TIME Parenting

I Am a Helicopter Parent—And I Don’t Apologize

Helicopter Parent
Getty Images

Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes teaches and writes in Maine.

I care about protecting all of our children, not just mine.

I know there are teachers and administrators and people in my community who consider me one of the helicoptering, overprotective parents who seem to be our society’s latest favorite punching bag. My husband jokes about a betting pool in the teachers’ lounge based on when I will make my first indignant appearance each year. But I’m no tiger mother. I don’t see parenting as a battle. I just insist on competency and civility from the world my children are in for now in the face of what seems like utter madness in the world at large.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine and I talked about the way we parent versus the way we grew up in the 70s, on opposite sides of the country, about the way our parenting is influenced by our own childhood experiences. We were both deeply affected by early exposure to violence in films and on television, in the news and in the communities we grew up in, and by disparities among the haves and the have-nots. We were both bullied as children and we both worried about nuclear war. We both also accepted all of this, at the time, as “part of growing up.” But neither of us sees any benefit in cultural trauma being a part of our children’s growing up.

I wonder if many of my fellow Gen-X parents experience adulthood as a recovery from childhood, and if our parenting choices reflect our desire to not have the harshness of the era our children are growing up in visited upon them. But we often hear that our approach is doing our kids, and society, untold harm and that we will be directly responsible for a generation of spineless, helpless wimps.

I’m surprised to find myself in the category of “overprotective,” because as a college professor, I’ve had the unpleasant experience of teaching some of the children of “helicopter parents”: students who can’t think for themselves or who balk at the demands of a college education. Even before my husband and I had children, I was determined that we would do whatever it took to raise them to be independent, capable people. I still am. Equipping them for self-sufficiency does not, in my mind, require exposure therapy to all that is wrong with the world. That will come soon enough.

Our instincts, when our children were ready for school, were to let them go, both literally and figuratively. We couldn’t afford the tuition at the local Montessori School, but I kept telling myself that I would send my children to public school even if we could have sent them to Montessori, because I believe in public education and I wanted our girls to be gently immersed in a gradual understanding of socio-economic differences.

Except for the reality that a large percentage of the children in our community do not get their basic needs met—a fact I tried to blunt by helping some of the neediest kids myself— all seemed relatively well. Until our eldest daughter started third grade. She and her teacher did not seem to be a good fit, but my husband and I, sensitive already to accusations that our generation coddles its children, didn’t intervene when it appeared that her teacher was being hard on her, singling her out. When she came home saying “My teacher doesn’t like me,” we tried to address it from her end, asking her to consider if the choices she was making were helpful or not. We learned from the teacher that our daughter protested when the posted classroom schedule was not followed; the teacher said that she needed to “roll with things” and “respect the teacher’s authority.” We didn’t entirely disagree, believing that learning to work with difficult people is a useful skill.

However, thinking we were being good parents by not rushing in and protecting our child so that she could learn some social survival skills, we overlooked the damage that was being done. In hindsight, I recalled that the teacher seemed nervous whenever I would come in to volunteer in the classroom; she would often ask me to photocopy material in the teachers’ lounge instead of letting me work directly with the children. I learned later that she told the principal that she thought I was “spying” on her. Our daughter was in fact being regularly, and badly, mistreated; the end result was that she came home one day, at eight years old, saying that she hated herself, that she was stupid. She said, sitting on the kitchen floor in tears, “I want to kill myself.” The teacher had made her tell the class that she got a C- on a math test. We pulled her out of the classroom (it was April by now) and put her into therapy, chastising ourselves for not intervening sooner, for ignoring the clear warning signs.

In fourth grade, she had an excellent teacher, but was physically assaulted three times by a child whose parents seemed to not just ignore, but value, his apparently sociopathic tendencies. The school did not have the resources to keep her safe and told us so. The next year, we homeschooled. “Homeschooled” is a code word for “helicoptered,” I know. But it was our only option.

The year she started middle school (we sent her back to public school as soon as she wanted to go), I didn’t waste time worrying about what anyone would think about me and my helicoptering tendencies. She came home upset about a movie on climate change that had graphics making the apocalypse seem real, and I fired off an email asking the teachers to better contextualize their material. She saw the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination because unsupervised students found it online and played it in the classroom, and I was on the phone asking why there wasn’t better classroom management. She was bullied by a classmate, and I was in the principal’s office at the end of the school day. While we are bombarded with accusations that we want to wrap our children in bubble wrap and tie them to mattresses, we are also bombarded with stories about children jumping to their deaths at cement factories and hanging themselves from stairwells, or being gunned down in their own classrooms.

So I hover over my children. I still remind my kids, now 10 and 12, to be careful when we get out of the car in a parking lot. I don’t let them stay up late and I don’t let them watch television at night, because of the violence in the network ads for other shows. I’ve just recently started letting them walk up our (safe, generally quiet, dead-end) road alone. But I don’t do their homework for them and I do insist on them picking up after themselves; I make them do extracurricular activities but I don’t overschedule them. I don’t let them eat much sugar, but I let them experience what it feels like so they know for themselves. I don’t tolerate as much fighting as I probably should because that is part of understanding unconditional love, and I let them see me drinking wine or even a martini at the end of the day.

My outrage over inappropriate material in the classrooms and bullying behavior from teachers and students isn’t just about the effects those things have on my children, but on all of those around them, especially those who don’t have actively involved parents. I care about my children being seen for who they are, and I care about other children being seen, period, especially the children who are left behind, in the wake of hyper-achieving, helicoptered children. I care about protecting all of our children, not just mine.

Helicopter parents may seem, at the outset, to be supremely selfish, a projection of ourselves on our children, directing rather than guiding. But consider the possibility that some of the parents being condemned for obnoxious hyper-parenting grew up too fast in a world that seemed terrifying. Perhaps we are determined to do what we can to change it for the better, not just for our children but for everyone’s. Whatever went wrong with our growing up, whatever scars or trauma we bear, something went right enough that we still believe we can make a difference. Teaching our children that they, too, have the ability to impact their surroundings, that they are not condemned to passivity because the world is hard—this may be the legacy of the helicopter parent after all.

Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes teaches and writes in Maine.

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

This Is How to Stalk Your Teenage Children Online

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
Jennifer Garner plays an intenet snooping mother in Paramount's Men, Women & Children Dale Robinette—Paramount Pictures.

One mother comes clean

I knew I had to be very careful when choosing a fake online identity with which to stalk my kids. It needed to be somebody that my children would want to be friends with, but not close friends, somebody who might plausibly notice them, but they might not notice being noticed by.

That’s how I ended up becoming Clara Lemlich. She was a leader of a massive strike of female shirtwaist workers in New York City more than a century ago. Logically, a modern Clara would be interested in clothes and young women, exactly what both my teenagers are interested in.

It’s well-known that only loser teenagers befriend people who don’t already have friends so I rounded out Clara’s profile by prefriending a whole bunch of people I knew my kids (a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy) would find cool. That noted labor organizer, Channing Tatum, for example.

Given Ms. Lemlich’s areas of expertise, it’s not weird or creepy or anything that my children might crop up on her radar. Well, perhaps it’s a little creepy. I mean, if I were their mother and I saw some random adult pretending to be a dead union activist looking at their photos on Instagram, I’d be alarmed. But I am their mother, so …..anyway, I digress.

My ruse made just enough sense that when Clara Lemlich started following my kids, she seemed both acceptable and ignorable; they took the bait. Online friends are after all, more desirable for their quantity than their quality. The only person my children do not want to add to their list of followers is me.

Surely, you’re saying, there’s some more upfront, reasonable, less sneaky way to do this. Experts recommend, for example, that you have all your children’s passwords and make sure that you have full access to all their social media sites. To which I say: bwahahahahaha. Good luck. You will never get ahead of your teenagers on nefarious uses of technology. I’ll wager young Rory Gates has already figured out at least one way to digitally outsmart his dad, Bill.

In the new movie Men, Women & Children, Jennifer Garner plays a mom trying to do exactly what those parenting gurus recommend. She has all her daughter’s passwords. She tracks her daughter on her iPhone. Her computer records every website the girl has visited, every text her phone receives and every person who texts her, just to make sure there are no predators. (Her daughter goes along with all of this, because her daughter is a completely fictional construct.)

I’m not worried about predators. I pity any poor perv who tries to get my kids off the couch. But like Garner’s character Patricia, I do worry that what the kids are posting might blow back on them later. As Patricia says: “our children will be the first generation whose lives have a searchable database.”

That’s why I felt I needed Clara Lemlich. The Internet is too vast and labyrinthine to be mapped. Parents can’t give their offspring a guidebook or a list of dangerous neighborhoods, even if they knew them. They can’t warn them ahead of time to avoid doing something that might later seem terrible. But this public vast world is also holdable in one hand; It’s as if their bus pass could allow them to time travel. And strip when they get there.

But once I had successfully Trojan horsed my way into my kids’s online lives, I found their cities somewhat lacking in drama. There were no fights to join. Their activities mostly consist of friends being excessively complimentary of each other and excessively unpleasant about strangers. It’s narcissistic but not dangerous. The biggest infraction my daughter seems to be guilty of is copyright infringement: she’s posting photos I took. Without attribution.

So I’m outing Clara Lemlich. Hi kids, it’s me. Isn’t this Instagram thing fun? Of course, they don’t follow me on social media, so they’ll never know.

TIME Etiquette

The One Thing Everyone Should Do After an Apology

494181781
PeopleImages.com—Getty Images

Dr. Josh Misner is a mindfulness researcher and communication educator.

Taking the extra step to ask for forgiveness achieves reconciliation and resolution

After listening to a TEDx talk given by my former dissertation committee chair, Dr. Shann Ray Ferch, I realized that it had caused a seismic but subtle shift in my life. Speaking on art, love and forgiveness, Dr. Ferch shared the story of meeting his future father-in-law, where he was told:

I would give you 50 rules, but you wouldn’t remember all of them. I’ll give you two. One of them is that Jennifer knows her limitations. Don’t take her beyond those. And the second one is that I don’t ever want you to have to come to me and say you’re sorry.

Dr. Ferch continued, describing the first time he observed asking for forgiveness in action, again recalling his father-in-law:

He had made a sharp comment at the dinner table to his wife. I didn’t even pick up on it. In my family, on a 100-point scale of verbal violence, his comment was a minus eight. After dinner, he came over to me and said, “I’d like to ask your forgiveness for the way I treated my wife at the dinner table.” I didn’t know what to do. I said, “Ah, you don’t have to ask me.” And he said, “No, I don’t ask just for you. In our family, we ask forgiveness of the person whom we harmed, and also everybody who was there, in order to restore the dignity of the one who was harmed.”

This incident struck me for its profound difference between merely apologizing and taking it a step further to seek forgiveness.

When I say “I’m sorry,” I admit wrongdoing by taking responsibility for my actions. It is something I have long taught my children. As a result, my kids are now pros at saying sorry, and in retrospect, I’ll admit that it can easily get old after hearing it for every little transgression. For a while, I could not understand why my kids saying sorry so frequently started bugging me, but after hearing Shann’s story, it all clicked.

The lesson this parable tries to teach is to think critically about one’s actions beforehand, so that an apology is not necessary. But, as humans, we are imperfect creatures, and we need to restore the dignity of others whom we have wronged.

Dr. Ferch’s story reminded me that asking for forgiveness is a necessary addition to an apology. If saying sorry is akin to admitting fault, then doing so is not enough to restore a relationship. Taking the extra step to ask for forgiveness involves a dramatic shift in power, which requires humility on the part of the asker and subsequently places power into the hands of the person wronged. By gifting this power to the person whose dignity was robbed, it effectively restores and heals the proverbial wound.

I was anxious and able to test this theory when, one weekend, my kids’ sibling infighting was incendiary and constant, ratcheting my anger up several notches until an argument over who had to let the dogs in pushed me over the edge.

At that point, I blew it.

My yelling started with low-level voice-raising, but was soon followed by the slightly louder and more insistent classic, “It would be really nice if you two would just do what I said without fighting about it for once!” As I threw my dad tantrum and stomped around, I avoided making eye contact. But as soon as I stopped my fit, I turned and locked eyes with them. Their once-bright eyes, normally dark with curiosity and wonder, were red and brimming with tears, as their cheeks sagged under the weight of their shame and remorse. My son turned and ran to his room, while my daughter stifled a quiet sob as she, too, walked away.

At that point, I swallowed my anger and the sting of regret quickly set in. Recalling Dr. Ferch’s talk, I called both kids back into the room.

“Kids,” I said gently, “I’m sorry. I was wrong to take my anger out on both of you like I did, and the way I yelled at you was embarrassing. Will you forgive me?” My heart sank, my voice trembled, and I could feel a familiar stinging in my eyes, knowing tears were soon on the way.

As if by instinct, both children leapt up simultaneously, wrapping their arms around me and supplementing their embrace with a slightly muffled yet reciprocal response together: “We forgive you. We’re sorry too, daddy. Will you forgive us?”

In similar circumstances in the not-so-distant past, our apologies had a very different feel. They were almost like verbal punctuation on the end of an argument, but with a touch of “To be continued,” almost as if acknowledging that the conflict might resurface at a later date.

This time there was reconciliation. This time there was resolution. It was as though, in seeking forgiveness from my children, I was delicately holding their hearts in my hands, carefully mending the parts I had damaged.

The difference between an apology and seeking forgiveness is profound and not to be taken for granted. Teaching our children to take responsibility for their actions is important, and we should remind them to apologize when they have wronged someone. But we also need to demonstrate to them the power inherent in restoring relationships using four simple words: Will you forgive me?

Dr. Josh Misner is a mindfulness researcher, communication educator and father of four. You can follow him on Facebook and at Mindful Dad.

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

I Delivered One Healthy Baby and One Deceased Fetus

Infant feet and adult hands
Getty Images

The doctor held up a beautiful 10-pound boy. Minutes later, doctors showed us the remains of our fetus

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

My husband and I spent several months debating the merits of adding one more chick to our crowded, muddy, Lego-filled nest.

We were already the (rapidly aging) parents of three boys, and our lives were chaotic and busy and full. But when I looked at my dining room table, there was an empty chair; a perfect, baby-sized space.

So, before we hung up the going-out-of-business sign, we decided to *ahem* try vigorously for exactly one month, trusting the universe to make the magic happen… or not. If it wasn’t meant to be, we would fast-track the vasectomy and put the crib on Craigslist. We shook on it.

Determined to make this month count, I stocked up on prenatal vitamins, exercised, tried to get some extra rest, and started each morning with a kefir, chia seed, and bee pollen smoothie. Weird? No. At least not compared to the salt crystals and wooden spoons and moon charts scattered about our bedroom. People may dismiss those tactics as old wives’ tales. I say, EXACTLY. When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, ancient feminine wisdom is everything.

Voilà. Two weeks later, two pink lines. Two really dark pink lines, that appeared several days before my period was due. A blood test confirmed it, and three weeks later we had the first ultrasound. We did not see a fetus. We saw fetuses. Twins. In an instant, we gained entrée into the wild world of multiples; a place where people say things like, “But a minivan isn’t big enough,” and mean it.

It didn’t take long for the twins to become known collectively as Cuatro Cinco. After the initial shock, we rolled with it… as most parents learn to do. The universe (and probably those mystical Mayan chia seeds) had indeed provided. So, we researched double strollers and creative ways for me to consume the recommended 100 grams of protein I would need to choke down each day, queasy or not. I began to love having a “they” in my belly and pictured them curled together like a Yin-Yang symbol.

I’m not sure the term ballooning does justice to what was happening to my abdomen. By 14 weeks, I looked seven months pregnant. The twins were growing like those capsules you put in water and five minutes later — dinosaur sponges! The genetic testing had indicated all baby-systems were go. It also revealed the presence of a Y-chromosome, so we knew we were about to welcome a little brother, and possibly two.

During my 15-week ultrasound we saw one fetal exhibitionist, sprawled on his back, arms and legs flexing (Ultrasound tech: “Well, I know it’s early, but there’s your Y chromosome”) and one calm fetus, breech with both legs tucked under itself like a yogi, peacefully resting off to my left side. I felt like I knew them both already.

And then I started shrinking.

Suddenly, I could wear pre-pregnancy clothes again. I chalked it up to being in the second trimester and having less bloating. But by 18 weeks, I looked just like I had in previous pregnancies. I called my obstetrician’s office and shared my concerns. They had me come in and a nurse listened for fetal heart tones. She was sure she heard two distinct heartbeats, and I was comforted enough by that to hold off on an ultrasound for another two weeks. She was wrong, but it didn’t matter. What was done had happened weeks ago.

At 20 weeks, we had our Level II ultrasound. It was finally time to examine all the pieces and parts times two — and hopefully learn the sex of modest Baby B. Instead we learned that there would be no Baby B.

The monitor on the wall showed only stillness. No blood flow, no heartbeat. Just a tiny fetus already being dwarfed by its robust and thriving brother. I say “it” in absence of a gender-specific pronoun; we never learned the sex of Baby B. The fetus was already being compressed and flattened when the loss was discovered. The medical term for this is fetus papyraceous — meaning “like parchment.” Measurements showed a femur length of 15 weeks, 1 day. I watched the rest of the ultrasound in a daze, palm to sweaty palm with my husband, regretting each “I can’t handle twins” thought I had allowed to creep in my brain.

Later that afternoon, we tried to be stoic; pragmatic. We shared the news with family and friends, presented in medically accurate terms and wrapped in the appropriate platitudes. Better to know now. Nature is wise. Everything happens for a reason.

The following day was July 4th. I never felt less like celebrating in my life, but we still had three rambunctious boys who understood little of the loss, and who were ready to barbecue, swim, and watch fireworks in the park. Life needed to go on.

Still, I remember stepping outside to pull a few weeds and slowly collapsing to my knees in the grass, sobbing into handfuls of dandelion. I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Baby. Was it that vigorous bike ride? That cough that wouldn’t quit? How had I failed this little one who was still inside my body but who I would never hold? That day was the worst — drowning in reality and permanence.

My wonderful, long-time obstetrician assured me that nothing I had done caused this. He said often a later loss like ours indicated an issue with the umbilical cord, maybe even something as simple as a knot. I know that was meant to make me feel better. All I could think was, “A fucking knot?” This fetus did one too many somersaults and that was it? I would have preferred to hear something about inevitability, or incompatibility with life, rather than the suggestion of simple bad luck.

Days passed. Kind friends brought food and blooming plants, gestures of love when finding the right words proved difficult. Several times I was told to look at the bright side: “At least you still have one.” This truism always seemed to suck the air from my lungs, unintentionally minimizing my grief and leaving me feeling both guilty and ungrateful.

The tears eventually decreased, but my anxiety about the health of my surviving twin remained. I bought a portable fetal Doppler. Several times a day I would drop everything and listen for my baby’s steady heartbeat and his subtle movements, screeching at full-volume through my headphones like a needle dragged across a record.

The remainder of my pregnancy was difficult. I was hospitalized for a week in August due to a mystery virus that left me feverish and fatigued. Shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with the painful pressure of polyhydramnios (excess amniotic fluid) and two weeks later, gestational diabetes. Thankfully, none of this seemed to faze our son. He was and is a champion.

My final pregnancy ended via Cesarean. The doctor held up a beautiful 10-pound boy who immediately hollered and peed on everyone before nuzzling into my neck between electrodes. Minutes later, per previous discussion, doctors showed us the remains of our fetus. My eyes were blurry from anesthesia, but I remember seeing something shaped like a 3-inch long, flattened kidney bean attached to a gingko leaf… our Baby B and her/his placenta. A photograph was taken with our consent for scientific and educational purposes, but I have never seen it.

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed. My son is now 11 months old and he is a cheerful, inquisitive baby. He has adopted the tranquil nature we first observed in his twin; in a crowded room it can be easy to forget he’s there, smiling and quietly surveying the scene. My main concern now is to provide him with a life so rich and fulfilling he will not have time to dwell on any sense of loss lingering in his heart.

I have read the blogs and been to the online support groups for twinless-twins. Many members, even those who lost a twin at birth or in utero, report feeling an incompleteness or melancholy later in life, in some cases guessing the existence of a co-multiple sibling before they were ever told. So, there will be no secrets. I just want to make sure we address any concerns the right way and at the right time, avoiding the unintended consequence of creating guilt or sadness that may never have existed otherwise.

For now, I will do nothing but appreciate each baby-squeal of discovery and each joyful “Mama!” directed my way. Although the tiny hole in my heart will likely remain, I believe I am mothering the four children who were meant to give my life purpose. They teach me humility, bring me to happy tears, remind me why I don’t need to spend money on nice things, and allow me to swell with pride at their impressive use of sarcasm.

Platitude or not, nature IS wise. Everything does happen for a reason… if only to make us aware of our own strength, endurance and capacity for love.

SB Falkner is a blogger and new mother.

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

Parents Deeply Concerned About Injuries in Youth Sports, Survey Finds

Youth Football Kids Sports
Getty Images

87% of parents said they were worried about the risk of injury in sports, as participation rates fall

Youth sports are becoming increasingly competitive, and most parents believe children are suffering.

According to a new national poll released by the espnW: Women + Sports Summit this weekend, two-thirds of parents think there is “too much emphasis on winning over having fun,” and 87% of parents said they were worried about the risk of injury in sports.

Parents are most concerned about concussions on the high school football field, which increasingly have been in the headlines lately (including on TIME’s cover). Just in the past week, three high school football players in Alabama, North Carolina and New York have died, possibly due to football injuries.

Parental concerns could explain the drop in participation in youth sports in the last several years. In 2008, 44.5% of children ages 6-12 participated in some type of sports organization. Only 40% of children did so in 2013, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Football, basketball, baseball and soccer have all seen double-digit declines in participation (though lacrosse and hockey have not).

The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program and ESPN polled 1,511 Americans with data weighted by age, gender, race and income to match the overall characteristics of Americans.

TIME

How Letting Your Kids Stay Up Late Could Wreck Your Life

Father and daughters watching movie in home theater
Getty Images

I plan on putting my kids to bed early until they are older and no longer want to hang out with me

I never, ever, want my children to stay up past 8pm.

Ever.

I don’t want them to have a later bedtime until they are older and no longer want to hang out with me. I love my children, but I also love my sanity, and that sanity comes from bad TV and sweet, sweet silence.

I have six-year-old twins, and right now they go to bed at around 7:30 p.m. I hear other parents talk about their first graders staying up and hanging out with them until 10:00 p.m. at night and it horrifies me. That isn’t because their kids are staying up too late, but because, my God, when do those parents get to have their evening fun time? When do they watch The Bachelorette and eat the cookies they hide from their children?

By 8:00 p.m. at night, I am done. That’s when Mommy clocks out. At that point, I am unable to even pretend to parent anymore. All conversations my children try to have with me between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. are met with one word: No.

“Can you fix my sheets?”

“No.”

“Can you get me more water?”

“No.”

“Can you –”

“No. And before you ask your next question, the answer is also no.”

The more I talked to other parents about bedtimes, however, the more concerned I got that 7:30 p.m. might be too early. I have a tendency to get lulled into complacency by the habits of day-to-day life, and sometimes forget that my children keep getting older and occasionally the rules need to change. So when I learned that my kids had the earliest bedtime of all of their first-grade friends, it made me a little nervous. Was I putting my kids to bed way too early? Was I about to lose the only time of the day when I am able to fully and completely relax? When they’re at school I’m still on alert because my phone could ring at any minute — the school nurse could call asking me to pick up a sick kid, or the principal might ring, telling me that my shy child tried to run off of school property to avoid picture day. Night-time is the only time when I know that my children can’t possibly ask me for anything because they are unconscious.

To address my concerns, I decided to ask an expert for guidance. I called Rebecca Michi, a trained Children’s Sleep Consultant in Seattle who has a British accent and a great attitude. Did she think that 7:30 p.m. was too early a bedtime for a couple of first graders?

“Wake up time has to dictate the bedtime,” she said. “Children can go to bed late if they wake up late. First graders need ten to twelve hours of sleep a night. Otherwise they are sleep deprived, and we all act like two-year-olds when we are sleep deprived.”

My kids wake up at 6:30 a.m. every morning on their own. I can put them to bed at 5 p.m. or I can put them to bed at midnight, and they will still wake up at 6:30 a.m. It’s something my husband and I have had to accept, and by accept I mean we’ve had to murder the part of our souls that has hope. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Michi didn’t tell me that my kids should stay up later. In fact, based on Michi’s recommendations, 7:30 was a perfect bedtime for them. I couldn’t believe it – I was doing something right…completely by accident, of course, but I’ll take it however I can get it.

Before I ride my high horse off into the sunset, though, it’s important to point out that in addition to my accidentally appropriate bedtime, it’s likely that many inappropriate bedtimes aren’t chosen thoughtlessly. I don’t think there are a lot of parents who are watching The Tonight Show with their kindergartener and saying, “Eh. He’ll go to bed when he feels like it. Now Timmy, go get Momma another martini.” I think there are a lot more parents who keep their kids up due to external factors they can’t control.

For example, there’s Michi’s recommendation that wake-up time dictate bedtime. My kids don’t start school till 9:30 a.m., and with their 6:30 a.m. natural wake-up time that means I never have to force them out of bed in the morning. If I had older kids who were doing homework and then going to bed at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., who then had to be at school and in class at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I’d be dealing with some overly tired kids and I would be seriously aggravated. I understand the recent push by some parents to move school start times back, because I’m not sure how anyone can expect kids to succeed when they can’t get the rest they need.

I’m also a work-at-home mom. I take my kids to and from school every day. I have three hours with them before school and three hours after. I am not hurting for time with my kids. If I had a job where I had to be at work by 8:00 a.m. and I didn’t get home until 7:00 p.m., and I put my kids to bed at 7:30 p.m., that would mean spending less than an hour a day with my kids during the week, if that. Of course I understand why some parents would want to push that bedtime back by an extra hour or so in order to get some time with their children. You know, for bonding. Or for algebra, which is the opposite of bonding.

Thankfully, I no longer feel any pressure to let my kids stay up past 8:00 p.m. I can turn off their lights, say my final no’s, and ease myself onto my sofa, where frozen yogurt and The Voice await me. Even the experts understand my need for “night time means no children time.” As Michi told me, “Some parents love having their kids up late. I can’t think of anything worse. I want to watch inappropriate TV with my husband and have a glass of wine.” Preach it, British priestess of sleep.

Here’s how I look at it: this is a parenting rule that is not only good for the kids, but also brings me joy. There aren’t a whole lot of those. I’m going to take advantage of it while I can.

Meredith Bland is an award-winning humor and parenting writer from Seattle. She works as a staff writer at Mommyish, and has a humor blog called Pile of Babies. You can follow her on Twitter at @pileofbabies.

TIME Parenting

Watch Jennifer Garner Talk About Sex… Education

Jennifer Garner, who stars in the new movie about the perils of the internet Men, Women & Children, has nothing particular against porn. She just doesn’t want her three kids to see it online before she’s had a chance to talk to them about sex. “I really hope my kids don’t run across stuff online that could appear violent to them,” she said in an interview with TIME.

Garner, who admits she takes a pretty disciplined approach to bringing up Violet, 9, Seraphina, 5 and Sam, 2, says she’s done a lot of thinking about how to teach her kids, especially her daughters about sex: she’s attended talks, she’s read books and she’s talked to experts, but says she’s still no quite sure what’s the right approach. Her own mother and father, whom she calls “the best parents in the world,” have still never talked to her about it. “I’m waiting for The Talk, mom, dad,” she jokes in the interview, which TIME subscribers can read here.

Of her kids, Garner says, “I want them to see sex as something joyful, as a gift, as a celebration of love and of their bodies. And I’ve never thought about that before, but it makes me feel really cool and hippie-ish to even think of it that way.”

Elsewhere in the interview Garner says she’s not nearly as connected online as her husband, Ben Affleck, and although she doesn’t want her kids to enter the digital world just yet, he may have other ideas. “It’s definitely a team sport, parenting,” she says.

While Garner says she quickly closes pages that have any mention of her or her family on them, she does sometimes take online courses. She was an active participant in a course run by New York Times writer Nick Kristof when his and his wife Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky came out. Anonymously, of course.

Because on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a movie star.

TIME Parenting

Every Time I Take My Baby Outside Somebody Yells at Me

Woman and baby outside
Kirk Mastin—Getty Images/Aurora Creative

Here I was, a new mom, and I had apparently made a serious, baby-killing mistake

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Have you ever wanted strangers to come up to you, unannounced, on the streets of New York City and strike up a conversation? As a native New Yorker I have to admit that apart from the occasional exchange about delayed trains with another passenger or being asked for directions, total strangers don’t often come over to talk to me. That all changed after I got pregnant and then had a baby.

While I was pregnant I heard a lot of unsolicited scary pregnancy and birth stories that my forgetful “pregnancy brain” was very unaccommodating about deleting from my mind. These days, pushing a baby stroller around apparently gives people the impression that they can walk up to me and just say anything they want. When was the last time someone walked up to you on the sidewalk and judged you? Try having a kid — it’ll happen to you on a daily basis.

When my baby was two weeks old, my husband and I had to take her to a checkup visit with her pediatrician. We were living with his parents because we had only closed on our apartment the week before I gave birth. Our trip entailed taking the subway from Murray Hill to Washington Heights…where we would have been already living if our co-op board hadn’t taken four months to schedule our board approval meeting.

Standing on the platform a pleasant looking woman in her late twenties smiled down at our little baby girl in her car seat stroller said: “I have a six month old…how old is yours?” When I answered “Two weeks,” the woman’s smile dissolved into a gasp of horror. She half-shrieked: “OH MY GOD you can’t have such a little one on the subway it’s so dangerous all the germs and their tiny immune systems I wouldn’t let MY nanny out with her until after three months and then I got the germ net for the stroller. It’s a mesh net that keeps out the germs. You shouldn’t be on the train with her yet or ever! You could take cabs or a car service. That’s what my nanny does.”

My heart started pounding. Was Clara in danger from subway germs? Though I immediately questioned the efficacy of mesh netting in keeping microscopic airborne germs off my baby…did this woman have a point? Why hadn’t my What to Expect book detailed the dangers of public transportation? I certainly didn’t have a nanny or a car service or even own a car, so my options were limited.

Mentally shaken, I smiled and thanked this apparently well-meaning stranger while silently vowing to ask a doctor for advice. Frazzled and already sleep-deprived, we rode the train uptown. I eyeballed the subway atmosphere looking for free-floating germs that might attach themselves to Clara’s tiny face.

When we finally made it to the pediatrician, I unloaded my worries onto her in a garbled stream that ended with: “Is she allowed to ride the subway?!” The doctor’s advice was simple: “As long as your baby isn’t holding onto the handrail in the subway, she should be fine.”

One day after we finally moved uptown to Washington Heights, I decided to try taking a bus downtown to visit my mother. I have a lot of fond memories of riding the bus around with the various kids I babysat in New York City from the time I was 13 until I was about 23. I got a seat on the bus, with car-seated Clara in my lap. I relaxed a little — enjoying the air conditioning and the view as the bus meandered down Broadway. A few stops later, a middle-aged woman gets on and sits next to me. Without preamble, and without acknowledging my presence, she starts talking to Clara in a baby voice:

“Hewooo wittle one…what is your Mommy doing taking you out on a hot day like this? Is she cawazy? She should be inside with such a wittle baby on a hot day. It’s too hot for wittle babies.”

Another round of unasked for advice — this time directed at my baby daughter who hadn’t even learned to focus her eyes yet.

I turned to the woman and said: “She’s on her way to visit her grandmother. And she’s fine.”

The woman said: “I guess New Yorkers do things differently.”

I said: “Yeah — they do.”

The conversation ended there.

Clara was five months old and I decided to try her stroller out for a spin in the neighborhood. It was a brisk but mild day in late November. I planned to walk 10 blocks to my sister’s apartment, take her dog for a brief walk and then head back home. Clara seemed happy in her coat and blanket. Six blocks into my walk, I saw a middle-aged woman walking down the sidewalk.

As she approached me, she started yelling a blue streak. It took a minute for me to realize she was talking to me. She was, in fact, cursing me out for not having a wind/rain protector on my stroller. You know — those clear plastic shields they put over strollers to keep the rain out? As she kept getting closer, her yelling rose in decibels: “WHAT ARE YOU CRAAAAAZY, LADY! YOUR BABY IS GONNA FREEEEEEZE OUT HERE — YOU DON’T HAVE A WINDSHIELD PROTECTOR WHAT’SA MATTER WITH YOU, YOU BITCH!”

The amazing thing was that she didn’t even slow down — she just marched past me, still screaming — her voice fading with the Doppler effect. I was shaken to the core and promptly began crying. Here I was, a new mom trying out a new stroller and I had apparently made a serious, baby-killing mistake. I spun the stroller around, sniffling, and headed home.

As I walked, I called my husband and found some solace in his outrage on my behalf. He assured me Clara would be fine. By the time I got home, Clara had fallen asleep in the stroller. I left her there to nap and started doing some paperwork at my desk.

Not fifteen minutes later the seeds of doubt planted by that crazy woman began to sprout. What if Clara had in fact been freezing? What if…she wasn’t asleep in her stroller but was in fact suffering from extreme hypothermia? What if she wasn’t sleeping but was in fact, in a cold-weather induced coma? I tiptoed over to the stroller and watched Clara breathing…or was she breathing? I gave her a tentative poke. No response. I blew air on her face and her eyelids quivered then stilled.

I tried to convince myself to no avail that Clara was just sleeping. I ended up taking her out of the stroller, trying to say in a happy voice: “Wake up, wake up, wake up.” She did wake up — she was fine, if unhappy and grumpy from being woken from her peaceful baby nap. She was not frozen.

Did that cursing woman on the street or the germ-a-phobe mother on the subway or the middle-aged tourist on the bus envision the ripple effects their yelling and criticism had on me? That it would affect me for hours? That it would make me cry? Did they think for an instant that perhaps I was an inexperienced, sleep-deprived, emotionally fragile first time mom? That maybe a piece of calmly delivered advice would be more effective than harsh criticism? Or that maybe they shouldn’t say anything at all?

Clara is two years old now and I have become largely immune to the slings and arrows of drive-by advice. (No, it hasn’t stopped.) I have become an expert at being a mother to my little girl. Next time, before you roll your eyes and start to say something critical to a parent trying to soothe a crying baby on a crowded subway, try to put yourself in their position for a minute.

Maybe in that instant the harsh words you were going to say will fade from your lips and instead you’ll try making a silly face at the baby, who just might stop crying. Let’s help each other more. Life (with and without children) is hard enough to navigate without random people telling you you’re doing it all wrong.

Jeannine Jones is a writer living in Upper Manhattan.

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 to Marry a Man Who Will Feed Our Kid McDonald’s

91278944
Smneedham—Getty Images

Am I cursing my future children to a life of being social outcasts because mommy wants to feed them green smoothies?

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Right now, there are at least a handful of people who I KNOW will never babysit my imaginary, yet-to-be born child. As far as they’re concerned, my baby will be more under wraps than “Blanket” Jackson was. Yes, I want nothing more than to have a full stock of potential babysitters, but sometimes these people—my friends—say things that make me get the Scooby Doo face.

“Your kids ain’t gon have any friends!”

“I’m going to feed your kids McDonald’s when you’re not around.”

“I feel sorry for your children…” *Insert sympathetic head nod and social worker look of dire concern here*

I’m a horrible mother and my eggs haven’t even hatched yet. Is it a crime to want my children to eat healthy? Am I cursing them to a life of being social outcasts because mommy wants to feed them green smoothies and use unsweetened almond milk in their gluten-free cereal? I bet the little girl I saw drinking blue juice and eating a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos before 8 a.m. has LOTS of friends to go with her early onset diabetes. Don’t I want that for my children?

I thought my peeps would be excited to know that at least my children will be fed and have something that passes for a decent home-cooked meal because for most of my adult life that whole part of being a mother was questionable. By everyone. Including me. Historically, I’m not known for cooking, so I get why there might be some concern about the future welfare of my family.

I’m always the person they ask to bring the cups and napkins for get togethers. Being in the kitchen used to make me really nervous because I never felt comfortable there. Growing up, my mother cooked every day, even when I moved back in after college. She didn’t like people in the kitchen with her, and I guess I never forced the issue. It wasn’t a big deal to learn how to cook or not; I just wanted to eat.

But things are different now and the “Sandi can’t cook” jokes have had their last laughs. I’m learning and practicing to cook and I’m not just doing it for myself. I’m doing it for people I haven’t even met. A family that only exists in my imagination.

When I changed my diet nearly three years ago — to become a pescatarian with a few vegan and raw foodie tendencies — it was a deliberate choice to change my family legacy. I wanted to feel good and I wanted to grow old healthy, unlike both my parents who both died pretty young. And I wanted a sexy womb!

The idea of a baby nesting inside a womb full of toxins, cysts, fibroids, lethargy, relationship trauma, and nondescript goo and gunk sounds really wack to me. As someone entertaining the thought of having a family one day, it also seems mad irresponsible. Shouldn’t you at least attempt to clean your house before important guests come over? Shouldn’t you at least clean your womb before you bring a life into the world? Like they say in church, I’m just trying to set the atmosphere.

So, where does this leave dating? They say if you want a man, you better know how to cook, but learning to eat and cook healthier has seemed to open a whole ‘nother can of worms. I’m very conscious about not being the food police toward people. What I eat affects MY body and what they eat affects THEIR body. I’m not here to convert or condemn anyone’s nutritional choices, especially when I still drop it like it’s hot for snacky cakes. I never really had to consider how a man ate before, but now, that’s a legitimate “thing.”

I thought I was progressive and open-minded enough to say it doesn’t matter; I can respect his food choices if he can respect mine. I mean, I guess I still feel that way when it comes to us individually, but parenting is a joint venture. One parent can’t be #TeamMcDonalds and the other #McDonaldsIsTheDevil.

Things like knowing a man’s nutritional values — how he feels about food and the way he wants his children to eat — are important if we’re considering doing more than just dating. If we have sex, we might procreate, and if we procreate that child is probably going to want to eat at some point. We have a dilemma on our hands if we’re on different McDonald’s teams.

Or, what if he IS #TeamFit, but his family and friends eat like crap. Am I just supposed to be like, “Nawl, the baby can’t spend the night at your mother’s house! You know that woman doesn’t like my non-cooking!”? What if he’s surrounded by people who do cartwheels every time we drop the baby off because now our child can finally eat some “real” food? I’m accustomed to having my food choices respected, so the thought of people not respecting them is new for me.

I ate “funny” according to my mother because at a very young age, the little girl who couldn’t stay out of the corner store buying snacks and pineapple pop suddenly changed. I gave up Kool-Aid, pop, stopped putting sugar on my grits and rice, switched to soy milk and requested my tacos and meatloaf be made with ground turkey instead of beef. My mother totally supported me. She and the rest of my family still ate “regular,” but she allowed me to do me and I’m forever grateful for that.

I couldn’t influence my mother to eat differently, but I can influence my child. I can start her on a healthy path and if she decides to veer off later in life, at least she can just do her in an informed way.

I don’t want a divided home. Even if I have to cook steaks for my husband every night, I want to be able to trust that when it’s just him and our child they aren’t running off to McDonald’s together for “our little secret because you know mommy eats funny and hates McDonald’s.” I want to trust him and anyone else our child is with when I’m not around.

I can deal with my imaginary child being invited to a few less play dates, or having to pay for a fancy school that serves organic meals so that she can feel normal around other kids who have mommies that are pescatarian with vegan and raw foodie tendencies. This veggie vixen hopes to have a man and a support system that can deal with that, too.

Sandria M. Washington is a Chicago-based writer.

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 Pain of Passing My Disability on to My Child

Parenting
Cecilia Cartner—Getty Images

When my daughter was six weeks old, we received official word that she had inherited my bone disorder, a condition that would likely cause her many fractures and possibly painful corrective surgeries

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

When my oldest daughter Leah was born, many people made the same observation: “Look at those fingers! So long and skinny…just like yours, Ellen.” Right after she was born, my husband went with her for a bath as I was stitched up after my c-section. When he returned, he mentioned that her eyes were a “funny color.” All of those observations, straightforward and innocent on the surface, let me know that some of my darkest fears were probably being realized.

My daughter’s long, skinny fingers and toes, the bluish color in the whites of her eyes—these were signs that Leah had inherited a scrambled gene that would wreak havoc on her skeleton. When she was six weeks old, we received official word that Leah had indeed inherited my bone disorder, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI)—a condition that would likely cause her many fractures (I had about three dozen before the age of 11) and possibly painful corrective surgeries. I clutched her fiercely against my chest and told God that he had damn well better take care of this child. That day 14 years ago was the hardest day of my life.

I have spent much of the past 10 years or so writing about genetics and disability and the choices made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies that allow parents to choose, to some extent, what sort of child they might have. I have talked to dozens of potential parents who, like me, have some serious genetic baggage and fear putting its weight on their children’s shoulders. And I have talked to some people who wonder whether, if their child does inherit some genetic menace that wreaks havoc on that child’s health and well-being, will they regret that they took such chances with a genetic lottery stacked against them?

I tell such people that I think it’s impossible, barring extreme psychological dysfunction, to regret your own child’s existence. And I tell them about my daughter Leah, who is bearing the weight of my own genetic baggage on her fragile skeleton, who has, yes, broken a dozen bones and deeply mourned the losses that come when yet another broken bone messes with our plans. I have watched Leah sink into a place that is really dark and really sad. But I have other stories to tell about Leah, not just the dark and sad ones.

There’s this story: One Sunday morning several months ago, I slipped on some black ice when going to get our newspaper. Landing hard on my back, I broke two ribs and a shoulder bone, and partially collapsed a lung—the kind of injuries that stronger-boned people incur when they fall from trees and roofs. I managed to crawl from the frozen front walk into our entrance hall, but couldn’t go any farther. While I lay there waiting for the ambulance to arrive, as my husband reassured my two younger children and called my mom to come stay with the kids, as I struggled to breathe, Leah sat next to me on the floor. She just sat there, silent. At one point, I said to her, “You know, Leah, don’t you? You know how I’m feeling.” I wasn’t talking just about the pain, but also the crushing disappointment of a regular day ruined, the weightier knowledge of the ruined days to come. I was talking about feeling powerless in the face of something as stupidly mundane as ice, and being betrayed by the fragile body gaining the upper hand on the strong spirit. Leah nodded. Yes, she knew.

A few months later, I was heading to pick Leah up from church choir practice. I was dreading it, because I knew that Leah would be getting some bad news at the rehearsal. For Leah, singing is a passion, and when she joined our church choir about three years ago, she found another family, a community. The choirmaster was a young man called Dr. Roberts. Dr. Roberts is a talented musician but also a gifted teacher. Leah will, I’m sure, remember him for the rest of her life as the kind of teacher and mentor who changed her life. I knew that during this particular rehearsal, Dr. Roberts was planning to let the kids know that he had taken a job in New York City and would be leaving. I knew Leah would be devastated.

She came out from the church to the parking lot and with tears streaming down her face, she said, “You know Mom? This is his dream, this job he’s taking in New York. It’s good. It’s just all good.”

So it seems that, at not quite 15 years old, Leah knows what love looks like. She knows how to help carry another’s burden. She knows that sometimes an empathic presence is more helpful than words. She knows about wanting the best for someone you care about, even when their best is your worst. That she is capable of such wisdom at such a young age is proof to me that I can never regret anything about the person Leah is and is becoming, brittle bones and all.

I want to be perfectly clear, though, about what I don’t mean. I hate those clichés about how we should be grateful for the shitty stuff in our life because it teaches us so much, about how “Everything happens for a reason.” I don’t believe that one bit.

But I’m beginning to understand that Leah’s inheritance from me is not merely a faulty gene and a fragile skeleton, but also the truest kind of compassion—the kind that arises when you know what pain looks like and feels like, and you recognize another’s need, and know just what to do.

Do I regret that Leah inherited my fragile bones? I don’t love it. I even sometimes hate it.

But while I sometimes wish I could have spared her that particular genetic fate, I’m also profoundly grateful that it was not in my power to decide what kind of kid I would get.

Because I never could have predicted, much less devised, the wounded and gracious person my daughter is becoming.

Ellen Painter Dollar is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). She blogs about faith, family, disability, and ethics at Patheos. Dollar also serves on a working group sponsored by the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center on Bioethics, exploring bioethical issues related to health care and people with disabilities.

Read more from Patheos:

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.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser