TIME Family

Why You Should Friend Your Child on Facebook

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New research shows that connecting on multiple platforms can lead to a happier parent-child relationship

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Move over, landlines—it’s time to embrace more modern forms of communication. New research published in Emerging Adulthood suggests that reaching out to your children through multiple platforms can ultimately lead to a better relationship.

Jennifer Schon, a doctoral candidate in communication studies at the University of Kansas, had previously studied how communication technologies improved friendships, and took those findings to hypothesize that it might have the same effect on parents and their adult children. She surveyed 367 young adults between 18 and 29 years to find out which platforms they used to connect with their parents, how often their parents used that technology, and how satisfied they were in their relationships with mom or dad. Communication technologies ranged from landlines to emails to social networks like Facebook and Snapchat.

(MORE: Why Do Children Lie, Cheat, and Steal?)

Adding just one additional mode of communication correlated to increased relationship quality and satisfaction, Schon found. Most reported using an average of three channels to communicate with parents—the most common being cell phone, text messaging, and email. Many parents also connected through landlines and social networking sites. For parents who already email, text, and call their children frequently, the occasional Facebook message might only serve to improve communication.

“A lot of parents might resist new technologies. They don’t see the point in them, or they seem like a lot of trouble,” Schon said in a statement. “But this study shows while it might take some work and learning, it would be worth it in the end if you are trying to have a good relationship with your adult child.”

(MORE: Mother-Daughter Relationships)

 

TIME Family

6 Traditional Christmas Dinner Recipes

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3 main courses and 3 desserts for everyone's delight

If you really want to make an entrance during the holidays, something spectacular on a platter does the trick. Here are six deceptively doable dishes—three serves-a-crowd main courses, three grand-finale desserts—to delight everyone, including you.

Rosemary, Lemon, and Garlic Leg of Lamb
Stuff sliced garlic all over the lamb to add deep, fragrant flavor. Keep the garlic-infused lamb in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before roasting for the tastiest results. Get the recipe.

Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Glazed Ham
Brush the ham with a mixture of mustard, brown sugar, salt, and pepper to create the sweet, golden glaze. Get the recipe.

Roasted Salmon With Creamy Horseradish
Serve the roast salmon with a spicy, creamy sauce made with crème fraîche, grated cucumber, and horseradish. Get the recipe.

Bûche de Noël
Traditionally served around Christmas, this French cake (whose name means “Yule log”) can be made up to 2 days in advance. Get the recipe.

Four-Layer White Cake
This beautiful, fluffy cake is topped off with a generous coating of shredded coconut. Get the recipe.

Raspberry Linzertorte
Instead of creating a complicated lattice crust, top the raspberry jam with rounds of dough for a more modern look. Get the recipe.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com

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TIME Parenting

Kids Who Eat More Fast Food Get Worse Grades

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Study says the difference in grades may be as much as 20%.

Fast food is cheap, filling and of course, fast. That makes it a lifesaver for some parents. But it’s also incredibly unhealthy and now a new nationwide study suggests that eating a lot of it might be linked to kids doing badly in school.

Researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Texas, Austin, found that the more frequently children reported eating fast food in fifth grade, the lower their improvement in reading, math, and science test scores by eighth grade.

The difference between the test scores of kids who didn’t eat any fast food and those who reported eating a lot was significant: 20%.

“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Kelly Purtell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at (OSU). “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”

While eating a lot of fast food is oftentimes a marker for poverty, and poorer students generally don’t do as well on standardized tests for a whole battery of reasons, these results held steady even after researchers took into account other factors, including how much the kids exercised, how much TV they watched, the other food they ate, their family’s socioeconomic status and the characteristics of their neighborhood and school.

“We went as far as we could to control for and take into account all the known factors that could be involved in how well children did on these tests,” Purtell said.

The results, which are published online in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a nationally representative study of 11,740 students who started school in the 1998-1999 school year.

The kids were tested in reading/literacy, mathematics and science in fifth as well as eighth grades, and also filled out a food consumption survey in fifth grade. Slightly more than half the kids reported eating fast food between one and three times in the previous week. Almost a third had had no fast food that week, while a full 10% reported having it every single day and 10% four to six times a week.

“We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast food, but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible,” said Purtell, who added that while her study cannot prove that fast-food consumption caused the lower academic growth, she and her fellow authors are confident fast food explains some of the difference in achievement gains between fifth and eighth grade.

Previous studies have shown that fast food is low in such nutrients as iron that aid in cognitive development, which may explain some of the gap in learning. Moreover, diets high in fat and sugar, both of which fast food tends to have in abundance, have been shown to have a bad effect on immediate memory and learning processes.

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TIME
TIME Family

Just in Time for Your Family Gathering, the 4 Steps to a Good Apology

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Think about the their needs, and not yours

Apologies are on everyone’s mind these days, what with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin at Sony groveling for sending racially-charged emails speculating on our President’s fave movies; Greenpeace International sniveling sorrowfully about defacing a sacred Peruvian site; and a Korean airline magnate begging forgiveness for his 40-year-old daughter’s flight-delaying macadamia-nut-based tantrum.

Thankfully, your own faux pas may never happen on quite so international a stage. But since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. And as co-founder of SorryWatch, our nation’s premier web site for apology education, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.

HEALTH.COM 9 Signs You’re Headed for a Holiday Meltdown

Name your sin

In an initial statement, reported by the New York Times, the airline exec’s daughter said, “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did”—but didn’t actually name what she did. You have to tell the person you’ve wronged exactly what you’re sorry for to prove that you truly understand your offense.

HEALTH.COM 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Fully acknowledge that you screwed up

Amy Pascal said her emails were “not an accurate reflection of who I am.” Um, nope. If you said it (or wrote it in an email), you have to own it. No weasel-y “I was kidding” or “this was so unlike me” or “I never meant for you to find out.” Offer no excuses; step up and own what you did.

Along the same lines, apologize for your actions, not how they “may have seemed” or “might have looked.”Greenpeace International expressed regret that “we came across as careless and crass.” No, they werecareless and crass.

Make it about them, not you

Apologize in the way you think the other person would most prefer, whether that’s in person, in a phone call, or in an email—even if it’s awkward or inconvenient for you. Think about their needs and desires, not yours.

HEALTH.COM 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Make reparations however you can

Pay for dry cleaning if you drunkenly tossed red wine all over your host, send flowers to your mom for calling her a meddling helicopter parent, or make a donation to your colleague’s favorite charity if she overheard you gossiping about her. And spell out what steps you’ll take to make certain that whatever you did will never happen again.

One last thing: Don’t ask for forgiveness. That’s the other person’s holiday gift to give.

HEALTH.COM 10 Nervous Habits That Hurt Your Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME advice

5 Ways to Respond When Your Family Asks What You’re Doing with Your Life

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Turn that dreaded holiday tradition into an opportunity

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This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

So… what are you doing with your life?

This question, often asked around the holiday season by a family member with seemingly too much time on their hands, is known to send many a millennial reeling into a pit of despair. It feels like nothing you can say will satiate the underlying question you suspect is at the bottom of this ruthless confrontation—“What’s your plan for how to stop being a failure already?” It can put you on the defensive, to say the least.

Fret not, because this dreaded holiday tradition can actually be a good thing. Think of it as a vicious sucker punch that makes you realize you need to work on your reflexes and be prepared. (This might actually also be a lesson you learned from family during the holidays.) By demanding that you be able to articulate some sort of response, the “what are you doing with your life” conversation can push you to define what you want to yourself. So instead of approaching the conversation unarmed, take a moment to ask yourself what you want. And be prepared to share it with loved ones who genuinely want to be let in. That said, it’s still a tricky question to navigate so we came up with a few tips to help prepare you for battle. Now say it to yourself: you will make it through.

1. Share Your Immediate Goal Instead of Your Whole Life Plan

Instead of getting bogged down by the daunting idea of what you are going to do with the entire rest of your life, consider what your goals are for the next year, the next few months or even the next few weeks. Acceptable answers include: “I’m planning a few meetings with friends in the (____) industry to see if it could be a good fit,” or, “I’m taking an Coursera class on (____) to gain a new skillset and see if I enjoy the work,” or “I’m working on a side project to add to my portfolio while I save up money.” Be sure to preface this with something smart-sounding like “I don’t feel like it makes sense to plan ten steps ahead right now when life is changing so quickly, but I do know what I want to do right now.”

MORE 7 Movies That Will Motivate You to Pursue Your Passion

2. Be Brtually Honest

Remember that if you don’t see or talk to your relatives very often, their questioning may be coming from a place of legitimate wonder, not just worry. It could be their way of showing that they care about what’s happening in your life. They will be most alarmed when you seem to have no goals or vision at all, so as uncomfortable as it may be, your best alternative is to let them in a little. If you’re at a difficult crossroads in your career path, don’t put all your efforts into sugar-coating it. Explain what’s really going on. Maybe you say something like, “I thought I wanted to dedicate myself to (___), but it struck me this year that it just won’t make me happy. So now I’m focusing on figuring out how I can pursue something more meaningful.” If you share your struggles with your family, not just your high points, you may be surprised by their support. They could even offer you an unexpected contact or useful advice. At the very least, by explaining what you’re looking for, they won’t keep bothering you with “opportunities” that don’t fall in line with your actual interests.

3. Go Vague: Share Your Values and Ultimate Goals in Life

As you have these conversations, one thing to keep in mind is not to let the smaller picture interfere with the bigger picture and let you lose sight of your values. You can make sure to avoid this is by answering family question with what you ultimately want out of life. Whether that’s becoming a recognized leader in your field, adding something new and unique to the world, or finding the stability to build a family, it will clarify what makes you happy in life and what doesn’t. Perhaps your relatives, as many of us often do, assumed you both prioritize the same things and were offering you the advice they would want. By clarifying where you’re coming from, you won’t be comparing apples to oranges in every conversation.

MORE Passion 101: How to Discover Your Calling in Life

4. Explain Your Career Goals and Choices in Terms They Understand

It’s a certifiable fact that career trajectories for younger generations just don’t look like what they did for our parents and grandparents. We tend to job hop, switch career trajectories and embrace jobs and industries that didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago. This can make our life choices all the more difficult to explain. One approach to remedying this distance is to compare your situation to something in your relatives’ wheelhouse. Do you manage social media for a brand? Instead say that like marketers and ad agencies, you represent the voice of a brand for customers.

Another approach is to explain what the purpose of your job (or dream job) is, while skipping the technical description. You want to work at a data analytics consulting firm? No no no, you want to help identify patterns for companies to give them an edge against competitors. To be clear, it can be a dangerous road to begin this conversation. You may end up explaining the internet for hours on end. Your best shot is to give the condensed explanation with as many people around as possible so you don’t have to repeat yourself.

5. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BE THANKFUL

You might try every trick in the book and still be faced with a puzzled look and disapproving nod. It won’t always be possible to get everyone on your page, but at the end of the day, you’re family. Use that! (And we mean that in the most loving way possible.) Try saying this: “I’m thankful that even though you may not understand where I am right now, you care enough to ask.” Depending on the feedback you’re getting, you can even add in a little, “and I know that you’re there for me no matter what.” Self-fulfilling prophecy!

MORE Have You Made a Huge Mistake? So Have These Leaders

TIME Australia

Lost Family Survives on Rainwater for 11 Days in Australian Outback

Steven Van Lonkhuyzen, Timothy Van Lonkhuyzen, Ethan Van Lonkhuyzen, Tom Wagner
APAP In this Dec 22, 2014 photo provided by Queensland Police, Steven Van Lonkhuyzen, left, with his sons Timothy, 5, second left, and Ethan, 7, third left, speaks to farmer Tom Wagner, center, and a park ranger in the remote Expedition National Park, northwest of Brisbane in Australia.

They rationed what little food they had

An Australian father and his two young sons have been rescued after managing to survive for 11 days lost in the remote outback by rationing what food they had and collecting rainwater.

Steven Van Lonkhuyzen, 37, was on a camping trip with sons Ethan, 7, and Timothy, 5, in a national park in Queensland, Australia when their vehicle became stuck. With no cell reception or transportation, Lonkhuyzen rationed food packed for four days and set out plastic containers to collect rainwater, reports the Guardian.

“Steven told me they had some water with them in the car but that they were lucky there was lots of rain while they were stuck out there,” said Acting Superintendant Mick Biachi, who coordinated the police search.

A local rancher heard radio reports of the missing family and recalled having seen the vehicle days earlier. He jumped on a motorbike and drove to find them.

“It’s pretty indicative of the way country people pitch in and help each other,” Bianchi said.

The children were treated at a local hospital, but are expected to make a full recovery.

[The Guardian]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How to Not Lose it When People Are Driving You Insane

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Is your family already driving you insane? Read on

This holiday, make it a priority to not rip your hair out.

To help you survive the season, we asked psychologist Pauline Wallin, author of Taming Your Inner Brat, for some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of the holidays. (But if Aunt Susie drinks too much egg nog, we can’t help you).

If your family is driving you crazy…
One of the best parts of the holidays can also be one of the worst parts of the holidays. Spending quality time with family doesn’t happen often for most of us, but with the expectations of the holidays and the increased amount of face time, it’s easy for someone to lose their lid. Here’s how to cool it.
For parents: You have guests coming, and the bums you call your children are doing a lousy job at cleaning. To avoid this stresser, lay out your expectations early. “When you feel like other people are driving you crazy, it’s often because they don’t have the same sense of urgency that you do,” says Wallin. Instead, tell your kids ahead of time that the house needs to be clean by 10 a.m., or that you are going to be stressed and would appreciate it if they stay out of your way. It’s an easy way to start out on the same page.
For kids and teens: If you really don’t want to go to Aunt Susie’s for dinner, get over it by finding a way to make it count. Think of it as a gift to your family to spend time with them without giving anyone ‘tude. If you’re really feeling irked, ask kindly for a little time alone. Go on a walk, read a book for an hour, or offer to get out of the house and grab groceries.

If someone spills something or you burn the roast…
Take a picture of it. Seriously, pull out that smart phone and snap a photo of the disaster. “If you’re going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now,” says Wallin. No dinner party is immune to a rip or spill or the tragic loss of the Christmas goose. Laugh it off, post it to Instagram, and move on.

If you’re stressed about the cost of all those presents…
Do you remember what you received for Christmas last year? Probably not. Wallin says one of the most common stressers she sees among patients around the holidays is financial stress. “But never once have I heard someone say, ‘I’ve never forgiven them for not getting me the new iPhone.'” We tend to put a lot of weight on the presents, but guests are more likely to remember the moments shared than what was in the stocking. So try not to stress about finding the perfect gift, and there’s zero shame in bargain hunting.

If your to-do list alone is freaking you out…
This year, instead of making a “To Do” list, make a “To Don’t” list. “Decide what you’re not going to do, and just let it go,” says Wallin. “It’s a tremendous sense of relief.” If you can’t figure out when you’re going to have time for caroling, just skip it. If you don’t have time (or don’t want to make time) for home-baked cookies, don’t both! You don’t have to do everything. If it’s more stress than it’s worth, it won’t be that fun.

If you’re not feeling any warm, fuzzy, holiday feelings…
Instead of scrambling to make everything perfect, carve out time to just sit and talk to friends and family. “We get so busy that we forget the holidays are about people,” says Wallin. Get everyone off the grid and ask for cell phones to be put away while you play a game or watch a movie. Even just taking 20 minutes to sit with a family member you don’t regularly see is a great way to remember to the real meaning of the season.

TIME Family

The Paternity Leave Stimulus

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Research says paid paternity leave can boost economies, empower women and make families happier

Rodrigo Neves wasn’t expecting a fight. After the city council of Niteroi, Brazil passed a new law earlier this month extending Brazil’s nationally mandated 5 days of paid paternity leave to 30 days paid leave for city employees who become fathers, Neves, the city’s mayor, vowed to overturn it. He didn’t expect to be bombarded by news outlets and a local campaign demanding that the law remain in place. The story even made it onto BBC.

“How do we deal with the shortage of teachers, street cleaners with an absence for that long?” Neves said. “I‘m the father of three children and I don’t think it’s necessary or essential to have 30 days of paternity leave.”

Currently, Brazil offers only five days paid paternity leave, compared to four months fully paid maternity leave (the United States, of course, offers none). And yet, many government officials at the local and federal level in Brazil (and in other countries) take Neves’ side: They believe allowing 30 days of paternity leave will disrupt worker productivity and the functioning of cities and countries. They’re wrong. In fact, the opposite is true.

Experiences from as far north as Sweden and as far east as Japan show that policies promoting fathers’ involvement at home is good for the economy, for gender equality, and for families. And it’s good for men, too. A litany of studies demonstrate the positive effects of active fatherhood on men’s own health and well-being, their relationships with their partners, and on the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of their children. Research shows that when men are more involved in the early care of a child, they are more likely to remain connected to that child and to carry out a more equitable amount of the care work.

And that has big economic implications. If men share half the care work at home through the help of policies like extended, paid paternity leave, women’s participation in the paid labor force increases. Numerous studies have found the economic benefit of maternity leave; the evidence is also mounting about leave for fathers.

Consider this: the Organisation of Economic Coordination and Development reports that if women in the U.S. worked at the same rates men did, U.S. GDP could grow 9 percent; France’s by more than 11 percent; and Italy’s would see a 23 percent climb. On average, across OECD countries, if women’s participation in the workplace were to converge with men’s rates by 2030, we could see an overall increase of 12 percent in GDP. This data comes in addition to recent policy recommendations from the ILO, the IMF and the World Bank all pointing to paternity leave and men taking on an equitable share of the care work as being essential components in promoting women’s participation in the workplace – and in boosting the economy overall.

This would be especially welcome in Brazil, where, after a decade of meteoric economic progress, economic growth has now slowed with a mere 0.3 percent projected growth for 2014, the lowest in 5 years. Over the last two decades women’s labor market participation has increased to 60 percent in Brazil. Paternity leave could boost that even more.

Brazil’s fight for gender equality could also use a boost. Brazil fell nine country rankings since last year in the latest Global Gender Gap Index report, putting it behind Cuba and Mozambique. Not surprisingly, Iceland, Sweden and Norway–all of which offer paid paternity and maternity leave—rank first, third and fourth, respectively, in the report. They represent convincing examples that father-friendly policies contribute to women’s economic empowerment – and to a country’s economic stability and growth.

To be sure, creating these policies is only half the battle. The next question becomes: If we offer leave, will men take it? Studies find that many men, particularly those in the private sector, worry about their job stability if they take extended leave to care for a child. One key strategy to convince men to take leave is that it be paid and that at least part of it is non-transferable from the mother to the father. Another key lesson learned from places like Iceland, Sweden and Norway – countries that pioneered paid paternity leave more than 20 years ago– is that employers, particularly in the private sector, must encourage men to take leave and assure them that their career trajectories will not suffer if they do.

For example, Sweden’s famous “daddy leave” promotes parental involvement by compensating mothers and fathers at 90 percent of their wages while offering subsidies that ensure fathers take at least one month off (and making a portion of parental leave designated only for the father). Today, 9 out of 10 fathers in Sweden take paternity leave averaging more than 6 weeks. One result: a study in Sweden found that women’s income increases 7 percent for each month that her partner takes leave.

Beyond countries, corporations are also catching on. One Brazilian company is leading by example in extending paid paternity leave from the currently mandated 5 days to 30 days. Ernst and Young, which offers paid leave for mothers and limited paid leave for fathers, has found that such policies pay off in terms of worker satisfaction and retention, for both fathers and mothers.

Despite these bright spots, here’s our current reality: globally, the trend is that men work more paid hours when they have a child and women work less. Furthermore, after the birth of a first child women are more likely to return to the work force in a part-time position than men are. The result: men’s incomes increase, women’s remain lower and many women remain outside the formal labor market. The other result: we continue to see caregiving as women’s work, while men are seen, at best, as “helpers.”

Paid paternity leave breaks this destructive trend. It is key to shifting traditional gender expectations and achieving full equality for women. And it could also be key to shaking up stagnant economies.

Almost 1,000 people have signed a petition to tell Niteroi’s Mayor Neves to give fathers leave. Now it’s time for other politicians and policymakers, in Brazil and elsewhere, to listen to citizens and consider paid paternity leave. It’s not a question of whether it’s “necessary and essential,” to use the words of Neves. It’s simply a smart and just policy all around.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. Mary Robbins is a Program Officer at Promundo, an NGO that works internationally to engage men and boys in promoting gender equality and end violence against women. 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.

TIME Family

What It’s Really Like to Care for a Dying Parent

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Despite everyone's best efforts, my mom is clearly, obviously dying

xojane

There are two things that movies consistently get wrong: sex and death.

Just like no real-life sex scene has ever involved seamless, body-fluid-free sex (I, for one, seem to consistently get stuck in my skinny jeans while covertly trying to take them off), very few deaths are the simple, dignified situations we see portrayed on screen. Death, real death, is a messy, confusing process for everyone involved.

A few months ago I wrote an article for xoJane about my mother, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. At the time she had plateaued. Roughly three weeks ago, however, that changed.

Determined to walk, she hauled herself out of bed — and promptly fractured her pelvis. At the time, she was still receiving treatment — now she’s in hospice. As terrible as it was before, this is worse. She is completely bedridden and has a catheter. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she immediately got a UTI and yeast infection upon arriving home. She’s restless — she’s scared. What little she says rarely makes sense. She is clearly, obviously dying.

How do you care for someone who is dying? We all have a pretty good idea of what it means to nurse someone back to health, but how do you compassionately nurse them into death?

Even typing that raises my hackles a little. We live in a society that prizes life — by any means, in any shape — above all else, so reconciling that programming with what is clearly worse than death is difficult, to say the least. I am completely pro-choice and very much believe assisted suicide should be legal. But nevertheless, the ethical dance I’m doing now feels fraught with peril. I usually lay my mom’s pills out with her breakfast. She doesn’t ask for food or water, but I still bring them.When she does eat, she doesn’t eat much — a bite here and there.

And don’t even get me started on the morphine. She’s agitated a lot of the time — to the point of attempting to to get out of bed — and morphine helps calm her. But is it wrong to administer it in order to relieve psychic, not physical, pain? While the fracture is painful, the truth is I dose her more for the agitation than for the pain. Is that merciful, or profoundly messed up?

These are the questions I wrestle with daily. I know my mom — she would have never wanted to live like this. One of the last clear things she said to me when she was diagnosed was that she didn’t want to dwindle.

I can see the pain and frustration on her face when I tell her she can’t walk, or when I have to clean her after a bowel movement. But at the same time, I’m not sure where my place is in this process. She is mostly non-communicative, so I can only guess at what she wants. I have asked her if she’s tired, if she’s ready to let go — her only response is a blank stare.

Recently, I met with a social worker to discuss mortuaries, and on the back page of the packet she gave me there was a section regarding donating the body for scientific purposes, specifically the eyes. I felt like I’d been sucker punched. I believe in donating one’s organs for the greater good, but how do you make that decision for someone else? I know my mom is an organ donor, but…which organs? How many organs? Is there really a moral difference between donating someone’s eyes and donating someone’s kidneys, or am I just being squeamish?

The only organ donors you see on “Grey’s Anatomy” are car accident fatalities. No one ever talks about mulling over whether or not to give someone’s organs away while they’re still conscious in another room.

Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of my mom’s diagnosis. She’s made it much farther than anyone ever predicted, but I can’t pretend that I believe that’s a good thing. A family friend told me that I’d look back and treasure this extra time I was able to spend with my mom — I wish that were true, but it isn’t. I’ve watched her do exactly what she stated she didn’t want to do — dwindle. It’s horrific, and I know neither she nor I expected it to be like this.

Which is why I’m writing this article — I think it’s important to open a frank dialogue about what it means to die. How do we help our loved ones die? What, exactly, do heroic measures mean to different individuals? For one person it might be CPR, but for another, it might be administering any medication at all, down to steroids or anticonvulsants. What are tolerable living circumstances — i.e., what happens if you become bed bound? Incontinent??

These are tough questions, and they’re usually brought up too late, whispered shamefully in the corridor of a hospital. But my hope is that, just like we’ve learned to discuss with our children what they should actually expect from sex, we’ll someday be able to talk openly to one another about what we can really expect from death.

Gracie F. is a writer and contributor to xoJane. 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 Culture

Christmas Cards Were America’s First Social Media

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Before we posted our family Christmas photo on Facebook, we mailed images of our idealized selves and lives to the people we loved

My great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s, passed away when I was about 11 years old. Looking back, it is fairly obvious now that she was a hoarder on a colossal scale, but since this predated reality television, we tended just to say she was a packrat. As we cleaned out her house in rural Missouri, there was something special waiting: two boxes brimming with postcards. These were not of the “wish you were here” variety depicting washed-out hotel swimming pools and palm-tree-lined boulevards. These were older, more elaborate—variously embossed, gilded, tinseled, and extravagantly colored. They were greetings for birthdays and anniversaries, tokens of affection and romantic overture, and happy returns for every holiday on the calendar. Christmas, especially.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my great-grandmother’s collection would give me a window into the desires—and anxieties—of a world I would only later come to understand and appreciate as I pursued my doctorate in American history. Until I embarked on that journey, the cards often sat in the back of closets or under piles of other accumulated stuff. Still, every so often, I’d take them out, dust them off, and wonder at them anew. Once my long nights of historical study began, I returned to them more and more often, until they finally set me on a path of becoming a scholar of American holidays and culture, including the phenomenon of holiday postcards.

It turns out there was a good reason my ancestor had piles and piles of these rectangular cardboard artifacts. For a few years in the early 20th century, postcards were a massive phenomenon. Billions of postcards flowed through the mail, and billions more were bought and put into albums and boxes. And amid that prodigious output, holiday postcards were one of the most popular types, with Christmas reigning supreme, just as it had in my inherited collection.

The practice of sending Christmas cards pre-dated the broader postcard craze by several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of Louis Prang. Prang was a savvy printing entrepreneur who kept adding products and lithographic techniques to his ever-expanding business, including the introduction of Christmas greeting cards (perhaps at his wife’s suggestion) in 1875. By the 1880s he was publishing more than 5 million holiday cards each year. And once postcards fell out of favor, greeting card companies like American Greetings and Hallmark rushed in to fill the void. But for a few short years between 1907 and 1910, Christmas postcards created a visual conversation between Americans that was unique because it was also very public. They were in many ways a forerunner of today’s impulse to post selfies and holiday pictures on social media. Unlike a greeting card or letter that hides its contents within an envelope, a postcard was always on display—from the rack in the drugstore where it might be purchased to its final destination. And those billions of snowy landscapes and bag-toting Santas churning through the mail system—the Rural Free Delivery system in particular—revealed much of what was on people’s minds at the height of the Progressive Era.

Take mistletoe, for example. Mistletoe had long been part of the Christmas tradition, with young men using sprigs of the plant to claim the right to demand or steal a kiss. Yet this was an era when women were asking serious questions about their rights and questioning the assumed passivity of their lives in everything from courtship and marriage to education and work. This is why so many postcards feature a woman who has taken control of mistletoe, deciding when and where it will be hung, and when she will choose to be under it and for whom. Sure, the rowdy, sprig-wielding young man still shows up in Christmas postcards, but now he must contend with the “New Woman” who uses mistletoe as part of her new right to take the initiative.

Rural landscapes are another good example. On the surface, nothing seems particularly unusual about a Christmas greeting that features a little snow-covered house in the countryside. That sort of mythologized ideal has been around since before the Civil War, when Currier and Ives capitalized on rural nostalgia with their inexpensive prints. Still, rural and small-town America was far from a contented place in the first decade of the 20th century. Farm children seemed to be fleeing to cities in droves, with 1910 marking the last census of a majority-rural American population.

One reason billions of Christmas postcards circulated with nary a cityscape to be seen is that rural Americans were circulating an idealized vision of themselves. When times seemed tough, all those picture-perfect fields, barns, fences, and country homes became a way to create an alternative narrative—one that was beautiful, healthy, and prosperous. One could argue this instinct shares significant DNA with the practice of staging family photographs for Christmas cards, or for today’s Facebook postings. There is something comforting and empowering about controlling the visual elements of a holiday greeting to your friends and family. Those visuals are not just representing you but a perfected version of you, and your world.

These were also the years when the United States saw the peak of European immigration, particularly immigrants from Southern and Eastern European nations like Russia, Lithuania, Italy, and Greece. Partly as a reaction to this inflow, and its surrounding anxieties, people were eager to emphasize their longstanding roots in the country, as if to say “we came here generations ago, not yesterday.” Manifestations of this urge to claim native roots pop up in the period’s genealogical societies, colonial revival movements, and yes, holidays. An “Old Fashioned Christmas” is a phrase that appears with increasing regularity through the first two decades of the 20th century. It is also a repeated theme in Christmas postcards with plenty of “ye olden time” imagery of colonial homesteads, spinning wheels, lanterns, rocking chairs, muskets, and horse-drawn coaches.

The postcard fad ended when the best postcards—which were printed in Germany using superior lithographic techniques—were priced out of the market by a newly passed tariff in 1909. By 1910, interest was waning as American firms failed to produce postcards of equal quality. World War I put the final nail in the coffin. Yet whereas Halloween or Thanksgiving greeting cards never took off the way their postcard predecessors had, Christmas cards have remained an American tradition, if now dressed up in an envelope. Always a mirror of the times, popular Christmas card styles included Art Deco in the 1920s and patriotic cards during World War II.

Looking back, however, there was something distinctive about the old postcards. They put it all out there—hopes, dreams, worries, excitement, wonder, fear, pride, and more—for store clerks and mailmen, nosy neighbors and family members to see and read.

Certainly I wonder how my great-grandmother’s network of cousins, friends, and her future husband (who sent her plenty of courting postcards, including a few mistletoes of his own) picked the cards they sent. What appealed to them and why? As a kid my answer would have been “because they look cool,” but as a cultural historian I now look deeper for what might like beneath the surface. Like so many others who gravitated to postcards with an almost forceful passion, she was a young rural girl from a long line of rural Americans who saw the world changing quickly. Postcards were a way of dealing with those changes, some welcome I’m sure, and many not. Still, I do agree with my younger self … they were and remain pretty darn cool.

Daniel Gifford is the manager of Museum Advisory Committees at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. His first book, American Holiday Postcards 1905-1915: Imagery and Context, was published by McFarland Press in 2013. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

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