Ask the grumpies: Developing confidence

Liz asks:

How does one develop confidence after-the-fact? Specifically, I’m coming from a perspective of having grown up being called “perfect” all the time, yet having a mother who nit-picks and tells me what I like/don’t like and is passive-aggressive… I’ve found it’s hard to develop confidence coming from these two positions (afraid to not be perfect, afraid to do anything because it will be wrong). Any advice would be great.

rented life adds:

Riffing off that, how do you develop confidence when you’re good at things other people expect you to do but your true goals lie somewhere else. ex: if I’d rather write fiction and/or be a stay at home mom, but have parents that I love but put “Jobs that make a difference” ahead of everything and haven’t expressed much confidence in my ability to parent –no kids yet, but somehow how I treat my cats reflects how I will parent???. I know it’s easy to say just do it, but that advice falls a little flat.

#1:  I got nothin except “Your parents might be jerks”

#2: Many of us grow up wanting to please our parents.  When we’re adults it can be hard to let go of that.  Especially those of us who skipped the traditional teenage rebellion stage.  (I suspect #1 worked through this dilemma as a teenager.)

At some point you have to divorce yourself from caring about your parents’ opinions of you.  For me that happened in graduate school when I was clinically depressed.  At a point I realized that a. all the stuff I thought my parents expected of me, they really didn’t.  I exceeded their expectations.  I wasn’t disappointing anybody but myself.  That was kind of a revelation.  (For DH it was the night of our rehearsal dinner when he overheard his parents telling mine how proud they were of him.  He’d had no idea.)  b.  my parents have their own faults and their own misperceptions (some of which I can enumerate…).  They’re just flawed people like everybody else and they don’t know me as well as I know me.  So when my mom nags my sister to get a law degree or a masters degree, well, that’s just silly given how much money she’s making without either.  c.  You’re living your life for you, not for them.  That’s true whether they’re wonderful but smothering parents or nit-picky passive-aggressive types (I actually have one of each, but don’t tell my mom I said that, and she’s not really as smothering in reality as she was in my head).  They have their own lives to live, and if they’re not busy enough, suggest that they start training guide-dog puppies.

Cognitive restructuring, which is a part of cognitive behavioral therapy, is a great way to build confidence in your reality and thus in you.  There are a lot of different techniques to change how you feel by changing how you think.  The general idea is to force yourself to replace an untrue thought with a true thought, or a negative frame with a truthful and positive reframe.  One technique is to get out a sheet of paper, divide it in half lengthwise, then on the left put the negative thought.  On the right next to it, put the truth.  “I can’t do X” on the left, “I don’t know if I can do X unless I’ve tried it, and I’ve shown that I can do Y.  Even if I can’t do X, the world won’t end” on the right.  The negativity jar we talked about earlier is another technique.

Part of that cognitive restructuring can be towards giving yourself a growth mindset.  If you’re not the person you want to be, you can become that person.  Or you can change who you want to be.  Everything in life is only for now, to quote Avenue Q.

Moving away also helps.

As does leaving the Catholic church.

Grumpeteers, How do you build confidence, especially when your parental situation has undermined that ability?

Going early and slow

Back when I started this article, people were talking about Race to Nowhere… one of those movies about pressure cooker parents messing up their kids.  (Note:  neither of us, despite our elite circles, has ever actually met someone whose parents pressured them thusly.  We believe they exist, otherwise Amy Chua wouldn’t be, but are by far the minority… or at least don’t actually end up at the elite institutions with which we are familiar… maybe they go to Princeton.  No wait… one of us met a first gen Chinese girl with one of those moms, but she didn’t go to an Ivy for college… just grad school.  The other one of us remembers a couple of pre-meds on her hall in college, also of Asian descent.  But they seemed perfectly fine, except for the not really wanting to be doctors part.)

Of course, on the mommy forums, folks were taking this documentary to mean that kids should not be allowed near a written letter until they are 5 years old at the absolute earliest, and that’s only if you don’t get into the local Waldorf school, in which case age 8 or 9 is better.

The argument seems to be around whether you’re providing your kids with an advantage by “hothousing” them (or as some like to put it, “enabling them to reach their potential”) or by letting them “enjoy their childhoods” (or as I like to say, “be Rosseau dream-children”).  Proponents of the anti-learning model argue that we’re stressing out our kids with all the pressure.   Arguments in the other direction (that I haven’t actually heard made by a real person, just by articles against hot-housing) seem to focus on children getting into ivy schools later in life and becoming successes, whatever that means.

What the arguments seem to ignore is that when you start something early instead of late, the learning can be more leisurely and more fun.  There can be LESS pressure instead of more pressure.  Deadlines are far away and nobody expects a child to show genius at such a young age for task X, Y or Z.  The time can be spent focusing on the learning and the joy, and when it stops being fun, you can take a break and come back to it later, no harm, no foul.  Plus there’s the meta lesson that even if you don’t get something right away, with practice and time you will get it eventually.

We’ve seen the positive aspects of starting early and going slow across several aspects of DC1’s life.

Potty training

Unlike most parents, we found potty training to be pretty fun.  Unlike most parents, we started pretty early.  15 months.  We would have started earlier but before reading the research I thought you had to go all or nothing.  Ze wasn’t completely trained for many years (went a week without accidents right before age 2, was mostly dry before 3, was dry at night before 5).  The joy of starting at 15 months is you feel a bit naughty doing it– people who find out will be more than happy to provide their opinion of why you’re torturing the child or you’re the one being trained, etc.  (To which I would say, “Did you know that before disposable diapers the average age of potty training was 18 months, and in cultures with infant training, the average age of being completely trained is 12 months?  It’s really interesting, the potty readiness signals were created by Barry T Brazelton who was working for Pampers at the time.  They seem to coincide with the worst time to start training.”  You can see I have the speech memorized– as a professor I use people not minding their own business as an opportunity to educate.)

Potty training for us went much like all the other skills.  It was fun watching DC1 get better and better at this new skill.  Very relaxed.  Whenever it wasn’t relaxed we’d just stop.  And that would feel fine too, because the feeling of naughtiness would go away while on break.  Then we’d go back later.


Reading isn’t quite as good an example, because we didn’t deliberately start training DC1 to read (I did read  a couple of books on how to teach infants to read via flashcards, but decided that wasn’t fun and only taught sight reading which isn’t phonics.)  We did, however, read a lot to DC1, and I tend to run my finger along the words as I read children’s books because that’s what my mother did (possibly from her Headstart training).  And we have literally hundreds of children’s books to flip through and chew on, many at baby height.  We also introduced the Leapfrog CDs long before DC1 could decode because DC1 was really into frogs at that age.  The side effect of that was that ze knew all the phonics rules (in verse form, “The A says ah, the A says ah, every letter makes a sound the A says ah”) so that as soon as hir brain was ready for phonics, the inputs were already there.  On top of that, we have some great simple puzzles that attach words to pictures or letters to words and pictures.  These worked so well that we hope to do the same for DC2 even if ze isn’t as into frogs as hir older sibling.


I love math and I love teaching math, so math is something we start right away, counting baby lifts and baby fingers and toes and ears and eyes and noses.  Numbers are everywhere and we point them out.  Following that, any kind of manipulable can teach simple addition (two raisins plus two raisins is one two three four raisins).  Skip counting is also a lot of fun.  We practice these kinds of games when we’re waiting for things, even if it means I occasionally get dirty looks.  Better dirty looks for “hothousing” than for my kid getting stuck in the slats of a chair yet again.  Later on we added workbooks and money games from Scholastic books.

We’re totally Boicing our kids.


There are some disadvantages besides the occasional dirty look and accusation of doing horrible things to your children in order to win at life or something.  Sometimes the whole point of learning something new is learning to overcome a new challenge.  When learning is easy and happens over a long period of time, and doesn’t have those frustrations that a deadline will bring, the child may be missing that important lesson.  Additionally, when a child knows something that hasn’t yet been taught in school, that can lead to boredom when it is finally covered.  Though perhaps the boredom is a societal problem, not because of us.

[Disclaimer:  We do not recommend trying CIO-style sleep training or solid feeding earlier than what doctors recommend– baby brains and baby tummies aren’t ready for those until about the date the AAP recommends or they show signs of readiness.  Of course, anyone knows that trying to feed a baby who doesn’t want to be fed is not fun for mom and dad, and CIO generally isn’t ever fun.  So if you keep to the rule of only doing things early if they’re fun for all, you should be ok.]

Anyway, my point is that introducing something early doesn’t necessarily lead to pressuring.   In fact, sometimes it keeps you from ever having to pressure.

How do you make choices about when to introduce new concepts?  What did your parents do?

Typical professors

I asked my students what they expect typical professors to be like.  (In the first week of the course I had asked them about their expectations of me.)  These particular students are mostly seniors.

I keep asking them this question for the sole reason that their answers make me LOL in the coffeeshop.

A lot of people think college professors are extroverted. Which is funny because I think the exact opposite. My act must be fooling them.  Also a lot of people don’t include research in their description of what professors do all day, whereas it’s one of the first things I think about in my description.

A lot of them think that professor is synonymous with teacher, though there are a few who imagine a professor “tirelessly researching”.  Does it count if I’m tired?

Wow, this person is deep: ” I know that I have been shocked by the lack of passion/critical thinking in the [redacted humanities] department, and of the awkward social interactions that I have had in the [redacted STEM] department, so my prototype is only relevant to my limited and most common experiences. While some of my professors are producing research that exposes certain systems in the university, some [redacted] professors are working hard to mask and solidify these systems.”

When you were an undergrad, what did you think your professors were up to all day?

#2 says:  my mom was a professor, so I always thought professors were always super busy doing IMPORTANT things and I should be very careful of their time.

What the allowance does

We’ve talked about our families’ experiences with allowances before.  But here are some more meta thoughts on the subject.

An allowance is a mini-budget but looser.  An allowance can be greatly mentally freeing, even as it constrains.

Like a budget, it gives you a budget constraint.  That forces you to make choices and to prioritize.  However, this prioritization is only for the set of discretionary purchases.  The regular non-discretionary purchases are set separately and hopefully automated.  That focus on a smaller choice set makes the allowance much less overwhelming than a budget, and since allowances are generally only over fun money (what you *can* spend rather than what you *have to* spend), they can even be kind of fun.

Weekly allowances are also helpful for people with time inconsistent preferences.  It may be difficult to wait a month until payday to purchase something, but most people can wait a week.  And a week’s reflection can help decide whether a potential impulse purchase is worth the impulse.

Allowances are also good for people who have a hard time spending money.  If you have a specific allowance, it allows you to spend a certain amount guilt-free on whatever you want.  You know you can’t go over a certain amount of money and this money is the money that’s earmarked as ok to spend.  It allows people to loosen up those tight chains a little bit to buy little luxuries (or whatever else it is that money can help ease).

Still, allowances aren’t for everyone.  We don’t really feel like they add to our happiness, but they definitely add to many people’s, including at least one of our partners.

What are your experiences with allowances?  If you’ve used them, have they helped, and if so, how?

link love

America’s looming burial crisis.

Wandering Scientist with a plea for bipartisanship, among many other insightful things.

Scalzi had a lot of great commentary this week (read all of it!), but this one was my favorite.  Also:  I love the way he’s able to see the world from many viewpoints, and not just through his own eyes.  Not everybody can do that.  (As he notes in a comment earlier this week, I believe, that’s also what helps makes his novels be so awesome.)

A pair of related posts:  Miser-mom talks about why she saves money–so she can give more.  We do that too, and I would argue it’s a good reason to make more money, not just save it.  Though right now we’re having difficulties giving money to DC1’s school (I understand why my father said we had to deal with the large donation process).  On the other side, poor to rich one day at a time wonders if she should be satisfied with bringing in only 14K/year.  What would she need more money for?  Me, I want that safety net, even above and beyond my cheese cravings.

Money magazine is looking for people to give financial makeovers to.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Because Google doesn’t always know the answer

Q:  should i marry my best friend if she is not attractive

A:  Not conventionally attractive is irrelevant.  Not attractive to you– definitely not.

Q:  what’s academic life like after tenure

A:  Busy!

Q:  does part time in a job get less taxes taken out

A:  Yes and no.  Taxes get taken out based on the money you’re making.  If you’re making less money, then you get less tax from a flat dollar amount.  In terms of percentages, the amount you get taken out varies based on complicated rules– you get more taken out as your marginal rate goes up but you also get less taken out (as a percentage) as you start reaching income ceilings for various taxes.

Q:  where was video games made

A:  All over the place.  Including San Diego.

Q:  putting washed dishes in sink unhealthy?

A:  Sinks are pretty disgusting, but if you’re not immunocompromised you’ll probably be ok.

Q:  howbdo u spell the word when u poo andvpee at the same time

A:  Though not technically correct (as liquidy poo is not technically pee), we would like to quote the following:  “When you’re diving into first, and you feel you’re gonna burst:  diarrhea.”

Q: is it normal to feel like you dont want another child when you already have one?

A:  Yes.  Or even if you don’t have one!  It is also normal to feel like you do.

Q:  how to pay off debt with two jobs

A:  Spend less than you earn.  Apply extra money to debt.

Q:  when do professors vacation for summer

A:  If they are French, then in August.  Otherwise it varies, and some don’t vacation at all.

Q:  why single moms pretend things are perfect

A:  They don’t.

Nicole and Maggie gossip about bloggers

#1: when she whines, I feel Schadenfreude
#2: and her husband is just as bad
it’s not like Mutant Supermodel
where she’s doing her best and life keeps kicking her
but she’s going to do just fine one of these days
#1: right
#2: mutant super model has 3 kids, lives in a more expensive area, and does not make 6 figures… but she makes good choices and isn’t all entitled
#1: I like to read The Little Professor. She amuses me.
#2: me too
the little professor doesn’t seem to have any issues
#1: nope
stable, professional, amusing, is Little Prof’s blogpersona
#2: I have to say my current voyeur blog reading is coming from one bright star.
She seems to be making reasonably good choices… or at least averting disaster. I’m glad she dumped the biochemist. I want to tell her of course it seemed like they clicked– you don’t get to have that many marriages and affairs unless you can click with women! But I kind of swore off doing anything but watching other people’s romances many moons ago.
So far I’m rooting for CPA, but military guy intrigues me
#1: heheheheheh
#2: (I think it’s CPA, the one without any red flags)
#1: it’s like reality TV without looking at ugly people
#2: haha yes
like the early real world episodes, before they realized crazy sold
In any case, I’m totally hooked. Even if 1B* is actually a happily married 65 year old gentleman retired ice fisher playing a hoax on the internet community. It’s making for a good story and I want to know how it ends.

Grumpy rumblings wants to know if you have any good gossip about bloggers to share.  We’ll be very discreet… (or at least as discreet as posting on a public forum can be).  Where are you getting your vvoyeuristic kicks?  Please nothing too slanderous or libelous.  Unless it’s about CPP.


  • My graduate alumni association interviewed me a few years back.  My undergrad just contacted me for an interview.  I don’t think my high school ever will, and rightly so!
  • As I get older, it gets easier to fire people who aren’t worth my time (not to mention money, but it’s really the time that’s most important these days).
  • I like doing simple data work, but it’s really the sort of thing I should be having an RA do.  Still, I like doing it.  So when my RAs can’t… well, I have fun with it even though I feel a bit guilty.
  • It is so weird voting… instead of a Republican vs. a Democrat on most ballots, it is a Republican vs. a Libertarian.  Sometimes, just for kicks, there’s a random Green Party member.  I’m not sure what’s up with that.
  • If you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables since you were a kid, as an adult it has layers of hilarity that probably went right above your head at the time.  I don’t remember laughing out loud quite so much when I was young.  (And DC1 has to ask why I’m laughing because it’s going over hir head.)  DC1 also complains that Anne talks too much.  Apparently ze can’t handle more than half a page of her talking without a pause.
  • Sometimes I put off writing annoying emails and discover when I actually sit down to do them that it has taken no time at all.  Sometimes I answer emails right away and it takes much longer than expected.  Sometimes I put off writing the annoying email and the problem solves itself, but sometimes I should have just spent the 10 min figuring out which person to try next on the email list of “what’s up with this grant”?  Of course, sometimes the 10 min email also doesn’t get answered.  But sometimes they tell you you’ve had the grant for an entire month and it turns out they sent the information to the wrong person at your institution.
  • Remember how I was concerned with potential pacifier overuse by DC2?  It was all for naught.  It turns out ze is a thumb person, but only other people’s thumbs.  Ze’s a wee bit of a cannibal.
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November Mortgage Update: under 100K and playing with amortization

Last month (October):

Balance: $90,282.60
Years left: 7.41666667
P = $821.47, I =$392.94, Escrow = 621.66

This month (November):

Balance: $88,761.62
Years left: 7.25
P = $857.03, I =$357.37, Escrow = 621.66

One month savings:  $2.62

First up, can I get a woohoo for being under 100K?  (Yes, I know I should have asked for it two months ago, but I had other things on my mind.)  If I had no other expenses at all (including taxes), I could totes pay this off in a year with just earned income, and have a bit leftover.  Alas for eating, utilities, childcare, etc.  Can’t quite pay it off with our secondary stock market emergency fund either, mores the shame.  Though our primary savings emergency fund plus the secondary stock emergency fund could do it… again, assuming no taxes.

With my current mad grant getting, it looks like we won’t have to re-cast (or re-amortize) the mortgage right away, and if we keep up with income generation we may never have to.  One can hope!

However, recasting is still a neat thing and I’d like to talk about it.  One of the things people say in the prepay the mortgage debate is that having a paid off mortgage is great, but there’s no way to recoup that money in a true emergency (one so bad that your HELOC is cut off) if you’ve prepaid too much.  Thus, they argue, you could lose your almost paid off home for want of being able to make monthly payments if you didn’t keep enough cash reserve.  However, that’s not true– you can regain some flexibility from pre-payment through recasting, a means of lowering your monthly payment at minimal expense.

What is recasting?

To understand recasting, you first have to realize that mortgage loans are different than, say, credit card debt.  With credit card debt, the minimum payment you have to make varies every month based on your balances.  As your balance goes down, you have to pay less each month down to a certain floor, if it goes up, you have to pay more.  Lower required monthly payments can help if there’s a financial emergency in the future.  With a mortgage, they assume you’re not going to be adding any more debt, then they take the interest rate and the number of years you said you’d be paying, and they figure out how much that works out to in order for you to pay the exact same payment each month.  With a credit card, you pay less next month when you pay extra this month.  With a mortgage, you pay the same amount next month, but you pay for fewer months total when you pay extra this month.  So if your home is a long way from being paid off, you may wish you had kept that money in order to keep making your regular payments in the event of an emergency.

What recasting does is it takes that amount you’ve prepaid into account, and it looks at how much time you have left in your loan as you had originally set it (so if you’re 8 years into a 30 year loan, it will take the remaining 22), and it recalculates how much you would have to pay each month in order to pay the same amount in the time you would have left had you not done any prepayment (so 22 years).  Unlike refinancing, your interest rate does not change.  However, if you prepaid, your monthly payment will go down and the term of your loan will increase back to what it would have been prior to repayment.

Credit cards essentially redo this calculation every month (though it’s a little more complicated because they don’t really have a set term).  Your mortgage won’t unless you ask, and generally you will have to pay a fee.  Looking on the internet, it looks like recasting fees vary from $0 to $250.  That’s a lot less than the thousands it may cost you to refinance.

So what does that mean for me?  Let’s say we decide to recast next September.  At that point we’ll have paid ~86K extra since our last refinance.  We refinanced for a 20 year term and will be 36 months (or 3 years) into it, with 204 months left.  Our current mortgage payment not including escrow is $1214.40.  If we reamortize, our new payment not including escrow will be $523.78.  That’s less than half what we were paying before.  But, of course, instead of having 5.83333 years left on the loan at that point, there will be 17 years left on the loan.  It stretches the payment back out.

Reamortizing (or recasting) is a great idea if you need temporary cash flow and have been prepaying your mortgage.  It cuts down your required payment and allows you to get over whatever hopefully temporary negative shock you’ve had so you can get back to prepayment without having to default on any of your obligations.

Have you ever recast your mortgage?

link love

More from evolving pf on graduate student taxes.

A ted talk on body language.