MONEY Family

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

Santa showing fan of $100 bills
Ivan Bliznetsov—Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

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

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

 

TIME Family

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

Writing letter
Getty Images

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

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

To whom it may concern:

Congratulations on your new organ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is meant to be sweet. Find your bliss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Varner is a writer living in Canada.

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

TIME Family

How to Take Risks as a Parent

Reminder notes on parent's notebook
Getty Images

4 steps to help you make risky decisions when you have a family

LITG

This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Clearly outline your financials

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

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

2. Weigh in additional pros and cons

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

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

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

3. Set a goal.

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

4. Iterate.

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

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

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

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

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

MONEY consumer psychology

5 Reasons Why You Give Such Awful Presents

cupcake in a ring box
Tooga—Getty Images

If it's the thought that counts when it comes to giving terrific presents, then what exactly are horrible gift-givers thinking?

We’ve all suffered through that awkward silence at least once, the one that comes right after someone opens the holiday gift that you selected—and that’s somehow not quite right. In fact, it’s a horrible gift. It’s inappropriate, thoughtless, silly, or otherwise ill-considered.

Depending on the manners of the recipient, the reaction to the presentation of such a gift might be a forced squeal of delight, an overly broad, stiff smile, or a quick, flat “thank you” tinged with a touch of confusion. Or something far worse. But there’s no getting around the fact that, as far as presents go, this one has been deemed pretty awful.

How could this have happened, you wonder? You’re usually such a thoughtful gift-giver. It’s not that you don’t like the recipient, nor that you were trying to make a statement or cheap out—among the disturbing psychological motivations for presents that wind up on the Worst Gifts Ever Awards list that I’ve chronicled in previous years. Still, even the most seasoned, well-intentioned shoppers make mistakes. After talking with scores of recipients about why some gifts are awful, a handful of explanations surfaced repeatedly.

So that you can avoid developing a reputation as a bad gift-giver, here are the top five reasons why regrettable presents are purchased.

1. The “This Will Make a Nice Gift” Gift

Leslie purchased three elegant carving sets (the kind you use to carve a roast or turkey) at an online auction because she thought they “would make nice gifts” for someone. “They were like 80% off, and I guess I wasn’t thinking about who exactly they would make nice gifts for because everyone I gave them to seemed confused,” she recalled. “In retrospect they were right. I wasn’t thinking about the person I’d be giving them to, just that they were beautiful—and that I could give an expensive sort of gift for not much money.”

If you find yourself considering a purchase but you don’t have a recipient in mind, think about Leslie. Then think again and reconsider making the purchase. The best gifts are purchased with a specific recipient in mind. Very rarely does it work out that someone buys a gift and later finds the perfect person to give it to.

2. The “How Old is He Again?” Gift

Many people see relatives only during the holidays, or even less frequently than that. It’s easy to think of people as who they were the last time we saw them, rather than realize who they are right now. Which is basically Maryanne’s explanation for why she gave her 14-year-old step-niece sparkly barrettes and a butterfly wand for Christmas last year. “I was shocked when I saw her, she was so grown-up all of a sudden!” Maryanne said. “Needless to say, she hated the little girl gifts.”

This kind of mistake can be made not just because of age-related snafus, but also by givers failing to notice changes in life stages, looks, interests, and hobbies. A man named Joe told me that he finds it odd—and a bit annoying—that he still gets a tie every year from one of his sons even though he’s been retired for years: “I’ve got a closet full of ties and it no place to wear them.”

3. The “All Hat, No Cattle” Gift (and Vice Versa)

Wrapping makes a statement. For some reason, Janine decided to use an old Tiffany box to hold an ornament she’d purchased for her sister. “You should have seen her face, actually both of them,” Janine remembered. “The one she had when she saw the Tiffany box—all excited. And then the one she had when she opened the box—not good.”

I think the sister would have liked the ornament a lot more if the blue box presentation didn’t make her think it was going to be something else. On the other hand, Ray slipped a diamond ring in the bowl of a mixer, wrapped the whole thing up and gave it to his wife for Christmas. “She was so mad about that mixer, she’d told me not to get her any more cooking equipment, and then she was embarrassed about getting mad when she saw the ring. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ray said. “It really wasn’t the joyful opening I’d hoped it would be.”

The solution isn’t to skip the wrapping and creativity. It’s to be aware of managing expectations to maximize the pleasure of the gift. And remember surprises aren’t necessarily good.

4. The “Procrastinator’s Special” Gift

Procrastinators usually do so for one of two reasons: They’re mulling among two or more options and it’s taking a while; or they are really unclear on what to do, where to go and how to pick so they drag their feet, knowing that if they make a mistake they can blame it on time constraints. Procrastinators can make inspired gift choices — but the odds are against them.

Pamela is married to a procrastinator. “My husband got me really fabulous shoes, but in the wrong size with a note saying that I should exchange them for the right size,” she said. “When I tried to exchange them were sold out, which was also the case when he bought them — probably on Christmas Eve.”

5. The “The Impulsively Purchased Extravagance” Gift

When do we purchase impulsively? When we’re wowed. In today’s marketplace, dominated as it is with dramatic Black Friday discounts and big markdowns throughout the holidays, that “wow” is more likely to come after we see a special price rather than a special product. Shoppers can easily get blindsided by a tempting price, not to mention the idea that they’ll be able to give a seemingly extravagant gift that’s still within their budget.

That’s the gist of how Megan ended up giving her mother a dry-clean-only cashmere robe for Christmas last year. “It was elegant, and even though it was almost twice as expensive as the plush robe she’d asked for, I was thrilled to give it to her. Until I saw her face,” said Megan. “She had this ‘Did I raise a crazy daughter?’ look on her face, and in that instant I realized what a mistake I’d made. Unfortunately, I got it at an outlet mall. I couldn’t return it so it lives on to remind me to stick with the list.”

Which is good advice for everyone.

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY online shopping

How to Stop Facebook from Ruining Your Holiday Gift Surprises

Wrapped bicycle
Michael Blann—Getty Images

Parents who shop online—so all parents, basically—need to know how easy it is for kids to find out what they're getting for the holidays.

Every week, it seems, there’s a new scandal about email passwords being stolen or retail customers’ data being hacked by stealthy cyber criminals. Yet such incidents represent only a teeny-tiny slice of how our online behavior is spied upon and used. In the vast majority of cases, our data is tracked and used in entirely legal ways by search engines, social media, retailers, and advertisers. Legal or not, the repercussions of such tracking—and the ads that inevitably follow—can feel like an ongoing privacy violation.

What’s more, targeted ads come with the potential of revealing secrets about what people have been searching, browsing, and buying online. While the results are generally not nearly as devastating as identity theft, they can create tense situations. In probably the most notorious example, a father found out his high school daughter was pregnant only after Target had sent her coupons for cribs and other baby products—offers that were based on her shopping history.

This time of year, the relentless stream of targeted (also known as “interest-based” or “retargeted”) ads that pop up in banners or on the side of web pages also come with the potential of ruining a holiday gift surprise. Say a mom does some browsing online for presents for her son. Soon thereafter, the items she viewed start showing up in ads on the device that was used, along with ads “inspired” by her browsing history.” If and when the would-be recipient hops on the same device, he’ll see all of those ads. Without much sleuthing, he’ll be clued in about what mom was shopping for, and he’ll have a good idea to expect the new Nike high-tops, game console, or whatever come December 25. So much for the big reveal.

It’s unclear how often this scenario plays out, but it’s a possibility some parents worry about. “I guess you have to pick btw letting your kids use the computer and shopping online, since custom ads follow you and spoil gift surprises,” one mom tweeted recently. Last year the founder of Marketing Land wrote at length about his wife’s frustrated attempts to stop banner ads from Macy’s, ThinkGeek, and other retailers she shopped from popping up on the computer she often shared with her kids.

It’s not just parents who worry about blown surprises. One Reddit user recently posted, coyly and excitedly, that her longtime boyfriend had been getting engagement ring ads in his Facebook feed. Surely, she felt, this was an indication that he was getting ready to pop the question. One commenter followed up with a story about a friend whose boyfriend also was flooded with engagement ring ads before he proposed. Then, as soon as she changed her status to “engaged,” she was slammed with weight loss ads offering to provide assistance “fitting into your dress.” Naturally, the baby-related ads followed after the wedding took place.

“You’re stalked with ads related to what you’ve been shopping for all the time,” says Bruce Schneier, an internationally renowned computer security expert and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Security. Nonetheless, Schneier thinks it’s probably “a rare occurrence” for people to correctly deduce what they’ll be getting as holiday gifts based on the ads they see on a shared computer. “When a kid sees an ad for an Xbox, he’s probably just going to think I want an Xbox, not Mom got me an Xbox.”

For that matter, the presence of these ads is no indication of whether anything was actually purchased. As an Al Jazeera column about “curated” and “retargeted” ads noted, consumers can be “stalked by socks” and other items they browsed while shopping online regardless of whether or not they purchased the goods, or whether they searched for such goods randomly, as a goof, or out of genuine interest. “Personalized ads can be right, but they’re often wrong” in terms of being truly appealing to the right set of eyes, Schneier says.

Most e-retailers offer consumers the right to opt out of being subjected to tracking and retargeted ads, but Schneier thinks doing so is a waste of time. Not only are the processes for opting out convoluted and filled with loopholes, there are so many digitized eyeballs monitoring your online activity that successfully negating them one at a time is virtually impossible.

It’s much better and more effective, he says, to install a tool such as Adblock Plus (which blocks some or all ads according to filters checked by the user), Privacy Badger (which automatically blocks trackers or ads that it deems to violate “the principle of user consent”), or some combination of several blockers. Others recommend shopping online in private browsing mode; when using Google Chrome Incognito, for instance, the browser doesn’t save a record of what sites have been visited, and therefore (theoretically) there should later be no retargeted ads that surface as a result.

If you’re dealing with an especially stubborn child or spouse who has a history of noticing what online ads foretell in terms of holiday gifts, you might want to try a different strategy: Spend some time here and there clicking on all sorts of items haphazardly, or purposely browse for things you know he’d absolutely hate to receive on Christmas. The resulting collection of retargeted ads is likely to be so random, nonsensical, and disappointing that it’ll throw him off the trail and he’ll have no clue what you actually bought.

As a bonus, you’ll simultaneously be messing with the retailers, browsers, and other bots that generate these annoying ads in the first place.

MORE:
What Should I Do If I’ve Been the Victim of a Data Breach?

TIME Family

Divorce Rates Are Falling—But Marriage Is Still on the Rocks

Studio shot of bride and groom figurines
Antonio M. Rosario—Getty Images

Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. She is the author of four books, including Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age and Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Is Turning Men Into Boys.

Hand-wringing is an appropriate response to the state of marriage today.

Tuesday’s New York Times’s Upshot section featured an article by Claire Cain Miller entitled “The Divorce Surge is Over, but the Myth Lives On.” The piece got a good deal of attention, but Miller manages to reinforce some myths of her own.

That’s not to say the piece is wrong in its basic facts. The divorce surge is over. (Or most people believe it is: this paper offers an alternate take.) In truth, the rise in divorce has been over for 20 years. Divorce rates peaked in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president and the Internet was only a mite in the eye of wierdos hanging out in California garages. In fact, this “news” may well be older than many of its readers who were probably not even been born when divorce rates were already on the downswing.

It’s also the case that people remain strangely attached to the idea that half of all marriages end in divorce despite numerous stories over the years showing otherwise. Miller links to one of those stories—from 2005, that is, nine years ago. I myself published a book that took stock of the trends in 2006. Family scholars have talked about the turn-around in divorce rates repeatedly. Yet the myth lives on. If you want proof of that, check out the media reaction to the Times piece: a “fascinating story” in the words of the Clarion Ledger; “surprisingly optimistic numbers,” marveled the Huffintgton Post.

So why has this particular myth been so difficult to extract from the hive mind? Why are people so (ahem) wedded to an idea that is not only untrue but has been for almost a generation? Two reasons. The first will no doubt sound clichéd: Hollywood. In la-la land divorce is about as common as Botox. When beautiful, famous people split up, fan magazines, entertainment networks, and social media sites spring into action, making sure we see albums of photos of crying, stoic, rehabbed, and then newly partnered, actors and actresses claiming they’ve never been happier. Social psychologists refer to a cognitive bias they call the “availability heuristic.” Striking events—plane crashes, Ebola cases, the Kardashians—make the weird seem more commonplace than it is precisely because the brain is so impressed by it. Of course, the availability heuristic gets some help from the television shows and movies these same famous people write, star in, and produce about marital crackups that often bear a striking resemblance to their own.

The second reason the myth lives on is not only more troubling but exemplified by the Times article that seeks to dismantle it. The younger generation, whether they know divorce is declining or not, believes that marriage is on the rocks. From their vantage point, they’re right. While fewer American adults have been divorcing over the past decades, a growing number of people in their own cohort have grown up apart from one parent, almost always their fathers.

How can divorce be declining but at the same time more children growing up with single parents? Because—and this is the story that Miller underplays—so many parents never marry in the first place. A little history is in order here: When divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1970s, American were not simply suddenly looking at their spouses and deciding en masse that they couldn’t take it anymore. They were reacting to a changing understanding about what marriage meant. Instead of an arrangement largely centered around providing for and rearing the next generation, it was becoming an adult-centric union based on love and shared happiness, which as an upper middle class grew in size, became closely linked to granite countered kitchens, European and spa vacations, and weddings with 200 guests.

One big reason that divorce rates began to fall after 1980 was that people, almost always those with less education and less income for the required accouterments of marriage, took the logic of the divorce revolution and ran with it. If marriage and childbearing were no longer tightly linked but rather discreet—even unrelated—life events, and if they were not earning enough to enjoy the middle class status objects enjoyed by their more educated peers, then why marry at all? Why not just have kids without getting married? While college educated women continued to demand a ring before they became mothers, the percentage of poor women having kids outside of marriage was already on the rise; now working class women, many of them temporarily cohabiting with their child’s father, also bypassed the chapel on the way to the maternity ward. In his forthcoming book Labor’s Loves Lost, Andrew Cherlin quotes one young unmarried father this way: “You need way better reasons than having a kid to get married.”

By missing this larger picture, Miller ends up adding single parents—who after all have a null chance of divorce—to good news numbers about marital stability. Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles from the Population Center at the University of Minnesota try to take into account the new reality in a recent paper. Their findings are sobering: “because cohabitation makes up a rapidly growing percentage of all unions,” they write, it has “an increasing impact on overall union instability.” And by accepting that marriage and children are unrelated, she can ignore the biggest problem with this rising instability. Experts have shown us in a virtual library of research papers that the children of single parents are at greater risk of everything from poverty to school failure to imprisonment. Their large numbers will almost surely help perpetuate inequality, poverty, and immobility.

“Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time,” Miller writes. As it happens, hand-wringing is an appropriate response to the state of marriage today.

That is, for anyone concerned about inequality and America’s lower income children.

 

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

Tips on How to Talk to Your Kids About Ferguson

A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on Nov. 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Experts suggest that it's important to get the conversation going

We’d all love for our kids to be able to get along with all kinds of people. And school curricula are full of chatter about how to celebrate our diversity.

But the fact is, people from different backgrounds don’t always see eye to eye. And sometimes those tensions can raise deep questions for kids, like the nationwide protests that have erupted over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. These stories may be especially disturbing for kids when they involve children near their age, like Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin.

Race is such a tough topic that it can be tempting to avoid, especially for white families, who are three times less likely to discuss race than families of color, according to a recent study by the Journal of Marriage and Family. But race is an important subject for every family to address. Research suggests that kids who talk openly about race in their families are less prejudiced and that kids who make friends from different backgrounds have better social skills.

So how can we talk with our kids, not just about diversity, but about the tensions our differences can create?

Elementary School: Young children may be frightened by the images they see on the news, Cynthia Rogers, an instructor in child psychology at Washington University in St. Louis has observed. It’s important to let them share these feelings, and also to assure them that they are safe. But even at a very young age, studies have shown, kids already notice the differences between themselves and others. So, experts like Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology at Berkley, recommend that parents talk about difference. The central message to communicate: it’s okay to be different. In fact, our differences are something to explore and celebrate.

Middle School: Just as with anything else, kids learn best about race by actual experience, not lectures. As kids form friendships in middle school, encourage them to connect with kids from different backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to talk about those differences with your kids. And be open to the fact that your family isn’t “normal” to everyone else. In fact, when we connect with families from different backgrounds, we may learn just as much about how different we seem to them.

High School: At this age, students will be aware of big events like Ferguson, and have their own opinions, Marcia Chatelain, a Georgetown University professor with a focus on African-American history has noted. So parents can encourage high school students to share those thoughts and feelings. And also encourage them to learn about the history of race and civil rights, so that their understanding can grow as they absorb new perspectives.

The bottom line on talking about race with kids: just talk. We don’t have to have all the right answers for our kids to grow up with less prejudice. We just have to start the conversation. And if you want to go a bit deeper on how to use the events in Ferguson as a springboard for more discussion, a bunch of academics have put together some reading lists on Twitter under the hashtag #fergusoncurriculum

This post originally appeared in the T/Parents newsletter. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.

TIME Sports

Football Head Impacts Can Cause Brain Changes Even Without Concussion

Tetra Images - Erik Isakson—Getty Images/Brand X

New study looks at high school athletes

As the world mourns the loss of Ohio State University football player Kosta Karageorge, who was found dead in an apparent suicide on Nov. 30, concerns about the long term effects of head injuries sustained by footballers continue to mount. A day after Karageorge’s death, a study has been released that suggests sports-related head impacts can cause changes in the brain even when there are no outward signs of a concussion.

In fact, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., say some high school football players in the study exhibited measurable brain changes after a single season of play, even in the absence of concussion.

The Wake Forest team, lead by Dr. Christopher Whitlow, focused on youth players, a group that until now had been widely overlooked in the research into the effects of the repetitive head impacts associated with a typical season of football. “For every one NFL player, there are 2,000 youth players. That’s close to four million youth players and the vast majority of research on impact-related brain injuries has been on the college and professional level,” says Dr. Whitlow, noting that two-thirds of head impacts occur in practice sessions, not games.

Read More: High School Football Player Dies After Injury

In the first-of-its-kind study, the researchers hooked up 24 high school football players between the ages of 16 and 18 with helmet-mounted sensors to assess the frequency and severity of helmet impacts and then sent them out to play ball. As the players hit the field, the sensors allowed the researchers to monitor the severity of players’ head impacts. The team collected data from the helmets before and after every game and the high school students also underwent pre- and post-season diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. “We looked at both structural and functional neuro-imaging and evaluated the players’ neuro-cognitive function,” he says.

“We found some changes in the brain that are concerning,” said Dr. Whitlow. “They are concerning because kids with more impacts had more changes and the kids with fewer impacts had fewer changes.”

While none of the football players were concussed during the season, the researchers found that there were microstructural changes in all of the players’ brains, especially in those players who were deemed “heavy hitters.” That direct correlation between game-related hits and changes in the brain is not exactly surprising, but may be unsettling for parents of youth football players.

Read More: The Tragic Risks of American Football

Not that Dr. Whitlow wants people to pull their kids from the peewee leagues or ban high school football just yet. “The high school athletes weren’t experiencing any of the classic symptoms of concussion—dizziness, nausea or double vision,” he says. “While the changes in the brains are concerning, because there were no symptoms of concussions, we don’t yet know how important these changes are.”

Dr. Whitlow sees the results of the study as only the first step in identifying a potential problem with allowing youth players to continue to play ball. He and his team want to determine whether these changes in the brain are permanent or transient and whether they are associated with subtle changes in neuro-cognitive functions. “Once we can identify risks, we can intervene to reduce those risks,” he says. Interventions could include improvements in technology and helmet safety, identifying maneuvers that could be particularly dangerous, making changes in the diagnoses of head injuries and identifying subtle changes that could be harmful.

So what’s a parent to do? Dr. Whitlow suggests they get involved in their kids’ practices. “You have to put these risks in the context of the health-related benefits of playing sports. The take home message is that parents need to use common sense. The best thing for parents to do is know what is going on on the field, know the symptoms of concussions, get to know the coaches, find out if there is a trainer on the field who can diagnose concussions.” He also directed parents to SaveInjuredKids.org for ideas on how to reduce head injuries and to learn to identify the signs of concussion.

“Football is the great American pastime,” said Dr. Whitlow. “I think it’s going to be around for another hundred years and what we’re trying to do is make it safer.”

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TIME Family

Breakfast: Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Bob Thomas;Getty Images

New study suggests morning meal is no academic cure-all

Breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day, especially for elementary school students. Everyone from parents, to teachers, to cereal manufacturers have touted the importance of a nutritional morning meal, but is there evidence to back the positive effect of breakfast on academic performance? A recent study has somewhat muddied the waters on this issue.

A 2005 study by Tufts University researchers found that elementary school children who ate common breakfast foods (oatmeal and cereal) once a day for three consecutive weeks scored better on a battery of cognitive tests—particularly on measures of short term memory, spatial memory and auditory attention. But a study out on Nov. 24, also from Tufts, finds that students enrolled in Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) programs did not obtain higher math and reading standardized test scores than students in non-BIC schools.

Like the national School Breakfast Program (which provides free or low-cost breakfast to children before the start of the school day), Breakfast in the Classroom meals are available to all students regardless of income level. However, BIC is served in the classroom after the opening bell—ensuring that children enjoy a well-balanced meal without having to wake up early and get to school in time for SBP. Students in 18 states across the nation have had the benefit of a free in-classroom breakfast with their peers thanks to BIC, a huge feat considering that millions of children live in households where a healthy breakfast isn’t an option. But while the immediate nutritional value of Breakfast in the Classroom is apparent, research is ongoing as to how the program affects academic achievement.

In order to ascertain whether students in BIC programs performed better academically, Tufts researchers looked at 446 public elementary schools in urban areas that served low income minority students—189 of which did not participate in BIC during the 2012-2013 school year, and 257 of which did. While BIC schools demonstrated increased overall attendance, there was no notable difference in academic achievement between BIC and non-BIC schools—specifically regarding standardized tests in math and reading.

The results are curious, because the increased attendance at BIC schools presumably means that more students are getting more instruction on important coursework, yet the scores didn’t point to better results. It’s possible that breakfast programs aren’t the solution to narrowing the achievement gap between children whose families face poverty and those who don’t, as educators were hoping.

Tufts researchers, however, insist that the study’s failure to duplicate previous findings that breakfast increases academic performance shouldn’t necessarily cause parents to doubt the benefits of BIC —nor the importance of a healthy breakfast in general.

“These findings should not be interpreted as a definitive conclusion on whether Breakfast in the Classroom affects achievement,” says study author and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy research associate Stephanie Anzman-Frasca.”There are a number of potential explanations for the lack of differences in standardized test scores across schools with and without Breakfast in the Classroom.”

One of those explanations might be that schools often encourage parents to feed kids breakfast on test days, so students who weren’t in the program may have arrived well fed anyway. There’s also the question of whether standardized tests are an appropriate measure for academic achievement. “Given the mixed findings across studies linking school breakfast and academics, it is important to continue to conduct research in this area, with longer-term follow-ups and multiple measures of academic outcomes, before drawing definitive conclusions,” adds Anzman Frasca.

Rather than abandoning the programs, she’s calling for more research. “Collecting multiple measures of academic performance, such as test scores as well as classroom behavior and attention, would be a good way to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Breakfast in the Classroom’s impacts as research in this area continues.”

TIME Parenting

Problems With Breastfeeding Triggered My Postpartum Depression

baby and milk
Getty Images

I really felt that my inability to exclusively breastfeed my son was a complete personal failure that would affect him for the rest of his life

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I was pregnant, I was all about breastfeeding. I knew it was the best, healthiest, smartest way to feed my unborn baby. I read “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” and I was convinced that my baby and I would be naturals at it. I scoffed at the price of formula in the pharmacy. I wondered who would choose to buy it when you have perfectly good, milk-producing boobs attached to you, giving out baby food for FREE.

I planned to nurse my baby wherever I was if he or she needed to eat and I DARED anyone to say anything nasty or ignorant. I even looked up the damn laws regarding public breastfeeding in NYC and whether anyone could legally ask you to cover up. I was just so sure that breastfeeding would come so easily to us; I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that it might not work out.

Then my son was born. The blissful, drug-free birth I hoped for turned into an elective C-section when my OB demonstrated for me exactly how small the opening between my hip bones was during a painful pelvic exam. Basically, there was little chance my 8lb 13oz baby was going to come out without significant trauma to both of us.

I went past my due date with my cervix still high, closed and tight. My doctor advised that we could induce (which I was not a good candidate for given the state of my cervix) where I would go through painful, drug-induced contractions for up to three days. If my big baby didn’t come out by then, I would have to get a cesarean. Or, we could just cut to the chase (pun intended) and I could have the C-section without the three days of hell prior to it. It was a no-brainer — I scheduled the surgery for the next day.

The C-section was successful and my beautiful, healthy boy was born kicking and screaming. In fact, he gave a brilliant demonstration of how well his kidneys were functioning by peeing on the doctor seconds after he took his first breath. We did skin-to-skin contact to stimulate milk production and he latched on like a champ as soon as we hit the recovery room. He nursed contentedly and everything was going just as I hoped it would, until our first night home from the hospital.

He nursed for close to two hours before we went to bed. Being the naive first-time parents that we were, we assumed he would sleep for HOURS after eating that much. We were quickly proved wrong when he woke up screaming 20 minutes later. After diapering him, burping him, rocking him, swaddling him, and trying every other trick the nurses in the hospital taught us to soothe his cries, we realized he must be hungry. I put him to the breast and he popped off, screaming.

After trying this for close to an hour with no success, and both my husband and I nearing exhaustion, we fed him a bottle of the ready-to-feed formula gifted to us by the hospital “just in case” he had trouble nursing when we got home. He sucked it down as if he hadn’t eaten in days and slept peacefully for hours, but I lay awake guiltily crying at how I had failed my son.

Things didn’t get easier as time passed. Even if he would nurse, he would scream minutes after finishing. It was clear he wasn’t getting the nourishment he needed from me. I used a breast pump round the clock since he continued to refuse my breast but had no trouble drinking from a bottle. Every mommy-blog I read said to withhold bottle feedings so he would take the breast but it broke my heart every time I heard his hungry cries and I would give in and feed him either pumped breast milk or formula. I became totally exhausted because the only time I could pump was when he slept, going against the age-old “sleep when baby sleeps” maxim.

When I wasn’t pumping, I was poring over articles about how to increase milk supply and drinking teas designed to increase production.

Exhaustion is one of the main contributing factors to postpartum depression and before I knew it I was crying multiple times a day about my perceived failings as a mother. I felt so much guilt every time I gave him a bottle that wasn’t breast milk, but pumping doesn’t maintain a milk supply the way that a baby nursing directly from the breast does.

In addition to my guilt, I felt rejected since my son wouldn’t nurse from me. I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t master breastfeeding, which I foolishly thought would be the most natural thing in the world. The blogs stressed that I should just continue to offer the breast and pump every two hours. I felt weak when I would choose a short nap over pumping. I hated myself whenever I allowed someone else to give him a bottle so I could get a few hours of sleep.

I constantly second guessed myself and my abilities as a mother. In my darkest moments, I wondered if it was a mistake to have a baby in the first place. I wondered where I got off thinking I was capable of caring for another human being. I wept for my poor son who was stuck with a mother who was so woefully unable to give him the care he deserved. It felt like a cruel joke. I felt miserable during the time in my life that should have been the most joyful.

I saw a lactation consultant and she confirmed that my baby was only getting a fraction of the milk that he needed by nursing. My milk supply was plentiful at that time as a result of my round the clock pumping, my baby’s latch was perfect, and his sucking reflex was strong. We just couldn’t find a reason why nursing was unsuccessful.

I felt some relief that my problems with breastfeeding weren’t entirely my fault. But I couldn’t get over the idea that maybe if I just tried a little harder or read a few more articles that I could get it right. I really felt that my inability to exclusively breastfeed my son was a complete personal failure that would affect him for the rest of his life. Every time he refused the breast and I had to give him formula, I was devastated.

This went on for two weeks, although it felt much longer. I didn’t know if I would ever feel happy again. I went to my OB to have my stitches removed and when she asked me how I was feeling, I completely broke down. Somehow she convinced me that giving my son formula didn’t make me a bad mother while dabbing my tears away with gauze.

She reminded me that motherhood didn’t equal martyr-hood and that I needed to take care of myself in order to give my sweet baby the best care possible.

Once I took that to heart, and allowed myself to sleep without feeling guilty that I wasn’t pumping, I felt better within days. I felt like my pre-baby self again and for the first time since we got home from the hospital, I really enjoyed being a mom.

My son just turned three months old and he is thriving. I still pump, and I still feel guilty sometimes. But my baby is happy and healthy and I know I’m doing the very best I can, for both of us.

My copious middle of the night research on formula vs. breast milk lead to me recent studies which suggest that maybe breast milk isn’t that superior to formula after all. I know that every time I heard “breast is best,” a little piece of my heart broke that I had to give my baby less than the best.

So much of the literature on baby care completely ignores self-care for mothers. Maybe instead of pushing something that is unattainable for so many mothers, we as a society should just advocate whatever is best for baby AND mom — even if that means formula feeding.

Kaity Garcia is an executive assistant working for an international investment bank in New York.

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

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