TIME Humor

31 Days of Baby Halloween Costumes

This mom is dressing her child in a new costume each day until Halloween

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This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

New York-based writer and mom Jessica Chavkin just can’t wait for Halloween. In fact to show her excitement, she’s counting down the days by dressing up her baby, Noah, in a different costume every day. “Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, and Noah is my favorite thing ever, we are celebrating by counting down with a new costume every day until the big day,” she says. “I hope that you are amused. I know we will be.”

As of writing, she’s already on Day 18 of the adorable series. So far she’s dressed up Noah into Tarzan, Charlie Brown, Waldo and even the Monopoly Man. You can check out updates from Jessica and Noah on their Instagram page.

(Via My Modern Met)

TIME relationships

Why You Need to Talk About Your Partner’s Credit Card Debt

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

The modern dating scene is tough — we know that all too well. Finding a great partner feels like hitting the jackpot, so you might be tempted to overlook certain serious red flags in the name of love. But, what if you’re ready to take the next step with your partner and discover that he or she is deep in credit card debt? This is an issue you definitely shouldn’t dismiss — money is one of the main reasons couples fight. Failing to address your partner’s debt before you move in together or get married could cause heartache down the road. So, should you move forward or hit pause? Here’s how to decide.

Consider The Why
Discuss your financial situations. It’s important to get to the bottom of why he or she is dealing with debt. Asking specific questions about how the balance was incurred will give you a better sense of your beloved’s overall level of financial responsibility.For instance, did your partner face a major emergency that they didn’t have the cash to cover? In this case, the debt can be chalked up to an expensive, one-time event. It doesn’t indicate a pattern of irresponsible financial behavior. But, if your partner carries credit card debt due to reckless spending, you should give this some thought. If you budget carefully and live within your means, you might have a hard time coupling up with someone who doesn’t share your values.

(MORE: Why I Don’t Feel Guilty About My Credit Card Debt Anymore)

Consider The How
Next step? Consider how your significant other is dealing with the shortfall to decide if the relationship is worth pursuing. Even if a mountain of credit card debt is the result of frivolous spending, your partner may have realized the blunder. If your mate is taking steps to pay off the balance — moving to a smaller apartment, going out less, taking on an extra job — count these as good signs. Everyone makes mistakes, and working hard to correct a financial misstep means your partner is trying to get on the right track.However, if he or she seems unconcerned about the debt and isn’t making an effort to pay it off, you should take a step back. Credit card debt is a serious financial burden, and your partner should be treating it as such. Ignoring a lingering balance could signal a lack of judgment when it comes to money.

(MORE: Do You Really Need A Credit Card?)

In The End, It All Depends — But Tips Help
Money is a highly personal and emotional topic, so only you can decide if your partner’s credit card debt is a deal-breaker. The important thing is to discuss the issue before taking a major step in your relationship, and keep the lines of communication open. This will help you assess the direction of your partnership and keep you informed about how your mate’s financial situation is evolving.If you want to help improve your partner’s credit card habits, consider sharing these tips: Keep a budget and track your spending — this will keep you from spending more than you can afford to pay off. Pay your bill in full by its due date — you’ll stay out of debt and keep your credit score healthy. Never use more than 30% of your available credit — this will help you achieve and maintain good credit. Read your monthly statement carefully — you’ll be able to spot fraud if it occurs.

The Takeaway
Understanding why your partner is in credit card debt and how he or she is dealing with it is an important step to take before getting serious. Consider it one more stepping stone on the road to finding “the one.”

(MORE: How to Keep Your Finances Safe After a Breakup)

MONEY Tourism

Price Hikes Up to 150% Are Planned for Your Favorite National Parks

Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park.
Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park. Fred van Wijk—Alamy

A proposal is on the table to hike prices of admission, annual passes, campsite reservations, and more at roughly 130 national parks and recreation areas.

A broad proposal from the National Parks Service (NPS) first exposed by the Denver Post could make visiting some of the country’s biggest and best national parks significantly more expensive as early as next summer. Admissions to popular national parks such as Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake are likely to see price hikes of 50%, while prices at some lesser-known gems like Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park might rise upwards of 150%. Price increases are also being proposed for annual passes, campsites, boating permits, and other services at dozens of park and recreations areas.

Before storming the parks service in protest, bear in mind that even if the price increases are accepted, our national parks would remain one of the world’s great vacation bargains. The current price of a seven-day pass for a vehicle and all of its occupants at Yosemite is $20, rising to $30 if the proposal is approved. To make its case that the increases are necessary and appropriate, the NPS noted:

The current park entrance fees have been in place since 1997, when a seven day pass was increased from $5 to $20 per vehicle. According to the U.S. Bureau of labor and Statistics, $20 in 1997 is equivalent to $29.64 in 2014. This fee change will allow Yosemite to maintain consistent revenue while adjusting accordingly for inflation.

Likewise, the price of admission at Great Sand Dunes would rise to $10 per person up from the current rate of just $3 (there’s no flat vehicle rate offered), while the cost of an annual pass would increase from $15 to $40.

Park visitors could start to see the price increases as early as next summer, and/or fees might be incrementally hiked over the next couple of years. One of the reasons cited for the proposed increases is that the NPS is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, and it wants to commemorate the centennial with parks and recreation areas looking their finest.

None of this is a done deal, however. The parks service is allowing the public to weigh in with comments over the next couple of weeks, and at least in theory the response could have an impact on how the proposed price increases play out. What’s especially complicated about the matter is that the average Joe is being asked to submit comments related to each park’s price hike individually; there is no central spot where people can respond to the general idea of raising prices across the board. There’s one spot where you can offer your opinion on price increases at Yosemite, for instance, another for the price increases at Washington’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, and so on. (The nightly cost of an individual campsite at the latter would go from $10 to $18, by the way.) The dates for open commenting and public meetings at each park are different as well. The commenting session at Yosemite began on Monday and stretches through November 20, and there’s a two-hour meeting open to the public on November 12, while comments for Lake Roosevelt can be made through October 31, and three meetings are being held in nearby state-owned facilities this week.

The superintendents of each park also have some authority to decide if and how price hikes go into effect, though a broad range of parks—including Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington state, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and Glacier in Montana—are expected to follow through on some if not all of the proposed increases. Jon Jarvis, the NPS director, noted in a memo that there will always be “significant public controversy” about any price increases for use of lands that we as a nation own. Yet he stated that the increases “will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors.”

Surely, many park goers will be upset by the proposed increases, and it would be surprising if a majority—or even a significant minority—of those commenting on the proposals were voicing their approval of higher fees. For some perspective, Kurt Repanshek, who runs the National Parks Traveler blog, points out that admission to Yosemite cost $10 a century ago, so we are more than due for a price hike:

When you think of how inflation has treated park entrance fees — that $10 fee charged in 1915 equates to $230.74 in 2014 dollars — entrance to the parks under the existing pricing structure might literally be described as a steal.

TIME Education

TIME For Kids Releases New Classroom App

We are excited to share a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content

Can your 5-year-old distinguish between information provided by pictures and information provided by words? Is your 9-year-old able to explain how an author uses evidence to support a claim? Can your 12-year-old analyze the strength of a persuasive debate? These are just a few of the skills students are expected to master in today’s classrooms. It’s a challenging time for teachers, students, and parents. That is why we are thrilled to announce the launch of the TIME For Kids Classroom App. The app is a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content. It helps students in kindergarten through sixth grade acquire literacy skills and gives teachers the resources they need to help students achieve their goals.

This app is two years in the making: In research sessions and classroom visits, teachers told us they needed a tablet app that could deliver a wide range of tools and resources. They told us that

* The app had to provide authentic, informational text to accommodate learners at different skill levels, giving students a window on the world while building knowledge and vocabulary and complementing curriculum;

* Activities, maps, and charts had to be interactive, grabbing and holding kids’ attention;

* Features needed to encourage critical thinking. Text and videos had to spark class discussions and debate, and allow students to interact with their peers;

* The app had to supply teachers with resources, including planning guides and standards-aligned lessons;

* And teachers also needed an easy-to-access assessment tool to allow them to track student progress and pinpoint student needs.

One more thing: teachers insisted the app be fun, tapping into students’ curiosity and love of technology.

Our innovative solution to their requests is an app that has two separate views for each grade level‑one for teachers and the other for students. In the teacher view, Extra Teacher Content and Common Core State Standard tabs provide educators with top-notch reporting and photographs from time.com, standards-aligned lessons and assessment questions, easy access to student quiz results and progress reports. (Because we are committed to safeguarding student and educator privacy, TIME For Kids will not collect any personal information about students. Instead, we have devised a system that gives each teacher control of student pins and IDs. At the end of every school year, student assessment results will be deleted.)

In the student view, a variety of engaging stories explain complex issues, introduce real-world concerns, and explore topics that kids care about. For example, in this week’s app for grades 5 and 6, we informed readers about Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, explained why volcanoes erupt, and presented a TFK Kid Reporter interview of student favorite, author Rick Riordan. Each week, students are presented with a debate issue or poll question. They can cast a vote and immediately see how other kids around the country feel about a topic. A recent example: 74% of students polled think kids should be allowed to bring their own devices to school, but fewer than 12% think 8-year-olds should own cell phones. Quizzes embedded in the app allow students to gain confidence by exploring the text and multimedia features for answers. The app has a read-aloud feature for the main story and for a lower-level version of that story. It also includes a Spanish-language translation. Most important: Every step of the way, students are encouraged to engage with each other and to enjoy reading, viewing, listening, participating, and learning.

We are committed to helping students become discerning, lifelong readers and to giving them a deeper, richer understanding of our country and the world. Much is asked of kids today. Much more will be demanded of them as they move on to college and the workforce. We hope the Time For Kids weekly classroom app will help smooth the way. The app is available free through December. We hope you will take a look at the samples of it in the iTunes education store and then encourage your children’s teachers to sign up for it at timeforkids.com/tfkapp.

MONEY Family

Toys R Us ‘Breaks Bad’ with New Crystal Meth Toys

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At least one toy maker is dreaming of a Walter White Christmas. ©AMC/courtesy Everett Collection

Parents aren't happy that the toy store chain is selling drug dealer dolls, complete with bags of crystal meth and sacks of cash.

Susan Schrivjer, a mom from Fort Myers, Fla., was a fan of the award-winning AMC show Breaking Bad. “I thought it was a great show,” she told a local TV station recently. “It was riveting!”

Even so, she thinks it’s not such a great idea to sell action figures based on the show’s notorious crystal meth dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in a store where the customer base is families with young children. So last week Schrivjer launched a Change.org petition criticizing Toys R Us for selling “a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys [as] a dangerous deviation from the [company's] family friendly values.”

The petition, which asks Toys R Us to stop selling the dolls, had attracted signatures from more than 2,200 supporters as of Monday morning. The “Breaking Bad”-Toys R Us protest picked up extra steam after Schrivjer appeared on The Today Show this weekend, making her case that “anything to do with drugs” should not be sold in a toy store. She has no problem with the figures being sold by e-retailers and shops that are less likely to be frequented by children, such as adult novelty stores. (For what it’s worth, Breaking Bad figures are also sold by Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other major retailers. Walmart even sells a pink Breaking Bad teddy bear.)

Toys R Us has released a statement clarifying that the Breaking Bad packaging “clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up” and that they’re only sold “in the adult action figure area of our stores.” Yet Today Show staffers found the drug dealer figures within arm’s reach of G.I. Joe dolls, Super Mario Brothers figures, and other products of obvious interest to kids. Schrivjer and her supporters are of the opinion that the Breaking Bad figures shouldn’t be sold anywhere in a toy store: “Its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.”

The controversy pops up at a time when sales of traditional toys have been slumping—and therefore so have stores whose bread-and-butter is selling those traditional toys. With the exception of Lego, which has been on an amazingly awesome roll and recently became the largest toy company in the world, many iconic toy brands have been struggling. Mattel sales declined during the last year’s all-important fourth quarter (when winter holidays take place), and the company’s latest report shows that Barbie sales continue to dip. One of the biggest reasons cited for dismal sales is that children are increasingly drawn to electronics over traditional toys.

It’s understandable, then, that toy makers and toy stores have taken steps to sell more of what kids want today (video game and electronics sections at these stores have exploded), and also to try to expand their customer bases by manufacturing, marketing, and selling products that are for “more mature” folks. Hence, the September decision by Toys R Us to enter a global partnership with Claire’s, a jewelry and accessory brand favored by tween and teen girls—a demographic that hasn’t had much interest in shopping at Toys R Us of late. By the end of 2014, Claire’s shops will be set up within a dozen U.S. Toys R Us locations, and more are expected down the road.

The desire to woo older customers also provides some explanation for why the toy chain would be selling drug dealer dolls, as well as why it would have an “adult action figure area” to begin with.

Read next: Netflix Had a Pretty Awful Day

TIME Parenting

This Is How to Stalk Your Teenage Children Online

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
Jennifer Garner plays an intenet snooping mother in Paramount's Men, Women & Children Dale Robinette—Paramount Pictures.

One mother comes clean

I knew I had to be very careful when choosing a fake online identity with which to stalk my kids. It needed to be somebody that my children would want to be friends with, but not close friends, somebody who might plausibly notice them, but they might not notice being noticed by.

That’s how I ended up becoming Clara Lemlich. She was a leader of a massive strike of female shirtwaist workers in New York City more than a century ago. Logically, a modern Clara would be interested in clothes and young women, exactly what both my teenagers are interested in.

It’s well-known that only loser teenagers befriend people who don’t already have friends so I rounded out Clara’s profile by prefriending a whole bunch of people I knew my kids (a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy) would find cool. That noted labor organizer, Channing Tatum, for example.

Given Ms. Lemlich’s areas of expertise, it’s not weird or creepy or anything that my children might crop up on her radar. Well, perhaps it’s a little creepy. I mean, if I were their mother and I saw some random adult pretending to be a dead union activist looking at their photos on Instagram, I’d be alarmed. But I am their mother, so …..anyway, I digress.

My ruse made just enough sense that when Clara Lemlich started following my kids, she seemed both acceptable and ignorable; they took the bait. Online friends are after all, more desirable for their quantity than their quality. The only person my children do not want to add to their list of followers is me.

Surely, you’re saying, there’s some more upfront, reasonable, less sneaky way to do this. Experts recommend, for example, that you have all your children’s passwords and make sure that you have full access to all their social media sites. To which I say: bwahahahahaha. Good luck. You will never get ahead of your teenagers on nefarious uses of technology. I’ll wager young Rory Gates has already figured out at least one way to digitally outsmart his dad, Bill.

In the new movie Men, Women & Children, Jennifer Garner plays a mom trying to do exactly what those parenting gurus recommend. She has all her daughter’s passwords. She tracks her daughter on her iPhone. Her computer records every website the girl has visited, every text her phone receives and every person who texts her, just to make sure there are no predators. (Her daughter goes along with all of this, because her daughter is a completely fictional construct.)

I’m not worried about predators. I pity any poor perv who tries to get my kids off the couch. But like Garner’s character Patricia, I do worry that what the kids are posting might blow back on them later. As Patricia says: “our children will be the first generation whose lives have a searchable database.”

That’s why I felt I needed Clara Lemlich. The Internet is too vast and labyrinthine to be mapped. Parents can’t give their offspring a guidebook or a list of dangerous neighborhoods, even if they knew them. They can’t warn them ahead of time to avoid doing something that might later seem terrible. But this public vast world is also holdable in one hand; It’s as if their bus pass could allow them to time travel. And strip when they get there.

But once I had successfully Trojan horsed my way into my kids’s online lives, I found their cities somewhat lacking in drama. There were no fights to join. Their activities mostly consist of friends being excessively complimentary of each other and excessively unpleasant about strangers. It’s narcissistic but not dangerous. The biggest infraction my daughter seems to be guilty of is copyright infringement: she’s posting photos I took. Without attribution.

So I’m outing Clara Lemlich. Hi kids, it’s me. Isn’t this Instagram thing fun? Of course, they don’t follow me on social media, so they’ll never know.

TIME health

Watch These Amazing Kids Talk About Their Real-Life Superheroes

"She flies in the clouds, and she gives us water."

Real heroes don’t necessarily wear tights. But they do have superpowers.

Here’s how kids in some of the toughest places on earth describe their heroes, the aid workers who bring relief from hunger, disease and illiteracy:

“She flies in the clouds, and she gives us water.” “He came and destroyed the mosquitos.” “They did something magical, and the maize grew from the ground.”

For “Superheroes: Eyewitness Reports,” Save the Children sent a documentary film crew to three continents to ask children about the heroes who swoop into their lives. The kids respond joyfully in their own languages making this PSA a sharp departure from more traditional international aid organization spots that feature silent children with big eyes and swollen bellies.

TIME Parenting

I Delivered One Healthy Baby and One Deceased Fetus

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The doctor held up a beautiful 10-pound boy. Minutes later, doctors showed us the remains of our fetus

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

My husband and I spent several months debating the merits of adding one more chick to our crowded, muddy, Lego-filled nest.

We were already the (rapidly aging) parents of three boys, and our lives were chaotic and busy and full. But when I looked at my dining room table, there was an empty chair; a perfect, baby-sized space.

So, before we hung up the going-out-of-business sign, we decided to *ahem* try vigorously for exactly one month, trusting the universe to make the magic happen… or not. If it wasn’t meant to be, we would fast-track the vasectomy and put the crib on Craigslist. We shook on it.

Determined to make this month count, I stocked up on prenatal vitamins, exercised, tried to get some extra rest, and started each morning with a kefir, chia seed, and bee pollen smoothie. Weird? No. At least not compared to the salt crystals and wooden spoons and moon charts scattered about our bedroom. People may dismiss those tactics as old wives’ tales. I say, EXACTLY. When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, ancient feminine wisdom is everything.

Voilà. Two weeks later, two pink lines. Two really dark pink lines, that appeared several days before my period was due. A blood test confirmed it, and three weeks later we had the first ultrasound. We did not see a fetus. We saw fetuses. Twins. In an instant, we gained entrée into the wild world of multiples; a place where people say things like, “But a minivan isn’t big enough,” and mean it.

It didn’t take long for the twins to become known collectively as Cuatro Cinco. After the initial shock, we rolled with it… as most parents learn to do. The universe (and probably those mystical Mayan chia seeds) had indeed provided. So, we researched double strollers and creative ways for me to consume the recommended 100 grams of protein I would need to choke down each day, queasy or not. I began to love having a “they” in my belly and pictured them curled together like a Yin-Yang symbol.

I’m not sure the term ballooning does justice to what was happening to my abdomen. By 14 weeks, I looked seven months pregnant. The twins were growing like those capsules you put in water and five minutes later — dinosaur sponges! The genetic testing had indicated all baby-systems were go. It also revealed the presence of a Y-chromosome, so we knew we were about to welcome a little brother, and possibly two.

During my 15-week ultrasound we saw one fetal exhibitionist, sprawled on his back, arms and legs flexing (Ultrasound tech: “Well, I know it’s early, but there’s your Y chromosome”) and one calm fetus, breech with both legs tucked under itself like a yogi, peacefully resting off to my left side. I felt like I knew them both already.

And then I started shrinking.

Suddenly, I could wear pre-pregnancy clothes again. I chalked it up to being in the second trimester and having less bloating. But by 18 weeks, I looked just like I had in previous pregnancies. I called my obstetrician’s office and shared my concerns. They had me come in and a nurse listened for fetal heart tones. She was sure she heard two distinct heartbeats, and I was comforted enough by that to hold off on an ultrasound for another two weeks. She was wrong, but it didn’t matter. What was done had happened weeks ago.

At 20 weeks, we had our Level II ultrasound. It was finally time to examine all the pieces and parts times two — and hopefully learn the sex of modest Baby B. Instead we learned that there would be no Baby B.

The monitor on the wall showed only stillness. No blood flow, no heartbeat. Just a tiny fetus already being dwarfed by its robust and thriving brother. I say “it” in absence of a gender-specific pronoun; we never learned the sex of Baby B. The fetus was already being compressed and flattened when the loss was discovered. The medical term for this is fetus papyraceous — meaning “like parchment.” Measurements showed a femur length of 15 weeks, 1 day. I watched the rest of the ultrasound in a daze, palm to sweaty palm with my husband, regretting each “I can’t handle twins” thought I had allowed to creep in my brain.

Later that afternoon, we tried to be stoic; pragmatic. We shared the news with family and friends, presented in medically accurate terms and wrapped in the appropriate platitudes. Better to know now. Nature is wise. Everything happens for a reason.

The following day was July 4th. I never felt less like celebrating in my life, but we still had three rambunctious boys who understood little of the loss, and who were ready to barbecue, swim, and watch fireworks in the park. Life needed to go on.

Still, I remember stepping outside to pull a few weeds and slowly collapsing to my knees in the grass, sobbing into handfuls of dandelion. I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Baby. Was it that vigorous bike ride? That cough that wouldn’t quit? How had I failed this little one who was still inside my body but who I would never hold? That day was the worst — drowning in reality and permanence.

My wonderful, long-time obstetrician assured me that nothing I had done caused this. He said often a later loss like ours indicated an issue with the umbilical cord, maybe even something as simple as a knot. I know that was meant to make me feel better. All I could think was, “A fucking knot?” This fetus did one too many somersaults and that was it? I would have preferred to hear something about inevitability, or incompatibility with life, rather than the suggestion of simple bad luck.

Days passed. Kind friends brought food and blooming plants, gestures of love when finding the right words proved difficult. Several times I was told to look at the bright side: “At least you still have one.” This truism always seemed to suck the air from my lungs, unintentionally minimizing my grief and leaving me feeling both guilty and ungrateful.

The tears eventually decreased, but my anxiety about the health of my surviving twin remained. I bought a portable fetal Doppler. Several times a day I would drop everything and listen for my baby’s steady heartbeat and his subtle movements, screeching at full-volume through my headphones like a needle dragged across a record.

The remainder of my pregnancy was difficult. I was hospitalized for a week in August due to a mystery virus that left me feverish and fatigued. Shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with the painful pressure of polyhydramnios (excess amniotic fluid) and two weeks later, gestational diabetes. Thankfully, none of this seemed to faze our son. He was and is a champion.

My final pregnancy ended via Cesarean. The doctor held up a beautiful 10-pound boy who immediately hollered and peed on everyone before nuzzling into my neck between electrodes. Minutes later, per previous discussion, doctors showed us the remains of our fetus. My eyes were blurry from anesthesia, but I remember seeing something shaped like a 3-inch long, flattened kidney bean attached to a gingko leaf… our Baby B and her/his placenta. A photograph was taken with our consent for scientific and educational purposes, but I have never seen it.

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed. My son is now 11 months old and he is a cheerful, inquisitive baby. He has adopted the tranquil nature we first observed in his twin; in a crowded room it can be easy to forget he’s there, smiling and quietly surveying the scene. My main concern now is to provide him with a life so rich and fulfilling he will not have time to dwell on any sense of loss lingering in his heart.

I have read the blogs and been to the online support groups for twinless-twins. Many members, even those who lost a twin at birth or in utero, report feeling an incompleteness or melancholy later in life, in some cases guessing the existence of a co-multiple sibling before they were ever told. So, there will be no secrets. I just want to make sure we address any concerns the right way and at the right time, avoiding the unintended consequence of creating guilt or sadness that may never have existed otherwise.

For now, I will do nothing but appreciate each baby-squeal of discovery and each joyful “Mama!” directed my way. Although the tiny hole in my heart will likely remain, I believe I am mothering the four children who were meant to give my life purpose. They teach me humility, bring me to happy tears, remind me why I don’t need to spend money on nice things, and allow me to swell with pride at their impressive use of sarcasm.

Platitude or not, nature IS wise. Everything does happen for a reason… if only to make us aware of our own strength, endurance and capacity for love.

SB Falkner is a blogger and new mother.

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.

TIME Family

Work-Life Balance Is Having a Moment—But for the Wrong Reasons

Work Life Balance
Getty Images

A recent study found that 70 percent of workers suffer from work-family tension

Work-life balance is having a moment, but for the wrong reasons. Although scholars have been researching work-life fit for more than 50 years, the 2008 recession changed the nature of the beast: Lacking job security, workers became afraid to take advantage of company flexible working options, instead seeking to show hardcore commitment to hang on to a job.

This strategy has had devastating effects. A recent study found that 70 percent of workers suffer from work-family tension, which manifests itself in sleep-deprivation, marital conflict, parent-child tension, alcohol and tobacco use, and other problems.

Things have improved since 2008, sure. But now, the trick is to harness the energy of this moment into a cultural shift — a movement that sparks lasting change.

So, where do we go from here? To the data! Yeah, yeah, it’s 2014, the data. Got it. But, from the data, the big question is whether we can solve the problem with one good policy, or some fear in the marketplace, a combination of both that changes the ecosystem of the workplace.

The first step to making any change, of course, is acknowledging the problem. Denial can be destructive. Let’s take, for example, the work of Robin Ely of Harvard Business School. She studied a professional service firm to find out why 90 percent of the employees at the top level were men. Most of her 107 interviewees attributed it to women’s family responsibilities, claiming that greater work-family conflict caused them to slow down or quit. But when data showed similar dropout rates for men and women, the true culprit appeared: overwork. But instead of addressing the organization’s culture of overwork — prompted by over-selling and over-promising deliverables — the firm chose to depict it within a “work-family narrative” that shifted the blame away from company culture. Naming the true problem would require altering some things, including some supervisor, management, and promotion practices — which need not be as daunting as it sounds.

So, where do we find solutions? In a “best of the best” workplaces study, awarded the 2014 Kanter Award (an honor bestowed to the work-family field’s most influential research), researchers found that when European governments enacted public childcare and paid leave statutes, they often inspired companies to change their policies and implement additional flexible work arrangements, above and beyond what the law required. Using data from 19,000 organizations in 19 countries (the survey didn’t include the U.S.), the authors found that the presence of a federal context of family-friendliness mattered: their statistical analysis showed that 15 percent of the variability in companies’ adoption of flexible work arrangements was explained by institutional pressures such as state support.

But government can’t do it alone. And if you’ve been following the latest work-family legislation news out of the U.S. government, you know that it’s not doing much of anything, let alone changing work-life rules. Luckily, governments aren’t the only organizations that can initiate societal ripple effects. Other big companies can do that, too. It’s all based on a somewhat wonky theory known as organizational isomorphism — companies’ tendency to mimic each other to gain social legitimacy, and to remain competitive in the war for talent, customers, and profit.

More and more, companies are eager to make “Best Places to Work” or “Best Places for Working Mothers” lists — it’s good for their brands and supports the bottom line. Such lists nudge organizations into thinking about shifting their policies and culture toward more family-friendliness. But after a nudge, the real drivers of change are threefold, according to scholars. First is labor supply. According to Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute (FWI), companies move toward becoming more family-supportive when they lose valued employees whom they want to retain. In FWI’s recent report, only 11 percent said they did so because of legal mandates. Second is leadership, especially the human resources (HR) manager’s stance: if he or she supports a work-life innovation as a way for the organization to adapt to change (especially global competition), that’s a plus, says Ellen Kossek of Purdue University. The HR executive is a critical driver, according to Kossek’s research. If he or she has a global orientation, and thinks other executives will be favorable to a work-life innovation, change is likely.

Another way to change an organization’s culture: give employees greater control over where and when they work, and train managers to be more supportive of family commitments. Research from the University of Minnesota found that these changes resulted in a significant reduction in employees’ chronic work-life stress and feeling of insufficient time with their families. Implementing more schedule and location flexibility, and supervisor support for family responsibilities, meant system-wide change could relieve work-family pressure for those who needed it. In particular, employees who were parents or had supervisors who were initially suspect of greater freedom were helped the most by these changes. Unfortunately, according to the Families and Work Institute report, fewer employers are providing supervisor training for support and evaluation of a diverse, flexible workforce. That trend needs to reverse. But the report also showed that flexibility in where and when work gets done has increased since 2008, from 50 percent to 67 percent of the companies it surveyed. That’s good news.

The data are clear. Change can happen inside organizations to ease work-family tension for all who need it… and increasingly, that means not just mothers. And change can happen across organizations, in response to public policy prodding companies toward family-friendly practices; as well as companies replicating one another’s programs in response to social, economic, and leadership pushes. And most importantly, change is needed when 70 percent of working Americans feel stressed and 70-hour workweeks beckon. We want that type of virus to spread, instead of an epidemic of people’s stress-filled work-life imbalance creating a national health crisis.

Nanette Fondas, co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace, writes about business, economics, and family. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Slate, Ms., Quartz, as well as academic journals. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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.

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How Letting Your Kids Stay Up Late Could Wreck Your Life

Father and daughters watching movie in home theater
Getty Images

I plan on putting my kids to bed early until they are older and no longer want to hang out with me

I never, ever, want my children to stay up past 8pm.

Ever.

I don’t want them to have a later bedtime until they are older and no longer want to hang out with me. I love my children, but I also love my sanity, and that sanity comes from bad TV and sweet, sweet silence.

I have six-year-old twins, and right now they go to bed at around 7:30 p.m. I hear other parents talk about their first graders staying up and hanging out with them until 10:00 p.m. at night and it horrifies me. That isn’t because their kids are staying up too late, but because, my God, when do those parents get to have their evening fun time? When do they watch The Bachelorette and eat the cookies they hide from their children?

By 8:00 p.m. at night, I am done. That’s when Mommy clocks out. At that point, I am unable to even pretend to parent anymore. All conversations my children try to have with me between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. are met with one word: No.

“Can you fix my sheets?”

“No.”

“Can you get me more water?”

“No.”

“Can you –”

“No. And before you ask your next question, the answer is also no.”

The more I talked to other parents about bedtimes, however, the more concerned I got that 7:30 p.m. might be too early. I have a tendency to get lulled into complacency by the habits of day-to-day life, and sometimes forget that my children keep getting older and occasionally the rules need to change. So when I learned that my kids had the earliest bedtime of all of their first-grade friends, it made me a little nervous. Was I putting my kids to bed way too early? Was I about to lose the only time of the day when I am able to fully and completely relax? When they’re at school I’m still on alert because my phone could ring at any minute — the school nurse could call asking me to pick up a sick kid, or the principal might ring, telling me that my shy child tried to run off of school property to avoid picture day. Night-time is the only time when I know that my children can’t possibly ask me for anything because they are unconscious.

To address my concerns, I decided to ask an expert for guidance. I called Rebecca Michi, a trained Children’s Sleep Consultant in Seattle who has a British accent and a great attitude. Did she think that 7:30 p.m. was too early a bedtime for a couple of first graders?

“Wake up time has to dictate the bedtime,” she said. “Children can go to bed late if they wake up late. First graders need ten to twelve hours of sleep a night. Otherwise they are sleep deprived, and we all act like two-year-olds when we are sleep deprived.”

My kids wake up at 6:30 a.m. every morning on their own. I can put them to bed at 5 p.m. or I can put them to bed at midnight, and they will still wake up at 6:30 a.m. It’s something my husband and I have had to accept, and by accept I mean we’ve had to murder the part of our souls that has hope. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Michi didn’t tell me that my kids should stay up later. In fact, based on Michi’s recommendations, 7:30 was a perfect bedtime for them. I couldn’t believe it – I was doing something right…completely by accident, of course, but I’ll take it however I can get it.

Before I ride my high horse off into the sunset, though, it’s important to point out that in addition to my accidentally appropriate bedtime, it’s likely that many inappropriate bedtimes aren’t chosen thoughtlessly. I don’t think there are a lot of parents who are watching The Tonight Show with their kindergartener and saying, “Eh. He’ll go to bed when he feels like it. Now Timmy, go get Momma another martini.” I think there are a lot more parents who keep their kids up due to external factors they can’t control.

For example, there’s Michi’s recommendation that wake-up time dictate bedtime. My kids don’t start school till 9:30 a.m., and with their 6:30 a.m. natural wake-up time that means I never have to force them out of bed in the morning. If I had older kids who were doing homework and then going to bed at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., who then had to be at school and in class at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I’d be dealing with some overly tired kids and I would be seriously aggravated. I understand the recent push by some parents to move school start times back, because I’m not sure how anyone can expect kids to succeed when they can’t get the rest they need.

I’m also a work-at-home mom. I take my kids to and from school every day. I have three hours with them before school and three hours after. I am not hurting for time with my kids. If I had a job where I had to be at work by 8:00 a.m. and I didn’t get home until 7:00 p.m., and I put my kids to bed at 7:30 p.m., that would mean spending less than an hour a day with my kids during the week, if that. Of course I understand why some parents would want to push that bedtime back by an extra hour or so in order to get some time with their children. You know, for bonding. Or for algebra, which is the opposite of bonding.

Thankfully, I no longer feel any pressure to let my kids stay up past 8:00 p.m. I can turn off their lights, say my final no’s, and ease myself onto my sofa, where frozen yogurt and The Voice await me. Even the experts understand my need for “night time means no children time.” As Michi told me, “Some parents love having their kids up late. I can’t think of anything worse. I want to watch inappropriate TV with my husband and have a glass of wine.” Preach it, British priestess of sleep.

Here’s how I look at it: this is a parenting rule that is not only good for the kids, but also brings me joy. There aren’t a whole lot of those. I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.

Meredith Bland is an award-winning humor and parenting writer from Seattle. She works as a staff writer at Mommyish, and has a humor blog called Pile of Babies. You can follow her on Twitter at @pileofbabies.

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