Ask the grumpies: Being responsible consumers

Debbie M asks:

How can I be more polite in making various purchases (or, really, doing anything). Some answers: use less water and power (and certainly don’t waste it); re-use, fix, and share things rather than buying new; buy organic instead of regular for less poisoning of the earth and farmworkers; buy fair trade instead of regular so the people who actually do the work get some of the money; buy shade-grown chocolate instead of regular so they don’t have to burn down more rainforest every three years; buy free-range meat/eggs instead sardine-city-raised meat/eggs to be nicer to the animals–or even better, get nutrients directly from plants; contribute to charities that address important issues effectively and efficiently.

All of the things you mention are great ideas.

We think the best answer to this question is to lobby your government officials to put into place and to fund and enforce legislation that makes it more difficult for companies to be irresponsible providers.  Voting with your feet is great, but it doesn’t help much when corporations can flat-out lie or when there aren’t local responsibly produced alternatives.

Grumpy Nation, how do you consume responsibly?

Ask the grumpies: How to stay friends with a new parent when childfree

Childfree Friend asks:

My best friend just had a baby.  I’m thrilled for her and (oddly, since I tend to avoid infants as much as humanly possibly) can’t wait to meet the kid.  It’s actually surprised me how much I actually want to hold and cuddle the kid (and would if I weren’t 1,000 miles away at the moment), since I have NEVER felt any inclination to do the same for any other infants ever in my life.  I guess that’s the biggest sign to me that I really truly am genuinely happy for her and love both her and the kid a ton.

The easy question (I think):
DH and I are childless, as are all of our siblings.  None of that is likely to change, ever.  So this tiny person is the closest thing we have to a niece/nephew and I’d like to treat the kid as such, but I don’t really know what that means, especially since we are long-distance.  Ideas?

The harder question (which I’m asking both of you since one of you has kids and the other doesn’t):
A part of me is also nervous about what the kid is going to mean in terms of our friendship, since it’s the first time in almost fifteen years of friendship that our paths are really starting to diverge.  The pregnancy has also marked the first times I’ve really had to take a backseat to family in her life and that didn’t feel great (but I’ve tried not to take it personally).

How did (or didn’t) your friendship change before/after the first kid entered the scene?  What do you think you did (or didn’t do) to maintain or even deepen the friendship given the obvious giant shift in priorities after the birth of a kid to one of you.


#1 (sans kids):

Re Question 1:  Send books.  talk to your friend about what she wants.  Send useful things — the relatives will send a thousand adorable outfits, but maybe you’re the only one sending them diapers or savings bonds or stuff like that. [#2 notes:  this definitely depends]  See what support your friend would like.

Re Question 2:  I bet #2 felt this more than I did. But I didn’t perceive a huge change in our relationship, as it’s always been conducted mainly by IM. Perhaps it was harder for #2 to type while holding a baby (sling FTW!) [#2:  I’m pretty good at typing one-handed, and slings were awesome with DC1 but not so much with DC2], but in general we kept talking. The topics of our conversation changed, as it does whenever one or both of us has stuff going on in our lives. We talk about what’s taking up a lot of brain space lately, whether that’s trying to get pregnant or grading papers. It also helps that I love babies and was excited when #2 had them, because BABIES! I would definitely listen to people talk about babies, and I will cuddle them, even though I don’t ever want to have my own.

It helps that IM is asynchronous and text-only; that means we didn’t have to ‘perform’ as much for each other. We didn’t have to put on pants to get together, we could do it at any time of day or night or tiredness level. There’s much less pressure on tone of voice. It’s perfect for blurting little thoughts, which the other person can respond to later if they want. We don’t necessarily have expectations that the other person will respond right away, although we often do respond pretty quickly. If we’re going to be out of email contact for a while (traveling, etc.) we usually let the other one know.

It’s my understanding that having a baby puts you in a brain state where hitting refresh on the internet and blurting random thoughts is much more appealing than getting up the energy to have an actual visit — therefore, IM was great for us. Sometimes we have deep meaningful conversations about feelings and decisions and problems on IM… but often we just send each other links to cat videos.

I think what I’m saying here is that our friendship kept chugging along through all our various life changes, including babies, because of how it has been structured throughout. #2, do you think this is true? The secret is low expectations, maybe? Also, we are both introverts who like to stay home with our families and enjoy interacting without seeing people in person, so we’re a good friendship fit that way.

[#2 notes:  we wrote our answer paragraphs separately and it looks like we hit pretty much the same main points, see below… Though whenever we do see each other I think it is awesome, like when one of us has conference in a nearby city and the other drives in.  I guess it is that and weddings.]

Also on IM it’s easier to take a second and think of a polite or helpful response. When you’re really tired and brain-dead and at risk of blurting out some crankiness, IM allows you to re-word it before you send it. This probably has helped our friendship many times.  [#2 does not do this and wonders how much #1 has been biting her tongue.  Whoops!] [Nah, don’t worry.  I’m not editing out ‘you’re such a jerk’, I’m editing out that sounded ruder than I meant.]

#2 (with kids):

I actually spent more time rather than less time online after having babies.  This was especially true during nursing and pumping times.

It is difficult to say how the friendship changed with the arrival of DC1 because so many other things were happening at the same time– DH and I got new jobs, bought a house, moved, started on the tenure track, while #1 was graduating, moving, job seeking, working as a visiting professor, and applying for tenure track jobs.  We had a lot of different stuff going on!

I dunno, I’m a bit odd in that most of my close friends aren’t in the same parenting part of life that I am.  Either they’re single, or childfree, or have much older children or are just having their first child now.  Or maybe that’s normal.

Ways to keep the friendship alive:  I think the important thing is to be ok with ebbs and flows of personal contact.  Time moves differently when you’re sleep deprived or sick or crazy busy or faced with repetitive days at home.  Don’t take things personally if you stop hearing from someone for a while.  Be happy to see them when they re-emerge.  New parents often don’t have time for demanding friends, but they do tend to have “time confetti” for internet conversations with long pauses between sentences.

Our friendship kept connected via ICQ early on (during college and grad school) and now GChat.  It’s just so easy to say things a sentence at a time whenever you have a moment at the computer.  Sort of like tweeting without the audience.

Also (re Question 1), ask to be on the baby picture mailing list.  Normally I would just send pics to relatives, but #2 loves baby pics so she’s on the list too [#2 says: and I always write back and say how cute they are, and how #1 has clearly produced superior babies, which she has].  Your friend may just post pics on facebook, but many new parents have more adorable pictures than they feel people want to see on facebook, so they may send emails or have separate groups or keep baby pictures in a different place (like a baby-specific blog).  There are a lot of people out there who complain about seeing too many pics of kids, but family don’t, so if you want to be like family, let it be known you would prefer more rather than fewer baby pics.  Similarly, aunts and uncles request child artwork that only a relative could want for posting.  [#2 says, I love when I get artwork from friends’ kids!  It hangs in my office or on the refrigerator.]

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Childfree Friend?

Ask the grumpies: Bucket list for the kids

First Gen American asks:

What is on your must have bucket list for your kids to do/experience before they are grown?

See the Redwood Forests!!!!  Also I think Yosemite.

Learn to swim.  Learn to play an instrument.  Learn to read (for DC2).  Calculus.  They have already watched The Princess Bride, so we’re good there.

Everything else we’ll play by ear.

Grumpy nation, did your parents have a bucket list for you?  Grumpy parents, do you have bucket lists for your kids? 

Ask the grumpies: How to spend leisure time

Leah asks:

How does one spend leisure time when trying to scale back on work responsibilities? I’m working on rebalancing life and realizing that I’m not even sure how to spend my time when I limit work hours. In college and grad school, one could conceivably be working any time. Teaching is similar. What to do with one’s time if you decide no more work after, say, 5 pm except in the busiest of times? I’m trying to remember what I did with myself when I only worked 40 hours a week with minimal out-of-work requirements.

Oh wow, do I have answers for you.

Read books.  I will never live long enough to read all the books.  I love them so!  There is also lots of good TV if you have cable, netflix, youtube, or some other streaming service.  Try audio books.  Get into podcasts.

Take up hobbies.  Things like fencing, horseback riding, and chess will provide literally decades of mental and, in some cases physical, stimulation.  Learn to cook Indian food, or French food, or vegan food.  Walk to the library.

Take free or inexpensive classes at your local community college.  Write your memoirs, pick up a new language, learn to use your digital camera.  Book club.  Swimming.  Embroidery, knitting, quilting.  Try different kinds of meditation and see if one works for you.

Volunteer.  Somebody needs your help: animals, children, the library.  Be an active social justice warrior.  Join a dance troupe.  Write letters.  Look on for local groups doing things like hiking, playing board games, or wine-tasting.  Foster an animal.  Offer to teach the seniors in the retirement home how to use email to see pictures of their grandkids.

Play a lot of solitaire.  Make your own clothes.  Clean your house and donate stuff you don’t need.  Play around with doing your hair and makeup in fancy, ridiculous ways.  Sing a lot.

Go learn to paint or some sh*t.

Surf the internet.  Read blogs, have conversation, play MMORPGs.  Tweet pictures of your dinner.  Explore local restaurants.  Find a favorite coffee shop.  People-watch.  Daydream.  Write stories.  Nap recreationally.  Build yourself a new bookshelf.  Change your car’s oil.  Watch YouTube videos.

Start a blog.

#2 notes that you could have a second kid– that’ll get rid of any unwanted leisure time that was starting to creep up on you, at least for a few years.

Grumpy Nation:  How does one spend leisure time?

Ask the grumpies: Other options for investing besides landlording

Leah asks:

We’re debating becoming landlords in order to intelligently use a “big” (relatively speaking) pile of cash we’ve saved by investing in real estate. What are our other options for investing money wisely but still having access to that money if needed? We’d ultimately like to have a house for ourselves to live in.

Landlording sucks so badly.  Club Thrifty and Planting Our Pennies are probably better people to ask about real estate investing.  It’s not the worst idea in the world to buy a place, rent it out, and then live in it later.  But…  Yeah, we know nothing about real estate investing except that landlording can be horrifically stressful, even with a property manager.  We would never do it.

Personally I’m a big fan of the stock market for long term investing, specifically index funds.  Yes, they can lose value, but so can real estate!  If you’re not putting money in Roth IRAs, you should start (because you can take out the principal).  If you already are, then Vanguard S&P 500 is good.

If you’re looking for more short-term options, there’s the standard assortment of stuff that doesn’t currently have great returns.  You know, your CDs/term shares, your money market funds, your savings accounts.

You asked this question so long ago, you’ve probably come up with your own answer– what did you decide on?

Grumpy Nation, what should we have advised?

Ask the grumpies: What to tell a non-mom friend who says you need mom friends

Rented life:

What to tell a non mom friend when she says you need to find mom friends. (I expressed being lonely, never mentioned my kid). I don’t want mom friends. I don’t like most other people’s kids and good lord I don’t want to talk about kids.

Crucial Conversations recommends thinking about the best story behind her actions.  Probably she’s just trying to make polite conversation.  But maybe she’s concerned for your welfare.  CC also recommends thinking about what your end goal is– what is your ultimate objective from this conversation?  Do you want her to know you better, do you want her to stop making this recommendation, do you want to spend less time with her?

What to say also depends on your relationship with said non-mom friend and what you want to get out of this interaction.  If it’s a close friend, then you can ask why and then say what you said here.  If it’s not a close friend, then is this someone you want to be polite to or someone you’d prefer to alienate?  Do you think she’ll keep saying things like this if you don’t stop her or do you think it’s a one-time delio?

If polite and one-time, then smiling and nodding is always good.  Saying something non-committal and changing the subject works well.

If you want her to stop, then just tell her that you’re happy with your current social life.

If you want to be really alienating then ask her if that’s a dig at you and is that her way of saying she doesn’t want to spend time with you, thanks a lot.

#2 says: #1 is much better at this than I am.  I would respond with “Why?”  possibly followed by “Boy, you’re rude, aren’t you?  If you don’t want to be friends, we don’t have to.”  #1 hopes that isn’t the case– it isn’t necessarily rude when someone is complaining about being lonely to suggest solutions.  Kids really can be a hindrance to spending time with friends (that whole demanding attention + people call CPS if you leave them by themselves thing), but can help with spending time with people who have kids about the same age (since the kids entertain each other and leave the adults to socialize– and not all parents are stuck on birth stories and poo!), meaning you don’t need a baby sitter to get adult interaction.  So it’s not a completely off-the-wall suggestion.

Poll: What is your area of expertise

This could be by training, by profession, by hobby, whatever.  You get to decide.  Pick as many as you want.  Add details in the comments!  Especially if you choose other!




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