TIME Education

My Fight With California to Treat My Autistic Son

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Young boy with autism selecting the right combination of beads to string together. Large beads allow the boy to better manipulate the objects to develop fine motor skills. Linda Epstein—Getty Images

When Ana Beatriz Cholo's son turned three, state and local agencies tried to pull the plug on her child's special education.

“Freeze!”

The kindergartners stop what they are doing.

“Now, everybody stomp your feet!” The children oblige and watch carefully for their teacher’s next command.

“Everybody freeze again!”

“Good,” she compliments them. Her band of mimics, which includes my 6-year-old son Jude, is doing a nice job of following her movements and looking at her face.

When Jude seamlessly makes the transition from one activity to the next, he is rewarded with a “Great job!” and one minute of individual play with an action figure of his choice. When his minute is up and his teacher requests that he re-join his peers, he asks politely, “Can I have another minute, please?”

“Yes, Jude,” his teacher responds. “Nice asking!”

Jude is one of 10 kids with autism spectrum disorders in this special education class in a public school in Seal Beach, Orange County, that I got to visit one recent morning. It’s one of the components of a program I’ve put together so Jude can learn effectively and interact better with other kids. As a parent of a kid with autism, let me tell you, I’ve had to learn a lot, too.

In 2006, I moved back home to California from the Midwest, where I had been working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Even though I was now working for the Associated Press in downtown Los Angeles, I wanted to live in Seal Beach because it was close to where my parents lived and because the Los Alamitos Unified School District (which oversees public schools in Seal Beach) had, among other attributes, high test scores. My daughter had been accepted into the Orange County High School of the Arts and I was looking for a good junior high school for my second oldest child.

I had no idea what the special education programs were like, and I didn’t care. But after we’d been here nearly five years, my youngest son, Jude, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder when he was 2 ½.

At first glance, you would probably not detect anything “different” about Jude. Kids along the autism spectrum commonly have difficulties with communication, behavior, and social interaction, but there’s a wide variation in how this neurodevelopmental condition affects each one. My adorable boy with olive-green eyes and a disarming smile is very verbal and loves socializing with other kids his age. If you engage him in conversation, he may charm you and lure you into a conversation about his favorite video game, “Angry Birds ‘Go.’” He may even impress you by saying something profoundly insightful for his age.

Jude’s challenges are focused mainly on his communication, behavior, and what his teachers and therapists call “non-compliance” issues. When Jude loses his temper he bites, kicks, punches, pinches, scratches, or throws things. He’s not fully potty-trained, and persuading him to go to the bathroom often results in arguments, tears, tantrums, and, yes, messy accidents. He cannot, like children who develop typically, learn language, play, and social skills by observation. He has to be taught.

When I heard Jude’s diagnosis, I was scared, confused, and worried about his future. Would he still be able to attend college, get a job, and get married? Would he ever be able to live independently?

The county initially funded therapy for Jude through the Orange County Regional Center and asked us to pick from several providers they were contracted with. Back then, there was no Yelp for special education services. Because we were clueless at the time, Jude’s father and I were more likely to pick the provider with the most professional-looking website.

After doing some research and talking to experts in the field, we realized we wanted services that followed the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which, generally speaking, is used to increase functional skills and reduce challenging and interfering behaviors. ABA has undergone rigorous research at UCLA and is supported by 40 years of scientific research, which means a lot to Jude’s father and me.

Some parents like to experiment with different techniques and methods, but there is also a lot of anecdotal “evidence” out there. I never paid attention to actress Jenny McCarthy until I realized she was peddling misinformation on the alleged dangers of vaccinations. Minerals, gluten- and casein-free diets, and chelation therapy are also sold as remedies that will “cure” autism but these so-called treatments seem to me to be just pseudo-science.

A few months into his first treatment, we faced another hurdle. At 3, children need to meet certain criteria to continue receiving services from the county. For whatever reason, we were told that our son did not meet the criteria. We were incredulous; we suspected state and local agencies were under pressure to cut their budgets. Autism advocates told us that if parents don’t fight to get services, they often won’t get them.

At the time, Jude’s vocabulary was less than 25 words, his temper tantrums were fierce, and he was being threatened with getting kicked out of his regular daycare. We took out a loan and hired a clinical psychologist to conduct a thorough assessment, which proved he fit the criteria for continued services. The price tag was $3,500, but her 25-page report was worth it. Jude would continue to get state-funded therapy, and he would also begin attending a public preschool class for 3-year-olds with autism.

But school is just one of the three kinds of support that are recommended for Jude: a therapy team from the Culver City-based Lovaas Institute visits him at a regular district-run afterschool daycare and also at home. The 10 hours a week of additional therapy is funded by Jude’s father’s medical insurance. This kind of therapy is no longer covered by the county or the state, as it was just two years ago.

These additional services are important because he needs the reinforcement: recently his case supervisor at Lovaas said his therapists would begin pulling Jude out of his regular play at daycare for one-on-one sessions to practice socialization skills. The therapists will teach Jude to say, “What are you guys doing? Can I play with you?” when he wants to join the action. The therapists will also hone in on behaviors he should not engage in, for example, getting too close to his peers’ faces or touching them. I just wish these therapists – mostly young adults – didn’t all move on so quickly. Some of them worked with him for just a few months, leaving Jude feeling abandoned on an ever-changing Conga line.

It hasn’t been easy to juggle all this additional care and pay the up-front costs for it. We started twice-a-week speech therapy for Jude in 2012 at Cal State Long Beach. But I had to take off work early and pay $500 per semester. I was staying up until midnight or 2 a.m. to catch up on work and this took a toll on our family’s emotional health. We just couldn’t keep doing it. On top of everything else, Jude has also had to deal with the 2012 death of my mother, who had been spending time with him almost daily, and my split-up with his father.

All told, my son seems to be improving, but it’s uneven. Before, he would get frustrated simply getting ready for school in the morning. He would resist going to the bathroom, getting dressed, and walking out the door. Now, he’s at least open to the idea of going potty first thing in the morning and then getting dressed. And I know now to “prime” him for the transition from an activity he likes to one he doesn’t – for instance, telling him while he’s playing in the evening, “In 10 minutes, we’re going to have dinner. What are we going to do in 10 minutes?”

For the future, I want Jude to be able to make friends and hang out with his pals and talk about the stuff they are interested in. I’d love for him to attend college and experience living in a dorm, dating, studying, and dreaming of his future. But I try not to get ahead of myself: I know he needs to find his own way, his own tribe, and embrace the uniqueness that is his own. Do I want him to be “normal”? No, I don’t wish that upon anyone. How boring! And besides, what is normal?

Ana Beatriz Cholo is a freelance writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Parenting

Stay-at-Home Moms: Not Who You Think They Are

Carey Kirkella; Getty Images

Forget the mommy wars, the real battle; for many stay at homes is just getting by.

The phrase Stay At Home Mother generally conjures up two images: the nice Midwestern mom with a car pool and a husband with a nine-to-five, or the highly educated former career woman now channeling all her hard-won achievement and scholarship into finding the exact right kind of juice box and organic cheese stick. But the data keeps suggesting that both these images are off the mark. Increasingly, the stay at home mother is beginning to look like a woman who doesn’t have too many other choices.

This is not to say that most stay at home moms are only staying home because they’re no good at anything else. Rather, it’s that an increasing proportion of the women looking after their kids full time are having a tough time of it. They can’t find well-paid work and they can’t find childcare that would make less than well-paid work worthwhile. Average weekly child care expenses rose more than 70% from 1985 to 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Wages, especially for women with only a high school education, did not rise at nearly that rate.

Of course there are some übermoms–women willingly reining in their considerable earning potential to look after their offspring. Who are they? Opt-out mothers, by Pew’s definition, have a postgraduate degree, an annual family income of more than $75,000, a working husband, and they say they are out of the workforce in order to care for their family. And despite all the media attention on these women, there aren’t very many of them. According to an analysis from Pew Research, a very, very small percentage of home-based mothers are highly educated and affluent. “Just 1% of the nation’s 35 million mothers ages 18 to 69 who are living with their children younger than 18,” are the so-called opt-out moms, notes Pew in analysis released on May 8.

In fact, only 4% of all stay-at-home moms are in this highly educated category. According to Pew, only about 10% of women with such qualifications decide to stay home. And almost 90% of those say they intend to return to work and historically 70% of them do, after about an average of two and a half years.

So let’s take stock: A tiny percentage of moms are extremely highly educated and affluent and have chosen to raise children full-time. Most of them are only stepping out of the workforce fleetingly. This is what all the cover stories and books have been about?

The other end of the stereotype—the midwestern mom with her traditional values—is also misleading. Guess which state has the lowest proportion of stay-at-home mothers? If you picked South Dakota, come to the front of the room and collect your prize. I know I didn’t. But according to an interesting study on the history of the working mother by Ancestry.com using Census data, 80% of mothers in the Mount Rushmore state work outside the home, the highest in the nation. Conversely, California has one of the lowest rates of working mothers: 62%.

Check where your state falls here:

So what are most stay-at-home mothers like? The Pew Report released a few weeks back paints a darker picture. A third of them were not born in the U.S. Half of them are not white. Almost half of them have a high school diploma or less, 20% are single mothers and 7% have husbands who were unemployed in the 12 months prior to 2012. More than a third of them live in poverty. Stay-at-home mothers’ education levels have risen across the board in the last 40 years, but the share of them living in poverty has more than doubled.

Most Americans still think that having a mother at home full-time and a father at work is the most optimal arrangement for raising a family. But increasingly, that arrangement is also becoming untenable or unrealistic. So next time you see a headline saying More Women Are Staying Home To Raise Kids,” you might want to brace yourself for what that story is really going to say.

 

 

 

TIME Parenting

Gwyneth Paltrow Attempts to Consciously Uncouple From the Mommy Wars

Live Talks Los Angeles Presents An Evening With Chelsea Handler In Conversation With Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow attends An Evening With Chelsea Handler In Conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow at Alex Theatre on March 11, 2014 in Glendale, California. JB Lacroix—WireImage

But the war on Gwyneth continues to rage

Not one to leave well enough alone, Gwyneth Paltrow has felt the need to come to her own defense.

Weeks after becoming a flashpoint in the mommy wars with comments she made to E! News implying that mothers who work 9-5 jobs have it easier than hard-working, genetically blessed actresses, the Goop proprietress has issued a clarification on her website. Paltrow, who seems to aspire to be the Nelson Mandela of parenting bloggers — the blog post is titled “Ending the Mommy Wars” — says that her quote was taken out of context and that other working mothers may simply have been projecting their discontent onto her. Ooh, burn. Her Goopness also goes deeper, sharing her disbelief at “how little slack we cut each other as women”:

We see disapproval in the eyes of other mothers when we say how long we breastfed (Too long? Not long enough?), or whether we have decided to go back to work versus stay home. Is it not hard enough to attempt to raise children thoughtfully, while contributing something, or bringing home some (or more) of the bacon? Why do we feel so entitled to opine, often so negatively, on the choices of other women? Perhaps because there is so much pressure to do it all, and do it all well all at the same time (impossible).

Wade on in, Gwyneth, the water’s just fine.

TIME Parenting

Don’t Let Your Husband Be a Stay-At-Home Dad

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Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Quitting your job to be a full-time parent is an equal-opportunity risk, though fathers opting out can sometimes be worse for families.

The socioeconomics of parenting are changing. The number of stay-at-home fathers in the past decade has doubled since the 1970s to about 550,000 men, and that figure is expected to grow, especially as more wives take on the breadwinning role in their marriages and the cost of childcare holds intolerable for many families.

I currently earn more than my husband and have, at times, romanticized over him supporting us as the primary caretaker in our growing family. What mother doesn’t enjoy coming home to a home-cooked meal, clean house and bathed child? And more dad involvement is never a bad thing. The stronger the relationship between father and child, the happier the family is, according to a joint study by Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

On the other hand, though, quitting your job to be a stay-at-home parent carries a number of potential risks. And when that parent is dad, the drawbacks can, in at least one case, be graver.

Just as one might hesitate to advocate for women to leave the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, a similar case can go for men. What happens if dad wants back into the workforce later on? What happens if mom loses her job, faces a salary cut or is unable to work for a period of time due to an injury or other unexpected circumstance?

There’s no denying that childcare is one of the tallest expenses families face. The average annual cost of center-based care for a small child in the U.S. runs as high as $16,000 in states like Massachusetts, according to Child Care Aware of America’s 2013 report. For two children the annual expense can average as much as $28,600. These numbers can be much higher in metropolitan areas, rivaling the cost of sending a kid to college.

The mere economics of it all – especially if you have more than one child – can be enough to support the rationale that one parent should stop working to support life at home. And if you philosophically don’t believe in outsourced childcare to begin with, the decision to become a single-income family proves even more compelling.

With a baby soon on the way, my husband and I have crunched the numbers and learned that a quality day care facility in our Brooklyn neighborhood would run us about $500 to $600 a week. Meanwhile full-time at-home childcare – not including overtime – is more than $35,000 a year. For now, we’ve opted for the latter and have planned some serious spending cuts to make up for the monstrous expense. But add to our household a couple more kids down the road, perhaps a dog, a bigger home to accommodate, and the math would then likely favor designating my husband as Mr. Mom, still assuming our existing income disparity.

Even then, however, we’d rather outsource childcare for fear of the unknown. Is that crazy?

Perhaps not when you consider the facts of the matter. We know that women already pay a price for taking a leave of absence from the workforce. Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In that “women’s average annual earnings decrease by 20 percent if they are out of the workforce for just one year…30 percent after two to three years, which is the average amount of time professional women off-ramp from the workforce.”

Research suggests the penalty may even be greater for men who temporarily exit the workforce. One study found that dads who left work for even a short period of time to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.

Single-income families are also at a higher risk of financial collapse, as one might guess. Researchers at Hope College and Cornell University found that, “Not only are two wages often necessary to adequately provide for the needs of most families, dual-earner couples are less economically vulnerable than single-earner families, for whom a layoff can mean financial collapse.”

A single-income household can also result in more stress for her. As it stands, wives who earn more admit to feeling more pressure to “make it all work,” especially when it comes to the family’s finances. An academic survey I co-authored with Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist, found that when she makes more she is significantly more likely to be the primary decision-maker on money matters and take charge of things like paying bills, budgeting, saving and planning for retirement. And a greater number of women who earn a bigger paycheck wish their partner or spouse would carry more of the financial burden in the relationship. And if he’s not making any money, where does this leave her?

There is a possible happy medium to this, as many stay-at-home moms have discovered: earn income from home as a part-time freelancer or entrepreneur while you commit to raising your family or, if possible, ask your employer about telecommuting a few days a week.

But even those options are easier said than done. Not everyone can find a way to make decent money from home given their area of expertise; juggling work and little ones in the same space can be harder than one expects; and telecommuting isn’t possibly for many.

When you consider the potential risks of not generating any money as a partner, however, earning an income is simply necessary. Not to mention, keeping your toe in the workforce is a way to still explore and satisfy other needs that go beyond that of Super Mom or Dad.

From WHEN SHE MAKES MORE: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women by Farnoosh Torabi. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Farnoosh Torabi.

TIME Parenting

Stop Worrying About Your Kids’ Screen Time

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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Father and son (8-9) sitting at table Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

A father interviews his daughters about his own media habits

If there’s one thing enlightened modern parents are good at worrying about, it’s how much time our kids spend in front of screens: television, sure, but laptops too, and tablets and phones. As a former senior editor at Parenting magazine and Newsweek, I’ve done my share of hand-wringing over whether to forswear all screens until my daughters turned 2, as the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. Ha, as if.

Anyway, my girls are about to turn 6 and 9 now. And what I never worried enough about, it turns out, was how much my own media habits were affecting them. I’ve certainly had my concerns about how dependent I’ve become on my beloved iPhone, but surely the only person my compulsive thumb tapping was hurting was me, right?

Not so fast. In March Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, published a study in the journal Pediatrics with the high-calorie title “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants.” Her takeaway: parents spend a lot of damn time in the company of their kids while on some level ignoring them.

Radesky and her team of researchers conducted an unscientific study in which they observed 55 family groups dining at fast food restaurants. Forty of the 55 included a parent who became engrossed in a mobile device during the meal. One of her researchers even saw a mother kick her child’s foot under the table when she tried to break mom’s attention away from her phone. Another little boy was swatted away for trying to lift his mom’s face away from the screen.

Those were extreme examples, but the overall vibe is worrisome. Our mobile devices, she points out in her study’s conclusion, can “distract parents from face-to-face interactions with their children, which are crucial for cognitive, language, and emotional development.”

But we’re all workaholics, right? We need to check that email and reply to this text ASAP, don’t we? “It’s a challenge,” Radesky tells me when I get her on the phone. “I’m a full-time working mom, trying to be an academic. It’s a tension so many parents describe to me.”

Radesky has instituted a ritual phone-free chunk of time in her own home. She leaves work early, at around 5, to spend time with her kids, ages 8 months and 4, before they go to bed. “I put the devices away and I don’t even look at them unless it’s something urgent,” she says. “My bosses understand we have an unplugged zone. Then between 7 and 8, I pick everything back up to check email — and ignore my husband.”

Our kids are no dummies. They see us engrossed in our toys and it can make them feel sad or annoyed and neglected. It can make them act out. Psychologist Catherin Steiner-Adair knows this all too well. For her book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” she interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 about their parents’ use of these devices.

“What was really striking to me was the frequency with which kids said it’s so annoying. ‘Daddy says he’s going to play with me and he’s always on his computer’,” she tells me. “Children describe more poignantly at a younger age about parents’ absorption with cell phones when they’re, quote, ‘just checking’.”

And of course, children model their behavior on their parents. So we can hardly be surprised that the first thing our little digital natives reach for when they’re bored comes equipped with a screen.

With this in mind I decided to interview my own kids about my textual proclivities. Using a template modeled loosely on Steiner-Adair’s, I recorded our conversation on my phone — an irony that was not lost on them. Excerpts:

When we were growing up, we didn’t have cell phones.

We had phones attached to the wall. There were no phones in cars, no phones in restaurants, no screens at tables. What’s it like being a kid growing up with phones everywhere?

C, age 5: It feels boring. I think it’s kind of sad that you’re checking your phone all the time. And we really don’t get to play with you that much on weekends.

What about when I say, “oh I’m just checking?”

C: You check for a long time.

What does it make you feel when you’re trying to talk to me and I check my phone?

F, age 8: It makes me feel annoyed

C: It makes me feel bad because when you say, ‘go on, I’m listening,’ I think you’re not listening.

Do you feel like I check my phone too much?

Both: Yes

I’m glad you told me that though it makes me sad.

So what can I do differently?

F: Check your emails and texts when we’re asleep.

What do you think of the rule about no phones at the dinner table or at restaurants for you guys?

F: It feels unfair. I know you don’t really want us to have phones at dinner table.

Why do you think that is?

F: Because it’s rude and you want to have a conversation with us. But it ends up with you checking your phone. I get really mad.

Will you remind me when I’m checking my phone too much and tell me if it makes you sad or mad?

C: Yeah. Can we hear the recording now?

The recording that I’m making on my phone right now?

F: As we speak!

Brian Braiker, a former editor at Parenting, is the executive editor of Digiday. He lives in Brooklyn with his two daughters and his banjo.

TIME Parenting

Spanish Law Requires Kids To Do Chores. What a Great Idea

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Boy Helping Mother with Laundry Vintage Images—www.jupiterimages.com

The Spanish measure, dubbed the Child Protection Bill, would extend beyond regulating housework and homework. According to the Madrid newspaper The Local, children under 18 in Spain would also have to “respect school rules” and “study as required”

Suddenly I’m thinking of moving to Spain.

A bill introduced recently in the nation’s parliament would require that Spanish children do housework and homework. They would also be required to “participate in family life” and “respect their parents and siblings.”

Wow. Good luck with that.

Back here in the United States, I can barely get my 16-year-old to take out the trash. Sometimes, it feels like Middle East peace talks must be easier. Meanwhile, other parents don’t even ask their kids to pitch in—either because they’ve completely surrendered, have concluded that it’s easier to do the job themselves, or have decided that after-school activities and playtime are more valuable. Children have gone “from being our employees to our bosses,” Jennifer Senior notes in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

The upshot: Kids ages 6 to 12 now do less than half an hour of housework a day on average, according to Sandra Hofferth, a professor of family science at the University of Maryland.

Some find this alarming. “Parents working to support their kid’s leisure instead of everyone working together to support the household is a poor choice,” says Agnes Howard, an assistant professor of history at Gordon College and a mother of three school-age children. “It is good for kids to do chores because it helps them develop responsibility and competency and to gain a sense of belonging to a community beyond their autonomous self.”

The Spanish measure, dubbed the Child Protection Bill, would extend beyond regulating housework and homework. According to the Madrid newspaper The Local, children under 18 in Spain would also have to “respect school rules” and “study as required.” And get this: They’d have to “maintain a positive attitude about learning” and “respect their teachers and fellow students” to boot.

The proposed law also aims to keep children safe from sexual predators.

But it is the housework provision, which stipulates that kids perform household chores “in accordance with their age and regardless of gender,” that seems to be generating the most buzz—and, in certain quarters, drawing jeers.

“Are we going to have court cases where parents say that a kid is old enough to take out the trash and the kid’s court-appointed lawyer says, ‘No they are not’?” asks Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. “It’s like saying motherhood and apple pie are good. Yes, we want kids to be respectful. But at some point having a national parliament declare that kids should clean their rooms, well, I think they should find better things to do.”

Actually, this is not the first time the Spanish government has weighed in to legislate what is usually considered a family matter. In 2005, the country’s civil ceremony marriage contracts were updated to require men to pledge to do housework and care for children and elderly relatives. Honestly, who knew the country that coined the word machismo was so feminista?

As for the newly proposed housework and homework statute, there is one big caveat: It has no teeth. No penalties are contemplated for breaking it.

Of course, if it passes, I’m pretty sure that parents would keep that tiny detail to themselves. There’s no point, after all, in sharing everything with the kids.

 

TIME Parenting

20 Simple Secrets Of Happy Families – All Backed By Science

Where You Live Matters

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who are highly satisfied with their neighborhood are 25 percent more likely to be highly satisfied with their family life.

-Toth, Brown, and Xu 2002

Open Communication Is A Must

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

The less open the communication between adults and children, the more pessimistic the children are likely to be and the less likely the children are to feel secure in their family relationship. This is nearly doubly as significant in stepparent-children relationships.

- Al-Abbad 2001

Tell The Family Story

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Parents who frequently share stories of family history with their children produce higher levels of interest and concern for family members, and increase the likelihood of their children’s happiness as an adult by 5 percent.

- Leader 2001

Parents who are more honest and open with their children, more frequently disclosing stories about themselves and their feelings, increase their children’s feeling of connection to their parents by 31 percent, and increase the likelihood of their children enjoying a positive self-image by 17 percent.

- Baird 2002

(More on the value of telling family stories here.)

To Communicate Values To Kids, Focus On Closeness, Not Lectures

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Feelings of closeness and high levels of time spent together are three times as likely to produce similar values and political views in offspring as are a parental emphasis on those views.

- Buysse 2000

Like It Or Not, You Are A Role Model To Your Children

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of young adults find that more than seven out of ten regularly measure themselves against their parents in terms of either their career or relationship status.

- Glasman 2002

To Be Happy With Your Family, Be Open To Change

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies focusing on the ability of people to maintain happiness as they age reveal that an openness to change in both family life and work life is associated with a 23 percent greater likelihood of maintaining high levels of life satisfaction.

- Crosnoe and Elder 2002

Studies of people who are characterized as rigid — extremely reluctant to accept change — show they are 39 percent less likely to communicate well with their families and 27 percent less likely to feel close to their family.

- Sayre 2001

We Love Those Who Show Love

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People are 47 percent more likely to feel close to a family member who frequently expresses affection than to a family member who rarely expresses affection.

- Walther-Lee 1999

They Need You To Be Positive When Times Are Tough

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Even in the toughest times, when a person can think positively about the future they are capable of reducing the stress felt by their family members by as much as 60 percent.

- Atienza, Stephens, and Townsend 2002

History Beats Apology

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

For children, more than 80 percent of the basis for forgiving negative parental behavior is rooted in the pre-existing strength of the relationship rather than in the immediate aftermath of the behavior, such as the apology.

- Paleari, Regalia, and Fincham 2003

Try To Be Fair, Not Right

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

When there is conflict, the perception that you are generally fair is eight times more important than the perception that you are generally correct in maintaining the respect of family members.

- Montford 2002

The Secret To Work/Life Balance Is A Feeling Of Control

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Parents who balance work and family life find that they are 41 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their situation if they can see the pleasant aspects of the stress they experience — namely that their efforts are part of a full life of their own choosing.

- Jackson and Scharman 2002

Discussing Tough Subjects Pays Dividends Later

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Research on the frequency with which mothers discuss sensitive topics with their teenage daughters reveals that willingness to discuss sensitive topics increases the future closeness of the relationship by 36 percent.

- Silverberg, Koerner, Wallace, Jacobs, Lehman, and Raymond 2002

Happiness Is Determined By What You Think About Most

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who are happy with their lives and their family lives spend twice as much time thinking about the good parts of their lives as people who are not satisfied with their life or family life.

- Diener, Lucas, Oishi, and Suh 2002

(The things proven to make you happier are here.)

Family Rituals Matter

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Consistent family rituals encourage the social development of children and increase feelings of family cohesiveness by more than 17 percent.

- Eaker and Walters 2002

(More on how rituals make life better here.)

Kids That Pick Their Activities Enjoy School

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Children who regularly participate in structured extracurricular activities (including clubs and sports teams) of their own choosing are 24 percent more likely to report that they like going to school.

- Gilman 2001

Separate Your Work And Family Life

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who carry worries about their family to their work, or worries about their work to their family, are 32 percent less likely to be satisfied with their lives and 44 percent more likely to feel out of control than people who segment their thinking by keeping their work and family concerns separate.

- Sumer and Knight 2001

Coping With In-Laws Is Worth It

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Satisfaction with marriage is 13 percent more likely when friendly relationships are maintained with both sets of in-laws.

- Timmer and Veroff 2000

Fido Helps

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who feel their family is experiencing a lot of conflict are 22 percent more likely to feel hopeful about the situation if there is a pet in their life.

- Bussolari 2002

(What your pet says about your personality is here.)

Kids Need More Than Just Mom And Dad

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of boys and girls find that the presence of a trusted nonparental adult increases feelings of support and life satisfaction by more than 30 percent.

- Colarossi 2001

(Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, presents some excellent research on why grandmoms are so important here.)

Anyone Can Have A Happy Family

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Researchers have found that a loving family life can be created among any group of people. Long-term studies comparing adopted children to children raised by their biological parents find little difference in the children’s feelings on family life, and no difference in their ability to enjoy good relationships with peers.

- Neiheiser 2001

What’s Next?

Here are three other research-backed posts that can help build a great family:

  1. How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research
  2. Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets
  3. Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

For more helpful tips, join 45K+ other readers and get my free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Marriage

The Real Problem With Women as the Family Breadwinner

Fox News isn't all wrong, but it ain't (just) about the money

Watching the recent kerfuffle over whether it’s sexist to think that marriages might be threatened when wives make more than husbands is a bit like watching a person trying to change a flat on a bus that’s on fire. Everybody’s avoiding the main issue.

In almost a quarter of marriages in the U.S., wives earn more than husbands. This is a huge, fourfold-sized shift from a half-century ago. And the effects on intimate human relations of this realignment in bacon bringing are still shaking out. The prognostications follow one of two narratives: either husbands’ egos — and thus the American family — will be annihilated; or men will eventually learn to stop holding women back and everyone will be better, more equal and richer than before.

A recent Fox news segment rehearsed the first theory, asking a series of young telegenic types if marriage would be destroyed by alpha females and their earning capacity. “Isn’t there some sort of biological, innate need for men to be the caveman?” asked Fox’s Clayton Morris. “Go out and bring home the dinner …?” The segment was roundly scoffed at by media commenters for being hopelessly outdated and antiwoman. “Men at Fox continued to justify their position that female breadwinners marked a breakdown in society,” wrote Emily Arrowood at Media Matters.

But the data, such as it is, tends to support the view, crudely put by Morris, that men find not being the breadwinner a little unsteadying. Pew research shows that most Americans still believe that having a mother at home and a father at work is the best arrangement for raising a family. And it’s true that men’s self-esteem is very much tied up in their ability to do well at work and to make money. Studies have found that men are more likely to cheat and feel worse about themselves when their wives make more than they do.

The anxiety all this generates is at the center of financial journalist Farnoosh Torabi’s new book When She Makes More. “The cold reality about making a relationship work when there’s an unusual income disparity,” she writes, “is that it takes a lot more effort than relationships with no or a traditional income disparity.” Torabi’s book offers a bunch of tips for high-earning wives-to-be, including being very open about their remunerative status, letting men pay the bill at the restaurant even if the women pay the credit-card bill later and sharing a bank account.

Torabi is pregnant, which is lovely for her, but she is in for one helluva shock. (She’s also been married for almost two full years, so it’s impressive that she’s already written a book about being a wife.) Meanwhile, the “marriage experts” on the Fox show probably had a cumulative age of less than 75. All of them, well-meaning as they were, are ignorant of the real issue, which is that the breadwinner problems are less about how much money any one spouse makes and more about what they do with that other resource, time.

But then, how could it be otherwise? Few people are prepared for the ferocity with which children siphon up every available resource in terms of time, money and brain space. It’s easy to be magnanimous and reasonable when every evening is available and every dollar disposable. Husbands and wives can discuss their finances at a leisurely pace over old-fashioneds in a local boîte. Mothers and fathers, on the other hand, usually find they take up the subject in enraged whispers around bedtime after they’ve discovered that the credit-card bill has gone unpaid yet again.

Women, studies show, are still bearing the brunt of child rearing and housework. This is not always because the dads are lazy; sometimes well-educated and competent women decline to delegate child-rearing responsibilities to other people. But either way, the marital-financial equation is exponentially harder to solve when there are offspring. And there’s less time to solve it and less room for error or experimentation. As divorce lawyers know, many ex-wives feel that if they were making most of the money and doing most of the child rearing and homekeeping, there was very little point in having a husband.

And many ex-husbands, who probably easily managed to get past the fact that their wives earned more, did not believe their lower salary then meant they had to do more on the homefront, especially if they worked just as hard as their better-paid wife. The data suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, but the data does not show what the husbands did that might have led the wives to call their lawyers.

If we’re going to have an honest discussion about breadwinning women, it can’t just be a rational discussion about the wisest ways to divide up dollars. It has to be about time as well. And I’m happy to lead it off. Right after I get back from dealing with whatever my kids’ school called me about now.

TIME Education

Your Son’s Behavior in Kindergarten Could Keep Him from College

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Miodrag Gajic—Vetta/Getty Images

A new study predicts that the gap between boys' and girls' grades in elementary school means fewer male college graduates

Your child’s achievement in kindergarten is a strong predictor of whether he or she will attend college, according to a new paper called “The Secret Behind College Completion” by Third Way, a Washington research group. And that’s bad news for boys, who consistently underperform compared to girls throughout elementary school.

The social and behavioral gap between boys and girls begins as early as kindergarten. Girls are more attentive, persistent, eager to learn, flexible, organized, sensitive and opinionated than boys in kindergarten. The gender gap in behavioral skills at that tender age is even bigger than racial or socio-economic gaps: Boys score an average of 42 percent on a behavioral skills, while girls score an average of 58 percent—a 16 point differential. That’s larger than the 13 point differential between poor and not poor, and the 13 point differential between black and white.

So by the time boys and girls reach middle school, girls have attained an academic advantage over the boys. By the eighth grade, 48 percent of girls receive a combination of As and Bs or better on their report cards, while only 31 percent of boys do. That’s a big gap considering eighth grade grades are a better predictor of college completion than standardized test scores. Students who earn mostly As have almost a 70 precent chance of completing college by 25; those who earn mostly Bs have just a 30 percent chance of completing college, and less than 10 percent of students who earn mostly Cs will graduate college by that age.

The reasons for the grade gender gap are still, for the most part, a mystery. There’s a behavioral deficit for boys before they even enter school. But the authors of the study also point out that boys are more negatively affected than girls by classrooms with a bad or distracting environment. Boys also feel pressure to adhere to old stereotypes that dictate that academic achievement isn’t cool. And boys can have a harder time understanding the connection between effort in school and success later in life.

TIME viral

WATCH: Mom’s Dance Party Backfires in the Most Hilarious Way Possible

Turn down for what?

Moms are just like the rest of us. And that means that sometimes they need to bust a move to a little T. I. and have a dance party of one in the living room.

However, being a mom, it may be worth sweeping the vicinity for breakable objects and wandering children, first. That’s the lesson to be learned from watching this video where a mom is trying to turn things up and ends up knocking them down instead.

The woman described the series of events that lead to her viral video in her YouTube comments: “I decided to enter an online dance off for moms, but was a little hesitant about posting a clip of me dancing on the Internet. I wanted to practice a little before and this is an outtake from my ‘warm-up.'” Now more than 1.4 million people have seen her not only dancing, but knocking her kid in the face with her booty. Viva la internet!

MORE: Authorities Seize Speakers from Man Who Repeatedly Blasted Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”

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