TIME Family

The Paternity Leave Stimulus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. Mary Robbins is a Program Officer at Promundo, an NGO that works internationally to engage men and boys in promoting gender equality and end violence against women. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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

TIME Family

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

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

xojane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gracie F. is a writer and contributor to xoJane. This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

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

TIME Culture

Christmas Cards Were America’s First Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study: What Kind of Car NOT To Buy a Teen Driver

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Old cars may be cheaper, but they have fewer safety features, says insurance study

Driving around in an old clunker is one of the teenage rites of passage. But in news that will no doubt gladden the hearts of car salesmen everywhere—and terrify parents—a new study suggests that parents might want to think of getting their young drivers a newer automobile for safety reasons.

The study delved deep into parents’ nightmares and analyzed all the teen driving deaths in data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 2008 to 2012. In that time 2420 kids between the age of 15 and 17 died at the wheel of a car. The researchers, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia, ascertained the make, model and safety features of each car.

What they found was that almost half of the teen drivers killed on U.S. roads in that period were driving vehicles that were 11 or more years old, and thus often lacked certain safety features, like Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and airbags.

ESC is a relatively new technology that can detect when a vehicle is skidding and applies the brakes to help “steer” the vehicle where the driver intends to go and is especially useful in cases where the driver loses control–something that is more common among drivers who may have recently passed their driving test, say the researchers. According to the study, it can cut the risk of death in single vehicle crashes by around half and by 20% in crashes involving several vehicles.

Teens were also more likely to die in smaller vehicles. When comparing the teens with fatally injured drivers between the ages of 35 and 50, the researchers found that teens were significantly more likely to have been at the wheel of a small or mini car (29% vs 20%) or a mid-size (23% vs 16%), and less likely to have been driving a large pickup (10% vs 16%).

“Larger, heavier vehicles generally provide much better crash protection than smaller, lighter ones,” says the study.

All of this makes sense, because who wants to give their teen driver an expensive new car? And who wants to let them drive the family SUV or other big car? But the potential downside may be worth the risk to property.

The good news is that since 1996, far fewer teens are killed by road traffic accidents—or as road safety officials like to call them “road traffic collisions,” as part of raising awareness that these things are not really accidental; they have a cause and it’s usually human error. But teenagers still have about three times as many police-reported and fatal crashes as adults, when you take into account the distance they drive.

So when looking into buying your kid’s first car, says the study, it might be worth investing in something less vintage and more protective. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.”Parents may benefit from consumer information about vehicle choices that are both safe and economical,” says the study. So do your research. And shop around.

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How to Talk to Your Teen About Sex Abuse

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A Planned Parenthood vice president weighs in on the importance of keeping your kids informed

As an educator and the mother of a teenager, I was shocked and angry to hear that a high school teacher in my New Jersey neighborhood was arrested in September for sexually assaulting five male students. Recently we’ve seen stories of sexual assault charges brought against football players in another New Jersey town, a Brooklyn high school teacher arrested for inappropriate behavior with seven students, a Dallas-area high school teacher arrested for sexual assault of his 16-year-old student, and a California school district arguing in court that a 14-year-old girl could be held responsible for a sexual relationship with her adult male teacher.

No one wants their child’s school experience to include inappropriate sexual behavior, harassment, assault, or rape. It can be an extraordinarily difficult topic to think about, let alone discuss with our teens. However, news stories like these present an opportunity to have critically important conversations with our children.

Planned Parenthood believes parents should be the primary sex educators of their own children—and that means addressing stories of abuse or assault in schools directly with our children, rather than leaving them to draw their own lessons from what they hear from friends or on social media. In a perfect world, we would introduce tough topics on our own, based on our children’s questions or their maturity level. But our kids live in a fast-paced electronic world, and shielding them from the news is simply not an option.

Read More: See how books have presented sex ed throughout history

Data collected this year by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU shows that most parents are talking to their children about some topics, such as how to handle peer pressure or the importance of not pressuring others, but rarely about how to deal with inappropriate actions by adults, particularly adults that are supposed to be guiding and mentoring them. So how can we initiate conversations about these sensitive and troubling subjects?

First, ask your children what they’ve already heard, and listen to what they tell you. Don’t jump in while they’re talking and interrupt them with factual corrections — yet. It’s important that they feel their perspective is valued, and you’ll know what you need to address in response.

Read More: Resources to help you talk to your kids about sex

Next, educate them by providing the facts. Here are some things to know to help you prepare:

· Sadly, most sexual abuse is committed by someone known to the victim. When a trusted adult like a teacher violates their role to protect, the child often has trouble making sense of the situation; many young people assaulted by people they trust may not even realize this is abuse. Be clear that any adult who engages in sexual activity with a minor is engaging in criminal activity. Encourage your child to tell you and another adult in the school if they hear about anything inappropriate between students or staff.

· Boys are also sexually abused. Many people mistakenly believe that sexual assault is a problem that affects only girls, but the truth is 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. For more information, visit 1in6.org.

· People who sexually abuse others often do so to intimidate or manipulate their victim. Sex should never be an assertion of power over another person, and young people should know that it’s not their fault if a trusted adult acts inappropriately.

· Teach your kids to report inappropriate behavior. The best way to confront or prevent abuse is to report it, including when teachers, coaches, counselors, or administrators violate boundaries by acting more like friends than authority figures. If your child sees or hears anything suspicious, they should tell you and a guidance counselor or another teacher.

The most important thing is for your children to feel comfortable coming to you with their questions and anxieties. If you speak openly with them about difficult issues, they’ll know they can come to you if they ever hear about anything inappropriate happening in their own schools or social networks. And you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from correcting your children’s misconceptions about assault while showing that you are willing to talk about tough topics with them.

For a deeper look at the crisis in sex education and why schools are struggling to keep up with the what kids learn from the internet, read TIME for Family’s special report on Why School Can’t Teach Sex Ed.

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Expectant Dads Experience Prenatal Hormone Changes Too

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Including a decrease in testosterone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME Family

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

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This season can be tough on grieving families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Things You Can Do To Avoid Conflict Over the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Stop assuming.

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

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

  1. Stop generalizing.

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

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

  1. Stop attacking.

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

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

  1. Stop rejecting.

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

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

  1. Stop defending.

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

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

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

xojane

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

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

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

Yes, needs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So sometimes I say no.

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

And will I say no one day? Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME politics

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

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

History News Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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