What is “intensive parenting” and is it the norm?

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My cute kiddos.

I’m not quite sure what the difference is between helicopter and intensive parents, but according to a recent study by a researcher at Cornell University, “intensive” parenting is what most parents view as “good parenting” regardless of their educational or socioeconomic status. In fact, it’s becoming the norm. In an article by Joe Pinsker from The Atlantic called ‘Intensive’ Parenting Is Now the Norm in America, he states that “This style of child-rearing that most aspire to takes a lot of time and money, and many families can’t pull it off.”

Here’s are a few paragraphs from the article:

Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.

These are the oft-stereotyped hallmarks of a parenting style that has been common in upper-middle-class households for at least a generation. But according to a recent survey, this child-rearing philosophy now has a much broader appeal, one that holds across race and class. The survey, which polled roughly 3,600 parents of children ages 8 to 10 who were demographically and economically representative of the national population, found evidence that hands-on parenting is not just what the well-off practice—it’s what everyone aspires to.

Intensive is the adjective that researchers, including Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who published the survey results late last year, use to describe this model of raising kids. It’s difficult to nail down precisely when it became the standard that so many American parents hold themselves to, but its approach seems built for an era of widening economic inequality, in which the downsides of a child falling behind economically are the largest they’ve been in generations.

Intensive parenting is a style of child-rearing fit for an age of inequality, indicative of a stratified past, present, and future. The past: As some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs. (The more extracurriculars, the logic of intensive parenting goes, the better the odds of getting into an excellent college and of securing one of the high-paying jobs that America cordons off for the best-credentialed.) The present: As Ishizuka described, intensive parenting is an ideal that’s currently out of reach for many families. And the future: Practiced as it is by some families but not others, it might replicate—or even widen—inequities in future generations.

Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.

I am sure that this style of parenting is what my husband and I followed with our kids. We were big on extracurriculars, spending quality time with our kids and having lengthy discussions of what we considered to be morally right or wrong. But, from there, I went overboard to helicoptering. I couldn’t let my kids fail for the life of me. If it meant arguing with teachers over a second-grade continent test (where I finally learned that Artic is spelled Arctic — my bad!) or sending an email to the AP history teacher in high school demanding that the 89.9% be rounded up to a 90% and an A, I definitely passed the line from “intensive” to “copter.” At least I can look back on what I did and see the errors of my ways. We get a laugh about it today with the kids. They know I had their best interests in mind and wasn’t trying to sabotage their adulthood.

If you want more details about the study on “intensive” parenting, read the press release from Cornell University here.

In an article by Susan Kelley in a Cornell publication called “Hands-on, intensive parenting is best, most parents say,” she gives more details:

Regardless of their education, income or race, most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, a Cornell researcher has found.

The findings suggest intensive parenting has become the dominant model for how parents across the socio-economic spectrum feel children should be raised – regardless of whether the parent has the resources to actually do so.

“This points to exceptionally high standards for how parents should raise their kids. It suggests that parents are experiencing significant pressure to spend great amounts of both time and money on children,” said Patrick Ishizuka, the author of “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States,” published Dec. 22 in Social Forces.

Most parents also said intensive parenting is the ideal approach for both mothers and fathers, and applies to parenting boys and girls, according to the study.

“It’s remarkable just how widespread support is for intensive parenting, in terms of social class and gender,” added Ishizuka, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

Researchers in the field have known that parents with low incomes and less education tend to spend less time and money on children than parents with higher incomes and more education. But it hadn’t been clear whether that’s because they lack resources or because they prefer a different approach to childrearing. Ishizuka’s study is the first to directly address the question using a nationally representative survey, by asking parents of different social classes what they consider “good parenting.”

Ishizuka analyzed data from more than 3,600 study participants who were parents. The participants read about various scenarios in which a mother or father interacts with a child between the ages of 8 and 10. The vignettes focused on the child’s leisure activities, how the parent speaks to the child and how the family interacts with professionals in institutions like schools or a doctor’s office. The participants then ranked the parent’s behavior from “excellent” to “poor.”

Each scenario described one of two approaches to parenting: concerted cultivation (an intensive parenting approach) or natural growth (a non-intensive parenting approach). In concerted cultivation, parents facilitate their child’s participation in extracurricular activities, play with them at home, ask them about their thoughts and feelings, and respond to misbehavior with discussion and explanations. In contrast, parents taking the natural growth approach set rules for their children’s safety but give them flexibility to play on their own or with friends. Parents are less involved in the children’s activities and give them clear directives with little room for negotiation.

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A more recent pic.

What are your thoughts about intensive vs. natural growth approaches to parenting? Is intensive parenting something you approve of? And have you ever crossed the line into the realm of helicopter parenting?

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That time my son gave away the family cat on Facebook

Five years ago, people called me up and texted to say they’d take the cat. I didn’t know we were getting rid of Olive! My own dad told me that my son had written a lengthy post on FaceBook about how we had to get rid of the cat. He is highly allergic, and we got kitten Olive after he left for college. But, he has barely been home since. Perhaps the cat is one reason why! Here’s my second post ever which details the time my son tried to give away Olive.

Robert’s asthma and allergy aBaby Oliveppointment–on his first day home from college for his four-week Christmas break–didn’t go well. The doctor said we could get rid of the cat or put Robert up in a hotel for four weeks.

We’ve only had baby Olive for a year. We’re not too attached, but still. She’s a member of our family. We rescued her from a local pet shelter and committed to be her loving family. And she’s Robert’s little sister’s cat. Not mine. I felt before we agreed to give Olive away, we needed to discuss this with little sis. Or, let Olive be an outdoor cat. We could give that a try! She’s in and out all the time.

I heard that Robert had posted on Facebook for a new home for Olive. Of course, as his loving mother, I’m filtered from seeing his posts. Grandpa, on the other hand, has full access to Robert’s FB account. He told me about the long and lengthy post about how I love the cat more than my own son. Short and shorter: we needed to get rid of the cat. Several people had said yes to adopt the furry feline.

Am I a terrible mother for not wanting to give away our pretty little kitty, Olive Bear?

Robert said I’m infected with Toxoplasma gondii and I’m in danger of turning into a crazy cat lady. I “googled” the toxo thing. It’s different than cat scratch fever, which can cause chills and a fever. T. gondii is a protein that invades your bloodstream and makes women crazy about cats. Or, it makes men crazy in a wild way. And there’s a link to schizophrenia. It’s why my OB GYN told me not to change the litter box while I was pregnant. However, he said that if I’d been around cats my entire life, most likely I was already infected. Great.

 I know about crazy cat ladies.We had one in my home town. She lived in a house filled with felines and feces. Hundreds of cats. My parents drove me to her house out in the country a few miles from town. The home badly needed paint and had broken floorboards with cats leaping in and out of the foundation. We picked an adorable calico kitten named Pansy to bring home. Pansy died a few weeks later from feline pneumonitis

I never had good luck with cats. I can name the ones we owned when I was young: “Ting, Tack, Tenni-runner, No Name, Thomasina I, Thomasina II, Little Leticia, Bianco, Streshia, OJ Simpson. We lost these cats (in addition to the aforementioned Pansy) by the time I reached first grade, due to an overzealous cat-hater neighbor. He caught them in a wooden trap, dropped them in a gunnysack, then tossed them in the river.

When we moved out into the country I had Soute´from second grade through high school. Coyotes and bears were kinder animals to our kitty than our former neighbor in town.

babyolive2 I was pregnant with Robert when we adopted Sherman. That allergy doctor told me for years to get rid of Sherman. I didn’t. Robert was allergic to lots more things than cats. Things I couldn’t control, like rye grass and oak trees. Sherman lived from 1992 until Obama’s inauguration day — don’t let me get started — when the neighbor’s dog jumped a wall and killed him. 

I know it’s terrible not to want to get rid of the cat. I never believed that a cat could be harmful to my child. Now, my son is living in beautiful Santa Barbara, going to college.
He’s only home for visits. Or maybe it is the toxoplasmosis that let’s me rationalize all this.

If you have suggestions on how to keep a cat when you have family members with allergies, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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Five years later, we have lived through the dilema of an allergic son and owning Olive the cat. When he’d come home for a weekend, I found a discount for a hotel a few blocks away. He got his fresh air and we kept the cat. Eventually, before he’d visit, I’d clean the house from top to bottom and made the kitty stay outside. This year, I invested in a heavy duty air filter and we can stay all together in peace. 

What would you do if your kids were allergic to your pets?

How to be a sports parent and “not quite ruin your child”

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A swim meet where college coaches were present for recruiting.

I read an interesting book a few weeks ago about how to parent without really trying. Called Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,  it was written by James Breakwell. He is a popular author and humorist who can be found on Twitter. His theory is the opposite of helicopter parenting. He believes that all children will turn about the same — mediocre — regardless of parenting techniques. So why knock yourself out with trying to be a perfect parent, raising perfectionist children? He believes in a hands off, bare minimum approach.

As a relentless, overachieving swim mom, I especially enjoyed Chapter 11 “The Path to Athletic Glory” which he crossed out and renamed “Benched.” Breakwell’s advice on sports parenting is to sign your kids up for sports and let it go at that. At some point, they’ll tire of it and you can all move onto something else.

Here are a few excerpts from his sports parenting chapter that gave me a chuckle or belly laugh:

“The real danger sports pose is to you, the parent on the sideline. Kids will damage their bodies and minds. You could lose your immortal soul.”

“The competitive pull of youth sports is hard to resist. Deep down, we all have a primal urge to see our child do better than other people’s kids. It’s the ultimate secondhand validation. If your kid wins, that means you’re better than those other parents, or at least that you passed on better genes. Whatever it was, your kid triumphed because of you. Brag about it to everyone you know. That never gets old.” 

“But while sports parents know everything there is to know about succeeding as an athlete, none of them agree on how to pull it off. There’s more than one way to ruin a childhood. To sports parents, steamrolling their child’s youth will be worth it when their kid hoists whatever arbitrary medal or trophy now defines that kid’s entire existence. Ultimately, sports parents just want their kid to have fun — as long as they win or die trying.”

On Breakwell’s section about parents’ dreams of Olympic glory, he writes that the dream is out of reach. 

“Parents of top gymnasts and swimmers enroll their kids in Soviet-style sports gulags the second they leave the womb….The bottom line is kids don’t just roll out of bed and pull off world-record swimming times or gymnastics scores. Instead they give up their entire childhoods to achieve greatness at those arbitrary scoring metrics.”

If you’re a bare minimum parent, you shouldn’t touch Olympic training with a ten-foot pole. Unless you use that pole to pull your kid out of the training pool. If they swim like me, they could use the help.

So what should you do if your child says they want to be an Olympic athlete? Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: I want to be an Olympic swimmer.

Parent: No.

Then buy them ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything. Note: This also works on adults.

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Having fun in the pool.

Our own family pursued swimming for years — literally from the time my kids were six months old in “Mommy and Me” swim lessons to my daughter’s senior year of college. It took up an enormous amount of our family life, but I believe it was worth it. All children want to be Olympians when they’re young. It’s a great dream and worth encouraging. At some point, they understand that only a few, and I mean two people in the United States, per event, every four years, actually make the Olympic team. With 400,000 swimmers registered in USA Swimming, two per event really is out of reach. But the kids do figure it out on their own.

Not being an Olympian doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t a valuable experience and worth every minute. I guess the point is we didn’t go into the deal — as parents — with any illusion of our kids being Olympians. Funny thing though, one of of their teammates from their age group club team made it to the Beijing and London Olympics, and a college teammate of our daughter has two Olympic medalists for sisters. It can happen, but it’s not the point of enrolling and being in a sport.

Later in the chapter, Breakwell talks about how college scholarships is making your kids work for their college educations. He doesn’t think it’s such a good deal after all. “The problem with college scholarships is that otherwise intelligent people forget that nothing is really free.” I’ll save my thoughts on college scholarships for another day.

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Cheering for a teammate at PAC 12’s.

What are your thoughts about bare minimum parenting as an approach to sports parenting? Can the two co-exist?

Are teen girls at risk for depression linked to social media use?

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I find swimming helps me feel better in the day and sleep better at night.

A recent study in the United Kingdom of more than 10,000 14-year-olds showed that teen girls who spent more than five hours on social media were 50% more likely to have depression. The study called the Millennium Cohort Study can be found here.

Here are more details in an article titled “Teen girls at higher risk of social media-linked depression, study says” bFiza Pirani  in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Now new findings published in the journal The Lancet last week suggest social media use may indeed be associated with young people’s mental health — and the connection looks stronger for girls than boys.

United Kingdom researchers examined data on 10,904 14-year-olds born between 2000 and 2002 in the U.K. for the study, using a variety of regression and path models to find associations between social media use and depressive symptoms.

The data is part of the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study, which includes participant self-reported questionnaires. 

On average, research showed that girls had higher depressive symptom scores compared with boys and girls reported more social media use as well.

In fact, according to the study, teen girls who spent more than five hours on social media per day had a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms and boys experienced a 35 percent increase in symptoms compared to those who used social media for only one to three hours per day.

“We were quite surprised when we saw the figures and we saw those raw percentages: the fact that the magnitude of association was so much larger for girls than for boys,” study author Yvonne Kelly of the University College London told CNN. This could be because girls are more likely to spend time on apps centered around “physical appearance, taking photographs and commenting on those photographs,” she said, and urged future researchers to delve deeper into the gender differences.

Depression is a debilitating disease that can last a lifetime — or end a life. Social media is the number one form of communication for our kids, yet it can be so harmful. Long gone are the days when teens spent hours on the phone, tying up the family’s telephone line. I remember having to wait for my big brother to get off the phone with his best friend, so I’d get my turn to talk and say nothing for an hour.

The researchers looked at areas that are affected by social media and show an increase in depression with poor sleep, online harassment, poor self esteem and body image. This study gives parents a strong reason to look closely at our teens’ social media accounts and be aware what’s going on in their online life. I’m not sure how to limit their time online, but it’s worth giving a try to save their mental health. I know I feel better when I put the phone down and get outdoors to walk, hike, or spend time with friends and family, rather than being online.

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The Wellness Park in Palm Springs.

What are your thoughts about this study that shows how vulnerable our teen girls are to depression from social media?

How to let go of stress and chill — as a parent

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Life is less stressful at the beach.

We’re only a few days into 2019 and it’s a perfect time to take a look at how our family lives are going. We can decide to make changes if needed, right? Here are a few questions to ask: Is life too hectic? Are you and your kids too exhausted at the end of the week? Do our kids have any downtime? Are we rushing our kids from activity to activity and then facing homework late at night?

I found this helpful article in the HeraldNet (which was one of the two daily papers we subscribed to when I was a kid — back then it was called The Everett Herald). In “Parenting is stressful; here’s how to be a more relaxed parent,” Paul Schoenfeld explains “Two full-time working parents have become the norm in America — mostly out of financial necessity.”

Here’s an excerpt:

No doubt, one of the hardest jobs I ever had was parenting. Of course, once you have kids, you are always a mom or a dad.

But during the first 18 years of life (at a minimum) parents have a huge responsibility — not just to provide for their children, but to help them become independent, decent adults.

When children do become independent, we can sit back and relax a little. But it takes a long time to reach that moment.

As both a grandparent and a child psychologist, I can see how today’s parents feel particularly stressed. Two full-time working parents have become the norm, mostly out of financial necessity.

Upward mobility was always a fact of 20th-century life — children were likely to do better than their parents. But in the 21st century, that is not a given. Indeed, most kids won’t be better off than their parents. There is even the possibility that they will do worse.

This new economic reality pushes parents to enrich their children’s lives with all kinds of extra activities — music lessons, dance, art, sports and tutoring. Parents are spending more time helping their children with their homework, too. This new reality has been called “intensive parenting.”

For many working parents, it’s plain exhausting.

Schoenfeld says there is no evidence that all this extra time we’re spending on activities result in our kids becoming successful adults. In fact, with anxiety rates rising in our youth, it may be one of the underlying causes. We do have more kids with anxiety and depression than ever before. That’s a fact. What can we do as parents to help our kids become independent and happy adults — and alleviate stress in their lives? We can try to be less stressed ourselves.

Here are some tips from Schoenfeld:

Here’s how to be a more relaxed parent in 2019:

At the end of the day, trust yourself. Sure, there is a lot of useful information out there. But you know your kids better than anyone else. Trust your own intuition, knowledge of your child and your own common sense.

Be realistic. Too much is too much. If you see that both you and your kids are exhausted at the end of the week, take a step back. You can’t be everything to everybody.

Take care of yourself, too. Try to get enough sleep. So what if your house and your yard won’t be perfect. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are going to be a grumpy, irritable parent. You won’t like yourself and neither will your kids.

Limit screen time. I know, I sound like a broken record. But too much time on email, computer screens, television, smartphones and video games sucks your time up like a vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t really add quality to children’s lives. I don’t think it makes parents’ lives better either.

Savor your child’s childhood. Turn off your cellphone, step back from your “have to’s” and “shoulds” and simply enjoy your children! These are precious, fleeting moments. Savor them, drink them in. Engrave them in your memory. Be 100 percent present and in the moment. You won’t regret it.

Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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Angus and the kids during one of our relaxed summers. No wonder we treasured our summers!

Looking back, I sure could have used this advice back in the day. I’ll never forget when my son was in middle school and he was super busy (which means I was tearing my hair out). It was his choice to audition for the school play, try out for basketball, continue with piano lessons, enter a piano competition, have his science fair project make it through the local and county levels and then prepare for state. Plus, continue with the Piranha Swim Team. It was great he wanted to do all these things. But, as a parent, I was the one who should have said, “No. Let’s pick a few things and try the others at another time.”

I let him do it all and tried to support him. It meant I was dropping my son off at his piano teacher’s in Cathedral City, running my daughter to the pool (that was the one activity besides school she was passionate about) in Palm Springs. Then I drove back to piano to take my son to basketball practice at St. Theresa’s in Palm Springs — driving back and forth on the Cross Valley Parkway like a maniac trying to get to the activities on time. One night, I missed a turn, tried to do a U-ey — and smashed into the curb. Flat tire, bent rim. I realized it was time to stop and slow down.

Today, my son says he has recurrent stress nightmares from that time in his life. Mainly that I signed him for a swim meet, and he’d been too busy to go to practice. Talk about a nightmare!

robertkatbangsWhat gives you a clue that you’re trying to do much in your life? What do you do to slow down?

One year ago today — the toboggan ride was fun!

 

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A perfect day at Alta, Utah.

All my excitement of the New Year came to a crash on the slopes when I made one turn and lost my balance. I went skidding down the mountain spinning on my back and side—but only after feeling a rather awful snap in my left knee.

I stood after a friendly stranger helped me up and I thought I was okay. I skied a hundred yards more and “yikes!” The pain in my knee was sharp, intense and I collapsed. After a third try with the same result, I told my ski companion that I needed help down the mountain. I crossed my poles and we waited until a ski instructor stopped and called a number for the ski patrol to come get me.

Long story, short…actually, it’s a short story because it was only the first turn of my third run on a perfectly beautiful, sunny day in Alta. I was lifted into a toboggan with my left leg in a splint and wrapped like a burrito as ski patrol Chris, skied me to a snowmobile patrol, who took me the rest of the way to the clinic. I held onto a little flap of tarp over my head because the ski patrol Chris said it would keep the snow kicked up by the snowmobile from hitting my face on the way off the mountain.

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My view from the Ski Patrol toboggan.

 

The nurse, doctor and receptionist were really kind. They empathize with all their patients whose vacation has been ruined. In my case, I’m not worried about the torn ACL ruining my skiing days. I’m worried about the rest of this week taking care of my daughter’s house and puppy. (I’m in Salt Lake City, Utah to housesit and puppysit for my daughter, who is with her swim team in Florida. I thought I’d take advantage of her proximity to gorgeous ski resorts and ski for the first time in a decade.)

I have a lot going on and I don’t have time for this. In addition to taking care of the pup, there’s a swim meet I was going to compete in early February. Also, I’m traveling back to Salt Lake for my daughter’s senior day and final dual meet. Plus her final PAC 12 swim meet in Seattle. My cousin is coming to visit. My high school friend plans to stay with me. Yikes again. How do I have surgery and participate in all the momentous occasions ahead? What will I do to keep my sanity without my daily walks and swims?

I think a lot will depend on my attitude and outlook. After a good cry that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll pull myself together and face life every hour the way it’s put before me. I remember after my big accident in college, when I was crossing a street and hit by a pick-up truck going 35 miles per hour, it hit me to appreciate the little blessings in life. Don’t take anything for granted. And live life the best you can.IMG_9968

What life lessons have you gained when adventures don’t go as planned?

Saying good-bye to 2018 — finally!

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New Year’s Eve swim.

What a year. And I say that not in a good way. One year ago tomorrow to be exact, my 2018 went down hill. After feeling so positive and happy to spend the New Year holiday with my son  and his girlfriend, husband and wonderful friends skiing in Utah, I fell. I tore my ACL and meniscus and I was down in a major way for the first six months of the year.

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The last PAC 12 meet with my kiddos.

I put off surgery to attend my daughter’s final PAC 12 meet, which I wouldn’t have been able to attend if I had surgery in late January or February.  So, with surgery put off until March, I wasn’t back to semi normal until June. Along with losing physical mobility, I fought being depressed by being homebound and lost self confidence. It’s been a slow recovery and I’m fighting through it, but looking back, it was one tough year!

I finished 2018 “Swimming in the New Year,” which is a much more doable option for me. I went to my Piranha Swim Team Master’s swim-a-thon for Angel View Crippled Children’s Homes. The weather was freezing for Palm Springs complete with clouds and rain. But, I did it. I met my measly goal of 2,000 yards (not quite the 100 X 100s my swim mates swam.) Two years ago, I swam 5,000 yards which gives me a reality check of exactly where I am compared to prior to falling. One of my goals this year is to get stronger physically and back on track with everything else. I feel stronger each day and like I’ve come out through the other side. I’m welcoming 2019 with open arms!

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Graduation for my daughter and Waffles.

Some of the good parts of 2018 include visits with family and friends, especially our daughter’s senior meet, college graduation with our Utah friends who’ve supported and been a second family for our daughter. This past Christmas week with our son and his girlfriend’s family was also a highlight. The week at the beach with both kids and good friends was priceless. Yes, there were definitely good moments, too.

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A gorgeous view on my January 1, 2019 morning walk.

What are your thoughts about saying good-bye to 2018?