TIME psychology

10 Things Most Parents Are Dead Wrong About: Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Family

The 3 Comments Adoptive Parents Hate To Hear

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

Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion

xojane

I am at the grocery check out line with my four-year-old son, and the cashier says:

“Your son is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, we think so too,” I reply as I note her observing my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

She inquires, “Is your husband dark-skinned?”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Oh, well is he from Latin America?”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Oh,” the cashier replies beginning to look puzzled but now wants to solve this mystery. “Well, your son has such beautiful dark features.”

“Thank you, we think he is so handsome too.”

She probes some more.

“That is so interesting, you and your husband are fair-skinned, but your son has dark features.”

The running commentary in my head says, “Thank you, Sherlock, for pointing out the obvious to me. I had never noticed that before.”

But the words that come from my mouth say instead, “I know, it is because our son is adopted.”

“Oh, he is adopted. That is so interesting . . .”

Now, the next few comments in the conversation I know are well-meaning, but please hear me out because they can really cause my heart rate to increase, breath to shorten and blood pressure to rise.

However, let’s first talk about adoption. Adoption is beautiful and not that rare of an occurrence. Chances are likely that you know someone adopted, have met adoptive parents or perhaps have even mulled over the idea of adopting. Regardless of adoption or through biological birth, like any regular parent I love my four-year-old son. He means the world to me. Yes, our son is adopted, and just like your story, our family story is incredibly special, vulnerable, and personal.

But that is just the point; our family story is our special story about how we have a family, just like yours is yours. However, in my experience, when people hear the word adoption it seems to give them this idea that they can, tact aside, ask many personal questions about life, our son, and the context that he was adopted from.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me save you the grief or embarrassment of saying the following three comments that inevitably always arise in a conversation.

1. “You are so amazing for adopting — I couldn’t do what you did.”

This comment gets me every time! First, would you ever say that to a new mother who just gave birth to a child? “You are so amazing for giving birth.” No, never! In fact, that would sound absolutely ridiculous if such comments were made.

Secondly, and more importantly, these comments are utterly false because every child deserves a home. Life is not about me, and I am not a saint; it is my son’s and every child’s right that is born on this earth to have parent(s) that deeply love and value them.

The “I couldn’t do what you did” part just makes you sound like you haven’t fully thought that sentence through because, yes, you could adopt. Regardless, every child deserves a home. Adoptive parents are parents just by a different means. But that is all. They are parents, not saints.

2. “Are you going to have any of your own real children?”

Really?! You have got to be joking. I did not know that having a child come from my uterus was the only criteria for some relationship to be considered real! Think about this: Is the love to your spouse or partner real? Do you question that bond of love and ask others if their bond is real? My son is my own real child! It does not matter to me as to whether my son comes from my own actual body because I can 100 percent confidently tell you he feels like he is a part of me.

On a different note, when you find out my son is adopted and ask me this question, coupled with the fact that you don’t even know me, this can be highly offensive. Rather, it would be much more appreciated if you asked, “How many more children will you have?”

3. “Do they know who their real family is?”

It is 3:30 a.m. and our son has just woken up to crawl into our bed because he is scared. Sleepily I say to him, “Hold on sweetie, let’s let Daddy sleep. I will come lay beside you.”

(Having three in a queen-size bed inevitably means one of us isn’t going to sleep that night.)

He slumps down back to his bed, which happens to be right beside our bed, but on the way he hits his head on the night-time dresser. Startled by his cry of pain, I jump out of bed as fast as lightning, pick him up and start consoling and rocking him. My husband is awakened by the commotion and jumps out of bed to get a cloth for the tiny cut on his face.

In light of the story, let’s get back to the question of knowing who our son’s “real” family is. I think it is safe to say that teaching our son the difference between right and wrong, teaching him how to communicate and respect others, showing him how to ride a bike, hold a spoon, wipe his bum, and, most importantly, giving him unconditional love and support are the requirements for being a real family. So to answer your question, yes our son knows exactly who his real family is.

Now, I do not want to leave you feeling shamed or like I will harp on you should you ask me any questions about my family. I know what you mean when you ask me these questions of “realness,” but language is powerful and has serious connotations that can leave adopted children not feeling like they are truly a part of a family. How tragic! The take home message is: Please be tactful of what you ask, especially if you do not know me.

Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion.

Renae Regehr is a graduate student and mother. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

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

TIME Parenting

Watch Elmo Interview Chelsea Clinton

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NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images Chelsea Clinton arrives on March 20, 2014.

"I'm so happy being a mom," Clinton says

Chelsea Clinton opens up about her baby Charlotte in a new interview with People that features Elmo and plenty of the former first daughter’s childrearing strategies.

“I have a beautiful baby daughter named Charlotte,” a beaming Clinton tells Elmo. Later, she says, “I try really hard to be a good mommy. I think it’s the most important job in the world.”

Watch the video at People

TIME Family

How to Talk to Your Kids About Martin Luther King Any Day of the Year

Dr. King Addresses Meeting
Robert W. Kelley—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a protest meeting in Atlanta in 1957

If he hadn’t been assassinated in Memphis in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. might have lived to be 86 this year. And despite the victories of the movement King led, the issues of justice and peace he fought for are still with us. Apart from watching the film Selma—which as Tina Fey joked “is about the American civil rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine”—what are some concrete ways to talk with kids about King and his legacy, not just on Martin Luther King Day, but in ongoing conversations?

Clayborne Carson, founding director of the King Institute, professor of history at Stanford University, and author of Martin’s Dream, suggests parents look at King’s childhood. The civil rights leader clearly describes the injustice he suffered in his autobiography: “For a long, long time I could not go swimming, until there was Negro YMCA. A Negro child in Atlanta could not go to any public park. I could not go to the so-called white schools. In many of the stores downtown, I couldn’t go to a lunch counter to buy a hamburger or a cup of coffee. … I remember seeing the Klan actually beat a Negro. I had passed spots where Negroes had been savagely lynched. All these things did something to my growing personality.”

King also recalls how his mother talked about these issues with him: “She taught me that I should feel a sense of “somebodiness” but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are “less than,” you are “not equal to.” … Then she said the words that almost every Negro hears before he can yet understand the injustice that makes them necessary: ‘You are as good as anyone.’”

Andrea McEvoy Spero, director of education at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at Stanford University, suggests that parents can talk their own elementary age kids through the same issues by starting with a basic discussion of what’s fair and unfair, and what it means to be part of a community, with questions like, “What does it feel like to be excluded? What can I do to help other people feel included?”

By middle school, McEvoy Spero says, kids can wrestle with King’s statement that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” And parents can help kids answer that question not just by asking their kids, but by asking themselves, what they are doing for others. “Our young people are watching us,” she says.

In high school, kids are ready to “get into the complexity,” McEvoy Spero says: how to fight like King did to defeat the three interrelated evils of war, racism, and poverty. Older kids can start asking not just what they can do to help, but what they can do to create change. And they’re old enough to turn to King’s writings, like “The Drum Major Instinct,” or the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

At any age, it’s important to help students remember that King wasn’t a legend, but a person, just like them. “If you put someone on a pedestal, they you can’t really be like them,” Carson says. “But if you realize that he was a human being just like the rest of us, who was caught up in a great movement and did extraordinary things, then people begin to understand that they can do extraordinary things, too.”

TIME Parenting

Please Stop Acting as if Maternity Leave Is a Vacation

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Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about increasing family leave for working Americans with Mary Stein, right, and Amanda Rothschild, left, after having lunch in Baltimore

It's not

When Valerie Jarrett took to LinkedIn to announce that President Obama would sign a presidential memorandum giving federal employees at least six weeks of paid sick leave when a new child arrives, everybody thought the same thing: “Valerie Jarrett’s on LinkedIn?”

After people got past that, the general online response was even more juvenile, to wit: If people want to have kids, we, the taxpayers, shouldn’t have to pay for their time off.

Look, I know parents can be annoying, always acting as if some non-accomplishment — “he grew another hair!” — is the equivalent of inventing the next Uber.

But, quite apart from the fact that the future of the species depends and, barring some spooky cloning breakthroughs, will always depend on people making new people inside their bodies, the truth is that family leave is not a vacation.

Do not worry, child-free federal workers, that your parenting co-workers will be off having a nonstop party with their newborns in those six paid weeks of leave while you are at your day job. I assure you, they are working.

If it helps, think of family leave not as a vacation, but as a job swap. The new parents are swapping the jobs they know for shift work in an excrement-making factory with a co-worker who cannot communicate except by weeping or kicking. Plus, the shift never ends. And the chances of promotion are zero.

Meanwhile, we the workers who remain in our day jobs, are getting paid to have real conversations with people who know where their thumbs are. It’s not even a close call on who has the better deal.

This attitude — looking after completely helpless newborn=vacay — may be why the U.S. is the only Western country that has no federally mandated maternity leave. New Guinea doesn’t have any either; neither does Libya. So, the U.S. is rolling with a cool crowd.

Moreover, what’s the alternative? Having a co-worker return to his or her job right from the delivery room or as soon as he or she needs money? Do we really want that?

New parents are undergoing a huge emotional shift. It doesn’t always make them the best colleagues. They’re a bit like teenagers when they fall in love for the first time crossed with bros after they discover Crossfit: preoccupied. We probably want to give them a bit of cooling off time, almost like a quarantine except it’s a “parentine” (see what I did there?), so they can regain their senses.

Yes, parents choose to have children. But they’re doing it for all of us, like jury duty, or being the designated driver, or talking to the sad sack in the corner at the party so he doesn’t kick us all out of his apartment; they’re taking one for the team. So we should make sure the exercise doesn’t make them completely broke within the first month and a half. After all, if nobody had kids, who would invent the next Uber?

*I’m a parent. I have no time. But I’d like to keep up with parenting news. Sign me up for Belinda’s newsletter!

TIME Etiquette

Parents Who Take Their Kids on Planes Don’t Owe Anyone an Apology

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Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

An airplane is not an opera, and there can be no expectation of silence

Recently there was an adorable news story about parents flying with their new baby and giving out a “goodie bag,” including earplugs, to passengers seated nearby in case the baby should make noise. It was not the first story of its kind; several of these well-meaning parents have done this over the years. It is seen as some sort of progress in the relations between those who have children and those who do not: Yes, my children are annoying and you are stuck with them in a small space for x number of hours, but enjoy this chocolate and hope those earplugs block out their noise.

This is the entirely wrong way for the world to proceed.

Children often cannot contain themselves, that’s true. They have problems with volume control. If they can’t say what they want, they cry. Sometimes they cry even when they can say what they want. They’re also entirely unpredictable. Our daughter, who was a very good baby and toddler, screamed her head off on her first international flight, despite having been perfectly well behaved on several domestic flights previously. She settled down after a while and was a model child the rest of our trip, but with kids you just never know. On a recent flight, my son sang the ABCs loudly. Sure, we sshhh’d him a lot, but he’s under 2 years old, so there’s only so much we can do. Duct-taping his mouth shut didn’t seem like an option.

While adult behavior may be more consistent, are we really so much better? I have sat next to smelly people, drunk people, loud people, lecherous men, overperfumed women, close talkers, a teenager crying loudly over her cheating boyfriend and an old lady who showed me no fewer than 78 photographs of her cats. Yet none of these people ever gave me candy or an apology to improve my situation. I admit to being the annoying passenger myself — a particularly hungover flight in my 20s springs to mind. Yet it never occurred to me to try to ease the experience for my fellow passengers. I simply made minimal eye contact and got through it. I also admit that once, on a long flight while I was pregnant with our first child, I snapped at a child behind me for kicking my seat. His mom, busy with three other children, did nothing to try to stop him, and my limited experience with children did not serve me well in dealing with him.

The idea that parents must apologize for any noise their child makes in public has gone too far. An airplane is not an opera, and there can be no expectation of silence. If you can make it through the loud whir of the engine and the constant pilot and stewardess announcements, you can survive a child being noisy.

The real problem in American life today is that we treat children as something we must hide away until adulthood. The airplane battleground extends to other areas as well. If you’re the type of person who takes your kids places, then you are probably used to the questions: Why would you take your children shopping/to brunch/on trips if you didn’t specifically have to? But what kind of adult does a child become who hasn’t had these necessary life experiences? If we never take our children to restaurants or on flights, or expect a bad reaction when we do, how will they grow up to be the kind of fellow diner or flier we all wish to see?

This isn’t to say that children should run rampant, making as much noise as they’d like whenever they’d like. I think back to myself snapping at the kid on a plane and know that if I had seen his mother making an effort to stop him, even unsuccessfully, I would have given her a sympathetic smile and dealt with it. We absolutely should try to discipline our children to minimize the discomfort of those around us, but bracing adults for the very presence of children sends a bad message. Short of very fancy restaurants or ticketed events, children have a right to be among us as much as the most annoying adult. So take your child places, show her the right way to behave through your own words and actions, and don’t give out earplugs. We’re all in this together, even the cat lady and the crying baby.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

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

5 Rules for Finding the Best Caretaker for Your Child

Tammy Gold is a licensed therapist, certified parenting coach, and author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer.

How to ensure that your children are being cared for physically and emotionally

With 75% of American mothers in the workforce, and 1 out of 4 children being looked after by someone other than a parent, quality childcare has never been more important. There are countless wonderful daycare centers and in-home caregivers, but parents have to be willing to put the time and energy into the selection process. Arm your family with all of the tools possible to ensure that your children are being cared for physically and emotionally. Strive to make childcare a stimulating and nurturing experience that enriches their lives and allows your whole family to have peace of mind and enjoy your family time even more.

  1. Understand the importance of quality childcare: Recent studies show that caregivers have a direct effect on the cognitive, emotional, and physical lives of children, in the present as well for their long-term well-being. Good caregivers don’t just keep children safe, warm, and well-fed; they also positively interact with and respond to children on an emotional level. A child’s brain grows 90% by the age of three, and caregivers can facilitate cognitive development and healthy attachments by focusing on their emotional needs as much as their physical ones.
  2. Outline your “musts” and ask the right questions: Many parents select a daycare center or a nanny without asking many questions, only to discover later that it is not a good match. Changing caregivers can cause emotional stress for a child, as well as strain for the whole family. A better approach is to first determine your needs, both physical (days, hours, salary) and emotional (your specific coverage needs and your child’s developmental needs). When considering daycare centers, nannies, and references, ask questions that focus on these “musts.” Many parents ask about how the daycare or nanny worked out for a previous family, but their wants and needs might have been different. Share specific scenarios from your life as a basis for your questions. For example, “We are two busy working parents with a rowdy toddler and a sensitive infant, and we like to be vocal in our concerns. How would that work for you?”
  3. Understand that one size does not fit all: In my work with parents and caregivers, I have come to recognize three types of nannies: Parent Unit Nannies (those in full control of home), Partner Nannies (those who share 50/50 with parents), and Executors Nannies (those who follow direct instructions for all tasks). Similarly, a big, bustling commercial daycare center will be a different world from a small home-based residential daycare program. It is essential that you identify which one is best for your family.
  4. Ensure that Your Child’s Developmental Needs Are Being Met: Just as there are countless types of caregivers, children are obviously different from one to the next, and what works for one child might not work for another. Parents should focus on the developmental stage (infant, toddler, preschooler, school-aged) and understand what their child needs from a caregiver during that stage. For example, the developmental needs of an infant (to be held, rocked, soothed and interacted with positively and calmly) are much different from a preschooler who may need someone who can run around all day, or a daycare center that knows how to keep children safe, while also nurturing their creativity and independence. Sometimes caregivers are wonderful for one developmental stage and then fail to meet the basic needs during the next stage.
  5. Advocate and Communicate Your Family’s Needs: Caregiving is one of the most important jobs on the planet, yet nannies and daycare providers typically get very little training from parents regarding the specifics of each child. It doesn’t matter if a person has cared for children for 30 years — she has never cared for your child before. This is why it’s so important to communicate clearly every step of the way – from interviews, reference calls, and trial periods through the entire relationship. Some parents worry about “bothering” the daycare center or “annoying” the nanny. However, when it comes to helping your child, you must be prepared to speak up. Some children need specific techniques for soothing a tantrum, while others need extra help handling a particular friend or situation–and the only way for caregivers to know is if parents tell them. I advise parents to clearly state: a) What you need from the caregiver; b) What you need for your children; c) What you need for yourself. This simple technique has helped many families avoid the all-too-common misunderstandings and problems that can sour a caregiver situation – and achieve an excellent standard of care.

Tammy Gold (LCSW, MSW, CEC) is a licensed therapist, certified parenting coach, the author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015), and founder of Gold Parent Coaching. A frequent guest expert on Good Morning America, Fox News, and CBS News, among others, Gold is one of the first therapists to bring traditional psychotherapy tools to the process of finding and enhancing the quality of childcare.

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

3 Reasons Your Daughter’s Puberty Won’t Be Like Yours

puberty
Clarissa Leahy—Getty Images

...and 3 things you can do to help her through it

All parents have moments when they wish their kids would just “grow up!”

But when kids grow up too fast, it can have serious consequences.

And more of today’s girls are going through puberty early than ever before. The first signs of puberty in many girls now appear more than a year earlier than they did a generation ago. And more than twice as many girls are showing signs of very early puberty – before age eight.

What’s going on?

Puberty is a fluid category, and it’s unethical to run some kinds of tests on children, so no one is absolutely sure what has caused the shift in puberty’s onset. But researchers Louise Greenspan and Julianna Deardorff, authors of The New Puberty, point to three major risk factors.

1. Obesity in children. Twenty percent of children and adolescents are now obese. That’s three times as many as in the past generation. And researchers have established that body fat affects the onset of puberty even more than age.

2. Exposure to chemicals. Puberty is a hormonal process. Researchers have identified over 800 chemicals than can interfere with human hormones. And that’s only the chemicals that have been tested for their effect on human endocrinology: the vast majority we come in contact with have not. Also, most of the chemicals in common use today were developed after World War II, the same time we began to observe a rise in the onset of early puberty.

3. Stress. Poor familial relationships, absent or depressed parents, and significant childhood trauma are all associated with early puberty. The high divorce rate of previous generations, and today’s low rate of marriage, especially for low-income families, means that almost half of all American children are raised in homes without their biological fathers, another factor strongly correlated with early puberty. And in a troubling twist, the symptoms of early puberty themselves can create even more social stress for a child.

So what can parents do?

1. Help girls stay healthy. Healthy eating, good sleep habits, and consistent exercise may help ward off early puberty – and have benefits at any age.

2. Where possible, steer clear of chemicals. Scary media stories have led some parents to be wary of hormones in dairy and meat, as well as soy. But natural soy may actually delay puberty. And what parents really need to watch out for, according to Greenspan and Deardorf, are chemicals that act like hormones once they’re in a child’s system. These include antibiotics found in meat and dairy products, BPAs (chemicals found in some plastics and cans), PCBs (chemicals found in some electronic products made before 1979), tobacco, flame retardants, pesticides – and even lavender and tea tree oil.

3. Work for family harmony. No family is perfect, but creating a loving home environment protects girls from harm and supports their growth, no matter what age puberty arrives. Yeah, we know, this one isn’t easy.

Bottom line: while it’s good to be aware of the facts and factors affecting modern puberty, much of it is still a mystery. And parenting is an art, not a science. Greenspan and Deardorff remind their readers that “to some extent, pointing a finger at all the potential triggers for early puberty is a moot endeavor for parents. What’s most important is that you learn how to manage this phenomenon so that your girl can take advantage of its hidden blessings while avoiding its common pitfalls – to make it normal and okay.”

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TIME psychology

10 Scientific Insights About Happy Families

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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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 Education

U.S. Gets Bad Grades for Pre-K Education

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Education Week gave the U.S. a D-plus overall on preschool participation

Most U.S. states have mediocre to poor pre-kindergarten participation rates, according to a new report by Education Week, which shows significant income-related gaps and often meager enrollment rates for preschool students.

(MORE: Big Gaps in Pre-K Availability Nationwide, Report Finds)

Education Week gave the U.S. a D-plus overall on preschool participation despite a significant push in a number of states to expand access to pre-K.

The states with the most positive marks were Hawaii and Mississippi, which received Bs, along with the District of Columbia, which earned a B-plus. Idaho and Utah ranked at the bottom of the list and received Fs.

The grades were based on a number of factors related to preschool access, including the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled, the increase in pre-K enrollment in the last several years and the enrollment rate for children whose families are considered at or below the poverty line. The report found that about two-thirds of all children ages 3 to 6 are enrolled in preschool but less than half of kids ages 3 to 4 are in pre-K.

(MORE: Rethinking Pre-K: 5 Ways to Fix Preschool)

“No state really aces the exam on early childhood education,” Christopher Swanson, vice president of a nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week, told US News & World Report.

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