TIME Parenting

What We Can Learn From the Lena Dunham Debacle

Lena Dunham at her book launch for 'Not That Kind Of Girl' on Oct. 31, 2014 in London, England.
Lena Dunham at her book launch for 'Not That Kind Of Girl' on Oct. 31, 2014 in London, England. Stuart C. Wilson—Getty Images

While I'm not sure that this unfortunate lapse in judgment should be a teachable moment, it does illustrate a need for a broader discussion about children and sexually harmful behavior

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I know, I know: you’re already tired of the Lena Dunham conversation.

I can’t blame you. It has been a seemingly endless conga line of vitriolic, ill-conceived thinkpieces that do little to advance the discussion. The National Review’s Kevin Williamson wants you to shame and pity her. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams wants people to stop calling Dunham an abuser and taking her out of context. Katie McDonough hates that Dunham detractors are ignoring her sister’s perspective. Dunham herself considers the scandal a right-wing smear campaign and is threatening to sue Truth Revolt, the conservative outlet that broke the story. The conversations currently happening on social media aren’t much different; a number of high-profile feminists and celebrities are taking to Twitter to defend Dunham, dismissing the encounter as childhood curiosity.

By now, you’ve already seen the disturbing excerpt from Dunham’s New York Times’ bestseller, “Not That Kind Of Girl.” If you haven’t, the passage is one quick Google search away. In it, she describes how she would bribe her baby sister with affection. It comes off as predatory and abusive, and naturally, people were alarmed. It is handled with all the finesse of a bad sketch comedy writer. It’s the type of thing that no decent editor should ever, ever greenlight.

On one hand, I can understand the vigorous defense: Lena Dunham is, quite possibly, the most accessible and relatable feminist celebrity in recent history. She’s a Girl-Powered Everywoman who abashedly lays herself bare, literally and figuratively, for the world to see. She isn’t model-thin or classically beautiful. And she is rarely, if ever, apologetic about how she lives her life. Ideally, she is the Fourth Wave Prototype.

But no hero is without imperfection, and when said hero messes up on a nuclear level, it’s okay to not only acknowledge it, but to hold the hero accountable for their actions. We don’t have a problem with doing it when it’s Woody Allen, or Roman Polanski, or Chris Brown; it’s always easier to call out the folks we don’t like. But mainstream feminism’s outright refusal to even approach this objectively alienates those of us who identify as abuse survivors, and it reinforces the idea that certain people can get away with bad behavior if the others really, really, really like them a lot.

While I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea that this unfortunate lapse in judgment should be a teachable moment, it does illustrate a need for a broader discussion about children and sexually harmful behavior.

According to Stop It Now!, a non-profit that focuses on child abuse prevention, over a third of all sexual abuse is committed by someone under the age of 18. (My abuser, a family friend, was 17.) A child using tricks and manipulation to gain sexual favors from another may not even realize that she’s engaging in harmful behavior, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will have a predilection for sexual violence. Still, Stop It Now! suggests that professional help is the best route for any child struggling with impulse issues.

It wasn’t until the week before I left for college that I told my mother what had happened with that family friend, but there were definitely warning signs along the way. One particular incident involved a seven year-old me “acting out” with a couple of other kids in my afterschool program, and I hated getting undressed for anything. But I was too afraid to tell my mother because didn’t want her to fall out with one of her dearest friends. Though she was an abuse survivor herself, she probably wouldn’t have known what to look for, or what to do besides ripping off the boy’s genitalia and throwing it in Lake Michigan.

Stop It Now! has a checklist for parents and caregivers to know the signs. Here are a few:

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
  • Refuses to eat
  • Loses or drastically increases appetite
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Also, trusting your gut could make all the difference, according to the site. Most parents expect their children to come to them when they’re being abused and that rarely happens, which contributes to denial, along with common misunderstandings about sexual abuse, says Stop It Now! Speaking up is the best form of prevention.

The Dunham debate will probably rage on for the weeks and months to come, and people will continue to rehash and regurgitate eveything that’s already been said. But the silver lining, as I see it, is that we will finally be able to talk about this in a more thoughtful, productive way. And, hopefully, spare some children a lot of pain.

Jamie Nesbitt Golden is a journalist originally from Chicago.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY the photo bank

The Costs of Bringing Up Baby

One of the first things you find out as an expecting parent is that the receipts for kid-related spending start piling up almost before you receive confirmation from the pregnancy test. Soon after, it becomes clear that debits from your account will rack up for at least the next 18 years. According to the USDA report Expenditures on Children and Families, “a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 ($304,480 adjusted for projected inflation) for food, housing, childcare and education, and other child-rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with pregnancy or expenses occurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.” For some parents, these costs will continue well after your little one receives the college diploma.

The photographers presented in this week’s Photo Bank gallery document the bringing up of baby to adulthood. While none of these artists specifically tackles the financial costs of raising a kid, they all intimately explore the tipping of the scales that occurs as children grow from dependents to independents over time. Here, images from their varied projects are presented with some statistics of costs that are above and beyond the USDA report.

What this collection of photographs makes clear is the psychology behind why the costs of child-rearing are so high. Phillip Toledano, for example, explores the anxiety-addled brains of new parents who are fraught with self-doubt and fear of the unknown. Toledano struggled to become comfortable with the massive changes that came with the birth of his daughter; his photos capture the new father’s progression from feeling detached to enjoying a close relationship with his child as she grew.

Other artists like Jamie Diamond and Julie Blackmon act out moments that are part autobiographical and part fictional. Diamond poses herself in vignettes with a baby doll to explore the mother-child relationship. Blackmon stages multi-layered scenes of family life that have a strange, wry, or whimsical twist—juxtaposing an enduring sense of nostalgia with keenly contemporary details. Colie James, Ginger Unzueta, and Kelsey Hunter document through still-lives what is left behind by a child’s fleeting presence—rearranged toys on shelves at a store, half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a handful of baby teeth. James Ransom explores the interiors of a school his kids passed through before graduating to their next class. Mark Nixon heroicizes much-loved and well-worn teddy bears, and child-at-heart Alex Eylar plays with Legos and reconstructs popular movie scenes with them.

Rebecca Greenfield, Gillian Laub and Amy Anderson explore rites of passage into adulthood like proms, bar and bat mitzvahs, and quinceañeras. Brian Finke documents with wit college tailgaters at Ole Miss—a time when children are “free” from their parents and exercise their own independence. Damon Casarez portrays those “boomerang kids” who, despite finishing college, are forced to move back in with their parents out of financial necessity, and Julien Mauve poses family and friends in scenes with his childhood toys to explore how our sentimentality for them continues into adulthood.

These images illustrate the love for one’s children that drives even the most frugal of parents—the ones who swore pre-parenthood they would never, ever spoil their child—to get so excited by their baby’s interest in Goodnight Moon that they buy her a board book collection that rivals the Library of Congress. And who, so flustered and exhausted they try to drink their coffee out of the baby bottle, just need the happy image of their Peanut sporting a cool pair of Babiators to will themselves awake at 2 a.m. and put her back to sleep for the fifth time that evening. They explore how the initial fear and self-doubt about being prepared for parenthood and building the perfect nest continue well beyond the first months. Those are compiled with new long-term concerns: making sure that their child has what he or she needs to thrive academically and socially, and preparing their teen to eventually leave the nest and finally come into being as an adult.

Related:

Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later
Inside the ‘Pay What You Want’ Marketplace
The Costs of Raising a Second Baby (Who’s Not a Prince)

This is part of The Photo Bank, a new section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com: sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

TIME Parenting

ADHD in Adulthood: To Prepare for a New Baby, I Had to Prepare My Mental Health

The author with his son Jack.
The author with his son Jack. Courtesy Timothy Denevi

Soon enough we’ll find ourselves short on sleep and patience—in anticipation I’ve been trying to make the necessary preparations

This fall I’m expecting the birth of my second child, a daughter. Over the past months she’s grown from the size of a kumquat, to the size of a banana, and recently achieved the esteemed gradation of cabbage. From what I can tell the final step is cantaloupe—and then, having triumphed through the full prenatal catalog of produce, Sylvia Denevi, the newest member of our family, will be here.

For now the focus is on preparation. My wife and I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with our seven-year-old son, Jack. Together we’ve begun to make the expected adjustments. The guest room is now a nursery. The garage has been searched and reorganized, its assortment of baby gear emerging again like relics from a previous life.

I see my preparation for Sylvia’s arrival as love: the first opportunity I have to tell her I love her, that she’s precious to me, that I’ll do whatever it takes to be the best father I can be. I’ve also been taking the steps to prepare myself, within the context of mental health, for the change that’s about to come.

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, I was part of the first generation of Americans to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. There was never really a question of whether or not I had ADHD, and after years of being the most active, over-sensitive, and impulsive person in the room—after a childhood of psychiatric and psychological treatments, some of which helped, others making things worse—I graduated from college and entered the workforce, at which point my personality no longer seemed as exaggerated and out-of-whack as it had once been. In the end I figured that whatever ADHD was, it was a part of the past.

That understanding changed when Jack was born. At the time I was 27. All at once I found myself surrounded by an enormous amount of conflict—the same kind I used to experience, growing up, when my behavior would drive the people around me crazy. It was uncanny: my wife would say something, and I’d overreact, and she’d say something else, and then I’d be shouting, and glaring, and shouting again. We argued constantly over the new demands: diaper changes, midnight feedings, who got to take a midday nap and who had to do the grocery shopping. Soon enough our lives began to resemble a ledger. I did this and you didn’t do that. My time is just as important than yours! You want to go to the gym for an hour but I can’t play softball tomorrow night? Instead of finding a way to share the new amount of work that was required of us, we spent hours fighting.

My wife is a scientist, thoughtful and logical, traits that have always fit well with my more energetic demeanor, and up until Jack was born our relationship was steady. But now it seemed as if our personalities had switched; at the end the day she’d be yelling at me and I’d turn sullen and depressed.

I felt overwhelmed. Like I couldn’t do the simplest things. It was as if I was underwater, gazing up toward a normal reality—one in which every other new parent seemed to deal well enough—while I was the abnormal one, a failure, once again a problem for the people who loved me. It was the most distant I’d felt from my wife since we’d been together.

“You’ve never been like this,” she told me. And while there were other variables involved—we’d moved across the country right after Jack was born, were at precarious points in our careers, and didn’t have extended family around to help—it was clear that if I didn’t act soon I’d run the risk of damaging my relationship with my family in a way that couldn’t easily be undone.

Eventually I went to see my family doctor, and then a psychiatrist. When I explained my moodiness and agitation they said the same thing: ADHD, even in adulthood, tends to make you much more sensitive than other people to your surrounding environment. If you’re constantly feeling restless and impulsive, you might react to demands in a disproportionate way—and there are few things more destabilizing than the birth of a child.

There wasn’t one thing I could do to magically make things better, they told me—that’s not how mental illness works. Instead, they recommended a series of steps. For the first time I started exercising regularly; I paid careful attention to my sleeping and eating habits; I even went on a low dosage of Adderall, which helped to make everything seem less drastic and overwhelming.

Eventually things improved, but not right away. It was a genuinely hard stretch for my wife and I—part of the reason, no doubt, we’ve waited a while to have another baby. But now, seven years later, as the summer turns to fall and Sylvia continues in her ascension through an aisle at the grocery store, we can take solace in the fact that we both have a much better idea of the changes to expect.

Soon enough we’ll find ourselves short on sleep. And time. And stamina. I’ll be less resilient in terms of mood and patience. In anticipation I’ve been trying to make the necessary preparations.

I started psychotherapy, visiting a psychologist regularly both by myself and with my wife. I’ve set up my exercise schedule with an emphasis on cardiovascular activities like running and tennis, the most beneficial to mental health. I’m trying to cut down on social events and alcohol—two things I very much enjoy. And I find myself making observations about my own sleeping and eating that are usually directed at seven-year-olds: Do you really think it’s a smart decision to start another television show this close to bedtime? If you’re sweating and your stomach already hurts, maybe that fifth piece of pizza isn’t the best decision…

I’ve also talked with my psychiatrist about the possibility of making a medication adjustment. (I hate being on medication anyway, and prefer to take as low as dose as possible.) The Adderall I’m on is the instant-release kind; my current approach is to take it ahead of time when I know I’m about to find myself in situations that are especially overwhelming or agitating—a birthday party for one of Jack’s friends at Chuck E. Cheese; driving through an unfamiliar snarl of D.C. traffic—but what happens when the foresight necessary for such an approach is already eroded by a lack of sleep and/or a screaming infant? I can try a time-release version, or a new medication.

One of the most difficult aspects of mental illness, especially within the context of parenthood, is finding a way, when it comes to your life and its influence on the people you love, to do more good than harm. In the end you can’t possibly predict what’s really coming: the moment in the future that will dislodge you from the balance you’ve worked so hard to achieve. It might be a random calamity, or one you’ve personally brought about. But the incredible truth is that it’s already on the way. And against such a prospect, what good can something like a therapist or exercise or a low-dosage pyschostimulant actually do?

This isn’t to dismiss the idea of effort. In fact it’s the opposite: imagining all the things that could go wrong or right for my family, I can’t help but find solace in action. I’m lucky that there are steps I can take, and that often enough they do tend to help. What matters is the act itself: an expression of love for the most important people in my life. After all, there are many ways to show how you feel; is it so terrible that one of mine happens to take the form of self-preparedness?

A few weeks ago, when Jack was looking through the toys in his closet and trying to guess which, if any, his future sister might enjoy, he turned to me and said, “Daddy, I have a question.”

I could tell by the line of his mouth that it was something he’d been considering for a while. “Yeah?”

“What do you think Sylvia will be like?”

Briefly the image of a pumpkin with very long eyelashes flashed into my mind, but in the next instant was something outside the parameters of size and shape: an emotion similar enough to anticipation. “A little like you,” I said. “And like Mommy. A little like me, too, I think.”

He nodded.

“That’s the exciting part,” I added. “Whoever she’s going to be, she’ll be herself.”

Hyper, by Timothy Denevi Courtesy Simon & Schuster

Timothy Denevi is the author of Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD, out this week from Simon & Schuster. He received his MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa. He lives near Washington, DC and teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University, where he’s a visiting writer.

TIME Religion

Mending the Rift Between Obama and Catholics

67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner
President Barack Obama, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pray during the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. New York Daily News—NY Daily News via Getty Images

The president's pro-family agenda, which promotes greater workplace flexibility, an increase in the minimum wage, affordable quality childcare and greater protections for pregnant workers, aligns perfectly with the Church’s rich tradition of social thought.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and President Barack Obama have had a rocky relationship over the past six years, with perhaps no issue more contentious than the Health and Human Services mandate, which has sparked the Bishops’ three “Fortnight for Freedom” campaigns. But President Obama’s recent speech at the White House Summit on Working Families provides a good opportunity for the two sides to turn the corner in the President’s final two years and work together on promoting an agenda that would benefit millions of American families.

If the Bishops hope to follow Pope Francis’ lead, fighting to undo the pressures and hardships that menace American families seems like an obvious next step. Pope Francis has constantly drawn attention to the impact of economic injustice on families, calling for changes that will give them greater economic security and more time for one another.

On both the left and the right, there is a growing recognition that families are facing intense pressures that are undermining family unity. Both Francis and Obama argue that no one should have to choose between dignified work and their family.

President Obama has responded by calling for a series of measures that will reduce that burden. He has proposed greater workplace flexibility, paid family leave, an increase in the minimum wage, increasing access to affordable quality childcare and greater protections for pregnant workers. All of these proposals align with the Catholic Church’s rich tradition of social thought and would help countless families across the country.

Obama even echoed a key teaching of the Church—one that Pope Francis has emphasized repeatedly—when he explained that “work gives us a sense of place and dignity.” Work allows people to contribute to the common good and use their gifts to participate in the creation of stronger communities and a better world. It can give people a sense of meaning and purpose.

Of course, people have dignity and worth whether they work or not. But this sense of worth and dignity is vital, and work allows many to have this sense and to live in a way that is compatible with that dignity. But it should not come at the cost of their family life.

President Obama noted that for many hourly workers, taking a few days off can result in them losing their jobs. But what happens when an aging parent needs assistance or a child needs help? Our responsibilities to our loved ones seem clear, but what is someone supposed to do when helping a family member risks creating an economic crisis in the family? If we value these family ties, we will work to eliminate such tragic choices.

And that also means working to increase the minimum wage. The Church has called for both a family wage and a living wage for decades upon decades. Church teaching demands that employers pay employees enough to ensure that their families have all of their needs met. There is a tendency to think of minimum wage workers as teenage kids looking to pick up some cash on the side, but many of these workers are trying to provide for their families. Progress must be made toward a living wage for these workers upon whom we all depend for our way of life.

President Obama noted that in 31 states, “decent childcare costs more than in-state tuition.” The scarcity and high costs of quality childcare have delayed my own academic and career progress, as I have chosen to serve as primary caretaker for my 15-month old daughter (which I find very fulfilling). My experience is far from uncommon, as many parents struggle to make difficult career choices, or worse, feel compelled to send their children to receive childcare that they know is not up to par.

While working at a think tank, editing, researching and care-taking has left me in a constant state of exhaustion. It has only been feasible because of the workplace flexibility I have in my chosen professions and because my boss is actually willing to implement the pro-family policies he promotes as a prominent Catholic political activist. But many do not have this type of workplace flexibility. We need companies to realize that these policies are not only about them doing the right thing for their workers, but actually result in higher productivity and lower turnover, as President Obama pointed out.

The leaders and members of the Church are the perfect partners in this push for economic justice and stronger families. From supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to minimum wage increases to a paid family leave program, Catholics should take up the battle to provide American families with the flexibility, support and economic security they need to thrive in the 21st Century.

Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial, a PhD Candidate in Politics at The Catholic University of America, and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. He is a senior fellow at Democrats For Life of America.

TIME

HIV Did Not Stop Me From Having a Biological Child

Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah
Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah Rachel Taylor—Piedmont Photography/Palmyra, VA

Though I have been HIV-positive since childhood, it has always been my dream to have a family. Last year, my wife and I welcomed our biological daughter

On Monday, April 15, 2013, at 8:00 a.m., my life changed forever. My wife, Kasiah, and I welcomed our first child, a healthy girl named Finley Elizabeth Banks, into this world. She was perfect. But the journey to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child began many years before Finley’s birth.

In 1981, when I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Bilateral Wilms’ tumors, a cancer of the kidneys, which had also spread to both of my lungs. The prognosis was grim; treatment was aggressive. My tiny toddler body fought a battle that required 15 months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgeries that required multiple blood transfusions.

Unknowingly, I was transfused with blood that infected me with HIV. Ten years later, having lived through a cancer-free childhood, doctors screened my blood during a routine oncology check-up. They discovered that I was HIV-positive.

In 1991, the epidemic was still raging, and very little was known about how HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. Pediatric treatment options were limited — AZT (the drug that drives the plot of Dallas Buyers Club) had only been approved for young patients the previous year.

Support from family and friends gave me the hope and strength I needed to fight every day and continue to plan for my future: graduate from high school and college, get married, and start a family. School required hard work and determination on my part, but starting a family would require unconditional love and support from another person, someone who could look past my HIV-positive diagnosis and see all of me.

That person was my best friend, Kasiah. We married in 2003. She believed in our future together, which included trusting that research would be developed to allow us to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child.

As we began to explore options, Kasiah and I were frustrated at the lack of family-planning data or information out there for serodiscordant couples like us, in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative.

After endless telephone calls and consultations, we opted for sperm-washing and artificial insemination. Sperm washing is a technique commonly used to screen for genetic disorders, but the process is especially important for mixed-status couples who choose to have biological children. Doctors separate sperm from infected fluid, producing a virus-free sample (as with anything in medicine, the process does not 100% guarantee no transmission, and it is illegal in some states, but studies have shown its vast success).

After the sperm was washed, two samples were tested for HIV and both results were negative. This step was critical because we wanted to reduce the chances of horizontal (to the woman) or vertical (to the child) transmission of HIV as much as possible. And as mentors to younger HIV-positive children, adolescents, and young adults, we wanted to give the message of prevention.

Despite the now-wide research and documentation of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), there is still little dialogue around a father’s role in PMTCT. By not considering an HIV-positive male in terms of reproduction, a large portion of the HIV population is being ignored. We share our story and our daughter’s story to let other HIV-positive men know that the possibility of having a healthy, HIV-free family is very much a reality.

In the year we have loved Finley, we know what it means to be truly unselfish. Our hearts melt when we hear the words, “Ma-ma!” or “Da-da!” And we would not trade the sleepless nights, early wake-up calls, or dirty diapers for anything in the world.

Ben Banks is an HIV-positive Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which celebrate its 25th anniversary this week. He lives in Virginia with his family.

TIME health

Why Organic Is the Right Choice for Parents

STasker—Getty Images

Just in case you're undecided, we will make the case on why your kids should be eating organic

A poll out last week from the Organic Trade Association found a sharp decrease in parents who say price is a key factor limiting their organic purchases. “Parents in charge of the household budget recognize the benefits of organic,” said the trade group’s Laura Batcha. “And they’re willing to pay a little more to know that they are giving their families the highest-quality and most healthy products being offered in their local store.”

We can already hear the organic food naysayers: Highest quality? Healthy products? Hogwash — the organic industry just wants you buying more of its goods.

But the truth is choosing organic-certified foods — when you can and can afford to — is one of the best choices you can make for your children. We should know: as a mom of two girls and an author of books about sustainable food (Anna) and as a pediatrician and father of four (Alan), we have a handle on the research as well as firsthand experience.

We choose organic because we know, for example, that children fed an organic diet have much lower levels of metabolites of high-risk insecticides in their bodies. We also know that choosing organic food reduces the risk of exposure to toxic pesticides in our diet. The 2008–09 President’s Panel on Cancer report stated, “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals.” Many of these chemicals are known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt our hormones, mimicking testosterone or estrogen, its authors continued. “Nearly 1,400 pesticides … registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for agricultural and nonagricultural uses … have been linked to brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian cancers … as well as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” and more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned about the exposure to pesticides. “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” it wrote in 2012, and “chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.”

While we can’t limit all of our children’s exposures to toxins in the environment, we do have a say in the food they eat. And one of the best ways to limit their exposure to these chemicals is to choose an organic diet. Because of the persistence of pesticides in the environment, no food is 100% residue-free, but Chuck Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University has found that organic food has significantly lower pesticide residues than conventional food.

Choosing organic meat and dairy for your kids is also the best way to ensure that they’re not exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like the synthetic hormones given to nonorganic livestock to speed growth and alter reproductive cycles. And choosing organic meat and dairy means your children are not fed meat that was raised on daily doses of antibiotics to speed growth, leading to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Your kids will get more of the good stuff too. A recent study comparing organic and nonorganic dairy production, commissioned by the farming cooperative Organic Valley, found a medically significantly higher concentration of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in organic products. “Organic Valley is proving what our farm families have known for a long time,” said George Siemon, a founding co-op member. “Not only is high-quality pasture and forage better for cows, it produces nutritionally superior whole milk.”

Organic food is a healthy choice for all of us but especially for kids. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals, in part because their immune systems are still developing and in part because, pound for pound, they’re exposed to more chemical residues than adults. Another reason is that children and babies tend to eat a lot more of certain foods than adults — think bananas or apples.

The developing fetus in the womb is perhaps most vulnerable of all: three studies by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital tracked women exposed to higher amounts of organophosphate pesticides while pregnant and found that once those children reached elementary-school age, they had IQs averaging several points below those of their peers.

We make the choice for organic not just for the health and safety of our own children but also for the health and safety of all children, especially to help protect the children of the people who grow and harvest our food. We know, for instance, that children born to women exposed to pesticides in agricultural fields or communities have lower IQs and other troubling health outcomes.

What about that 2012 Stanford study that purportedly found that organic food is no better for you than conventional food? The metastudy — or study of studies — was reported widely in the media to have found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods. While it found that conventional produce is five times more likely than organic to contain pesticide residues, the authors dismissed this conclusion based only on the total number of pesticide residues in food, not their toxicity. Critics of the study stressed that toxicity — the health risk posed by a particular residue — is what matters. According to Benbrook, an assessment of the same data set based on the known toxicity of residues reveals a 94% reduction in health risk from these pesticides among those who eat organic foods.

This summer, you can join with families across the country in heading out to farmers’ markets or supermarkets and seeking organic food, knowing that when we can and can afford to, organic is one of the best choices we can make for the health of our families.

Lappé is the co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and a nationally best-selling author, most recently of Diet for a Hot Planet. Greene is a leading pediatrician and author of Feeding Baby Green, among other books.

TIME

Yes, You Could Forget Your Kid in the Car—I Did

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Flickr RF/Getty Images

Another sad story of a child dying from being left in a hot car should remind us of one thing: it could happen to any parent

“Oh my God, what a horrible parent. I would NEVER let that happen!”

This is a common refrain shouted across the Internet when summer inevitably brings a smattering of tragic stories involving young children who die after a parent forgets they’re in the car. This time it was 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris of Georgia, who apparently forgot to drop his 22-month-old son off at daycare on Wednesday, leaving him in the searing backseat of his SUV for seven hours while his dad was at work. Harris has been charged with murder.

Perhaps it’s human nature to automatically assign blame, or the simple power of denial in convincing yourself you would never forget your child – which is understandable. But it’s also inaccurate. I can tell you in brutal, intimate honesty, because it happened to me.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 25 kids every year die from similar incidents; this year, that count is already at 13. There is of course no stat on the number of kids who get forgotten, but then remembered in enough time to survive. If you have the emotional fortitude to read Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece on the subject, you’ll see it happens to moms, dads, parents young and old.

I won’t sit here and tell you I’m a great parent, but I’m not a bad one. I love my kids and they are my world. I take great pains to make sure they are kept safe and out of harm’s way, and yet… I’m human. That’s what we are. Our perpetual capacity to make mistakes is innate, and should be reason not to judge.

Six years ago, when my oldest was born, I was his primary caregiver. I worked full time but my schedule was flexible, and my wife made most of the money. That meant I had the privilege of making him breakfast, getting him ready, and doing all the drop off/pick up from daycare. And I had my routine that went like clockwork every day.

Every day except Wednesday.

I had Wednesdays off, and one of my relatives was nice enough to come down for a few hours and help me out by watching Will. I used this time to run errands, go to the gym, and decompress from the standard pressure of raising a 10-month-old.

But on this specific Wednesday, she couldn’t come. And since errands wait for no man, I had to take Will with me to all the stores on my list. I remember feeling very grateful he fell asleep just before we left, and even stayed asleep as I transitioned him into the car seat. Then, just like every other hump day, my mind wandered to the litany of things I had to do and places I needed to be.

It was winter in Massachusetts, and temperatures were in the single digits. As I parked the car I was more intent on bracing myself for the arctic blast of cold air than anything else. I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and hustled out into the deep freeze. As I got to the door of the grocery store—roughly 50 feet from the car—I kicked myself. I had forgotten my shopping list on the passenger seat.

Oh, and one other thing.

When I realized what else I had forgotten, I learned the true meaning of “panic attack.” I just stood there, paralyzed by a deeper fear than I have ever known. I could try to sugarcoat it by saying I was sleep-deprived and out of my normal routine—factual statements—but there was no denying another fact: I simply forgot about my son. If not for remembering the grocery list, there is a very good chance my boy would’ve been frozen to death upon my return.

I’m a writer. More specifically, I’m a parent blogger. That means I’ve detailed some very personal and often humiliating stories. Yet it wasn’t until yesterday that I told my wife this happened, and it’s taken six years to get the courage to post it publicly. The shame was just too great.

There are times when parents leave kids to die in cars because they’re doing drugs. With cases of clear neglect I have little difficulty joining the masses in summoning righteous anger and outrage. (And in Harris’s case, the investigation has not at this time been completed.) But when well-meaning parents have a tragic memory lapse that leads to a lifetime of guilt, shame, and blame, I can’t help but muster up some sympathy and recall that day six years ago.

The day a missing grocery list was the only thing that prevented me and my son from becoming a headline. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in the close-call department.

 

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME Parenting

Yes, Mila Kunis, WE Are Pregnant

Mila Kunis is pregnant. And so is Ashton Kutcher. (Sort of.)
Mila Kunis is pregnant. And so is Ashton Kutcher. (Sort of.) Jon Kopaloff—FilmMagic

Maybe we can't physically carry and bear that baby, but we can—and do—share in the pitfalls and joys

The road to completing our family was fraught with four years of bad luck and emotional torment. So when we finally got a positive pregnancy test and then made it to the 12-week mark, you know what I shouted to anyone who would listen?

“WE’RE PREGNANT!!”

But according to Mila Kunis, the actress and ridiculously beautiful person who is having a child with Ashton Kutcher, my words were poorly chosen and out of bounds.

Kunis, in what was actually a really funny segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live, corrected the host when Kimmel said he and his wife are pregnant and expecting a child in February. Then she launched into a fake public service announcement.

“Hi, I’m Mila Kunis with a very special message for all you soon-to-be fathers. Stop saying, ‘We’re pregnant,’” she joked. “You’re not pregnant! Do you have to squeeze a watermelon-sized person out of your lady-hole? No. Are you crying alone in your car listening to a stupid Bette Midler song? No.”

Even though I’m someone who says, “We’re pregnant,” the bit made me laugh and I thought it was well done. I even posted it to Facebook with a message saying I disagreed with the premise, but had a good laugh.

And that’s when things got ugly.

Apparently some women are very touchy about the whole “We’re pregnant” thing. Comments like “WE aren’t carrying the baby, I am!” and “YOU aren’t going to have your most holy of orifices stretched, I am!” began arriving in droves. And those women are right.

Men cannot get pregnant. Men will never know what it’s like to endure morning sickness, lose control of our bladders (when we haven’t even been drinking), or have a miniature Jean-Claude Van Damme going all Bloodsport on our internal organs. Carrying and birthing a child is something only women have to endure, and the whole process is much harder on them than on us dads.

But that’s not what “we’re pregnant” means when I say it, and it’s certainly not how my wife interprets it. (I asked her.)

“We’re pregnant” means “We’re having a baby.” It means, “As a dad, I’m excited as hell.” It means, “This is actually happening.” But most importantly, when I say “We’re pregnant,” I’m letting everyone know that even though I’m not carrying the baby, I’m fully invested.

I’ll be at all the OB visits, I’ll read the baby books, and I won’t come near you with that smelly food that doesn’t even really smell but you think it smells so I’ll eat in the basement to avoid you vomiting for the 456th time.

Even though I didn’t go through the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, I was with my wife every step. Holding her hair back through the nausea, holding her hand through contractions, and getting her Kit-Kats and grapefruit (yes, seriously) when she had cravings.

Or, think of it this way:

While I’m not a professional athlete, I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fan. Fanatic, actually. I’m a crazy person with my sports. That means I sat through the dark years of the Sox and the even darker pre-2001 era of the Patriots. I invested money in the team via tickets and merchandise, I subscribed to the local cable channel that shows the baseball games, I brought them good fortune through a bevy of “lucky” trinkets that absolutely influenced the outcome of games, and I lived and died on every pitch and play.

So despite never donning a Sox jersey or strapping on football pads, guess what I said when my favorite teams won their respective championships?

“WE’RE CHAMPIONS!!”

Even though “We’re pregnant” is technically wrong because it ignores some biological impossibilities, my wife understands and appreciates the intent behind my words. Others might feel differently, and that’s fine, too. To each his and her own.

But during a time when more dads are stepping up and heeding the clarion call for added involvement, I’m not sure striking “We’re pregnant” from the expectant-parent vernacular sends the most productive message. If you have a supportive and doting partner, is this really the hill you want to die on while quibbling over semantics?

All I know is if that + sign ever appears on that magic stick again, my wife and I will happily announce: we are pregnant. And then I’ll stock up on Kit-Kats.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME

Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

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Oliver Rossi—Getty Images

I’ve posted about the research behind happy families and solid marriages, but what does science say about good parenting skills?

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman do an excellent job of rounding up the latest research in their book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.

Here are my highlights:

1) Praise Kids For Effort, Not Smarts

Praise kids for something they can easily control — the amount of effort they put in.

This teaches them to persist and that improvement is possible.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” In follow-up interviews,Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort.

But praising too often can be a problem.

If a child’s persistence is based only on rewards like praise; when the praise stops, the effort stops.

Best thing to do? Be like a slot machine. Praise intermittently.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says Cloninger. The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

2) Make Sure They Get Their Sleep

Losing an hour of sleep reduces your sixth-grader’s intelligence to that of a fourth-grader.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

The effect was indeed measurable—and sizeable. The performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader. Which is another way of saying that a slightly-sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader. “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development,” Sadeh explained.

If continued long enough, sleep issues can cause permanent problems. Teens surliness may actually be due to chronic sleep deprivation.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure—damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover. It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen—moodiness, depression, and even binge eating—are actually just symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.

And staying up late on the weekends is problematic too. Weekend shift causes a drop of 7 IQ points — the equivalent of lead exposure.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Every hour of weekend shift costs a child seven points on the test. Dr. Paul Suratt at the University of Virginia studied the impact of sleep problems on vocabulary test scores taken by elementary school students. He also found a seven-point reduction in scores. Seven points, Suratt notes, is significant: “Sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”

A study of over 3000 high school students showed a clear correlation between sleep and grades.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged fifteen more minutes than the C’s, and so on. Wahlstrom’s data was an almost perfect replication of results from an earlier study of over 3,000 Rhode Island high schoolers by Brown’s Carskadon.

(More on good sleep here.)

3) How To Raise Honest Kids

No, you don’t know when your kid is lying. That’s your parental ego.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Talwar has run hundreds of people through this test, and on the whole, their results are no better than chance. People simply cannot tell when kids are lying.

Kids want to please you. Tell them that the truth makes you happy – not just the right answer — and you’re more likely to get the truth.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

What really works is to tell the child, “I will not be upset with you if you peeked, and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: “Young kids are lying to make you happy—trying to please you.” So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid’s original thought that hearing good news—not the truth—is what will please the parent.

What’s a quick trick for getting your kid to be honest?

Say: “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?”

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In Talwar’s peeking game, sometimes the researcher pauses the game with, “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?” (Yes, the child answers.) “Okay, did you peek at the toy when I was out of the room?” This promise cuts down lying by 25%.

4) Kids Need Rules

It’s a myth that being too strict causes rebellion and being permissive equals better behavior.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Pushing a teen into rebellion by having too many rules was a sort of statistical myth. “That actually doesn’t happen,” remarked Darling… “Kids who go wild and get in trouble mostly have parents who don’t set rules or standards. Their parents are loving and accepting no matter what the kids do. But the kids take the lack of rules as a sign their parents don’t actually care—that their parent doesn’t really want this job of being the parent.”

Parents who set ground rules and consistently enforce them were also the parents who were the warmest.

And their children lied less than most kids.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“Ironically, the type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have the most conversations with their kids,” Darling observed. They’ve set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and they’ve explained why the rules are there. They expect the child to obey them. Over life’s other spheres, they supported the child’s autonomy, allowing her freedom to make her own decisions. The kids of these parents lied the least. Rather than hiding twelve areas from their parents, they might be hiding as few as five.

That doesn’t mean you should be a Tiger Mom.

Parents that are too controlling = kids that are bored. And bored kids are the ones who drink and do drugs

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Even the really busy kids could be bored, for two reasons. First, they were doing a lot of activities only because their parent signed them up—there was no intrinsic motivation. Second, they were so accustomed to their parents filling their free time that they didn’t know how to fill it on their own. “The more controlling the parent,” Caldwell explained, “the more likely a child is to experience boredom.” …The Mod Squad study did confirm Linda Caldwell’s hypothesis that teens turn to drinking and drugs because they’re bored in their free time.

5) Arguing With Teens Is Normal — And Healthy

Moderate conflict with teens produces better adjustment than none.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

University of Rochester’s Dr. Judith Smetana, a leader in the study of teen disclosure, confirms that, over the long term, “moderate conflict with parents [during adolescence] is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.”

More than 3/4 of daughters felt arguments with their mother strengthened the relationship.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

But only 23% of the daughters felt that their arguments were destructive. Far more believed that fighting strengthened their relationship with their mother. “Their perception of the fighting was really sophisticated, far more than we anticipated for teenagers,” noted Holmes. “They saw fighting as a way to see their parents in a new way, as a result of hearing their mother’s point of view be articulated.”

6) Fighting In Front Of The Kids Can Be Good

Fighting with your spouse in front of the kids can be a good thing — if the children see the argument resolved in front of them.

Fighting and sending the kids away before it’s resolved — that’s what causes problems.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In one study, a third of the children reacted aggressively after witnessing the staged conflict—they shouted, got angry, or punched a pillow. But in that same study, something else happened, which eliminated the aggressive reaction in all but 4% of the children. What was this magical thing? Letting the child witness not just the argument, but the resolution of the argument. When the videotape was stopped mid-argument, it had a very negative effect. But if the child was allowed to see the contention get worked out, it calmed him. “We varied the intensity of the arguments, and that didn’t matter,” recalled Cummings. “The arguments can become pretty intense, and yet if it’s resolved, kids are okay with it.” Most kids were just as happy at the conclusion of the session as they were when witnessing a friendly interaction between parents…

…being exposed to constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children—if it doesn’t escalate, insults are avoided, and the dispute is resolved with affection. This improves their sense of security, over time, and increases their prosocial behavior at school as rated by teachers. Cummings noted, “Resolution has to be sincere, not manipulated for their benefit—or they’ll see through it.” Kids learn a lesson in conflict resolution: the argument gives them an example of how to compromise and reconcile—a lesson lost for the child spared witnessing an argument.

7) A Gratitude Journal Works Magic

I’ve posted before about the incredible benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. It works for kids too.

Students who kept a gratitude journal were happier, more optimistic, and healthier.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In one celebrated example, Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, asked college students to keep a gratitude journal—over ten weeks, the undergrads listed five things that had happened in the last week which they were thankful for. The results were surprisingly powerful—the students who kept the gratitude journal were 25% happier, were more optimistic about the future, and got sick less often during the controlled trial. They even got more exercise.

What Next?

Here are three other research-backed posts that can help build a great family:

  1. How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research
  2. Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets
  3. Parent myths: How much of what your parents told you was wrong?

For more helpful tips, join 45K+ other readers and get my free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Parenting

Don’t Let Your Husband Be a Stay-At-Home Dad

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Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Quitting your job to be a full-time parent is an equal-opportunity risk, though fathers opting out can sometimes be worse for families.

The socioeconomics of parenting are changing. The number of stay-at-home fathers in the past decade has doubled since the 1970s to about 550,000 men, and that figure is expected to grow, especially as more wives take on the breadwinning role in their marriages and the cost of childcare holds intolerable for many families.

I currently earn more than my husband and have, at times, romanticized over him supporting us as the primary caretaker in our growing family. What mother doesn’t enjoy coming home to a home-cooked meal, clean house and bathed child? And more dad involvement is never a bad thing. The stronger the relationship between father and child, the happier the family is, according to a joint study by Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

On the other hand, though, quitting your job to be a stay-at-home parent carries a number of potential risks. And when that parent is dad, the drawbacks can, in at least one case, be graver.

Just as one might hesitate to advocate for women to leave the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, a similar case can go for men. What happens if dad wants back into the workforce later on? What happens if mom loses her job, faces a salary cut or is unable to work for a period of time due to an injury or other unexpected circumstance?

There’s no denying that childcare is one of the tallest expenses families face. The average annual cost of center-based care for a small child in the U.S. runs as high as $16,000 in states like Massachusetts, according to Child Care Aware of America’s 2013 report. For two children the annual expense can average as much as $28,600. These numbers can be much higher in metropolitan areas, rivaling the cost of sending a kid to college.

The mere economics of it all – especially if you have more than one child – can be enough to support the rationale that one parent should stop working to support life at home. And if you philosophically don’t believe in outsourced childcare to begin with, the decision to become a single-income family proves even more compelling.

With a baby soon on the way, my husband and I have crunched the numbers and learned that a quality day care facility in our Brooklyn neighborhood would run us about $500 to $600 a week. Meanwhile full-time at-home childcare – not including overtime – is more than $35,000 a year. For now, we’ve opted for the latter and have planned some serious spending cuts to make up for the monstrous expense. But add to our household a couple more kids down the road, perhaps a dog, a bigger home to accommodate, and the math would then likely favor designating my husband as Mr. Mom, still assuming our existing income disparity.

Even then, however, we’d rather outsource childcare for fear of the unknown. Is that crazy?

Perhaps not when you consider the facts of the matter. We know that women already pay a price for taking a leave of absence from the workforce. Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In that “women’s average annual earnings decrease by 20 percent if they are out of the workforce for just one year…30 percent after two to three years, which is the average amount of time professional women off-ramp from the workforce.”

Research suggests the penalty may even be greater for men who temporarily exit the workforce. One study found that dads who left work for even a short period of time to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.

Single-income families are also at a higher risk of financial collapse, as one might guess. Researchers at Hope College and Cornell University found that, “Not only are two wages often necessary to adequately provide for the needs of most families, dual-earner couples are less economically vulnerable than single-earner families, for whom a layoff can mean financial collapse.”

A single-income household can also result in more stress for her. As it stands, wives who earn more admit to feeling more pressure to “make it all work,” especially when it comes to the family’s finances. An academic survey I co-authored with Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist, found that when she makes more she is significantly more likely to be the primary decision-maker on money matters and take charge of things like paying bills, budgeting, saving and planning for retirement. And a greater number of women who earn a bigger paycheck wish their partner or spouse would carry more of the financial burden in the relationship. And if he’s not making any money, where does this leave her?

There is a possible happy medium to this, as many stay-at-home moms have discovered: earn income from home as a part-time freelancer or entrepreneur while you commit to raising your family or, if possible, ask your employer about telecommuting a few days a week.

But even those options are easier said than done. Not everyone can find a way to make decent money from home given their area of expertise; juggling work and little ones in the same space can be harder than one expects; and telecommuting isn’t possibly for many.

When you consider the potential risks of not generating any money as a partner, however, earning an income is simply necessary. Not to mention, keeping your toe in the workforce is a way to still explore and satisfy other needs that go beyond that of Super Mom or Dad.

From WHEN SHE MAKES MORE: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women by Farnoosh Torabi. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Farnoosh Torabi.

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