that allows me access without wrapping floss around my fingers and sticking them in my mouth, I’d probably wouldn’t be flossing now either. I had all of two cavities as a kid and that wasn’t until I was in high school, so I kinda shrugged off the whole flossing thing further.

Then I hit my early twenties. I saw a dentist for a toothache and found out I had six cavities, one which was bad enough to need a root canal. Most of the cavities were on the right side molars. Did you know you probably chew your food on one side? I didn’t. My teeth needed so much work that multiple appointments were required and I had to chew on my left side for a good six months. It’s really tough trying to chew on your non-dominate side. Overall, it was not a good experience.

Even worse was the bill. I was no longer covered by my parent’s insurance so I paid for dental through my college. It only covered a cleaning or two and the standard fillings. My dentist used porcelain fillings, which match your tooth color. I ended up paying the difference for that. I also paid for my root canal. My personal bill was a little over $2000.

Several years later my root canal started bothering me. Apparently it needed to be re-drilled. That didn’t work. One of the roots actually needed to be severed and removed. Keep in mind that this is my back molar so it’s extremely difficult to reach. My dental surgeon tried multiple times to remove the bad root, but the stupid thing was fused at the base to all the other roots. The tooth had to be removed. He did prep for a future implant, but I couldn’t afford one at the time. It took several years to get an implant, both due to pregnancy and repeatedly hitting my annual dental insurance cap. My husband and I shared insurance and the cap, so he couldn’t even see the dentist during this period. We also ended up paying quite a bit out of pocket. Considering how important dental health is to overall health you’d think that dental insurance would not be a separate thing, but it is and it usually doesn’t cover much.

Gum health is important. Gum disease can lead to heart disease and a host of other major health problems- something I didn’t know as a kid. I floss daily now, more if I eat something that gets stuck between my teeth. I know that ideally I should be flossing after every meal but new habits are hard to form. It took decades before I even began flossing daily. I really don’t want my kids to have to deal with major dental problems, so I’m going to be a hard ass when it comes to flossing.

UV Facial Protection

I’ve never had a problem applying sunscreen when there was a chance I’d get burned. That said, I’ve never been one to routinely apply SPF lotion to my face. Now that I’m in my thirties I have sun damage because of it. I’m still horrible about remembering to apply lotion. It’s just not in my routine, so unless my face is actually drying out I don’t even think to put on lotion. I don’t want my kids growing up to have sun damage, though I probably don’t need to teach this until they’re teenagers.

My pediatrician said sunscreen was not needed for everyday outings, unless we’re going to be in the sun for several hours. He also said to concentrate on the ears and nose since “They stick out a lot and get more sun. They’re also the most disfiguring if they have to be removed due to skin cancer.” That’s a sobering thought.

Religious Literacy

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an atheist. My parents were both raised Catholic but were themselves agnostic. Despite their own upbringing, they never really schooled me or my sisters on religion. At all. We read Greek myths as children and loved them, but biblical stories were unknown to us. What we learned was gained mostly through popular culture, which isn’t usually that accurate. In college I took comparative religion courses, but I remember almost nothing of the Eastern religions. It’s just something I haven’t been exposed to much on a regular basis, so it’s never been reinforced outside of a classroom. My memory of Greek myths is strong though.

I don’t plan on teaching my kids to be religious. However, we live in a world with lots of religious people and it’s very important to understand other people’s beliefs and cultures. Western literature alone can be difficult to truly understand without a background knowledge of biblical stories. I want my kids to be educated about more than just Greek mythology.

Sex Education

My own mother’s sex education was laughable. My grandmother had explained to her that boys had a “seed” that could get her pregnant. Mom went away thinking that men literally had a little bag of seeds they carried with them, and that they could drop a seed in your drink and get you knocked up. She decided to make sure her own daughters had no such illusions. Unfortunately, she still kinda went about it in a half-assed way. Prior to hitting puberty she handed us each a book and told us to let her know if we had any questions. Two of us were avid readers, so I know at least two of us read that book. I learned about menstruation in third or fourth grade in school. I became aware of AIDS in high school. But most of what I learned about birth control and STDs came from taking the time to look up such things on my own before becoming sexually active.

That said, I doubt most kids would take the time. There’s also a TON of misinformation out there. Most kids could care less about their own biology and probably wouldn’t be able to sniff out fact from fiction when looking up information online. I’m going to make sure my own kids are plenty educated, and not just by handing them a book. We’re going to *gasp* talk about it!

Normal Relationships

This one is hard to explain. Relationships are often portrayed very unrealistically in our culture, especially in television and movies. I’m going to attempt to educate my kids on roughly how relationships should be, or more likely, how they shouldn’t be. You know, like if you have a Mean Girls relationship with your friends, they’re not really your friends. I especially want my kids to be aware of abusive relationships. It’s not something that’s normally discussed or taught, and everyone should be aware of the red flags.

More than that though, I want my kids to have realistic expectations when dating or forming friendships.Too many marriages end in divorce these days. I hate going to a wedding thinking, “Gee, I hope this lasts” or “These two should not be getting married. I give it five years.”

Everyone has certain values and core beliefs that shouldn’t be given up to make others happy. In college I took a Psychology of Sexuality course. One day we had a guest speaker who taught us an interesting technique. She said to make a list of 10 things we absolutely had to have in a relationship. Then ask your closest friends to also make a list for you. Compile the lists and choose the five things that tend to come up the most, such as “be willing to have children” or “share my faith.” Then consider those five things your five fingers. Would you cut off one of your five fingers just to date someone? No. These are the things that are most important to you. Things which should not be dismissed. If your end goal is to get married and have children, there is absolutely no point in wasting your time dating someone who doesn’t want to have kids.

Obesity Prevention

We all know that being overweight can cause a huge number of health issues. What most people don’t understand is that once you’ve gained weight it is damn near impossible to lose it and keep it off. Dieting works. Really. Pick your poison- Aktins, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig- they ALL work. The problem is that once you’ve lost all that weight you’ll probably end up gaining it back. Here is a very good and long explanation of why.

I took Endocrinology in college. It was an intense course and I remember very little of it. One particular lesson stuck with me though. Fat cells don’t die. They’re like little balloons that fill up when you gain weight and shrink when you lose it. If you fill up all your current fat cells your body will have to produce more. However, when you lose weight your body doesn’t dispose of the excess cells. They shrink and remain in your body. Here’s the kicker though: every one of those fat cells, when empty, will pump out hormones telling your body “I need to be full of fat here! Eat more!” The more fat cells you have, the higher your level of these hunger inducing hormones. So if you’ve gained an excessive amount of weight and then lost it, you’ll have a huge number of extra fat cells crying out for food. This shocked me, and I asked my professor if that meant the only solution was to get rid of the excess cells through liposuction or something. He shrugged and said “Probably.” Oh joy.

I’ve never been super thin, but I’m now kicking myself for allowing myself to gain so much weight over the years. First I did Weight Watchers. I lost the weight but found myself starving for food. It didn’t help that the lower my weight got the less I was allowed to eat. Atkins was a far better diet for me. I managed to stay on Atkins for two years and dropped down to 145 lbs from 190 or so. Then I got married and ballooned up to 200. Every relapse seemed to add on an additional 10-15 pounds to my highest previous weight. Considering my family history (heart issues) and my own medical history (gestational diabetes), it is really important that I lose as much as I can and keep it off.

I really, really don’t want my kids to have to go through yo-yo dieting. It’s far, far better that they not get overweight in the first place. Losing weight is simple. Anyone can do it. Few can keep it off though. Very few. It’s a lesson I want to hammer into them as much as possible.

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