TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most

Regarding the wellbeing of kids with divorced parents, the debate over what kind of custody arrangement is best rages on. But a new study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both of their parents.

That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

The researchers wanted to see if kids who lived part time with both parents were more stressed than those who lived with just one parent. They looked at national data from almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students—each in either 6th grade or 9th grade—and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% spent time living with both parents and about 13% lived with only one parent.

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys did, and the most frequent problem for girls was sadness. Sleep problems were the most common in kids overall.

In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades; in the 1980s, only 1% of kids of divorced parents lived in joint-custody arrangements, but that number jumped to 40% in 2010. Shared parenting is less common in the U.S., says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization, and he estimates the rate is less than 20%. Still, he says that the research in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming. “You’ll hear opponents say, ‘You’ll turn them into suitcase kids; they don’t want to be dragged back and forth,'” Holstein says. “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

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TIME Parenting

How To Help Your Kids Get Rid of Stuff

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Hint: Don't start in your child's closet.

How do you recognize a house that has kids in it? By all the stuff.

We start collecting stuff for kids before they’re even born. Not long after that that they start collecting stuff themselves. (And leaving it just about everywhere.) But all that stuff doesn’t just get in the way when we’re trying to walk across the living room. It can get in the way of our lives.

That’s what Joshua Becker, founder of Becoming Minimalist and author of Clutter Free with Kids, realized one day, as he spent an afternoon cleaning stuff out of his garage instead of playing with his son.

So he and his family decided to simplify their lives, selling or giving away everything that wasn’t essential. The biggest benefit, according to Becker? Getting all that stuff out of the way gave his family a chance to focus on what really matters most to them.

“We began questioning everything we had allowed into our life,” Becker says. “Is this really benefiting us? Or is it just there because everyone else is doing it?”

He’s not the only one. Marie Kondo, whose bestselling 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up advises people to keep only those things that bring joy, used to sneakily throw away her siblings’ stuff when she was a kid.

But confronted with the tidal waves of stuff in kids’ lives, much of which they claim they desperately need, where can a parent begin?

“Don’t start in your kids’ closet,” Becker says. “Start in your own. Your child sees the example you’ve set, and you’ve explained why you’re doing what you’re doing. So by the time they get to their stuff, they’re prepared.”

With elementary age kids, Becker says, parents can start very simply: by saying, “no.” Parents often want to give their kids everything. But one of the most important things they can give kids, according to Becker, is boundaries. And once those boundaries are set, good conversations can start, with questions like, “What things are important to keep? Why do you want to keep them? What things do we not really need?”

By middle school, kids have started to notice what other kids have. So “envy becomes more prevalent,” Becker says. But, he notes, “we almost never solve the problem of envy by acquiring whatever it is we envy.” Instead, Becker says, the antidote for envy is gratitude. Parents can help kids confront envy with questions like, “How do you think having that new thing would change your life? What things do you have now that you enjoy?”

High school kids are in a place where they can be more self-reflective about the stuff they own, or want. Parents can encourage them with questions like “What makes us want to buy more and more? Why aren’t we satisfied with what we have?”

And, Becker says, parents can encourage kids to dream big not about what they want to have, but what they want to do. Kids “have very big dreams,” says Becker. And that’s one place where it is healthy to try to give them everything: “we should encourage them to do whatever they want to do to help people, and change the world they’re in.”

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TIME Parenting

The Problem With No-Share Parenting

Toy trucks in a sandbox
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Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America.

A child who is 3 or 4 can be conditioned to share, to empathize, and to be generous

Don’t force your toddler to share. In fact, don’t encourage it all. It’s not even good for your child. Parents who insist that their kids “take turns” and give up their toys to other children on the playground are doing it mostly because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of other parents. In short, we promote sharing because it’s easier for us as adults and not because it’s the right thing for a 3- or 4-year-old.

Is this parenting theory the future for young American parents? I hope not, but it’s possible. A number of psychologists, religious educators, and conservative commentators seem to have arrived at a consensus teaching our kids that to share is bad for them, and we need to back off. Such advice would seem to be contrary to conventional wisdom and accepted ethical norms, not to mention just plain common sense. Do we really want “stay away from my stuff” to be the governing rule for children in the sandbox? I remain hopeful that the “no need to share” movement will be no more than a fad.

The anti-sharing crowd offers a number of rationales for its approach. Rachel Boldwyn, writing recently on Christianity Today’s website, makes the following arguments: First, kids are incapable of sharing. A toddler is naturally possessive and should not be expected to act beyond his age. Second, forced sharing or mandated turn-taking is not really sharing at all, but simply means that a child is complying with the demand of a more powerful individual — the parent, or teacher, or caregiver. Third, forcing a child to share disrupts the value that he derives from extended play, truncating his ability to concentrate. According to Boldwyn, the Biblical verse“training up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) means that we must see our children as distinct individuals, separate from their parents, and this means avoiding the notion that they must share because we as parents want them to share.

But Boldwyn misunderstands the passage and the psychology. It’s true that a 2-year-old cannot comprehend sharing and the implications of ownership. It is also true that Biblical ethics cannot simply be imposed; ethical systems work best when a person willingly embraces the values involved. But children are not adults and are not competent to make the range of decisions that adults must make. That is why we are instructed to “train” them in the way they should go.

And this means that a child who is 3 or 4 can be conditioned to share, to empathize, and to be generous. Conditioning will include some mandated turn-taking and forced sharing, but that is what training is about, and what the Biblical text intended. It is also consistent with what child development experts accept as necessary and appropriate. Children are forced to do all kinds of things that are important to their welfare: eat in healthy ways, learn basic manners, and avoid hitting and hazards to their safety. The problem is not the compulsion, but a parent who is harsh rather than firm, or arbitrary rather than caring. A parent who makes a 3-year-old take turns with a toy is not a problem if the parent is loving and models sharing in his own behavior.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the New York Post, offers yet another reason not to encourage a child to share: It could send a message that all stuff is collectively owned, and that a child is entitled to use it just for being around it. This is absurd. Toddlers by nature are selfish beings; they are concerned with themselves and their own needs. The danger of a nursery school or playgroup, therefore, is not that it will teach our children communism, but that it will fail to teach them the values of love, trust, and generosity that are central to all of the Abrahamic faiths. A major goal of parenting and toddler programs, therefore, is to help children learn the language of “we” rather than “I,” and teaching them to share is part of that.

I recently attended the birthday party of my 3-year-old grandson. When disputes arose over toys, the parents quickly intervened, almost all of them telling their children to take turns and share. The results varied, although the children, despite being “forced” to take turns, in most cases quickly moved on — as children usually do. The parents were of different religious backgrounds, and many of them did not know each other, but it was interesting to see them instinctively and immediately resort to a language intended to promote cooperation and sharing. From what I could see, they reacted as they did not because of their own ego needs or fear of embarrassment but because they thought it was the right thing to do. And it was.

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

Be a Helium Parent, Not a Helicopter One

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Parenting by panic is damaging to children

When police keep parents from their own children for the crime of letting them walk home alone, something has gone radically wrong.

In Maryland, two children, ages 6 and 10, were held for hours after a 911 call alerted police they were unaccompanied in a park last week. Police had picked up the same children while they were walking home alone in the not-so-wild streets of their neighborhood last December. Their mother has said that parenting is an exercise in “risk management.” That is exactly right. Children once were given the chance to explore, to stumble, to be hurt, and to heal. It is time to reject helicopter parenting and replace it with helium parenting.

We should hold on to our children as a child holds on to a balloon. Let them rise, float on their own, but keep a grasp on the string. In time we will need to release our grip, but in the meantime, instead of hovering from above, we should be holding lightly from below. Think of it as parental string theory.

Most parents now monitor their children so closely with electronics that there is no true escape. We beep, buzz, text, Facebook, Skype and skulk our way around each other’s space, especially that of our kids. We aren’t just helicopter parents; we are helicopter parents with radar.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, my brothers and I walked to school each day. We played football unsupervised in the streets. On Saturday afternoons when we were the same ages as those Maryland kids, we would walk around the neighborhood and visit people. The chances then as now, that a child would be snatched by a stranger were extremely rare.

As we are made increasingly aware of each crime, America has become a strange paradox — a society whose fear rises with each advance in security. We are safe and scared. The more medicine eliminates diseases, the more obsessively we put Purell on our hands. The more meticulously we test our drinking supply, the more we turn to bottled water. Almost any risk has become unbearable — but without risk there is no life.

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Human beings have a cognitive bias that overestimates the frequency of dramatic calamities. In his book Protecting the Gift, child-safety expert Gavin De Becker points out that compared to a stranger kidnapping, “a child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk.” People regularly miscalculate real risk — that is why some who are terrified of planes don’t buckle their safety belts in cars, even though the chances of a car accident are far greater than dying in a plane crash.

This nation was built by immigrants and pioneers. Both take great risks. In our attitudes toward our children, however, we have become a timid nation, making the circle of our children’s lives ever smaller, leaving them in front of a screen to experience the world. Parenting by panic is damaging to children.

Seeing kids walking home from school should lift our collective spirit. Children have walked to and from school for generations. Remember Shakespeare’s “whining school-boy with his satchel/ And shining morning face, creeping like snail/ Unwillingly to school”? Walking to school is an age-old rite of passage. Faced with the admittedly terrifying prospect that something might happen to our daughters and sons, we choose to transmit our terror to them rather than our confidence.

Helicopters are big, expensive, cumbersome, and dangerous. They look down. Balloons are colorful, joyous, and free. Be a helium parent. Look up.

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

Hundreds Attend 10-Year-Old’s Birthday Party After Mom’s Facebook Plea

ten year old birthday
Courtesy of NBC

At least 500 people showed up to the party Saturday while the Shakopee, Minn. Mayor Brad Tabke proclaimed it "Mackenzie Moretter Day"

A Minnesota mother was so distraught when all of the girls invited to her daughter’s birthday party said they wouldn’t be there that she took matters into her own hands and got an incredible turnout.

Ten-year-old Mackenzie Moretter has a developmental disorder called Sotos syndrome, which causes children to grow at a faster rate but often delays their social and intellectual skills.

“Kids are friendly to her, but she doesn’t have friends. No one calls and talks to her. I’ll show up at her school and she will be playing alone,” her father, Matthew Moretter, told NBC affiliate KARE.

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TIME Parenting

Why Kids Who Believe in Something Are Happier and Healthier

Johan Ödmann—Copyright Johner Bildbyra AB

Spirituality better predictor of happiness than achievement, says author

Despite more than a decade of widespread attention on happiness and the benefits of positive psychology, there is an epidemic of unhappiness in children and teens. Quite severe unhappiness. Health statistics over the past decade show that beyond the 20% to 25% of teens with major depression are another 40% (yes, that’s a total of 65%) who struggle with intrusive levels of depression symptoms at some point, and often with anxiety and substance abuse as well.

Kids of middle-class and more affluent families—kids who would seem to have everything going for them—have far higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and anti-social tendencies than their less privileged peers. Why has the mass happiness initiative failed our kids? Science is bringing the problem into resolution.

An increasingly narcissistic culture and the constant reward for achievement, whether on the playing field, the music stage or the math test, creates what I call in my book the unbalanced “performance self” of the child; a child who feels his or her worth is founded on ability and accomplishment.

We want our children to have grit to persist and win, the optimism that they will be more successful, but where does it lead? Children come to believe they are no better than their last success and suffer a sense of worthlessness when there is loss or even moderate failure. Where love is conditional on performance, children suffer.

Now the antidote. A new study just published online in the Journal of Religion and Health by my lab at Columbia University shows that happiness and the character traits of grit and persistence go “hand in hand” with a deeper inner asset: spirituality, which this study measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world.

More generally my research of more than 20 years on adolescence, depression and spirituality shows more specifically how putting a priority on performance stunts development of a child’s inner life and the single most powerful protection against depression and suffering, the spiritual self.

What we have learned is that children are born with an innate capacity for spirituality, just as they are born with the capability to learn a language, read and think. But just as it takes time and effort to develop the ability to speak or read, it also takes time and effort to develop our innate sense of the spiritual.

A strong new body of science, developed during the last decade to what we now consider to be a level of certainty, demonstrates, first, that any sort of spirituality becomes a source of health and thriving for kids and, second, that the lack of spirituality in families and youth culture can be a big source of suffering.

Among other things, our research demonstrates:

  • Spiritually plays a significant role in child social, emotional and cognitive development. Kids with a strong spirituality overall have greater grit, higher grades, more optimism and persistence than kids without a strong sense of spirituality.
  • Teenagers who say they have a strong sense of spirituality are 80% less likely than the norm to have unprotected or dangerous sex, and 40% less likely to use drugs
  • Personal spirituality that includes a direct personal relationship with nature, a universal presence or higher power (by any name) has a clear correlation with physical wellness and recovery from depression and disease; indeed, greater spiritual awareness produces the same readings in brain scans as recovery due to medication.

We have found that the natural spirituality of children and young people can be encouraged and fostered by such steps as meditation, prayer, or long walks in nature where a sense of transcendence can be engaged. Parents can demonstrate approval for (and model) such traits as caring for others, empathy or optimism.

Most important, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable, parents must not turn away from questions that children are prone to ask—those difficult “why” questions that go directly to moral issues or to such visceral questions as whether there is a God, how we know, and what that means to us.

In contrast to the performance self, the spiritual self is sturdy and resilient, happy at a win, but not dependent on it to feel worthy as human being. In our excessively competitive culture, with often thin support for spiritual development, parents must actively work to help their children to a spiritual life.

Parents who aggressively push their children to achieve “success” in finding the “right” school, achieving the “right kind of job” should consider the science of the matter. Spirituality is more essential to thriving and success than ability to perform. Spiritual children have a sense of inner worth, a sense of the lasting, higher sacred self, much bigger than the day’s win or defeat. And when they achieve their goals – that better job, or that higher income – the studies show that well-grounded, spiritually engaged young people can actually feel fulfilled by their life choices.

That’s something worth pushing for.

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Lisa Miller, Ph.D. is Director of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of the forthcoming book, The Spiritual Child; The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving

Read next: How Do You Talk to Kids About God?

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MONEY

Why Millennials Are in for a Worse Midlife Crisis than their Parents

senior man in motorcycle gear
Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

Marriage, it turns out, lessens the dip in happiness that happens in one's late 40s. But most Gen Y-ers have steered clear of the altar.

I’m a happily married 28-year-old with a beautiful wife and son. My life is good.

But if research is correct, I will grow increasingly more dissatisfied with my life over the next 20 years. Which is terrifying.

The midlife crisis is very real.

Studies show that people are pretty happy when they’re young and when they’re older—thank youthful exuberance and not having to work, respectively. But between 46 and 55, folks endure peak ennui.

That happiness ebbs as one ages is not particularly surprising. Careers plateau, dreams are deferred and bills increase in quantity and frequency.

This U-shaped happiness curve has been the focus of a lot of research recently and many nations (from Britain to Bhutan) have shown interest in augmenting citizens well-being with the intent that gross happiness is just as important to the economy as the gross domestic product.

One recent study on the topic—published in the National Bureau of Economic Research—has me feeling just a little bit less sad about my upcoming depression. It found that married folks like myself will experience a less dramatic midlife crisis than their non-married peers.

Authors Shawn Grover and John Helliwell used data from two U.K. surveys and found that while life-satisfaction levels declined for those who married and those who didn’t, the middle-age drop was much less severe for the betrothed, even when controlling for premarital happiness.

Having a dedicated partner, it seems, eases the burden of watching your youth pass slowly through your fingers. Tying the knot can soften the blow, in the other words.

Moreover, people who consider their partner a friend enjoy the most happiness.

“We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a casual relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors wrote.

These findings could leave many of my peers in an emotional nadir: According to data from the Pew Research Center, millennials just aren’t terribly interested in the institution of marriage. Only 26% of people aged 18 to 32 were married in 2013—10 points lower than Gen X when they were of a similar age in 1997, and 22 points below boomers’ marriage patterns in 1960.

My generation still has a few years before they hit the bottom of the U curve. And perhaps an improving economy will make the prospect of marriage more attractive to those in my cohort. Here’s hoping.

I didn’t plan to marry when I did—like most of my generation the thought really didn’t occur to me. But my longtime girlfriend and I walked down the aisle after we found out she was pregnant. And from my current pre-midlife-crisis vantage point, I can see why marrying someone I love and with whom I share a common worldview will make the process of aging slightly less pale and ugly.

Life’s hard, but it turns out that it’s nice to have someone you love to complain about it with.

More From the First-Time Dad:

TIME Family

This Is How You Can Put a Baby to Sleep in Less Than 60 Seconds

All you need is some tissue paper

If you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, don’t give up just yet. Simply reach for the Kleenex.

In under a minute, YouTuber and Australian father Nathan Dailo sends his baby to sleep by gently tickling the infant’s face with tissue paper.

“The tissue trick isn’t actually anything special. Any light touching on the baby’s facial areas such as the head, forehead or the bridge of the nose also works,” Dailo tells TIME.

The video has garnered more than 4 million views and inspired innumerable other parents to deploy the technique. However, Dailo cautions that his technique isn’t the only one.

“Remember that each child is different, and what works for some parents may not work for others. And always use you’re instincts. You are the parent,” Dailo stresses.

TIME Parenting

A 65-Year-Old German Mom Is Expecting Quadruplets

65 year old pregant with quadruplets
Patrick Lux—EPA Annegret Raunigk, then 55-years-old, poses with her daughter Leila in Berlin on Nov. 3, 2005.

Annegret Raunigk's oldest child is already 44

A 65-year-old German schoolteacher is a busy mother to 13 children—and she’s reportedly about to welcome four more to her burgeoning brood.

Annegret Raunigk, who’s oldest child is 44, told German newspaper Bild on April 4 that she is in her 21st week of pregnancy with quadruplets.

The Berlin native claims the pregnancy is the result of artificial insemination using both donated sperm and eggs. The pregnancy will be documented for German TV show RTL.

Raunigk told Bild that her doctor reportedly suggested selective reduction when they discovered she was having quadruplets, but she wasn’t interested.

Raunigk is no stranger to media attention. She first garnered headlines at age 55 when she give birth to her 13th child, daughter Leila. (Pictured above.) It was Leila, she claims, that inspired her to try for another child.

The teacher’s 13 children are reportedly from five different fathers. She is a grandmother to seven.

Bild reports that Raunigk is due in the summer, and that she isn’t concerned about the possible health risks for a woman her age. “I simply assume that I will remain fit and healthy,” she told the newspaper. Her doctor, who also spoke to the paper, said he is optimistic.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

Read next: Watch This Mom of 6 Boys Freak Out During Gender Reveal of Baby Number 7

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TIME Family

Why Have Kids?

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

In the midst of rapidly changing family structures, why does childlessness still carry a stigma for women?

It used to be that the Cleavers — dad working an office job, mom raising two boys full-time — were the model American family. But the past several decades have seen dramatic changes — recent studies find that only about half of American adults are married today, compared to around 70 percent in 1960. The share of interracial marriages has doubled since 1980. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. More men than ever are becoming single fathers. More mothers are becoming family breadwinners. More children are being born outside of marriage.

A Pew Research Center study from 2010 found that 20 percent of American women now end their childbearing years without having borne a child, compared to 10 percent in the 1970s. During that time, the public has become more accepting of these women, but 38 percent of Americans surveyed for that study felt this trend was bad for society. When it comes to some other changes to the American family — such as marrying someone of a different race or women working outside the home — the public has said in greater numbers that those trends were good for or at least didn’t harm society.

In advance of the Zócalo event, “Why Have Kids?”, we asked a panel of experts: If Americans have come to accept a range of non-traditional family structures, why does a woman’s choice not to have children still elicit skepticism and judgment?

 

Bella DePaulo — We want other people to share the worldviews we care about most

“As long as women bounce around kidding themselves that life is full when alone, they are putting their hedonistic, selfish desires ahead of what’s best for children and society.” That was one reader’s response to a 2002 cover story in Time about women who were choosing to stay single and not have kids. At the time, I was just starting to research my first book on single people and I was perplexed. The reader had no relationship to the women in the story — they were strangers. If these women didn’t have qualms about their life choices, why should this guy get so angry about them?

I hadn’t yet recognized the power of people’s views of the world. Worldviews help us make sense of the world. They can boost our self-esteem, enhance our good feelings, and keep our bad ones at bay. We want other people to share the worldviews we care about the most. When it comes to marriage and family, one of the strongest worldviews is that women are supposed to get married and have kids. And if they do, they will be happier and healthier than everyone else — and morally superior, too.

The “problem,” then, with women who do not follow the culturally valued life course of marrying and having children, is that they are threatening beliefs that people hold dear.

What’s more, it is even worse if they choose not to marry or have kids. For example, research has shown that single people who want to be single are judged more harshly than those who want to find a partner. They are seen as lonelier, colder, less sociable, and more miserable. Even more tellingly, other people express more anger toward them. That irate reader of the Time story was not only irked because he thought the women were stupid, but also because they were happy. How dare they claim that life without marriage or kids is a good and happy life — a life that someone would actually choose!

Bella DePaulo, who has a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University, is the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and the forthcoming How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.

 

Elaine Tyler May — Women have opted out of motherhood throughout history

Womanhood equals motherhood has long been accepted as the norm for women’s lives. But in fact, throughout history, women have often opted out of motherhood. In the 19th century, for example, the average number of births per woman declined by half—from eight in 1800 to four in 1900. Many women chose not to marry, and even some of those who married chose not to have children. The rate of childlessness was at an all-time high at the dawn of the 20th century, and then dropped to an all-time low after World War II in the midst of the Baby Boom.

Today, more and more women are choosing not to have children for a wide variety of reasons. Women without children are not scorned or pitied to the extent they once were, but a stigma still attaches to women who choose not to procreate. It is way past time for that stigma to lift. American women today lead rich and varied lives, with or without partners, with or without children. It is time to celebrate all the choices women have, and protect their ability to make the choice to have children—or not. Besides, there are many ways to have children in one’s life without giving birth to them or raising them. Just ask any devoted aunt, teacher, doctor, childcare worker, or anyone with children in their lives. As one teacher said proudly, “I’m not childless! I have 400 children!”

Elaine Tyler May is Regents professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of several books on women and the American family, including Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness.

 

Laura S. Scott — People are ignoring studies that point to happy, regret-free seniors who didn’t have children

Behind all the media attention around baby bumps, intentional single moms, egg freezing parties, and celebrity surrogacy is a belief that the only path to a purposeful and fulfilling life is parenthood, particularly motherhood. If you value the experience of motherhood over all other experiences, you will tend to judge someone who values a different experience.

There is also the persistent belief that, if you don’t have kids, you will regret it and die alone or in a home with 30 starving cats. Everyone chooses to ignore the multitude of studies that point to happy, socially connected, regret-free childfree seniors who are living their dreams and contributing in many creative ways. The lingering stigma is puzzling unless you factor in the judgment, unspoken regrets, and dare I say, envy, from parents who say, “I didn’t think I had the choice!”

We now have the means and opportunity to remain childfree, but we have to have the intent and will to resist the prenatal messaging, peer and family pressure, and be true to ourselves. We also have to have reliable birth control and doctors who believe us when we say, “I don’t want kids, ever! And I will not change my mind and sue you if you perform this tubal!”

We also need to be able to wrap our brains around this question: “If everyone is invited to decide for themselves if they want to be a parent, how does our thinking and our world have to change to allow for that?”

Laura S. Scott is an executive and reproductive decision-making coach, author of Two is Enough: A Couples Guide to Living Childless by Choice, and director of the Childless by Choice Project.

 

Bill McKibben — There’s also prejudice towards people who chose to have just one kid

There’s another choice that yields almost as much skepticism: the decision just to have one child. Surveys show that the biggest reason for having a second kid is so the first won’t be an only child. There may be plenty of good reasons for having a big family, but it turns out that isn’t one of them: all the data show that only kids grow up to be indistinguishable from their peers with siblings. Not spoiled, not crazy. Just fine.

In fact, it’s a perfect example of how easily we’re led astray by prejudice. The “study” that convinced everyone that only children were odd was conducted in the late 1800s, and the definition of “odd” included “very pretty,” “very ugly,” and “very strong.” (It also found that immigrant children were odd; go figure.) The subjects in the study included not just actual only children, but only children in works of fiction.

Happily science has marched on, and so should the rest of us. It’s time that we learned to accept that people, and families, come in many different shapes and sizes; that they face different circumstances and want different things. It’s time, that is, to stop with the judging.

Bill McKibben is a Vermont-based writer whose books include Maybe One: An Argument for Smaller Families.

 

Melanie Notkin — Choose happiness

We have “Mom-opia” in America—the myopic view of motherhood as womanhood.,. And yet, the latest U.S. Census Report on Fertility shows that 46 percent of women of childbearing years are childless.

This all-women-as-mother view generates “black and white” assumptions for why women make their choices, ignoring nuances and shades of gray. I worked closely with DeVries Global PR on a 2014 national demographic study entitled: “Shades of Otherhood,” inspired by my book: Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, to better understand this cohort of modern women. Of the 19 million childless American women ages 20 to 44, over one-third (36 percent) are childless by choice. Some never felt motherhood was for them. Some don’t feel financially secure enough for parenthood. Some enjoy the freedom to live life to what they envision as its potential. And 18 percent of all childless women are on the fence, having not yet made a choice on motherhood either way.

And then nearly half (46 percent) are involuntarily childless, some by biology, and more often, among the cohort I explore more widely in Otherhood, by circumstance.

The women of the Otherhood are often single, often not by choice, and they choose to wait for love before motherhood.

Still, whatever the reason for childlessness, 80 percent of women in our study said they can live a happy life without children of their own. Moreover, even among those who are childfree by choice, 80 percent are “childfull” — they play an active role the lives of other people’s children.

Whatever the choices or circumstances of childlessness, the only way to live a meaningful and happy life is to live an authentic life—making the right choice for oneself, not by the measure of what society believes is the “right” choice. And the only one who can make that authentic choice is the women who chooses. She chooses happiness.

Melanie Notkin is the founder and author of Savvy Auntie and author of Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness. Connect with her at Otherhood.co and @SavvyAuntie.

This article was written for Zocalo Public Square.

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