TIME Culture

The Underwoods: A Less Perfect Union

Kevin Spacey (L) and Robin Wright (R) in the first season of Netflix's "House of Cards."
Melinda Sue Gordon/—Sony Pictures Kevin Spacey (L) and Robin Wright (R) in the first season of Netflix's "House of Cards."

In a two-party system, compromise is truly the only way forward

(Note: This contains House of Cards Season 3 spoilers.)

The third season of the award-winning drama ‘House of Cards’ once again delivers an addictive dose of intrigue and brinkmanship, but the latest 13 episodes also dissect the anatomy of a marriage, as Frank and Claire Underwood are battle-tested in new ways that would easily break lesser couples trying to survive the crucible of Washington.

The Underwood union is a central theme of ‘House of Cards,’ and is among its most compelling, as it gives us as viewers a cultural lens through which to explore the show’s broader questions about the acquisition and exercise of power. For Frank and Claire, marriage and politics are tightly intertwined; one does not exist without the other. This seemingly unlikely combination is what makes this couple’s relationship unique, but what also threatens to prove its undoing.

For my part, I engage with the thematic sway of marriage in the show from a personal perspective. The show debuted a month before my own wedding, in February 2013, and being married—even more so than living in Washington, DC constantly surrounded by the trappings of other institutions of power—has definitely informed how I experience the House of Cards. Over the past three seasons, I have gleaned what wisdom I could from the Underwoods and have seen the advantages and the pitfalls of a political approach to marriage.

Read more: Here is the power of American angst

Though they may not seem a likely pair, marriage and politics need some of the same ingredients to work. Some elements—like respect, diplomacy and pragmatism—are more readily acknowledged, while others—like strategy, bargaining and persuasion—we might be less willing to admit are necessary. And connotation matters: compromise and manipulation are two sides of the same coin, viewed from different perspectives.

Frank and Claire Underwood bring new meaning to Otto von Bismarck’s famous definition of politics as “the art of the possible.”

In Claire, Frank has his main advisor, chief strategist, and biggest champion. Her charm is deployed with world leaders and on the campaign trail, she helps him plot political moves from the safety of their home, and she bolsters his confidence in the private moments when he falters.

In Frank, Claire has found adoration, affirmation, and a partner with ambitions she helps him realize, even as she works towards her own goals. His love of his wife is apparent in the spoken and unspoken, he encourages her political aspirations – at times, at his own expense. As a unit, they work their way to the highest office in the land through unconventional (read: unscrupulous) means.

Though diabolical, the Underwoods are also devoted, loving and, in their own way, affectionate. After two seasons, the couple long managed to come off as somehow aspirational, with a twisted take on many of the ideals married couples hold dear.

Frank and Claire have reinforced the notion that marriage is something to be protected through an unbreakable code that must be adhered to at all times and costs. Chief among those previously unbroken rules: The inner circle is sacrosanct, and loyalty is paramount. Now, in the third season, seeing these sacred tenets crumble – especially after their nearly three decades of marriage and its attendant murder and mayhem – is both foreign and jarring.

This sense of loyalty has never included sexual fidelity, which is clearly a vow that has been broken by both Underwoods. But the idea of one’s spouse as their top priority without exception has been demonstrated again and again in this show. They are the keepers of each other’s secrets, and each knows the other better than anyone else. Early on, the couple makes the decision to forgo having children, choosing instead to raise their political fortunes – a difficult and rare decision. And this season, despite his misgivings, Frank appoints Claire as to the high-profile and high stakes position of U.N. ambassador, not because of her expertise, but out of love.

For their kind of closeness, caring too much about others or allowing too much influence from outside of the marriage are liabilities neither Frank nor Claire can afford. And any action at the expense of one’s spouse – as is the case this season, when Frank and Claire’s emotions cause professional and personal damage – is an unforgivable betrayal.

These rules are the foundation for the next tier of laws, important in both matrimony and politics: Control the narrative and stay on message. As important as how people relate to each other is how those on the outside looking in would describe their relationship. In the first two seasons, with their backs against the wall, Frank and Claire turn to each other, not on each other. They strategize solutions, together. And in scene after scene, they are a team, moving in unison – a formidable image, and one that creates the kind of marriage others envy and admire.

But this season, we see daylight breaking through between the Underwoods and corrupting what they’ve built. As president, Frank makes choices at odds with Claire’s thinking. Her unusual absence is notable on the re-election campaign trail. They literally invite someone else – a presidential biographer – to come in and evaluate them. He comes away assessing not Frank’s first term, but their union.

At one point during a heated argument over their competing ambitions and priorities, a disgusted Claire utters, “I can’t believe we’ve become this.”

“Become what?” Frank asks. “Like everyone else,” Claire responds.

What does it mean to be “like everyone else”? Petty. Easily affected. Needy. Not a team.

How did this happen? In part because Frank and Claire violated another political must: believe in yourself at all costs. Fear and doubt are not an option. They are the dark clouds that block otherwise reasoned focus and judgment and expose our vulnerabilities.

Key to keeping these twin liabilities at bay is the final principle: People must feel valued – which is different from feeling like equals – and be acknowledged as an essential part of the team. In Episode Six, the Underwoods apply a dual approach to negotiate the release of hostage Michael Corrigan, who is being held by the Russians for his stance on gay rights. While Frank tries to reason with Russian President Viktor Petrov, Claire attempts to coax Corrigan into a compromise to secure his release and a diplomatic victory for her husband’s administration.

In an exchange she has with Corrigan in his jail cell, we get insight into Claire’s view of marriage:

Michael Corrigan: Isn’t that what marriage is about? Accepting people’s selfishness? You, of all people, should understand –

Claire: You know nothing about marriage…

Michael Corrigan: You think it’s about sacrifice?

Claire: I think it’s about respect.

By the end of the episode, Claire has publicly disrespected Frank by disrupting his televised news conference and derailing his tenuous diplomatic deal with Petrov. Her betrayal of the law of staying on message in favor of her own feelings foreshadows her climatic divergence with Frank at the end of the season, which leaves their impenetrable façade seemingly irrevocably cracked and an audience heartbroken.

Read more: Can a radical center save the United States?

Season Three ends with a marital cliffhanger, leaving Frank and Claire’s future hanging in the balance only months after the couple lovingly renewed their vows in the South Carolina church where they were wed nearly three decades prior. We’re left to wait until next season to discover whether their marriage or Frank’s presidency will survive.

As difficult as it was for me to watch Frank and Claire unravel this season, considering marriage as politics leaves me encouraged. Both ebb and flow in cycles. Spouses, like incumbents, must sometimes work to maintain their positions. And in a two-party system, compromise is truly the only way forward.

Though the Underwoods’ marriage may have looked like matrimony’s version of American exceptionalism, they share the same flaw as all politicians: They’re human.

Errin Whack is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about culture and politics. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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

MONEY Entrepreneurs

Here’s a New Theory About Why People Become Entrepreneurs

mother and daughter shopkeepers
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Nurture beats nature when it comes to small business ambitions, according to a new study.

It’s long been known that children with entrepreneurial parents are more likely to become entrepreneurs themselves. But new research quantifies that effect—and goes a step further by suggesting why exactly that might be.

The study, published in the latest Journal of Labor Economics, found that upbringing, rather than genetics, seems to have the biggest effect on the offspring of self-started business owners. The researchers did something prior studies (which mainly focused on twins) hadn’t: They examined the career choices of thousands of Swedish children raised by either adoptive or biological parents to compare the relative effects of nature and nurture on the entrepreneurial impulse.

Adopted children, they found, were 20% more likely to become entrepreneurs if their biological parents were also entrepreneurs. But if it was their adoptive parents who were entrepreneurs, it was 45% more likely children would follow suit.

“The importance of adoptive parents is twice as large as the influence of biological parents,” wrote authors Joeri Sol and Mirjam Van Praag of the University of Amsterdam, and Matthew Lindquist of Stockholm University.

The authors controlled for the possibility that kids might just be inheriting the family business (or money to start a new business) and continued to find the same effect—which suggests that kids were simply seeing their parents as role models. That would also explain why gender had a big impact on children: Daughters in the study were most likely to become entrepreneurs if their mothers were—and sons if their fathers were.

These findings may also have implications for educators and policymakers who care about growing small businesses. The greater the effect of nurture on career choices, the authors wrote, “the larger the potential benefit of programs aimed at fostering entrepreneurship.”

The biggest takeaway for parents? If you want your kids to become start-up success stories, you should first try to become one yourself.

TIME

Michigan Woman Expecting Baby Girl Gives Birth to Boy Instead

"I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me"

Bentley Thomas Williams of Belleville, Michigan, isn’t even a month old, and he has already given his parents the surprise of a lifetime.

Back in October, a 20-weeks-pregnant Danielle Williams and her husband Kyle visited the doctor’s office for a sonogram to determine the sex of their baby, reports ABC News. The technician who performed the procedure informed them they would be welcoming a second daughter to their family in March.

So imagine the look on the couple’s faces when the doctor delivering Danielle’s baby on March 3 lifted up their newborn and announced, “It’s a boy!”

“I had been up for 24 hours and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me,” Kyle said of the reveal.

While inaccurately identifying the sex of a fetus at 20 weeks is extremely rare given today’s technology, professionals say parents should use more than an ultrasound to learn if their child is a boy or girl.

“The point of the sonogram at about 20 weeks is to check for the important stuff like brain development and the chambers of the heart,” Ob-Gyn Dr. Jennifer Ashton told ABC News. “Sex is impossible to confirm without a test like an amniocentesis that looks at chromosomes.”

Once the Williamses determined their new baby boy Bentley was healthy and not hiding any other surprises, the parents decided to have fun with the gender switch. To reveal the real sex of their baby to the boy’s grandmother, mom and dad asked grandma to change the infant’s diaper and filmed her reaction.

Baby Bentley also met his older sister Peyton, who is excited to have a brother in her life. The 2-year-old took the name planned for a (formerly) female sibling, Charlee, and gave it to her new doll instead.

Just by being Peyton’s brother, Bentley is automatically a member of Peyton Pals, the nonprofit started by the Williams family to raise awareness and funds for those with Diamond-Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a rare blood disorder.

According to Fox 2, Peyton is one of 800 people in North America with DBA and requires routine blood transfusions to stay healthy.

The entire Williams family is now back home and working on getting Bentley settled, including shopping for baby clothes that aren’t pink.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME Family

They Called Her the ‘World’s Ugliest Woman.’ It Only Made Her Stronger.

Lizzie Velasquez arrives at the premiere of "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" at Paramount Theatre on March 14, 2015 in Austin.
Michael Buckner—Getty Images for SXSW Lizzie Velasquez arrives at the premiere of "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" at Paramount Theatre on March 14, 2015 in Austin.

The experience inspired Lizzie Velasquez to appear in a new documentary

Lizzie Velasquez will never forget the day she came upon a YouTube video with 4 million views and thousands of mean comments naming her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” She was only 17 years old.

“When I saw it my whole world just felt like it crashed at that moment,” Velasquez, 26, tells PEOPLE of the experience that inspired her new documentary A Brave Heart, which premiered on Saturday at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “I thought, how in the world can I ever pick myself up from this?”

But Velasquez – who weighs just 63 lbs. due to a rare syndrome that doesn’t allow her to gain weight – did just that by becoming an anti-bullying activist and motivational speaker.

“If I ever see that person [who made the video] I would jump on them and give them the biggest hug in the world and tell them, ‘Thank you for bringing the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life,’ ” she says. “That video changed everything and it has given me the platform that I have now to be the voice for anyone who’s ever been bullied – and not just myself.”

After giving a TEDx talk that went viral, Velasquez was approached by the group Women Rising and director Sara Bordo, who asked if she could document Velasquez’s daily existence and efforts to lobby for the country’s first federal anti-bullying bill. She also gained the attention of YouTube star iJustine who is an executive producer on the film.

“I’ve met so many people who have come up to tell me their personal stories, and a lot of them express the same feelings that I have, especially reading things online,” says Austin-based Velasquez. “Hearing those stories really validates what we’re doing.”

Though her goal is for people to know that “for you to be able to do anything, you have to learn to love yourself first,” her life is not without struggles.

“I experienced bullying as early as the first day of kindergarten and there were times where I wish could escape out of my body,” says Velasquez, who is also blind in one eye.

“But I have the most incredible support system in the world,” she says. “They let me have those times when I just want to cry. But I give myself a deadline and say, today’s my sad day but tomorrow when the sun comes up it’s done.”

This article originally appeared on People.com

Read next: See 100 Years of Korean Beauty Trends In Just 90 Seconds

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Family

I Bullied Myself Into Breastfeeding

Mother holding newborn baby in arms.
Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws —Getty Images Mother holding newborn baby in arms.

Claire Howorth is the books editor at Time.

Isn’t the strident case for breastfeeding just one more way of putting women in their place—as selfless slaves to the furthering of the human race rather than members of it?

Brace ourselves, mamas. Scientists in Brazil have discovered more evidence to support the theory that the breastfed shall inherit the earth. Not only are breastfed babies supposedly more resistant to sickness, better bonded with their mothers, and less likely to die from SIDS, but now we are to believe they are going to grow up to be smarter and richer, too.

And I include my own infant daughter in “they.” Despite the fact that my daughter has a cleft lip and is undergoing a presurgical treatment that makes nursing impossible, I have exclusively breastfed her by pumping all of her milk. I’ve done it partly to give my baby all of the potential benefits, real, exaggerated and imagined. But, if I’m being honest, I’ve also done it under pressure and guilt.

Feeding your child should be the ultimate you-do-you. Instead, it’s become everyone-else-do-you-dot-dot-dot-or-else. For all the talk about evil formula companies plying us with propaganda, like so many ounces of corn syrup down a newborn’s unwitting hatch, I have only ever felt swayed — or rather, forcefully wrenched — by the other side. By breastfeeding proselytizers whose boobie-thumping sounds a lot like mom-shaming. Add yesterday’s headline to their gospel.

When we have a technological option — formula — but we are made to feel as though there shouldn’t be a choice, isn’t the strident case for breastfeeding just one more way of putting women in their place? Selfless slaves to the furthering of the human race rather than members of it? It’s not a nanny state; it’s a mommy state.

Sure, I sound a little purple, but so does all of the breastfeeding hype. If you properly mix your formula with clean water, your baby is just as likely to kick ass on the SATs, and probably inherit some of the earth him or herself, like my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss, who were all formula-fed and none the shabbier for it. To think that a woman is seduced into a feeding decision by the Willy Wonkas at Nestle or Mead Johnson gives none of us enough credit, or power.

I have had resources that many women do not: a supportive husband and family, an unusually generous paid maternity leave, guilt- and stress-free time and space to pump at work, and the intellectual background to fully understand all of my options, never mind research the hell out of them. Those things have allowed me to make the “natural” choice.

Recently, formula tempted me. My daughter is a string bean — healthy and long but lean — and I thought I would drop a couple ounces into her diet in the hopes it would help chunk her up. (One feeding fable is that formula-fed babies are bigger; breastfeeding, by the way, does not prevent obesity!) I also fantasized about giving up pumping — more time to play with the baby in the morning, a long night’s painless sleep, the ugliest of the yellow machines returned to its native hospital. Then, yesterday, I reversed course. It seemed crazy to give my daughter anything other than breast milk when I had stayed in the game for three long months, never mind she had caught a cold and suffered diaper rash — maladies breastfed babies are supposedly more likely to avoid. If I want her to be richer and smarter, I’ve gotta stick with it for nine more months. “So far as I can tell, people need to believe that breastfeeding is better precisely because it’s harder,” Amy Sullivan wrote. I may be one of those people, an overachiever who needs to be “mom enough” by Searsian standards.

So there I sit with my pump, the Jack to my Ennis, muttering, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” (Shout out here to my fellow EP’ers [Exclusive Pumpers, for the uninitiated], the overlooked underclass of breastfeeding moms who “do it with a bottle,” as I would like our spring break t-shirts to read.) I smugly tell my mom friends about my ability to feed the baby her daily intake while continuously growing my freezer stash, where I’ve obsessively, almost perversely, stockpiled slender bags of frozen milk so my baby can survive nuclear winter my return to work. The bottles of thick, hearty Similac lie in a plastic bin under her crib, shamefully out of sight but never out of mind. I tell myself I am able to feed her from my own body, and that I should be proud of this. What would people think if I had never even tried to go this route?

As Laura Kipnis writes in the excellent forthcoming book Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, “What’s with all the sentimentality about nature anyway, and the kowtowing to it, as though adhering to the ‘natural’ had some sort of ethical force… Sure, we like nature when it’s a beautiful day on the beach; less so when a tidal wave kills your family or a shark bites off your arm.” She goes on to say that technology has liberated women more than suffrage. Kipnis is specifically mulling labor and childbirth, but let’s throw formula in with C-sections as medical alternatives to whatever biology intended for those of us who are biologically incompetent. And I suppose I mean alternatives to death; if we didn’t have formula and C-sections, that’s one “choice” biology would give us. (C-sections — I had one — are a mom-shame topic for another day.)

A wise fellow mother recently told me that she refused to ever utter a self-deprecatory “I’m a bad mom.” “You know, ‘I forgot to do tummy time today — I’m a bad mom.’” “Bad moms” don’t mean it, of course. It’s just casual self-flagellation, the result of being conditioned to think that if we don’t do every last self-sacrificial thing we possibly can, even at the cost of comfort or happiness, or, God forbid, pure convenience, then we aren’t doing it right. It’s the same womp-womp tone in which I talk about introducing formula into my daughter’s diet. But you know what? To hell with that.

I hope my confessional encourages myself and other moms to feel good about whatever they need —or want — to do for their babies and themselves. And that’s because I’m a good mom.

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

TIME Parenting

The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn’t the Only Biological Clock

Grandmother and granddaughter walk
Getty Images

There's often one forgotten variable in the decision about having kids later in life

A few months ago I was sitting in the vast dining room of an assisted-living home in Washington, D.C., watching my 5-year-old niece bounce like a pinball between tables of seniors. It was a startling sight–that small, smooth blond blur amid a hundred crinkly faces. Her audience, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, grinned as she navigated all the parked walkers, canes and wheelchairs as if it were a playground.

Sahar is a bit of a celebrity here. Far younger than most of the other grandchildren who visit, she is a rare burst of kindergarten energy in a place where even the elevators move very slowly. She comes frequently to have meals with my dad, her grandfather. He’s 81, and she doesn’t know what he was like before dementia took hold. Nor does she remember her grandmother who died four years ago, except in the funny stories my sister tells so often that Sahar refers to them as if they were her own memories.

She and my two daughters are among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers. They are the leading edge of a generation whose mothers and fathers had children later in life. They’ve seen us juggle our jobs, their school schedules and their grandparents’ needs simultaneously–one day missing work to be at the bedside of a parent who’s had a bad fall, another day trying to call an elder-care aide from the back row of a dance recital.

It seems naive to say this tripart balancing act came as a surprise to me and my sister, but it did. Somehow, while we were worrying about our biological clocks and our careers, it didn’t occur to us that another biological clock was ticking down: that of our parents’ health. And while medical science keeps coming up with new ways to prolong fertility, thwarting the frailties of old age is harder.

Our parents seemed so vibrant, so capable in their 60s that we couldn’t imagine how fast things would change. We knew that three or four years could make a huge difference in our fertility, but it turned out that three or four years could also mean the difference between a grandmother who can take a toddler to the beach and one who can’t lift her newest grandbaby out of a kiddie pool because of arthritis.

My daughters may face an even greater grandparent gap. I was almost 39 when I had my second child. If she has a child at the same age, I’ll be over 80 when that grandchild enters pre-K. And I’m not alone here: about six times as many children were born to women 35 and older in 2012 as they were 40 years ago.

I’m aiming to stay spry, but by the time I become a grandmother, I’ll likely be past the age that my daughter can drop her kids off at my house for a weekend. Will I be one of those exceptional octogenarians who jogs every day? Will I be able to babysit, or will I need my daughter to find me a babysitter? I don’t know. But with about half a million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s each year, plus the usual maladies of age, there’s a fair chance I’ll need some kind of help.

If I had thought about all that, I might have gotten pregnant a few years earlier, just to give my kids that little bit of extra time with my parents in their prime. Of course, it’s not as if my sister and I could have chosen exactly when we met the men who became our children’s fathers. Nor do I regret spending my 20s and part of my 30s living in different countries, doing all kinds of jobs, soaking up the world. It was glorious, and it made me a better mother. But I do know I’d give anything if my kids could have one more weekend at the beach with my parents in peak grandparenting mode–full of silly jokes and poetry and wry observations from extraordinary lives lived fully.

And now, amid the ongoing debate over when to lean into a job or a relationship or children, my take has changed. I want to tell my daughters, “Don’t forget grandparents in the high-pressure calculus of modern life. I would like to make it easier for you if you want to lean in and have babies at the same time. I’d also like to know your children.” Who knows if I’ll get that chance, given the million variables at play, but I want them to know it’s an option.

In the meantime, I’m leaning into this new phase, one ripe with gratitude even as my father fades, losing more of himself every day. My children are discovering that they are not always the center of the world. And while my little niece may never know what my dad was like when he used to hide Easter eggs or swim after us pretending to be a shark, his white hair pluming like sea foam, she’s learning something beautiful from her mother. She sees my sister visiting him daily, feeding him, talking to him. Sahar is seeing kindness firsthand. And she understands that the thin, confused man in the bed is someone worth loving. That he is family.

Schrobsdorff is an assistant managing editor at TIME

TIME Family

Being a Stay-at-Home Mother Is Not a Job

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

I was able to do nothing but focus on giving my daughter the best early years at home that I could provide. That was a gift. Not a career

xojane

Alright, calm down. Before you get angry, you should know that I was a stay-at-home mother of my daughter for five years. I proudly made that choice, too, so I’m not speaking out of ignorance/anger/first-wave-feminist desire to put women down for their decision to parent from home.

And I definitely understand where the desire to complain about being a stay-at-home parent like it’s more rigorous than some lousy 9 to 5 comes from. I lived it. It was really hard. I was lonely a lot. There were many days I wanted to call in sick.

I also understand a stay-at-homer wanting to validate her or his life choice by calling it a “job.” We get a lot of grief from academics and professionals, and we’re very often belittled by our society for not contributing anything “valuable.” There’s a sense that we need to defend ourselves against a culture that wants to make us feel inferior or useless because of the way we’re spending our time, but trying to argue its worth by identifying it as something identical to a full-time career isn’t helping the cause. If you’re proud of how you’re living your life, there’s no need to rephrase it to make it more palatable to those who don’t agree with its worth.

Being a stay-at-home mother to your own kids is not a “job,” no matter how difficult it is or how hard we work. Period. Getting to do nothing but raise a person you opted to bring into the world is a privilege, and calling it anything else is ignorant and condescending.

Sure, parenting is hard work, but so is going camping or throwing a party for a friend; I don’t go around calling those things my “jobs.” And FUN FACT: While there are obviously labor-intensive tasks involved with running a household like cleaning and cooking, those are things every person has to do (or pay someone else to do) regardless of their status as parents, and they don’t define our life’s work.

Obviously, staying at home and taking care of people in lieu of working for wages is a valued lifestyle, but it is not a “career”; people who retire early to care for their elderly parents don’t suddenly tell everyone they’ve gone into the health care profession. Choosing to care for your own small child is no different.

Statistically, it’s unbelievable that I was able to afford being a SAHM at all. I found out I was pregnant three months into a relationship with a guy I’d met our senior year of college. I wasn’t the type who ever wanted children, but the minute I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to keep her. Never mind that I was still living with my parents after moving back in with them during a mental breakdown my sophomore year at an out-of-state university four years prior. Never mind that I was only employed 15-ish hours per week and was due to graduate a few weeks later with a BA in English. Nope! We were havin’ a baby!

The wonderful, unassuming young man with whom I was about to take this ill-advised journey had earned his way through college as the Art Director for the student magazine, and he was able to start working a full-time, professional job literally two days after we graduated from college in May 2007. I started working part-time as an administrative assistant, but I was upfront about being pregnant and knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay on after having my daughter, especially because my pregnancy was rough on my health from the start.

After I gave birth, I worked part-time while my mother watched her free-of-charge, and for the first couple years, we participated in the government’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which helped provide tons of nutritious groceries for myself while I was pregnant and nursing, then later when my little girl was eating solid foods. Once my partner had moved to a more profitable job, we were able to quit the program, and I kept working freelance writing and acting gigs here and there. We survived the 2008 financial crisis (which happened the week we were away getting married all by ourselves, incidentally), and my husband got a new job three hours away from my family.

For a while, I kept plugging away at freelance work when I could find it, but was always confined to staying at home. Ultimately, though, I made the choice not to take the first mediocre full-time job that came along that required me to not be with my daughter in her early years in exchange for a paycheck that would just go back into childcare. We didn’t have any extra money, but I was able to do nothing but focus on giving my daughter the best early years at home that I could provide, and she was happy and healthy. That was a gift. Not a career.

During this era, I tried joining mommy groups and was constantly astounded by how many women reveled in bemoaning our apparently torturous conditions. Don’t get me wrong; it was nice to have people who could empathize with the frustration of existing in a perpetually disheveled state while someone literally screamed in my face a dozen times per day instead of clearly stating her requests. I loved The Feminine Mystique, and I fully understand that mothering isn’t completely fulfilling to most women.

However, the negativity that comes behind SAHMs’ unabashed martyrdom is belittling to the entire parenting community. For example, I listened with real compassion to one woman I befriended who spent a year (and thousands of dollars) on fertilization treatments to conceive her second child, only to begin whining about how much it sucked being pregnant once it finally happened. Other women in that social circle were happy to join in with her complaints; I was quick to leave.

I’d like to say that this was the scene at just one or two of the groups I desperately tried to fit into, but the truth is, for every mother who is happy with her choice to be a stay-at-home mother, there are at least three who are using its tribulations as a means to smugly declare their superiority to anyone within earshot.

“Mothering is the hardest job in the world!” is a phrase I’ve grown to loathe, but only because of the unemployed, self-righteous idiots who love to proclaim it after spending all their energy harping on their children or bitching about their spouse’s ineptitude. The mothers who don’t have time or interest in repeating that overused trope are the ones who recognize that the stay-at-home lifestyle is an incredible freedom they were in no way obligated to participate in, or are actually working to support the children they decided to contribute to society.

No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags. Whether you call it a “blessing” or a “privilege,” the fact remains that having someone else foot the bill for a lifestyle that only benefits you and your close family is by no means a “job.”

Have some self-respect, own up to your decision, and call it what it is: a lifestyle that is hard but definitely worth the struggle to you. The people out there who actually have jobs will appreciate you much more if you’re not going around whining about a way of life that is most parents’ dream.

Liz Pardue-Schultz wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: How to Avoid Spoiling Your Child

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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 Don’t Want My Daughter To Hate Pink

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

I suddenly felt ashamed of putting a bow on my daughter’s head

xojane

“Good thing you put a bow on her head, so we know she’s a girl.”
A good friend sent me this text as a joke after seeing a photo of my daughter wearing a tiny silver headband with a bow on it.

This friend knows me incredibly well. She knows that most of my baby’s things are not specifically gendered. She knows our nursery is outer space themed: blue and gray with robots. She knows earlier that week she’d met us in the park where my one-month-old was rocking a Captain America onesie. (My daughter also has several Batman and Superman onesies — and Wonder Woman, obviously.)

But despite my friend knowing we’re just as likely to put our kid in a t-ball uniform as in a tutu, the joke bothered me. I suddenly felt ashamed of putting a bow on my daughter’s head. It was as if all my progressive, feminist street cred was choked out of me with the twist of a shiny ribbon. My gut reaction was to respond quickly (and truthfully), “This is the first time we’ve ever put a bow on her.”

I was about to hit send on this disclaimer text when I had an epiphany: I was feeling embarrassed because I put my daughter in something feminine, because feminine means frivolous and silly. This is NOT OK.

Society teaches us boy stuff is awesome and girl stuff sucks, even for girls.

It’s awesome when my little girl is dressed like Batman or a dinosaur, but why isn’t it just as awesome when she’s dressed like a ballerina? And how did I somehow fall into this way of thinking?

I grew up as a little girl who liked to climb trees while wearing frilly dresses. I’d say that is still a fair description of who I am today. I am feminine in so many stereotypical ways: I love shoes and make-up and getting my nails done is one of my favorite forms of “me time.” But these are things that I feel the need to justify. I find myself adding disclaimers and pointing out the ways in which I am not as traditionally femme: I’m a comedy writer. I know how to change a tire. I’m a lesbian.

But why can’t I just be a woman who kicks butt? Or better yet, a person who is a whole complex being, and as such has a blend of masculine and feminine qualities? To be human is to have a mix of traits and the faster we acknowledge that we aren’t cardboard cutouts predetermined by the way we urinate, the better off society will be.

Yet here I was ready to begin subtle coding on my one month old, apologizing for girlhood, womanhood, and femininity. “Cool girls” like boy stuff. “Cool girls” don’t wear bows. Girl stuff is silly.

Forget that. Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect. And that respect is way, way overdue. Why do we associate weakness with wearing lipstick? Didn’t lipstick-wearing women do the tough task of giving birth to and raising many of us? Weren’t suffragettes rocking high heels when they fought for, and won, our right to vote? Wasn’t Rosa Parks in a skirt when she became the catalyst for a civil rights movement? There is nothing fragile about feminine power.

Now, I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to cover my daughter in pink and bows. It grosses me out when people pretend like it’s shocking for a girl to be in blue or for a boy to snuggle his baby doll. Women are often still forced into femininity and trapped by it. We need the extra push and support when we do things that don’t fall in line with gender expectations. I love a woman who defies stereotypes and I hope my little girl has a thousand more women like Janelle Monae to look up to. Luckily, my wife, her mama, is one of those role models: a comic book illustrator working in the very male world of superheroes.

We don’t want our kid to feel confined by her sex, or societies expectations for gender roles. My wife and I have no idea at this point how she will identify later, but I want to make sure that as we present the world to our daughter it’s a world of “and,” not a world of “or.”

She is allowed to love sports AND fashion. She can spend her allowance at Game Stop AND Sephora. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that in order to be thought of as intelligent or treated as well as “one of the boys” she has to turn up her nose at anything “girl.” Or that girls who are smart and love to read can’t also want to be cheerleaders or love cute, fluffy things.

I want my child to grow up with no concept that any door could, or should, be closed to her. I want her to feel entitled to walk into any room and enjoy anything she wants to enjoy, but I am suddenly aware that needs to include pink rooms, too.

Amanda Deibert 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

Ground Zero in the Clutter Wars: My House

A stock photo of a messy room
Getty Images

It's not easy being a purger in a house of hoarders. Here's how I coped

I do not get along terribly well with clutter — and I frankly have no interest in improving our relationship. I believe shelves, closets and drawers were invented for a reason — so they can remain completely empty. My feeling is, if Ikea’s display of its stylish new Framstå system can do it, why can’t I?

But I don’t live alone. I live with a wife and two daughters — ages 14 and 12 — and they take a less antiseptic view of things. Our home, which was originally advertised as a “sun-drenched two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side,” has instead become something of a longitudinal study in the second law of thermodynamics, which, if you’re like me, is your least favorite law of thermodynamics, since it’s the one that states that all closed systems move inevitably toward entropy.

By closed systems, I don’t mean such who-cares stuff as the environment or the planet or the cosmos. I mean my personal space. And by entropy, I don’t mean molecules or thermal gradients. I mean schoolbooks and empty glasses. I mean shoes and clothes, dropped mid-floor, real-time, in such perfect simulation of the body that shed them that they look less like a mess than like a preteen parade float waiting to be inflated. I mean flyers for Memorial Day sales at stores that closed in 2006, subscription cards for magazines that ceased publishing when our children were in pre-K, discount offers for a first generation TiVo.

More and more, our home is developing what can only be described as geological strata: here are the crayon traces of the preschool epoch, which lie below the glitter of the Princess epoch, which itself was buried by the fabric-and-plastic sediment of the American Girl epoch. A thick layer of Tiger Beat precipitate is now fluttering down atop that, which, given enough heat, pressure and millennia, might at least compress itself into a useful fossil fuel.

I rage, rage against the rubbish — and do what I can to reduce it. I move about the apartment, gathering things up in what feels to me like an efficient stride-and-sweep pincer movement, but which even I realize is increasingly resembling a bustle. I collect dropped belongings and put them away in any handy drawer or armoire, a behavior I call helpful and my family members — along with most trained clinicians — call passive-aggressive. And when I’ve put something somewhere its owner doesn’t want it and therefore can’t find it, my refrain is always the same:

“There is one way to ensure that things are where you want them, and that’s to put them away yourself.” This argument has the twin qualities of both unassailable logic and a perfect, 0% success rate in changing anyone’s behavior.

One answer to our family impasse is an open dialogue, a frank exchange of feelings and a willingness for collective compromise. The other answer is the one that actually works: money.

Not long ago, my wife mentioned that she’s had her eye on a new platform bed. A platform bed, of course, would go in our bedroom — a room that on any given day is just one copy of Oprah away from needing its own Chernobyl-style containment dome.

So I made a deal: we would get the bed — and two new dressers, and two new night tables, and an upright chest, and a vanity, and discard all of the existing furniture if all of the clutter went. I would also surrender our entire walk-in dressing area to my wife and confine my clothes to my new drawers. It was the marital equivalent of land for peace.

My wife, to my delight, took me up on the deal. The clutter is now slowly being peeled back and thrown away, and the furniture delivery has been scheduled. My daughters, with the gimlet eyes of bazaar merchants recognizing a sucker with a Fodor’s guide and a wad of American money, requested the same arrangement and I agreed.

I am now buying them a new bedroom set too. In return, they promised two things: to keep the room neat and — much more important — to let me think I won.

Read next: Minimalist Living: When a Lot Less Is More

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com