TIME Parenting

Expectant Dads Experience Prenatal Hormone Changes Too

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Including a decrease in testosterone

Women aren’t the only ones who experience hormonal changes before having a baby. As it turns out, men also have some hormonal waves prior to becoming dads.

New research published in the American Journal of Human Biology looked at 29 couples expecting their first child. The researchers took salvia samples of the participants and measured their levels of the hormones testosterone, cortisol, estradiol, and progesterone. The couples’ hormones were measured at weeks 12, 20, 28, and 36 of pregnancy.

It’s long been proven that expectant women undergo hormonal changes, but less is known about the soon-to-be-papas. The new study shows that while women had increases in all four types of hormones, men had decreases in their testosterone and estradiol levels, but no significant changes in cortisol or progesterone.

It’s the first research to evidence that prenatal testosterone changes can occur in expectant fathers, though the changes are still small compared to those observed in women.

The researchers did not compare the couples to other non-expectant couples, so exactly how great these changes are compared to couples who aren’t expecting kids is undetermined. And scientists were unable to conclude why men experience these changes, though there are some speculations based on prior research.

For instance, prior studies have suggested that men’s hormones change after becoming fathers as they adopt more nurturing behaviors. Or that drops in testosterone may reflect sleep disruptions or disruptions in sexual activity due to having kids. Some of these same behaviors may happen during pregnancy too. The psychological, emotional and behavioral changes of new parenthood could also cause hormonal waves in expectant dads.

“It will be important for future research to determine whether the changes that we observed in men’s hormones reflect processes associated with fatherhood specifically, or long-term pair-bonding more generally,” the authors concluded.

TIME Family

What to Say to Your Kids When Holidays Aren’t Happy

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This season can be tough on grieving families

The holidays are full of advertisements of perfect families enjoying perfect moments. And because the celebrations come every year, they’re full of memories, both good and bad.

For both these reasons, the holidays can be especially hard for people who are dealing with a life that is much less than perfect, in the midst of loss, grief, pain, or disappointment. And those tensions can be especially confusing for kids, who often feel things deeply, but don’t always have the language to express those feelings.

We talked with Rob Zucker, grief counselor and author of The Journey Through Grief and Loss: Helping Yourself and Your Child When Grief is Shared, to learn what parents can do to help kids cope with loss in the midst of the holidays.

Elementary age kids “are very sensitive to the emotional realm,” Zucker says. But they don’t always know why they feel the way they do. And they’re still trying to figure out how a loss will affect their world, like the six-year old boy Zucker worked with who asked, “Will we still have Christmas?” after his grandmother’s death. For a parent who is also grieving, the questions young kids ask can be tough to deal with. But Zucker says they can also be seen as an opportunity to help kids start to put their feelings into words, and try to make sense of the changes in their world. So be open to questions.

Late elementary and middle school kids are beginning to grasp some big concepts surrounding loss. But that understanding can lead a lot of anxiety, Zucker says. Older kids can reason, “if grandma died, then grandpa might die.” It’s important for them to be able to share these feelings, Zucker says. So encourage them to talk freely when they begin to open up about their sadness or worry. But it’s also important for parents to assure kids that life is about more than loss. And the holidays, while they can bring up sad memories, are also full of opportunities to celebrate life, by asking questions like what good times they remember, or what good times they’re looking forward to.

High school kids “can really struggle with managing intense feelings,” Zucker says. And at the same time, they take a more intellectual view of loss than other kids, which can lead to them making comparisons between their lives and the idealized ones they see in advertisements. Zucker suggests that parents work through this tension by creating a story that honors the uniqueness of their family, even if it looks different than what kids might see in glossy advertising: Parents and kids can do this together, Zucker says, when parents start conversations with questions like “What is unique about our family? What do we want to celebrate about who we are? What is special about our story?” The goal, Zucker says: to give kids a chance to say: “This is who we are.” And no matter what is happening, “we celebrate the love in our family.”

TIME Etiquette

5 Things You Can Do To Avoid Conflict Over the Holidays

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Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home.

These are the five most common bad behaviors people fall for in the heat of an argument

They say it’s the most wonderful time of year. But how about the most stressful?

With all the traveling, visiting relatives, gift-buying and cooking, the holidays are a tense time for many families and couples.

In fact, January sees the highest rate of divorce filings out of the year.

Joyful gatherings can quickly turn into heated exchanges between spouses, in-laws and other family members, especially when underlying tensions already exist. Now’s the time to head off problems and stop everyday arguments from escalating.

To prevent holiday conflict, let’s take a look at the five most common “poisons” people reach for – and you need to steer clear of – in the heat of battle:

  1. Stop assuming.

There’s nothing more annoying than someone assuming he or she has superior knowledge. Think about it: being told how you feel or what you should do is a sure-fire way to get your blood boiling. When you’re tempted to throw out an assumption mid-argument (“You’re over-reacting” or “You need to listen”), remember that there can be different interpretations of someone’s behavior. Unless the other person has shared their feelings, don’t presume to know—or tell them—how they feel in that moment.

Instead, share what you’re observing and give your loved one a chance to correct or explain. This kind of conversation allows you to empathize with him or her, rather than stand in opposition. And if you’re on the receiving end of an assuming statement, be generous in your interpretation. Consider what might really be bothering the other person and recognize that despite the harsh words, this person is still someone you love.

  1. Stop generalizing.

If you start using words like “always, never, every, forever, anything, anyone, everyone, or typical,” you’re probably guilty of generalizing. But in life, there are exceptions to everything. Turn around this toxic behavior by thinking of your interaction like a court of law. The jury makes their judgment based only on the specific offense in question—not prior convictions.

To use this approach yourself, focus on the present. Stick to specific details and resist the urge to bundle together other similar situations. If a family member hurls sweeping statements at you, recognize the words as a single expression of anger. Don’t let them rile you. Instead, calmly steer the conversation back to the particular issue at hand.

  1. Stop attacking.

Name-calling, character assassination and, mudslinging are all common forms of this nasty poison. Attacking someone’s identity hits them hard. Whether you say something outright (“You’re so stupid”) or something more subtle (“A child could do better”), attacks like these are hurtful on a deep level.

If you find yourself labeling your family member in some way, redefine those negative characteristics as positive ones. Instead of calling the other person stubborn, think of him or her as determined. Character judgments are always going to be subjective, so why not make them positive ones? Strengthen your relationship by looking on the bright side. And if you are the target of name-calling, remember that in the heat of the moment, we all say things we don’t mean. Often when we find fault in someone else, we also see that same fault in ourselves. So when other people label you, imagine they are describing themselves. Choose to feel sympathy, not anger.

  1. Stop rejecting.

There are two words that turbo-charge an argument: “no” and “but.” They don’t even have to be verbalized; an eye roll or dismissive laugh can do the same damage. These words and actions shut down the conversation and reject the other person’s point of view.

Make an effort to resist using the word “no.” The alternative? Use the words “yes…and.” This change in language will force you to be more constructive. Instead of rejecting the other person’s idea completely, recognize the good points of their suggestion and then follow up with your concerns. That way, your loved one will feel listened to and you’ll show that you’re open to finding a solution. And whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of this poison, ask questions and offer (genuine!) suggestions to keep the discussion going.

  1. Stop defending.

When we’re attacked, it’s only human to protect ourselves. But going on the defense can easily turn into a total tantrum. Forget the blame game. If you feel yourself getting defensive (hint: you’ll start over-using the word “I’), take a step back and turn your attention elsewhere. Rather than try to find the problem in the argument, focus on finding the solution.

On the flip side, if your words are causing someone else to get defensive, avoid using the word “you.” In this case, it’s okay to use the word “I” to take ownership. Keep your statements positive and draw from your personal experience. If the argument is very heated, the quickest way to cool things off is to stay calm and empathize with the other person.

With awareness of these relationship poisons and knowledge of their antidotes, you can take steps to make positive change—and keep your relationships from going down in flames during this holiday season.

Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act, and behave at work and at home. His newest book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, was released in September 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Sebastian on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

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 Parenting

My Breasts, My Choice: Why I’m Nursing My Three-Year-Old

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Talk about extended nursing (what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one) and the crazy comes out

xojane

At three years old, my middle son wakes up as a different animal every morning. He tells me which by calling my name: “Mama Dragon,” he says, or “Mama Bear,” or “Mama Owl.” He calls me by name, always, and asks the same question: “Mama Stingray,” he says, “I have mama milk?”

“Not until after breakfast,” I tell him. “You know the rule. Breakfast first, then mama milk, or else you don’t eat your breakfast.”

Sometimes he accepts this easily, wolfs down some Gorilla Munch, and forgets about milk. Sometimes he gets angry, yells and insists he wants mama milk right now. Sometimes he cries and pouts so badly I write a note: MAMA MILK AFTER BREAKFAST, I spell out on a Post-it. He can’t read, but he clutches it like a ticket, this written assurance that he will, indeed, get the cuddles and milk he needs.

Yes, needs.

Baby Bear is three years old, and Baby Bear still needs to nurse. I’m OK with that and have even encouraged it. Not forced — encouraged. And I’m happy with it.

Talk about extended nursing — what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one — and the crazy comes out of the woodwork.

“Weird” is the nicest word some commenters muster. Extended nursing has been likened to sexual abuse, to a power play in the mommy wars, to a sick desire to keep a child a baby. People claim it’s for the mother’s benefit, that children are forced to keep nursing, that it’s all about the mom and not about the child.

When I told my mother-in-law I planned to nurse my first son until he chose to wean, she could only manage to splutter, “But how do you expect him to go to preschool?”

Mostly, though, our collective discomfort with extended nursing comes from our persistent sexualization of breasts. Despite legal protections, hardly a week passes that a nursing mother isn’t asked to leave a store, cover herself, or decamp to the bathroom. Breasts, it seems, are only for sexual pleasure. Therefore, their association with children — especially children who can ask for them — becomes tantamount to child abuse.

I’d like to take my breasts back, thanks.

Let me quote the Bloodhound Gang here: you and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals. My breasts are not my husband’s. They are not my son’s. They are, first and foremost, my own. And I have chosen to use them for extended breastfeeding: their biological purpose.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Kathy Dettwyller, anthropologist and professor at the University of Delaware, claims the natural age for human weaning, when children are allowed to nurse for as long as they wish, falls somewhere between three and four years of age. Based on physiological and maturational comparisons to other mammals, she estimates the minimum age of human weaning at 2.8 years of age, with a maximum of seven years.

In light of that, nursing barely-three-year-old Baby Bear seems pretty unremarkable.

But it’s not just evolution that tells me to keep going. The benefits of nursing don’t just disappear at age one. Antibodies in breast milk help keep Baby Bear healthy. The longer I nurse, the lower my risk of breast cancer — something every pink-ribbon-waving feminist can support. But most important for me are the psychological benefits.

Baby Bear’s little brother Sunny is a year old. Sunny was a surprise; while we planned Baby Bear and his older brother, we didn’t bank on Sunny. And one of the reasons for that is Baby Bear himself. He’s always been needy, always begged for extra assurances. He warms slowly to family and friends alike. He approaches life with a narrow-eyed skepticism, as if he’s waiting for it to disappoint him. A fall that has his older brother laughing makes him wail. Of all my children, I worry about him inheriting my depression and anxiety the most. He’s a delicate soul, Baby Bear is. And I knew he wouldn’t handle being supplanted.

Because I knew that, I nursed all through my pregnancy. Nursing gave Baby Bear a chance to be a baby again. Like his new little brother, he got special cuddles from mama. He had that magic time of mama all to himself. He nestled in my lap; I kissed his head; we were still deeply, uniquely together. It helped his transition from baby to middle child.

And so we just … kept going. Nursing gave him a safe place. Baby Bear finds the world a pretty overwhelming place sometimes. Loud noises, lots of movement, bright lights: they become too much for him. For months, mama milk stayed his refuge. I handed off his brother to friends and cuddled him close on the floor of a gymnasium, or in the middle of a playdate. He nursed and calmed down and then got up to play again.

Yes, I nursed a toddler in public. It’s normal. It’s unremarkable, no matter how seldom we see it today. And no one asked me leave or told me to stop. If they shot me death glares, I didn’t notice. If I had, I wouldn’t have cared. Extended nursing might not be their choice. But I will not allow their discomfort to minimize or discredit mine.

Nursing has also taught Baby Bear some important rules about consent. A toddler doesn’t nurse like a newborn, and because he doesn’t have a nutritional need, I can say no if I want to. And sometimes, I don’t want touched again. I don’t let him nurse for too long — it can get uncomfortable, and I can’t let him drink all the milk if his brother will need it soon. Sometimes he’s okay with unlatching. Sometimes he gets mad, and I tell him that I understand he’s sad, but he can’t nurse if he throws fits, because it’s too upsetting for both of us. Most importantly, he nurses only once or twice a day, usually in the morning (always after breakfast) or mid-afternoon, post-lunch, pre-quiet-time.

So sometimes I say no.

Baby Bear has to accept this. Nursing a toddler is a relationship, and as the World Health Organization says, breastfeeding should continue “for as long as mother and child desire.” Both mother and child, not one or the other. A nursing relationship takes two.

And will I say no one day? Absolutely.

I weaned Baby Bear’s older brother at age three, when I became pregnant with my youngest. I picked a trip out of town, turned down requests for milk a few times, and that was that. I choose to be finished.

Extended breastfeeding has helped Baby Bear stay healthy and adjust to a changing family dynamic. It’s helped him feel loved. It was a choice I made: to use my body in the way I saw best for my child. Not every mother will make the same choice. Some know formula is right for them; some wean at one year. Their breasts, like mine, are their own. And as women, we can use them however we see fit.

I refuse to give my breasts to the male gaze. I refuse to bow to a one-size-fits-all, nurse-til-one-and-done world. For me, for now, for Baby Bear and his little brother, my breasts are for nurturing. I am happy with that decision. I love nursing my children, and I am grateful Baby Bear has benefited from extended nursing.

I have made my choice, and I will not be shamed.

Elizabeth Broadbent is a writer and mother. This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

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 politics

Why Is It Congress Seems Concerned With Families Only When Sex Trafficking Is at Issue?

It's an old tradition in America, going back to the Mann Act of 1910

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

In one of the rare instances of bipartisan cooperation, the House’s Ways and Means Committee and the Senate’s Finance Committee passed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183/H.R. 4980), which President Obama signed into law on September 29, 2014. On the whole, the law seeks to encourage states to reform their foster care systems by encouraging and streamlining adoption processes. Though foster care reform is an admirable legislative concern that intersects with the real-world needs of children, what interests me is the way that foster care reform has been linked to sex trafficking within this bill.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) declared, “This legislation will ensure no state turns a blind eye to child sex trafficking by requiring state child welfare systems to identity victims and build a systematic response.” Looking at the public record, it is incredibly unlikely that any state could turn a blind eye to domestic minor trafficking as states have raced to save the children from traffickers. According to the Polaris Project, starting in 2003, all 50 states have passed laws prohibiting sex trafficking within their borders, and an additional 45 states have passed domestic minor sex trafficking laws. These state laws are fortified with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000, reauthorized in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013) and the Mann Act (1910). Indeed, looking at the public rhetoric coming out of city halls, state houses, and halls of Congress, it seems that the United States is plagued with the scourge of sex traffickers preying on children. In a period of intense bipartisan division, the issue of sex trafficking seems to be one of the few issues that brings together members of rival political classes. One hundred years ago the United States was just as captivated by the issue of sex trafficking and the dangers it posed to youth.

Sensational stories about sex trafficking dominated the nation’s newspapers from 1907 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Called white slavery at the time, newspapers and magazines warned that a clandestine network of sex traffickers imported sex slaves from Europe to the United States to fill America’s brothels. But foreign-born girls were not the only youths at risk. Edwin Sims, a U.S. Attorney in Illinois, noted in 1909, “Literally thousands of innocent girls from the country districts are every year entrapped into a life of hopeless slavery and degradation…[by] ‘white slave’ traders who have reduced the art of ruining young girls to a national and international system.”

As numerous historians have noted, these sensational stories of sex trafficking encapsulated a host of intersecting anxieties circulating during the period: fears of the immigrant hordes, worries over the new heterosocial recreations offered by the city, dismay over the availability of legal prostitution, dread of interracial relationships, unease over women’s increased entry into the wage marketplace and public life, and concern about the eroding of traditional familial and community relationships in a period of marked rural-to-urban migration. With so many fears expressed within the stories of sexual slavery, it wasn’t long until social purity reformers, women’s rights activists, and other moral reformers turned to congress to protect “somebody’s daughters.”

In 1909, Edwin Sims and his ally Clifford Roe approached Illinois Congressman James R. Mann about drafting a nation-wide domestic anti-trafficking law that would complement existing immigration laws. Mann’s proposed law would make it illegal to take a woman or girl over state lines for the purposes of prostitution, debauchery, or “any other immoral purpose.” Debated in 1910, most congressmen signaled their support for the law, with Thetis W. Simms (D-TN) urging passage of the law to “take care of the girls, the women—the defenseless.” He suggested that “we will prevent, I hope forever, the taking away by fraud or violence, from some doting mother or loving father, of some blue-eyed girl and immersing her in dens of infamy.” Within the Progressive imagination, the most sympathetic victim of sex trafficking was the young, white girl who had a previous reputation of chastity who through no fault of her own had become alienated from a stable family structure—the doting mother or loving father. The legislation sailed through the House and Senate and was signed into law on June 26, 1910 by President Taft.

Enforcement of this broad anti-trafficking law, with its vague “any other immoral purpose” clause, fell to the young Bureau of Investigation (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935). When handed the mandate of the Mann Act, the Bureau had only 61 special agents, yet within three years it would have well over 300 special agents scattered across the nation. When initially enforcing the law the Bureau faced two challenges: 1. it questioned whether a widespread network of traffickers preyed on innocent young women; 2. the parameters and constitutionality of the “any other immoral purpose” clause was very much in doubt. In the face of such concerns, the Bureau initially used the law as an anti-prostitution law to expand its reach until 1917 when the Supreme Court ruled that the “any other immoral purpose” clause truly meant any other immoral purpose.

Amid the changing cultural mores of the 1920s the Bureau became a force for conservative values within the federal government. Mann Act investigations continued to make up the bulk of the day-to-day activities of the agency; but the type of Mann cases pursued changed. The Bureau actively responded to parents’ requests to track down run-away daughters and husbands’ demands for help locating adulterous wives. Until the outbreak of WWII, the anti-sex trafficking law was used to uphold patriarchal familial privilege, and the dependency of wives and daughters—strengthening family along the values of the early twentieth century.

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act fits into a long tradition linking the dangers of sex trafficking to the frailty of family stability. Senator Wyden argues that the new law “helps build bridges to permanent families and stable relationships, which are key to protecting children from predators.” But as the Bureau’s investigations into Mann Act cases reminds us, building stable families and fighting sex trafficking has historically meant empowering the law enforcement state, rather than growing social services or providing for victims’ assistance. Legal scholar Jennifer Sheldon-Sherman notes that the current trend in sex trafficking policy follows the same pattern of prioritizing law enforcement over victims’ services and preventive care. Perhaps the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, with its efforts to protect vulnerable foster kids from prostitution, represents a step towards constructing a comprehensive way to combat sex trafficking.

Jessica R. Pliley is an assistant professor of women’s history at Texas State University and the author of “Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI” (Harvard University Press, 2014).

TIME Map

See Every Country Where Spanking Is Still Legal in One Chart

➞ Click to enlarge | Sources: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children; Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Heather Jones / TIME

It has been banned in 43 countries so far

Every time a new controversy erupts about parents who use spanking to discipline their kids, such as the Adrian Peterson story, there’s a whole new round of discussion about the most appropriate way to discipline kids.

This week Time for Family takes a deep look at the best way to discipline kids: who really spanks their kids, under what circumstances and whether it works. And, most critically, whether there anything else works better.

So far 43 countries have outlawed spanking, and two more are about to. Here’s a map with some surprising ways different countries are handling corporal punishment of children.

Oh and if you like this, be sure to sign up for TIME’s parenting weekly newsletter here.

TIME

How the American Family Has Changed Dramatically

The difference between the haves and the have-nots have never been this steep

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Kentucky Family
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Modern marriage presents something of a conundrum for sociologists. The benefits of marriage have been widely studied; they include better health, better finances and a leg up for children raised in a stable environment. Some studies have even suggested that the legally wed have more sex. Marriage is an attractive enough proposition that people have marched and protested to allow a new subset of people to have access to it. Yet marriage rates are in decline.

In fact, a new book by a well-respected sociologist argues that the American family unit is facing challenges it has never encountered before.

Specifically, the marital decline has occurred among the working class. According to one study, more than 60% of white males aged 20 to 49 with jobs in the service sector, like waiters and janitors, were married in 1960. By 2010 that figure was less than 30%. Among African American men in the same situation the figure is less than 20%.

The non-married are not swinging George Clooney style bachelors who play the field until they find the perfect woman with whom to set up a home. These are usually fathers, men who have children and responsibilities and are often living with the mother of at least some of those children, or have lived with her in the past. They have made a family, but they haven’t founded that family on a marriage.

Meanwhile, for the wealthy, a successful and lasting marriage has become more and more likely. Professional men marry professional women, they pool their considerable resources and spend at least some of them on meticulously raising offspring, who get the best education, enrichment activities and artisanal bread for their lunchtime sandwich. They can afford to outsource or avoid those tasks that cause tension in less comfortable marriages: childcare, food provision, cleaning, unpaid bills, unemployment.

This has led some such cultural critics as Charles Murray to speculate that permissive social norms championed largely by the rich have worsened the struggles of the poor. The rich, argues Murray, can afford to abandon the responsibility of marriage and the loss of its benefits. Yet they do not. The less well-off, who would most benefit from the stability of institutions such as marriage, are disinclined to embrace its strictures.

Other argue, however, that poverty is what’s keeping people from tying the knot. People don’t get married because it brings burden without benefit. Men don’t feel they can support a family, and women don’t want to be tied to a man who may be a drag on her already meager income.

Now Andrew Cherlin, the well-respected sociologist at Johns Hopkins university has weighed in with a persuasive case for a sort of middle ground. In Labor’s Loves Lost (get it? Like the Shakespeare play, only it’s about the loss of love among the laboring class), he traces the course of marriage through history, specifically the history of the economy. Marriage and the economy, he finds are inextricably linked.

What Cherlin finds that this is not the first time that there has been a wide disparity between the marital fortunes of the rich and the poor: the situation looked similar during the last Gilded Age. Inequality in bank accounts and in marital status go hand in hand.

But the cultural critics are not totally wrong. Since the last gilded age, there has been a transformation in people’s attitudes to living together without getting married. Gone is the age of the “bastard,” or the “illegitimate” child. Now, rich and poor alike believe that living together before marriage is a prudent step. (Even though the studies don’t actually confirm that.)

What this means, argues Cherlin, is that we are in whole new territory. “It is the conjunction of the polarized job market and the acceptance of partnering and parenting outside of marriage that makes the current state of the American family historically unique,” writes Cherlin. “There has never been such a large, class-linked divergence in nonmarital childbearing. There has never been such a split between marriage-based families on the top rungs of the social ladder and cohabitation- and single-parent based families on the middle and bottom rungs.”

The gap in the family life of the rich and poor yawns wider that it ever has, and the individuals most hurt by this are, you guessed, it, the children of the poor. The working class have experimented with a new type of family formation that’s not based around the equation of one partner who runs the home front, plus one partner who brings in the income, both of whom throw in their lot together for the long haul, partly because they don’t have to, but mostly becasue that is no longer an option for may of them. The new formulations tend not to be as stable, and instability is sub-optimal for kids.

Cherlin doesn’t have any easy answers for the nasty bifurcation in the family life of America. Somehow, young people have to be persuaded to delay childbirth. Somehow, people have to be educated and trained for jobs that pay enough that they can begin to feel enough ground under their feet to start a more permanent sort of life. Somehow, those jobs, such as those in manufacturing, have to be created.

None of this sounds remotely romantic. But if the crisis in American family life is to be overcome, it’s going to take more than a George Clooney movie.

MONEY Family

If Santa Claus Were Paid, He’d Earn $140,000

Santa showing fan of $100 bills
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If Santa was paid for the work he does, he'd make around $140,000 annually—a bit more than what moms would theoretically bring home, and twice what dad caregivers should earn.

According to the 2014 Santa Index, a “study” created by the all-purpose insurance information site Insure.com, Santa Claus would earn $139,924 annually if he were paid fair wages for all of the jobs he handles.

Researchers at the site come up with the estimate by adding up the various tasks that constitute Santa’s job description. It goes without saying that Santa has quite a unique skill set, including roles as a reindeer handler, professional shopper, cookie taster, and private investigator (knows if you’ve been bad or good). The bulk of Santa’s estimated salary comes as a result of overseeing the toy workshop, a job that falls under the domain of industrial engineering and would earn the big guy $116,742 per year. Meanwhile, Santa’s piloting skills, which he uses just once a year when delivering toys on his sleigh, would earn the highest hourly wages ($62.31, so $623 for putting in a ten-hour shift on Christmas Eve).

When all of the 15 different components of Santa’s job are tallied up—based on mean hourly wages and the rough hours per year worked—the total comes to just under $140,000. That’s roughly $20,000 more than what the average stay-at-home mom is worth and double what the average SAH dad is worth, according to lighthearted studies conducted by the career-research site Salary.com.

The job (and estimated hypothetical salary) of stay-at-home parents is a combination of roles that are very different than Santa’s, including van driver, laundry operator, cook, psychologist, and (household) CEO. While Santa’s varied roles would mean he’d log in roughly 83 hours per week on the job—with much longer hours toward the end of the year, presumably—stay-at-home moms report enduring even longer work weeks, averaging 96.5 hours weekly.

Santa Claus’s bearded “helpers”—the imitation for-hire Santas who work the malls and holiday parties at this time of year—don’t earn anywhere near Insure.com’s estimated value of the true Santa Claus. While some lucrative Santa gigs pay upwards of $75 or even $300 per hour, wages of $15 to $20 per hour are more likely, and a hardworking Santa with regular assignments can expect to pull in somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 during the winter holidays.

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

Meanwhile, many survey participants think that $140,000 doesn’t come close to what Santa deserves in an annual salary. In an Insure.com poll, 9% of consumers said Santa should earn more than $200,000 annually, and 29% said that he should pull in a whopping $1.8 billion per year—a flat $1 for each child under age 15 on the planet.

We can’t find a parallel survey indicating how much children think their moms should be paid for all they do. If the question were ever asked, it would be wise to answer that moms (and dads too, of course!) deserve to make at least as much if not more than Santa Claus. Santa would surely agree that there’s nothing more valuable than a good parent—and remember, he’s watching.

 

TIME Family

An Open Letter to the Recipients of My Mom’s Donated Organs

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The letter that the Organ Donations Authorities deemed too “specific,” “identifiable," and “personal" -- here's what I would say to the recipients of my mom's donated organs if I were allowed

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

To whom it may concern:

Congratulations on your new organ!

As I write this, I realize that “congratulations” may come off as a slightly off-­putting greeting.

However, I truly mean it—congratulations. Please don’t take this as disingenuous.

You have overcome a great obstacle which I am sure seemed insurmountable at times. An new organ—be it a heart, lungs, a kidney, or a liver—breathes within you, and I want you to know that I recognize the battle you have fought to get here. For facing what you’ve faced, and overcoming what you’ve overcome, you deserve to be congratulated. You are alive and I hope you are well. Because that fresh, new, functioning organ that has reinvigorated the life your body so deeply craved, was once my mom’s.

Now, evidently I don’t know anything about you, and you know equally little about me. What I do know however, is that we have both participated in the cruel torture I like to refer to as the “Hospital Room Waiting Game.”

My waiting game consisted of paramedics, followed by nurses, followed by doctors, followed by surgeons—all delaying the inevitable. My waiting game ended in heartbreak and loss.

Your waiting game was a little bit different I’m sure; although much longer and no less emotionally ravaging. It is an odd comfort to me that yours ended on a better note than mine; because it was a gift my mom gave that allowed for that.

Over the past few months, you have crossed my mind often. I sometimes ponder how you made it through the waiting game. Perhaps you prayed, maybe to Jesus, or Allah, or Brahman. Or perhaps you meditated upon the wish you so deeply desired. Or perhaps you are not a spiritual person at all and you simply took a logical and systemic approach to the entire situation into which you were thrust.

In any case, whether you consider this new organ a blessing, a gift, a stroke of luck or purely the end result of a protocol­-based waiting list—I hope you make the most of it. Because before giving you new life; that fresh and healthy organ gave my mom life for 50 years.

In those short 50 years, my mom did a lot. She grew up surrounded by friends, family and an infamous dog named Skippy (with whom I’m sure she’s thrilled to be reunited). She had an outrageously wonderful set of parents who, together ­created the most uniquely charming blend of sweetness and sarcasm that I have ever witnessed. She matured, went to university, got married and had three children to whom she devoted her life. She became a mom like no other; and we became young adults, she turned into a friend like no other.

She saw her marriage break down and experienced heartbreak and devastation of proportions so monumental I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. She saw darkness and she felt pain; but then she rose from the ashes, coming out stronger than ever before. She laughed and she cried. She indulged in Pinot Grigio, coffee, and handbags. And in an incomparably beautifully courageous way, she forgave. And shortly thereafter, she fell in love again.

She was a friend, a sister, an aunt and a daughter. She was a partner, a lover, a partner ­in ­crime and a teacher. But more than anything—my mom was a mother.

You and I have more than the “Hospital Room Waiting Game” in common. We have both been blessed with the gift of life thanks to my mom (albeit, in a very different way). This is something that has been easy for me to take for granted throughout the 23 years of my life. However, now as I navigate the problematic and oftentimes seemingly impossible task of re­defining myself without the title of “daughter,” I can see how thoughtless this was of me. I hope that at the very least, we both can take this away as a lesson.

The day my mom died the sky was bright blue. It came as a literal breath of fresh air after the longest, coldest and snowiest winter in recent memory. My mom and I shared a cup of tea over breakfast before going our separate ways; placing the leftovers went in the fridge to be eaten at lunch. It was nearly a month before I brought myself to throw them away (and yes — the mold that had grown was ghastly).

Since that day, I have spent seven months thinking about what my mom would do, say or think about every little thing that occurs in the span of a day.

I wonder if she would like the sandwich I had at lunch. I wonder if she would enjoy the new song on the radio. I wonder if she would be proud of me in my new job, and if she would like the outfit I bought last weekend. I wonder what she would say about this, and I wonder what she would say about that.

The wondering is a relentless record spinning in my mind, never ceasing to play the same song on repeat.

However, as I move forward (but not on—I’ll never move on from my mom), I have realized that I don’t need to wonder so much. Sure, I may never know if she likes the boots I chose to wear to dinner last Friday, or if she agrees that my hair really needs a trim—but the important stuff—the values and beliefs and life lessons that she would want me to make the foundation of my life—well, that I already know. I know it because she taught me. Sometimes inadvertently, and sometimes intentionally. Either way; in the way parents should should, she left me with life lessons more valuable than any physically tangible inheritance. For that, I am grateful.

Now, I know I already stated that we really don’t know one another and because of this I realize it is far from my place to ask anything of you. However, if I may humbly do so, I ask that you might bear with me as I elaborate upon these guiding principles I believe my mom would want to be her lasting legacy. Whether you take them to heart or not is your choice and your choice alone. But for a reason which I cannot begin to put into words, it is important to me that you somehow know her; as impossible as that may sound. And since she is gone, the only way I can fathom for me to bring her to life and allow this to happen is through the written word.

1. My mom’s life was cut short at 50 years. And while those 50 years were full in many, many ways she had dreams and plans that were yet to be fulfilled. These were the dreams and plans that we talked about over dinner or a glass of wine; always laughing and imagining.

They were “someday,” “one day,” “far­away” dreams. In my mom’s passing, I know that she would not want anyone to procrastinate their plans.

Life is short. Embrace the cliché and seize the day.

2. My mom was never boring. Sure, at first glance she may have appeared to be the “typical mom,” but anyone who knew her will attest that that was far from the case. With a cackling laugh rivaled only by the Wicked Witch of the West, she had a wild way about her that made even the most monotonous of chores fun. She proved to everyone who crossed her path that even in the darkest days, there is light to be found.

Life is meant to be sweet. Find your bliss.

3. Oftentimes when someone passes it is all too easy to look back on your memories of them through a rose-­coloured lens. It seems to be human nature to idealize the past. While we often do this with our loved ones, for some reason I don’t find myself doing this with my mom. Maybe this is because she was never shy when it came to her flaws. She knew her faults and she accepted her imperfections. She laughed at herself and took advantage of opportunities to grow every day. She was not perfect and she was the first to admit it.

Nobody’s perfect, don’t dwell on your faults.

4. When we celebrated my mom’s life, the daughters of her best friend performed “Hands” by Jewel, one of my mom’s favorite songs. The refrain “In the end, only kindness matters” is repeated throughout the song. This is a lesson my mom unremittingly reminded me and my siblings throughout our lives; reminding us that when dusk falls ­as long as you can lay in bed at night and feel good about the kind of person you were that day, then you have achieved the most important thing of all.

The world can be cruel, don’t let it harden you. Kindness matters.

She was full of lessons from the very start. I know this “list” may come off as though I’m attempting to tell you how to live your life; and I apologize if that’s how you’ve taken it. More or less, I think the reason I am sharing these ideals with you is that I simply hope you are curious. Curious about the organ inside you and the person to whom it once belonged. Curious about the donor who gave you the gift of life.

The reality is that the mere thought of my mom’s heart continuing to pump and her lungs continuing to breathe is a simultaneously unnerving and beautiful idea. And as much as her organ donation may be a gift to you, truth be told, your acceptance of her organ is a gift to me.

Knowing that a piece of her lives on provides me with an odd sense of comfort that goes beyond conceivable expression.

At my mom’s funeral, I delivered the eulogy during which I spoke about you and your family. I looked around the church and noted the large crowd, saying that while we all may be mourning it is a striking thought to know that in her death, there are crowds just like us elsewhere across the country celebrating today. Celebrating because their loved one has been given the chance for life.

Celebrating because their prayers, meditations, wishes, hopes and dreams have come true. Celebrating because even in her death; my mom (in true “mom” fashion) gave life.

So once again, congratulations. I hope you live your life to the fullest. I wish you well.

Heather Varner is a writer living in Canada.

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 to Take Risks as a Parent

Reminder notes on parent's notebook
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4 steps to help you make risky decisions when you have a family

LITG

This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

As a parent, the idea of disrupting corporate America, pursuing passion and living in the grey is so exciting. I feel such pride that our generation is fundamentally changing the way our kids will work.

At the same time, I’ve reflected a lot on whether being a parent impacts your ability to take big risks. Naturally, the stakes for parents are higher. It’s not just a personal money issue. The well-being of your family might be on the line.

All of this was running through my mind last year when my husband and I hit a point where we needed a change. I was miserable in my job and couldn’t suppress this nagging feeling that I needed to spend more time with our kids. So we talked about our options:

  • I could quit and stay home with our kids
  • I could quit and pursue my marketing consulting business full time
  • I could find another job and pursue consulting on the side

The conversation ultimately came back to the tension between our desires and how our decisions could impact our kids. But instead of getting stuck in indecision, we came up with a plan that would address our need for change and our family’s well-being. When you find yourself unable to make up your mind about a career decision, try taking these four steps:

1. Clearly outline your financials

First, we needed to be able to compare our options objectively and understand the level of financial risk they presented. I created a spreadsheet with all the relevant factors (income, bills, savings, and spending money). This way, we were able to see the financial impact of each scenario side by side. It helped arm us with concrete facts and made it easier to know exactly what we were sacrificing, which in turn took some of the emotional difficulty out of our decision.

(MORE: 5 Reasons Yoga Can Help You Live & Work Better)

2. Weigh in additional pros and cons

Once we had a good financial comparison, we listed the rest of the pros and cons associated with each option. This included things like the time I would get to spend with our kids, schedule flexibility, contributions to savings and retirement, ability to pay for private school and more. These will be different for everyone.

We also factored in our financial safety net, the sacrifices we’d have to make, how long we could realistically live on one salary, and what I could bring in should I start my own business.

(MORE: From Rock & Roll to Peace of Mind: Meet Meditation Guide Biet Simkin)

3. Set a goal.

Armed with a full picture of our options, we decided to set a savings goal of 6 months worth of income before making any big changes. All of our options were technically possible, but because of our kids we needed a bigger savings cushion.

4. Iterate.

Don’t stop there. We re-evaluate our situation at the end of every month because all of these factors can change quickly.

As of this month, I’m excited to say we exceeded our savings goal and I have officially started a new career! The summer brought a couple surprise expenses which detoured our goal date by a month, but we pivoted as needed and re-established our goal.

I feel motivated by the fact that we’ve become more flexible while still keeping true to our goals. We are working together more than we ever have and are much more in tune with what we ultimately want to get out of our lives. In other words, we are living our grey.

At the end of the day, remember that this is your path. Consider your options and unique challenges, set goals and constantly re-evaluate. This way, you’ll make real progress while cutting down on stress along the way.

(MORE: Tumblr’s Annie Werner Shares Career Advice)

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