TIME Family

How Do You Talk to Kids About God?

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

For secular parents, explaining sex is a cinch, but tackling religion can be terrifying

Talking openly with children about sensitive subjects is hard. It always has been. In my parents’ generation, the three-letter taboo was S-E-X. My older sister was 13 when my dad gave a kid “The Talk” for the first time. It was the ’80s, and my dad dodged it like any educated man of his time. He tossed her a sex-education book and said, “Read this, but don’t do it.”

Discussing sex isn’t quite so scary today. Many modern fathers don’t flinch when their daughters ask about anatomy or start inquiring about how babies are made. But progressive thinking has a way of replacing certain taboos with others. And today, for a great many parents, there is a new three-letter word: G-O-D.

With two of Western religion’s most important holidays—Easter and Passover—in the air, I find myself thinking back to the first time I had the “God Talk” with my own daughter. Maxine was barely five years old when she piped up from the backseat on the way home from her Los Alamitos preschool one day.

“Mommy,” she said, “you know what? God made us!”

I felt like a cartoon character being hit in the back of the head with a frying pan. My heart raced. I’m quite sure I began to sputter. Visions of Darwin and the evolving ape-man raced through my mind, followed closely by my childhood image of the big guy upstairs in his flowing white robes. I couldn’t speak.

And, in the awkward silence that followed, I was forced to confront the truth: The idea of talking to my kid about God—and, more specifically, about religion—scared the bejesus out of me.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to speak. “Well,” I said, “Who is God?”

Now, I don’t remember if Maxine actually said “duh,” or whether she simply bounced a “duh” look off the rearview mirror. But I can tell you that the “duh” message came across loud and clear.

“He’s the one who made us,” she said, her eyebrows knitted. “Okay… well, what is God doing now?” I tried for casual.

Again with the nonverbal “duh.”

“God is busy making people and babies,” she answered.

This information could not have been delivered with more certainty. My little girl, who had never heard an utterance of the word “God” in our house, aside from decidedly ungodly uses of the word, now had it all figured out thanks to a Jewish classmate who also happened to be her very first boyfriend. I was beaten to the punch by a cute preschool boy.

I let the subject drop, but my chest constricted all the way home. It stayed that way for hours. Why hadn’t I been prepared for this? What was I supposed to say now that she was getting her information from this boy at school?

As a science-minded non-believer with a generally non-confrontational personality, I was stumped by how to handle the situation. I wanted to be truthful about what I believed to be truth, but I didn’t want to indoctrinate her into my worldview either. And I certainly didn’t want others indoctrinating her into theirs, either. So where did that leave me? Was I to sit Maxine down and tell her that evolution, not God, was responsible for her existence? Was I to impose my own beliefs on her, the way other parents seemed to be doing? Or should I leave her alone to explore on her own timetable? What was the difference between guidance and pressure anyway? What was I willing to “let” her believe, and what wasn’t I?

Luckily for me, I have a husband who is cool under pressure. Later that day, after I’d rather breathlessly presented him with all the facts of the disastrous car ride, I asked him, “What if she believes in God?” His answer, my wakeup call, has become a mantra I repeat often. He said, “It’s not what Maxine believes, but what she does in life that matters.”

What I took from this was: Relax . . . it’s just God.

So I set aside my own irrational concerns and began to talk with my kid about God—lots of gods, actually. We talked about Brahman and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. My husband bought her a Children’s Bible, and I brought home lots of picture books highlighting aspects of various religious cultures.

To my delight, Maxine became genuinely interested in religion—as long as it came in bite-size pieces, rather than overly long oratories. She became engaged in the stories we told, and good at deciphering the various “moral” aspects of various tales for herself. In her hands, the Bible wasn’t a tool of indoctrination, but a tool of religious literacy—even critical thinking. Once when she was reading the 10 Commandments, for example, she got to the 10th and read (aloud): “Never want what belongs to others.” Then she stopped and corrected Moses. “Well, you can WANT what belongs to others,” she said. “You just can’t HAVE it. You can buy one for yourself.”

In the four years that have passed since Maxine first told me about God, we have discussed the subject countless times. I have learned that compassion and an open mind are more important than being right. I’ve also learned that the best way to combat intolerance is with knowledge, and that the best way to combat indoctrination is with critical thinking. No longer is there awkwardness around the subject. We talk about lots of different beliefs, encourage her to learn about what motivates the faith of others, and make clear that there is no shame in choosing an unpopular path. After all, her own parents are happy, well-adjusted, and (I like to think) good-hearted people.

Today, Maxine is 9 and believes in God “two days a week — on Sundays and Wednesday.” Is that logical or rational? No. But who cares? It works for her, and that’s what’s important.

I haven’t always done everything right. I have stumbled sloppily through more than a few conversations along my own journey and regretted my word choices now and again. (Our unique biases have a way of filtering through from time to time, despite our best efforts.) But, because the conversations keep coming, I’ve almost always had a chance to right my wrongs, to clarify my position, to bring a new perspective to each situation. The point here is not to be perfect—as my daughter says, “That would be boring”—but to give us something to aim for.

Exposing kids to various brands of spirituality and religion (not to mention non-religious philosophies) is not only fascinating and surprisingly fun; it also has the potential to improve our children’s— and our own—awareness about and compassion for the multiplicity of kinds of people in the world. Like the “sex talk,” discussions about God may come up sooner (and differently) than you had pictured. But it’s our obligation to embrace it. After all, if we’re not prepared to explore ideas of God, religion, and faith with our curious children, someone else will do it for us.

Someone cute.

Wendy Thomas Russell is an award-winning journalist and author of Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious. Russell hosts a blog called Natural Wonderers at Patheos.com and writes an online column for the PBS NewsHour. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

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

I Look at My Cell Phone Instead of Playing with My Children and That’s Okay

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

We should never be expected to give up our lives

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At my age rarely a week goes by that an article doesn’t pop up in my news feed to warn me of the danger cell phones pose to my children. Not actual physical danger like texting while driving, but rather the more damaging psychological kind that comes about from checking Facebook while they swing at the playground.

Always desperately precious in tone, these articles are compelling to me as a stay at home mother of three. They warn of missing childhoods and creating humans with a sort of techno version of reactive attachment disorder, two things that are horrifying to contemplate as a person who gave up my own career to focus all my energy on these three people, to make them as perfect as I can make them so they can be a force of good in the world.

For years I fell for this guilt trip, but as my oldest nears 14, I feel like I have enough years of mothering under my belt to finally call nonsense.

The number of ways that you can damage your child as a mother is legion. There’s physical abuse, and psychological, but there’s a sneakier type that can also be damaging and that is making your children think they are the center of the universe.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received as a parent was when my oldest daughter was four. The lead teacher at her Montessori school, a kindly old hippie who had nurtured twenty years of children, stopped me to say what a good human she was. Coming from him that meant so much, but it was what he said next to explain himself that has always stuck with me: “You can love them too much, you know.”

The idea of course not being that there should ever be a limit to what we feel for our children, but rather that as a parent it is damaging to love them slavishly, to give ourselves up to them absolutely. As a young mother it was a powerful statement and I’ve never forgotten the message behind it. It is this attitude of “loving them too much” that sits behind every article I’ve ever read about “putting your phone down” to look at your children. You can love them too much and that does them no good at all.

Modern mothers don’t get cut any slack. In this era of Pinterest parties and the monthly picture next to the keepsake bear to measure how much they’ve grown we are expected to not only love and nurture our children, but to package them in a compelling way for public consumption. We can no longer rest on just feeding them and reading to them and keeping them safe and warm, we are expected to play with them vigorously and do crafts and make pillow forts and go on scavenger hunts in the yard.

Stay at home motherdom has become less about the practical economics of child rearing and more like a really expensive day camp with mom as camp counselor. We are no longer fully adult women who have advanced degrees and careers and a life of the mind, we are now the equivalent of a 15-year-old CIT at a beautiful lake in New Hampshire. AND WE MUST LOVE IT.

And some of us do love it, and some of us are more natural at it than others. Some mothers are just latent kindergarten teachers; they draw strength from making their own play-doh and finger painting. But that was never me. And as my children have gotten older, I realize that’s okay.

What nobody tells you before you have kids is how mind-numbingly boring it can be. Once they are fed and asleep and you have showered and unloaded the dishwasher there’s not a whole lot to do. My oldest was born in 2001, years before we could hold the internet in our hand. I think back to a couple of things from her early days after we’d gotten our routine down solid: 1. Reading a whole lot of books 2. Being fantastically lonely and bored. I remember lying on the floor with her crawling all over me, loving the smell of her and the shape of her and how funny she was and wondering what was wrong with me that I wished I’d had something else to occupy me at the same time. Someone to talk to or something to laugh at, something to engage my brain while we waited for her dad to get home.

I wonder how our grandmothers and great grandmothers managed in such different times. Those were the days of front porches when the majority of women on your street or in the apartments next door were probably in the house going stir crazy just like you and you could pop out for a smoke and a chat while your babes napped inside and communally bitch about whatever it is we bitch about. Combine that with there being no expectation that mothers would actually play with their children and you have a very different set of circumstances. Long gone are the days of the Goonies where children could disappear on their own adventures. We are our children’s best playmates, for better or worse.

Which is why I feel zero guilt when I pull out my phone. My children’s lives are magical. A treehouse and chickens and a driveway to ride bikes in. A big dog to run with and regular vacations to the ocean. We go for walks and to playgrounds and watch the Simpsons while we eat dinner. We have obscure family jokes and we enjoy each other’s company. And during the course of any of this, while they are occupied with the comfort and magic of the life I have laboriously constructed for them I will often pull out my phone, to check the weather, or my messages or just see what my friends are doing on Facebook. I’ll read the news or edit a story or send a text to my mother.

Do my kids get annoyed? Of course they do, because they are children and children would always prefer you be looking at them. But children also need to understand that their mother doesn’t only belong to them, that she also belongs to herself and that she should be allowed her moments to do what she wants to do, like they are allowed theirs.

When I think back to my own childhood I remember my mother in the kitchen. My dad traveled and my mom would come home from work and fix dinner for me and my sister and the entire time she would talk to her sisters on the big beige telephone that hung on the wall. She had a thirty-foot cord so she could do all of her business in the house without ever having to hang up or put it down. Did I want her to put it down? Yes. But I understood that was just her thing, and I always had what I needed and we hung out and talked and she read to me and took me places. We were friends then and we are friends now.

And now that I’m grown and I realize how hard she worked I understand how important that was for her. I would never begrudge her that thirty-foot cord.

I am lucky that I get to be there full time for my kids. This is the life I chose and I am grateful I have this option. But just because I chose it doesn’t mean that I gave up who I am and what I need as a person. I think it is crucial that our children always understand that as mothers we are also individual humans with interests and friends other than them. This glorious lifeline of the internet that allows people who stay home to reach out to others has doubtless saved lives and I’m grateful I get to mother in this time of possibility, and I’m sad for those women who had to go it alone. We may have given up our livelihoods for our kids, but we should never be expected to give up our lives.

Jenny Poore wrote this article for xoJane.

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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 Like To Be in a Long-Distance Marriage

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

It’s not impossible, but even with Internet, email, and text, long-distance living isn’t cake

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My husband, Gabe, and I probably have what many of our friends would call a really solid marriage.

We’re never afraid to talk about what we’re really feeling; we complement each other in all the right ways; and we’ve gone through some really tough times only to come out on the other side stronger and better equipped for the roller-coaster ride of lifelong partnership. So when I accepted a job out of state, we were both convinced that if any couple could deal with the unique challenges, it was us.

I had always wanted to work with books, ever since I was a little kid. When I began to gain experience in publishing, I knew it was the right direction for me. I had been told repeatedly that my chances of gaining employment were higher if I moved from Northern California to the East Coast, and it was an idea I had resisted for years. But misery at my current job and lack of future prospects stirred the curiosity in me.

I asked Gabe what he thought about me looking for jobs out of state, just to see if I was qualified, and he was immediately supportive.

“You should apply. See what happens,” he said. So I put my resume out to every position that piqued my interest, no matter where it was located. Out of more than two dozen applications, only one publisher called for an interview. They offered me a job as an assistant production editor. The job was all the way in Albany, New York, three thousand miles away from where I had lived my entire life, in Oakland. I was over the moon, and completely conflicted.

I called Gabe immediately. His first reaction was that I needed to take the job, that it was a great opportunity, and that it was something I really wanted. I took a weekend to weigh my options and run a budget. I talked the decision to death with Gabe, who wasn’t prepared to move with me yet, but encouraged me nonetheless.

What if I just gave it a year to see how I liked it first? He kept reminding me it was an adventure, and that our being apart was only temporary. We both thought I’d gain experience and then try to find something back home. So three months later, I drove cross-country with my bulldog and a few possessions in the back of a four-wheel CRV to Albany.

The first four months were the hardest. I wasn’t homesick—in fact, I immediately loved upstate New York. It’s beautiful, historic, steeped with culture, and within hours of other great East Coast cities and states. The people are excessively friendly.

I have made some amazing friends, and I couldn’t be at a better job working with a better group of people. What I did miss was having my best friend and partner to come home to every night, to wake up next to in the morning.

For the first time in my life I was living alone in a place where I knew no one and nothing. Although I was grateful for the opportunity, I cried everywhere — in the park, at the vet, in the bathroom at work, on the phone at 1 a.m. It was a huge transition.

At first, we called each other almost every day or we were regularly in the middle of a text message conversation. Email, Gchat, text, and Facebook have made it relatively easy to keep track of each other’s comings, goings, events, etc., but have never made up for the lack of physical contact.

Even though we have had an open marriage since before we said, “I do” (I personally associate with polyamory and have a steady love in NY), I missed his suffocating bear hugs, our unique interactions via Post-it on the bathroom mirror, the way he would impersonate Rick Flair randomly in the kitchen. He would post videos to my Facebook wall of all the silly movie sayings and Saturday Night Live episodes we liked to repeat. We would send each other daily videos and pictures of our respective bulldogs doing random or mundane things. Many dirty pictures passed to and fro.

Eventually, things began to settle and we eased into a long-distance life of checking in every few days. I flew home a couple times a year, and he would fly out on our anniversary. Once, we met in Seattle during a book conference, and we remarked at how interesting our lives were—we were “jet setters,” living bi-coastal, like rock stars. The reality was that the costs of those trips were exorbitant, and it only gave us the ability to see each other about three times a year, if he could get a cheap stand-by flight, or my parents paid for half my ticket home and I put the rest on my credit card.

I never saw him for more than a few days. And forget visiting on holidays—the cost of a flight from one coast to another exceeded a grand. When I did visit, we were always running from one place to another, eating, or sleeping. It was never a vacation, I was always exhausted, and I never felt as though I had enough time with him.

Other things about me changed. Living apart made knowing his daily habits impossible so practicing things I was previously great at, like empathy, became challenging. I imagined him partying instead of taking care of the dog, or forgetting overdue bills because he slept all day, or ignoring household chores by playing video games.

What I didn’t realize was that he was cleaning out the garage or going to class, and that money was so tight he was eating off the same plate over and over and not doing laundry to conserve utility costs.

I also began to forget what it was about him I loved and needed. So much of our life together became about the tangible—money, bills, work, dogs—that the sentimental took a back seat. I forgot how hard he could make me laugh, or how easily he squashed my anxiety. His consideration, thoughtfulness, and endless positivity were things that, because they weren’t present daily, I overlooked. I knew if the distance continued, time would erase my truth about him, what was important.

Less than a year passed before I proposed he move or we consider separating. We both tried to be rational. I was a New York convert; he loved California. We both loved each other, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being married and not being together. What was the point?

I wanted a partner to commiserate with every day, and I knew he wanted that, too. What we were doing was not fair to our relationship, and expecting it to go on was unrealistic. I also knew that asking him to move for me was no small thing—he would be giving up his entire life in favor of mine, in favor of this career, which was something I had wanted my entire life. I knew if I moved home, I would inevitably resent him, but if he moved to be with me, would he do the same?

We went back and forth about it for months, and I questioned my selfishness, wondering if I should give up everything I worked for and go back to California, but he rejected that immediately. He repeatedly told me he didn’t have lofty career ambitions like I did, that he could work anywhere, make new friends.

When people asked he said, “Jenn has found herself in New York and has become the person she wanted to be, and I could never take that away from her.” But in the back of my mind, I will always know he gave up a place he loved, friends he cared about, and hobbies he enjoyed in yearlong temperate weather.

I’ve been here for two years and he is finally moving in June. With the amount we hope to make on the sale of our California home, we can buy something triple the size in New York. I can afford almost all of our bills here on my paycheck, allowing him the freedom to find something he might like to do for work and not something he has to do.

I hope every day that he learns to appreciate seasons, and comes to adore the unique charm of upstate. In return, I will be grateful for him, and I will never forget the sacrifices he’s making to be together.

Jenn Bennett wrote this article for xoJane.

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

The Government’s Role in Supporting Families 2.0

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Families have changed since the 1960's, but our policies surrounding families have not changed since then

You don’t need to be a demographic expert to know that the stereotypical nuclear family is no longer the norm; in fact, it is an artifact of a bygone era. Since 1960, the percentage of American households with a married couple raising their own children has dropped from 37 to 16 percent, while fewer than half of children today are living with heterosexual parents in their first marriage.

“Families are changing,” said Liza Mundy, the director of New America’s Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, and “will continue to change” in ways that reflect a greater sense of social and cultural freedom of choice. Meanwhile, however, “our social policies are still rooted in the ideas of 1960s.” Institutions of government need to evolve “to acknowledge the changes that have taken place in the family and to update and coordinate the social policies that serve families,” said Mundy at a recent New America event.

In other words, there’s a disconnect between today’s lived experience and today’s policies. So, she asked, how can government build effective social policy across a range of issues facing real-life multi-generational families—rather than cookie-cutter caricatures from the 1960s?

President Obama has attempted to answer that question with his recently released 2016 Budget, which aims to “help America’s hard-working families get ahead in a time of relentless economic and technological change.” Now, the question on the table for Mundy and her fellow discussants is: will the proposal – which includes efforts to expand access to childcare and early learning, workforce training, and tax credits – achieve that lofty goal?

One facet of the budget stood out for most of the panelists, and made them optimistic: its focus on collaboration across federal, state and local government agencies and institutions.

Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary in the Office of Career Technical and Adult Education in the Department of Education , singled out the Performance Partnership Pilot—in which tribal, city, state governments can pool resources to create holistic strategy to reach out to disconnected youth—as well as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which contains what he described as a “number of specific changes that I believe will lead to more holistic policy-making at the state and local levels.” Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst for New America’s Higher Education Initiative, echoed Uvin’s optimism about programs in Obama’s budget that call for greater cooperation between the federal government and municipal or state governments.

Pointing specifically to three proposals from the Obama Budget—the Department of Education’s America’s College Promise program, the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship programs, and the Department of Commerce’s National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes—McCarthy emphasized their collaborative nature. She praised the President’s budget proposal overall for posing this question: “Who else needs to be part of this conversation outside the federal government to build family-centered social policy?”

According to McCarthy, everyone needs to be at the table—workers, employers, and government. The National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, for example, is “building partnerships among businesses, educational institutions and local government agencies to support development of advanced manufacturing hubs” in cities where the “erosion of the manufacturing sector…has put a strain on families.” Having all these stakeholders in the conversation about social policy, said McCarthy, would reflect the interconnectedness of what real families need: affordable higher education, secure and predictable pathways into employment, and more good jobs.

These holistic approaches to policy resonated with Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of New America’s Early Education Initiative, who pointed to the President’s proposed expansion of Head Start, with its “whole-child focus,” and federal Pre-School Development Grants, which contain provisions that encourage states to provide full-day kindergarten as well. She also cited the Promise Neighborhoods, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, in which the Department of Education supports partnerships with local organizations and nonprofits to provide services and specifically seeks to “break down agency ‘silos’” to implement solutions to community challenges.

Justin King, policy director of the Asset Building Program, agreed that inter-agency cooperation is key to pushing forward the aspects of the President’s budget proposal that promote financial stability for families while modernizing government’s understanding of what a family is: “There’s a critical role for government to play in supporting household economic stability and supporting the ability [for families] to save across the big picture.” That role, said King, must include support—such as the Automatic IRA proposal—for low-income families to save money for emergencies and retirement. When it comes to giving families help to save, said King, “the effort is there, the will is there, the resources are there, but it’s just not always applied with care. And it’s not always targeted to the families that need the most help, that are striving for a better life.”

President Obama’s budget proposal may be fruitful fodder for discussion, but it’s still only a blueprint for the future. As Uvin put it, this budget is “an important vehicle for advancing ideas,” but “there are other things that we can do and need to do and that we have done.” He concluded that it’s “essential” for government to create “flexible” policies for families and to “engage external stakeholders from the get-go, so that the continuation of critical policy innovations is not exclusively dependent on whether there is the political leadership that is present to advance them.”

Having opened with a question, Mundy concluded with one as well: how do you make policy without privileging one kind of family? By focusing attention where the “opportunity gaps are greatest,” said Uvin, “from cradle to career.”

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. 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.

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

MONEY Sports

This Multi-Billion-Dollar Business Is Trying to Get Your Kid Hooked

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Mitch Diamond—Alamy

In the quest for higher and higher profits down the line, the indoctrination must start young with this business—which is probably not at all what you think.

It’s … baseball.

For American kids today, the idea that baseball is the national pastime holds true only in the past. The number of kids who play baseball fell 24% during the ’00s, and it has continued to decrease since.

Unsurprisingly, the percentage of kids who are fans of the sport has been on the decline as well. In an ESPN Sports Poll conducted last year, 18% of 12- to 17-year-old Americans described themselves as avid baseball fans. That’s the lowest it’s been since the survey started being conducted in 1995. It’s also the first time ever that baseball’s level of fanaticism among kids was matched by that of (gasp!) Major League Soccer. Four in ten, meanwhile, say they are diehard NFL fans.

Still, baseball executives say other sports have little to do with kids losing interest in baseball. “Today, the fastest growing activity among young people is nothing,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said, rather bizarrely, in a Sports Illustrated for Kids interview. He quickly clarified that “being involved with electronics and non-sporting activities” is largely why baseball has become less popular with kids.

In any event, baseball has fallen so far off most American kids’ radar that the problem is being openly discussed around the league. Newly adopted rules meant to speed up the game are aimed at removing the lulls and making the game more exciting for all fans—but especially for young people, what with their nonexistent attention spans. Teams across the country are also pumping up promotions and freebies to new heights to woo the next generation of spectators.

“I think we all recognize that we can’t live by the long-held premise that a child will automatically fall in love with baseball,” Boston Red Sox senior adviser Charles Steinberg said to the Boston Globe in early March. “We have to recognize that we are one of many options.”

With that in mind, the website of every Major League Baseball team has a section devoted specifically to kids—where else would you learn fun factoids about the team mascot?—and teams also encourage children to sign up for their special kids club programs. Membership is often free, and comes with perks like team swag, baseball cards, and access to discounted or free ticket promotions.

The Red Sox program, dubbed Kids Nation, used to cost $30, but this season ownership decided to make membership free for fans 14 and under. Each member gets a free ticket to Fenway Park (with an adult ticket purchase, of course), plus a 10% discount on team merchandise and “Exclusive Kid Nation Email Newsletters.”

Other MLB teams with free basic membership for kids programs include the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miami Marlins. The latter comes with buy-one, get-one-free tickets at select games—kids club members eat free at the ballpark at some games too.

Most teams try to upsell families on VIP kids club membership, which runs $20 and up and includes more perks and freebies. Other MLB franchises charge for all kids club memberships, though they don’t seem to be making money on the sales considering what’s in the package. For example, the Los Angeles Angels Junior Angels program costs $18 but comes with a voucher good for four tickets, plus a team shirt, socks, and shoelaces and a $5 gift card at the Angels Team Store. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners’ $15 kids club membership includes a team cap, cooler, activity book, and access to $1 tickets at select games.

Obviously, the short-term goal of these programs is to boost attendance and revenues for this season. Even though the programs may break even or lose money on the surface, they succeed in attracting more people out to the ballpark—and bringing them out more often—where they’ll undoubtedly fork over cash for parking, food, beverages, and souvenirs.

But wooing kids is hardly a short-term play. What baseball truly hopes is that kids programs and other child-centric marketing efforts help create lifelong fans who head out to the stadium, buy team merchandise, and watch on TV for decades to come. The idea is to hook them while they’re young with cheap tickets, free swag, face painting at games, and whatever else it takes. After all, few people wake up when they’re grownups and decide that they will suddenly become diehard fans of the Cincinnati Twins or San Diego Padres or whoever.

Data collected by the Red Sox indicates that people who went to games as children are nearly three times more likely than others to turn into “core” fans or at least go the ballpark a few times per season down the road. In his SI for Kids interview, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed that it is absolutely essential to turn children on to baseball while they’re young: “Our research shows the two biggest determinants of fan avidity are did you play as a kid? And how old were you when your parents took you to the ballpark for the first time?”

TIME Parenting

7 Things Every Kid with Autism Wishes You Knew

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April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day

Every kid is different. So is every individual with autism. But if you’re looking to connect with a child living with autism, Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, and the mother of an autistic son, says keeping these things in mind can help.

My senses don’t work like yours. For a child living with autism, the sensory impressions of daily life—noises from machines, , the flickering of fluorescent lights, cooking smells— “can be downright painful,” Nothbohm writes. Remember, a world that seems unremarkable to you may be overwhelming to them.

I’m a concrete thinker. “Idioms, puns, nuances, inferences, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are lost” on children with autism, Nothbohm writes. Instead, communicate with literal language.

I’m a visual thinker. Children with autism have a harder time absorbing spoken words. But they can study visual information until they really understand it. So “show me how to do something rather than just telling me,” Nothbohm writes. “Lots of patient practice helps me learn.”

I have many ways to communicate. Words are not always the best way for a child with autism to interact or convey his or her needs. “But be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation, or other signs,” Nothbohm writes. “They’re there.”

Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. Just like anyone else, it’s hard for children with autism to learn when they’re made to feel like they’re not measuring up. But “look for my strengths and you will find them,” Nothbohm writes. “There is more than one right way to do most things.”

Help me join in. Children with autism may seem as if they don’t want to participate in social activities. But in fact, they may just be unsure about how to join in. “Teach me how to play with others,” Nothbohm writes. “Encourage other children to invite me to play along. I might be delighted to be included.”

I’m more than my autism. “If you think of me as just one thing,” Nothbohm writes, “you run the danger of setting up expectations that may be too low.” The reality? “Neither you nor I yet know what I may be capable of.”

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I’m Raising My 3 Kids Overseas and It’s Not Always Easy

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Education Images—UIG via Getty Images Amsterdam, Netherlands

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is

It was a straightforward plan: take our 3- and 1-year-old to live in Europe, stay for a year, maybe two, and then return in time for the eldest to start school.

Six years later, we’re still here and have added a Dutch-born daughter into the mix.

Raising kids in a foreign country has been a fantastic adventure. It has stretched us out of our comfort zone, exposed us to new cultures and ways of living and has changed the way we view the world. On some days it has also been bloody hard work.

Picking up the new traditions of our adopted home has been a highlight of moving to the Netherlands. We’ve met Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa) and left our shoes in front of the fireplace with carrots for his horse Amerigo, waking up to find them packed with treats. We’ve draped ourselves in orange to join the neighborhood’s King’s Day celebrations and bought a three-wheeled box bike (bakfiets), loading it up daily with kids, school bags and shopping. The kids can hold a whole herring by the tail and expertly devour it. We’ve replaced ketchup with mayonnaise when ordering fries and have strong convictions about where the best pancakes can be found.

The real business of integrating into a nonnative English speaking culture however has not gone so smoothly. As a devout monolinguist (not by choice, but doomed by genetics), it blew my mind how quickly my kids picked up a second language. Three months at a Dutch school and they were rolling their r’s and doing all sorts of weird guttural stuff from the depths of their throats. They can chat with shopkeepers, make friends in the playground and, when feeling generous, even translate for me.

Learning Dutch has been great for the kids’ integration and is a fun party trick when we visit home, but it has permanently jeopardized my street cred with them. I am now the mom who doesn’t understand what her kids are saying, or the mom who sounds like an idiot when practicing her butchered Dutch. My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is.

I try to convince my daughters that while my Dutch may be scrappy, at least my English is pretty good. But this holds little weight when we are surrounded by the most gifted linguists in Europe, with most Dutch people fluent in at least three languages.

A year after arriving, we moved into our sparsely furnished new home and I headed out to Ikea to rectify the situation with some Swedish DIY. Desperate for an hour of uninterrupted shopping, I set out to convince the woman in charge of the child-care facilities that my youngest was in fact 3 years old, the minimum age for admission. Meanwhile, my eldest was babbling away to her in Dutch.

The Ikea woman was getting increasingly irritated as I maintained that my daughter was three (“drie! drie!”) and she kept insisting she was two (“twee! twee!”). At last, thoroughly fed up, she pointed to my very chatty 5-year-old and announced, “Your daughter is telling me that her sister is 2.” Exposed by a 5-year-old. Ouch.

As a parent, I’m constantly striving to instill in my children a sense of belonging and self-confidence, which is tricky when you stand out and are acutely aware of it. I suspect that no one is paying as much attention to the foreigner as I think they are, yet I carry around the weight of feeling conspicuous whenever I open my mouth.

If I’m at the supermarket and I’ve forgotten my purse, I’m the English person who’s holding up the line (Americans, Canadians, Australians: we are all English people here). The last thing you want is for your kids to be aware of your discomfort, so living here as an outsider has been a huge learning curve in faking it, putting your shoulders back and getting on with it.

Some days I entertain myself with seeing how long I can go without drawing attention to my outsider status, but the Anglo giveaways are everywhere, even before I open my mouth. I may join in the peak-hour bike traffic to take the kids to school, but my kids are one of the very few wearing helmets. And when I get to school I’m the 5-ft. 5-in.brunette standing on my tiptoes trying to catch a glimpse of the class performance amongst the ridiculously tall Dutch parents and their golden locks.

The rationale behind choosing a Dutch school over the many international schools, apart from the language bonus, was to help the kids integrate into Dutch society. And it seems to have worked. They know the dance moves to the Dutch pop songs, have picked up the adorable Dutch sign for tasty (a sideward wave of their hand by their cheek while saying “lekker”) and request chocolate sprinkles in their sandwiches. At the same time they are in an environment where they will always be different.

The jury’s still out, but I suspect I’ve done the right thing by them. I may not be able to read in class or help with homework, but they feel part of the community around them and can switch between the local and expat worlds without missing a beat. This sense of belonging no matter where they are is something I hope they will always carry with them.

Out of the blue, my middle daughter recently announced, “We may not be the most well-behaved kids, mom, but I think we’re the most interesting.” I quickly agreed with the first half of the sentiment and she went on to explain, “All the kids in my class are from the Netherlands, but we’re from Australia and that makes us interesting.”

That may or may not be true, but I certainly like her view of the world.

Greener is an Australian writer living in the Netherlands. She wrote this article for xoJane.

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

I Am About to Become a Stay-at-Home Parent and I’m Terrified

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I’ve had a career I love for the past decade, but I’m giving it up to stay home with my kids

xojane

I am about to become a stay-at-home parent. I’m not going to write about the mommy wars, whether staying home is a “luxury,” the state of maternity/paternity leave in this country, etc. You guys are all smart and have read all those articles. This is just about how I feel about leaving the workforce after over a decade in my career.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been working with people with developmental disabilities. I started out in college working at a preschool for kids with special needs. I had 8 little boys in my classroom and I loved them all.

After that, I worked my way through jobs at an autism clinic, a feeding disorders clinic (not to be confused with eating disorders), a day program for adults, and most recently, as a case manager for people receiving various services.

I’ve really enjoyed my career. I’ve learned a lot and become a fierce advocate for a person’s right to self-determination. I’ve learned just how hard it is for people to access needed services. I’ve met amazing people doing amazing things. And I have been proud of my career. I like the answer I’ve been able to give to the question “What do you do for a living?”

But that’s all about to change.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, my husband Mike and I assumed we’d both work and send her to daycare. We couldn’t comfortably afford a daycare center, so we found an unlicensed neighbor-of-a-friend who watched a couple of other kids. I was a little uneasy about it, but figured it would be fine.

After Amelia was born, I completely changed my mind. I had some PPD going on, exacerbated by my body’s inability to make breast milk (that’s another whole article) and was in agony about going back to work.

Mike and I sat down and really looked at our finances. We realized that we would be spending all but $500 per month of his income on day care. So he got a job bartending a few nights a week and quit his old job exactly 2 weeks before my leave ended. I went back to work, supporting my husband and our tiny baby. Around this time, Mike also went back to school to finally finish the degree he had started in his early 20s.

But it never felt right.

I hated juggling work and parenting. Some people love it and are great at it. I’m just not one of those people. Mike is an amazing stay-at-home parent, but he’s a total extrovert and starts going a little loopy on days he can’t leave the house. I started resenting my job for taking me away from my baby, even if it was paying all our bills.

I had never considered being a stay-at-home parent before but once Amelia was born, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew the timing wasn’t right, though. It wasn’t fair for me to ask Mike to work full time and go to school full time. My job had the benefits and better pay. At the time, Mike staying home made the most sense. It wasn’t awful, and it served us well for a couple years.

Fast forward two years and we have another daughter, Violet, and Mike has finished school. We’re about to switch roles. He’s going to enter the workforce and I’m going to stay home with the girls.

This is not a purely financial decision. I want to do this. I’ve been begging to do this since I first laid eyes on Amelia. I’ve cried and agonized about this. And now that I’m getting what I want, I am terrified.

What if I screw this up? What if this is a giant mistake? What if I regret this decision? Mike has set the stay-at-home parenting bar pretty high — what if I can’t reach it? What if the other stay-at-home parents don’t like me?

A big part of my identity has always been my self-sufficiency and independence. I’m worried that I’m going to lose a chunk of that by not having my own income. I have always supported other women in doing what is right for their families, and this is what is right for my family right now. But I still find myself justifying it.

There are things about being a working parent I will really miss. There are definitely mornings when both girls are screaming that I am thankful I can retreat to the semi-quiet of my office. I don’t have to share my lunch. There are no bodily fluids to clean up. If I need to, I can put on headphones and space out for 5 minutes without worrying that someone will run out the door, flush something down the toilet, stab their baby sister with a pen, swan dive off the sofa onto the dog, etc.

But I want my daughters to learn that doing what is right looks different for every family. I want them to see that I have supported our family both by working and by staying home. I want them to know that sometimes getting what you want takes years of planning and work. That it’s okay to change your mind about how you see yourself and what you want.

Mostly I just want them to be happy. And I want Mike to be happy. And I want to be happy. Hopefully this is a way to make that happen. Wish us luck!

Kate Ferris wrote this article for xoJane.

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

How to Create the Ultimate Easter Basket

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You can replace sugar-coated treats with stickers and cars to keep things much healthier

The Base

1. Replace the typical Easter basket with a small canvas storage container, so “the basket is actually functional and useful after the hunt,” says Joy Cho, founder of Oh Joy. Create a special handle by connecting colored ribbons to the container.

2. Pile all the goodies in a Kanken mini backpack, says Camille Styles, founder of Camille Styles Blog and author of Camille Styles Entertaining. It may seem a bit pricey, but “I love the idea of giving kids their Easter goodies in something they can use all year long,” she says.

3. Stuff a clear paint can full of craft supplies like pom-poms, paint, and pipe cleaners. It’s a fun, unique idea that’s perfect for a little artist, says Sherry Petersik, Richmond-based blogger and author of Young House Love.

4. Create an atypical Easter basket for a young gourmand: Fill a kid-sized chef hat with an apron, wooden play food, and age-appropriate kitchen items like cookie cutters, says Petersik.

The Fillers

1. Instead of plastic grass, fill your Easter basket with cotton balls. “This Easter basket filler is about as inexpensive as it gets,” says Styles. “Pull each ball apart until it gets wispy for a fun Peter Cottontail-inspired Easter basket.”

2. “Use seeded handmade paper cut into strips,” says Cho. “That way, afterwards, the kids can help you plant the seeds in your backyard or in a window pot and see a part of their Easter basket come to life!” Here’s how to make your own seed paper with recycled scrap paper you have lying around the house (or, save time by purchasing pre-made seed paper)!

Egg Alternatives

1. A fun alternative to the traditional way of coloring Easter eggs is to write messages and designs with a white crayon on the egg, and wait until after the kids find their Easter baskets to color them, says Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of Ceci New York. Set up a table with prepared egg dye, so kids can dunk their eggs in to reveal hidden messages from the Easter Bunny.

2. “If you’re doing an egg hunt, larger seeds (like bean seeds—which grow quickly and easily) are fun to hide inside plastic eggs,” says Sarah Copeland, Real Simple Food Director and creator of the Edible Living blog. Her family calls them “magic beans,” like in Jack and the Beanstalk, to help get the kids excited. Plant the seeds as a family, and keep track of the plant’s progress throughout the spring.

3. For an edible alternative to eggs, use oval egg-shaped donut holes (make your own with a special baking pan, like this one) glazed in natural egg colors like robin’s egg blue, white glaze, or light milk chocolate glaze, says Peter Callahan, creative director of Peter Callahan Catering. You can nestle the donuts in a basket, wooden crate, or even on top of some wheat grass.

The Goodies

1. A favorite inedible idea of Joanna Goddard’s, creator of A Cup of Jo, is a Tattly temporary tattoo. The kids will love applying and showing off their “ink” and parents will love the fact that they wash off with just a little soap and water.

2. A fun, interactive book like Pat the Bunny or a unique wooden toy make the perfect basket fillers for a little one, says Tara Mandy, publisher of Stroller Traffic.

3. “Fill your baskets with miniature animals, bouncy balls, stickers, cars, and hair accessories,” says Johnson. “These treats will surely up the fun and is much healthier than filling [the kids] up with sugar-coated treats all day!”

4. Fill your kids’ basket with rolls of colored washi tape. “Kids love tape. And parents love tape that kids can use that doesn’t permanently stick to anything,” says Cho.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary News Events

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"It can be scarier not to talk about them.”

We all want to protect our kids from the hard truths of life. Nobody wants to explain to innocent, carefree minds the details of what has happened in Nepal, how many children died or were left orphaned, or how slow or hard it is to get help.

But if our kids don’t learn to face bad news eventually, they can’t thrive. So how does a parent walk that line?

Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist on the faculty of Harvard’s School of Education, and the author of The Parents We Mean To Be, says what a lot of parents already know: there’s no easy answer.

But that makes it even more important to talk with kids about tough realities, Weissbourd says. “Kids are thinking about these things anyway. They’re seeing things on the news, and overhearing the things adults are saying. So it can be scarier not to talk about them.”

And every kid is different, Weissbourd says: they “vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability.” With his own kids, Weissbourd shared tough truths based on “who they are, and what I felt they could emotionally manage.”

Still, there are some rules of thumb parents can follow.

At elementary age, fairy tales that may seem grim to parents actually work for kids because, Weissbourd says, “they’re trying to get some mastery over those really deep fears.” But kids that age are also concrete thinkers. So it’s good to start with concrete answers. And it’s all right not to have all the answers. According to Weissbourd, the real goal is just to have the conversation.

By the time kids reach middle school, they’ll have seen a lot of troubling things for themselves. But “sometimes they understand much more and sometimes much less than we think,” Weissbourd says. So it’s important at this stage for parents to listen. Hearing what kids are wrestling with, and how they’re trying to make sense of it, is key.

By high school, parents can begin to explore the deeper questions with kids, looking not just at immediate problems, but at the underlying reasons for them–and what they might be able to do to make a difference. According to Weissbourd, research shows that people deal best with problems when they “convert passivity into activity.”

So that’s actually the most powerful response to tough realities at any age, Weissbourd says: finding something we can do to make a difference.

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