TIME Parenting

The Invincibility Formula

A new book shows us how to conquer our fear of rejection, but it's no easy fix if you're a parent

Yesterday I finished reading a new book by an enterprising man named Jia Jiang. It’s called Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection, and thanks to Jia Jiang, I’m now questioning my entire adult life. Or specifically, what I might have become if I weren’t afraid of you-know-what.

Until yesterday, I’d always believed that one of the real benefits of adulthood was learning that rejection is something you want to avoid. O.K., perhaps nincompoops who appear on reality shows have some primal need to be rejected, and in front of the nation at that. But for me, as for many of us, adult life brings rejection enough–from mind (which refuses to commit to memory the names of any new countries formed after I turned 22), from body (right knee: I’m talking to you), from soul (why do the people I love actually have to die? Can’t fate make any exceptions?). In other words, there’s no need for me to go out looking for rejection. It’s everywhere.

And so comfort becomes the goal. Which means that three-inch heels are no longer worth it, I’ve dumped all my friends who make cutting remarks and then say, “I’m just joking! Lighten up!” and I want to eat pasta Bolognese every night of the week. But the pursuit of comfort means childhood dreams begin to fade. Jia’s childhood dream was to grow up and become Bill Gates. My childhood dream was to get a job at Friendly’s and have long, oval-shaped fingernails like Claire Fleming, who was also a cheerleader and had a boyfriend with a beach house. Unfortunately, I was rejected in both pursuits, both by fingernails that refused to grow and a Friendly’s management that did not recognize my manifold talents.

Unlike me, though, Jia couldn’t let go of his childhood dreams. He began to regard comfortable adulthood as a problem. So he quit his secure corporate marketing job in Austin, tried to launch an app, was rejected by a big investor, felt defeated for about half an hour and then cooked up this project to get rejected 100 times in 100 days in order to “beat fear.”

As it turns out, beating fear means making outlandish requests of strangers, videotaping the experience and uploading it to YouTube. On Day 3 of Jia’s quest, for example, he marched into a Krispy Kreme and asked for five doughnuts fashioned in the shape of the Olympic rings. And you know how things go with social media: one minute you have a video of yourself with five Olympic-ring doughnuts, the next minute you have a movement and a book deal. (Why doesn’t anybody just publish a book anymore? All new authors have movement-books, with blogs and TED talks and YouTube channels. Where is Emily Dickinson when we need her?)

By the time I finished Rejection Proof, I was feeling like a Class A slacker. Jia is so daring! So entrepreneurial! So alive! Not to mention a husband who is so sweet (or, uh, canny) that for his 100th rejection challenge, he decided to help his wife Tracy get a job at Google. Which, of course, is impossible. But Jia prevailed, because by that point his project had made him invincible. And so he and Tracy and their toddler son Brian moved to Silicon Valley. Cue the happy ending.

But I’ve got a new challenge for him.

A few years back I read a moving essay in the New York Times by a mother of children in their 20s. She wrote about how we all measure parenting success in part by the degree to which we’ve helped our children overcome setbacks. And that as children get older, that task gets harder. Because at a certain point, a child experiences real, adult rejection and heartache (at work; with friends; with true, grownup love) that a parent cannot cure. And treating that wound is exponentially harder than bandaging a skinned knee.

We are now in the middle of college-admission season, and I feel for the parents of kids all over the country who are getting bad news. I have been there, as have most of my friends, and it’s not pretty. You have a child who learns to walk through life, and when he falls, you pick him back up. He falls again, and you pick him up. You do this again and again, and then one day he falls and he’s suddenly too heavy. You can’t pick him up. That’s when his rejection becomes yours; his hurt becomes yours. And there is very little you can do to make it better.

This is the kind of rejection adults encounter that no one talks about, because it’s messy and sad and you can’t cure it by giving a TED talk or writing a charming book. Jia Jiang, I applaud you on your pluck and ingenuity and desire for something more than a comfortable life. And now you get to help–and watch, really, mostly just watch–as Brian grows and thrives and faces his own inevitable rejections. All I can say is: Good luck.

Sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter, full of interesting and useful tips, hacks, news and studies.

Van Ogtrop is the managing editor of Real Simple


This appears in the April 13, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary News Events

Cheyenne Glasgow—Getty Images/Flickr Select

"It can be scarier not to talk about them.”

We all want to protect our kids from the hard truths of life. Nobody wants to explain why the plane went down in the Alps, why that kid did what he did on that ISIS video, or the symptoms of Ebola.

But if our kids don’t learn to face bad news eventually, they can’t thrive. So how does a parent walk that line?

Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist on the faculty of Harvard’s School of Education, and the author of The Parents We Mean To Be, says what a lot of parents already know: there’s no easy answer.

But that makes it even more important to talk with kids about tough realities, Weissbourd says. “Kids are thinking about these things anyway. They’re seeing things on the news, and overhearing the things adults are saying. So it can be scarier not to talk about them.”

And every kid is different, Weissbourd says: they “vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability.” With his own kids, Weissbourd shared tough truths based on “who they are, and what I felt they could emotionally manage.”

Still, there are some rules of thumb parents can follow.

At elementary age, fairy tales that may seem grim to parents actually work for kids because, Weissbourd says, “they’re trying to get some mastery over those really deep fears.” But kids that age are also concrete thinkers. So it’s good to start with concrete answers. And it’s all right not to have all the answers. According to Weissbourd, the real goal is just to have the conversation.

By the time kids reach middle school, they’ll have seen a lot of troubling things for themselves. But “sometimes they understand much more and sometimes much less than we think,” Weissbourd says. So it’s important at this stage for parents to listen. Hearing what kids are wrestling with, and how they’re trying to make sense of it, is key.

By high school, parents can begin to explore the deeper questions with kids, looking not just at immediate problems, but at the underlying reasons for them–and what they might be able to do to make a difference. According to Weissbourd, research shows that people deal best with problems when they “convert passivity into activity.”

So that’s actually the most powerful response to tough realities at any age, Weissbourd says: finding something we can do to make a difference.

For the best parenting stories and advice every week, sign up for TIME’s weekly parenting newsletter by clicking here.

TIME Parenting

How to Parent Like a Reporter

mother son talking
Getty Images

Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking

Parenting articles are popping up everywhere. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about parenting.

On March 5, TIME.com published How to Parent Like an FBI Agent, but well before that there were stories describing helicopter parents, tiger moms, free-range parenting and so on.

Folks love to put labels on things–but parenting is a task many of us figure out as we go. One day I may be hovering over my kids, and the next I might be doing the opposite, so I can’t imagine that any parent is any one type all of the time. The nature of the job simply doesn’t lend itself to that level of certainty.

Just last week the child who had been giving my husband and me a hard time for the past few weeks suddenly became the easier one, while the other – who had given us no reason for concern for weeks – switched into high-maintenance mode again.

So in the spirit of these parenting “styles,” I present my own method: “How to parent like a reporter.” Loosely based on principles learned in Journalism 101, this is mostly for fun – but with practice and a little luck, these guidelines could lead you a better understanding of your child.

Sign up here for TIME’s free weekly email newsletter.

Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking. Instead of questions like “How was school today?” – that can be answered with a simple yes, no, or O.K.– some better prompts might be, “What’s going on at the playground during recess?” or “What sort of things are kids fighting over in class?” Determine in advance what information you want to obtain, and craft a line of questioning that will get you there.

Ask follow-up questions. Who, what, when, where, how and why are particularly helpful to get more details or to get the subject to consider the matter more closely themselves.

Monitor social media accounts for tips and trends related to your source. For instance, search Instagram and Twitter with tags the kids and their friends may be using. I guarantee you will be both enlightened and shocked. If you aren’t sure what tags they use, ask them to tag something as a joke, and you’ll get a grasp of the pattern. They may not use the ones you think they are using, so try different combinations.

Observe interactions between the source and others to gain contextual information for follow-up questions or background. Listen closely when your child expresses concerns over trivial matters as well as large issues. Tune your ears to absorb the information as if you had to write down and explain the conversation to others. This technique will curb your daydreaming and the tendency to begin crafting your response in advance.

Be objective. Don’t throw your emotions into the conversation if it is unwarranted.

Don’t assume any details are correct. Confirm locations and chaperone details with an independent source.

Take lots of photos to document this moment in time. You never know when that one photo will tell the story better than written words.

Respect “off the record” details as confidential. Don’t share your source’s (child’s) private thoughts as fodder in conversations with friends, or you’ll lose that rapport.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. Parenting, just like covering breaking news, is a lot about reacting. Just as a reporter was not expecting a fire to ignite at that factory downtown, you may not be ready for your child to launch into questions about the birds and the bees on a Saturday morning. Take a breath, rely on what you know to be true, and figure out what you still need to know to properly inform and guide them.

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. Get more parenting news by connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter @TheMomsBeat or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Shore News Today.

TIME Parenting

Here’s a Better Way To Do the Toothfairy

Alt fairy: a collection of animal teeth and a special message.
Courtesy of Pam Briskman and Randy Weiner Alt fairy: a collection of animal teeth and a special message.

Ron Lieber is the author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money

When your child loses a tooth, there are creative ways to make the money under the pillow more meaningful

When the first big money moment came in the life of my child, I, the guy who plays Dr. Personal Finance in the newspaper each weekend, was not ready. My daughter had lost her first tooth, and my wife and I had no idea what the tooth fairy ought to put under her pillow.

So, we did what we always do these days when we’re stumped and need to move fast: we asked the Internet. It wasn’t helpful. There were the standard surveys that reported that the average parent offered up a few bucks and change. We just wanted to be a bit above average, in a world where every parent seems to desire the same thing these days. But we didn’t want to just outbid everyone else either.

Facebook was more useful—and somewhat alarming. Within an hour, dozens of messages poured forth from friends, with rumors of $20 bills in the wealthier precincts of the northern Chicago suburbs, and a $100 bill sighting outside of New York City.

We ended up following the suggestion of a tipster who noted that a $5 bill run through the fare machine in our Brooklyn subway station would yield a MetroCard and change in the form of dollar coins. That gold, plus some fairy dust on the window ledge, seemed like a fine solution on just a few hours’ notice.

Later, however, we heard of routines that were much better than ours.

One of our favorites came from our friends Bruce Feiler and Linda Rottenberg. Both of them travel a fair bit for work, and they often have spare change from other countries rattling around on their dressers.

So, when their twin girls began losing their teeth, they made a virtue of the loose coins. Every time one of them lost a tooth, they got money from a different country. The implicit promise was that one day, they, too, would be old enough to go to faraway places and spend it. Meanwhile, they also get a copy of the book Throw Your Tooth on the Roof, which is about lost tooth traditions in other countries. That way, they could begin to imagine what life was like in some of the places they would visit someday.

It was Pam Briskman and Randy Weiner, however, who had the most creative solution of all. They have been instructors for Teach for America, app developers, charter school founders and game designers at various points in their careers. So, they set the bar pretty high.

When their daughters lose a tooth, they give them back a tooth from a different animal, each one suspended in a glitter bath. The prize is accompanied by a note written backward so they have to hold it up to a mirror to read it, and it gives clues as to which animal the tooth once belonged to. They buy the teeth from a store in Albany, California, called the Bone Room. (The Bone Room takes phone orders, in case you want to up your game.)

I’m all for teaching kids about money at every possible turn. But sometimes, when money has somehow become the one and only point of a ritual, perhaps it’s time to step back and reassess it. What Briskman and Weiner do is not cheap; the teeth cost money and their efforts take time. But it’s modest in its own way.

Moreover, as Weiner explained, it’s not the thing itself—the animal teeth—that’s important. Instead, it’s the values and intentions behind it. Their message is that they honor the shared milestones and experiences that their daughters hear about in school. But rather than doing it like everyone else, they’re going to come up with a unique approach that will still give them something special to talk about if they want to.

There’s no reason to limit this unique approach to the tooth fairy either. You can call on it for birthday parties and vacations and any number of other situations where using and spending more money seems like the quickest and easiest way to keep your kids from feeling excluded from the conversation.

Money is quick, and it is easy if you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. But it’s not exactly creative, and it’s certainly not unique. Far better, then, to come up with a solution that is all your own. If you give yourself more than a few hours to figure it out, chances are, you have one in you, too.

THE OPPOSITE OF SPOILED

Ron Lieber is the “Your Money” columnist for the New York Times and the author of the recent bestseller, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, from which this was adapted.

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

TIME Parenting

The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn’t the Only Biological Clock

Grandmother and granddaughter walk
Getty Images

There's often one forgotten variable in the decision about having kids later in life

A few months ago I was sitting in the vast dining room of an assisted-living home in Washington, D.C., watching my 5-year-old niece bounce like a pinball between tables of seniors. It was a startling sight–that small, smooth blond blur amid a hundred crinkly faces. Her audience, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, grinned as she navigated all the parked walkers, canes and wheelchairs as if it were a playground.

Sahar is a bit of a celebrity here. Far younger than most of the other grandchildren who visit, she is a rare burst of kindergarten energy in a place where even the elevators move very slowly. She comes frequently to have meals with my dad, her grandfather. He’s 81, and she doesn’t know what he was like before dementia took hold. Nor does she remember her grandmother who died four years ago, except in the funny stories my sister tells so often that Sahar refers to them as if they were her own memories.

She and my two daughters are among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers. They are the leading edge of a generation whose mothers and fathers had children later in life. They’ve seen us juggle our jobs, their school schedules and their grandparents’ needs simultaneously–one day missing work to be at the bedside of a parent who’s had a bad fall, another day trying to call an elder-care aide from the back row of a dance recital.

It seems naive to say this tripart balancing act came as a surprise to me and my sister, but it did. Somehow, while we were worrying about our biological clocks and our careers, it didn’t occur to us that another biological clock was ticking down: that of our parents’ health. And while medical science keeps coming up with new ways to prolong fertility, thwarting the frailties of old age is harder.

Our parents seemed so vibrant, so capable in their 60s that we couldn’t imagine how fast things would change. We knew that three or four years could make a huge difference in our fertility, but it turned out that three or four years could also mean the difference between a grandmother who can take a toddler to the beach and one who can’t lift her newest grandbaby out of a kiddie pool because of arthritis.

My daughters may face an even greater grandparent gap. I was almost 39 when I had my second child. If she has a child at the same age, I’ll be over 80 when that grandchild enters pre-K. And I’m not alone here: about six times as many children were born to women 35 and older in 2012 as they were 40 years ago.

I’m aiming to stay spry, but by the time I become a grandmother, I’ll likely be past the age that my daughter can drop her kids off at my house for a weekend. Will I be one of those exceptional octogenarians who jogs every day? Will I be able to babysit, or will I need my daughter to find me a babysitter? I don’t know. But with about half a million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s each year, plus the usual maladies of age, there’s a fair chance I’ll need some kind of help.

If I had thought about all that, I might have gotten pregnant a few years earlier, just to give my kids that little bit of extra time with my parents in their prime. Of course, it’s not as if my sister and I could have chosen exactly when we met the men who became our children’s fathers. Nor do I regret spending my 20s and part of my 30s living in different countries, doing all kinds of jobs, soaking up the world. It was glorious, and it made me a better mother. But I do know I’d give anything if my kids could have one more weekend at the beach with my parents in peak grandparenting mode–full of silly jokes and poetry and wry observations from extraordinary lives lived fully.

And now, amid the ongoing debate over when to lean into a job or a relationship or children, my take has changed. I want to tell my daughters, “Don’t forget grandparents in the high-pressure calculus of modern life. I would like to make it easier for you if you want to lean in and have babies at the same time. I’d also like to know your children.” Who knows if I’ll get that chance, given the million variables at play, but I want them to know it’s an option.

In the meantime, I’m leaning into this new phase, one ripe with gratitude even as my father fades, losing more of himself every day. My children are discovering that they are not always the center of the world. And while my little niece may never know what my dad was like when he used to hide Easter eggs or swim after us pretending to be a shark, his white hair pluming like sea foam, she’s learning something beautiful from her mother. She sees my sister visiting him daily, feeding him, talking to him. Sahar is seeing kindness firsthand. And she understands that the thin, confused man in the bed is someone worth loving. That he is family.

Schrobsdorff is an assistant managing editor at TIME


This appears in the March 30, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME health

Study Shows Benefits of Breast-Feeding as Popularity Continues to Rise

May 21, 2012, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN SCHOELLER FOR TIME The May 21, 2012, cover of TIME

A look back at TIME's 'Are you mom enough?' cover story, which charted the rise of attachment parenting

Word that a new study has found that children who were breast-fed for longer ended up smarter and richer will be welcome among one group of mothers in particular, those who practice the “attachment parenting” style that supports a longer-than-average time before weaning. (The study looked at babies who were breast-fed for at least a year, versus those who did for less than a month; some attachment-parenting adherents breast-feed their children for far longer.)

Those mothers — and the man who introduced the world to attachment parenting, Dr. Bill Sears — were the subject of a 2012 TIME story which, controversially, ran with a cover image of real-life mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breast-feeding her 3-year-old son. And, as the story explained, even as some criticized Sears and his ideas, at least one of his pieces of advice seemed to be permeating society: breast-feeding was more common than it had been in decades.

As TIME’s Kate Pickert put it:

Fans and critics of attachment parenting can agree on two things: there has been a sea change in American child rearing over the past 20 years, and no one has been a more enthusiastic cheerleader for it than Sears. Slings and carriers, like the kind Sears sells on his website AskDrSears.com, are now on every list of must-have baby gear. Breast-feeding is more popular than at any other time since the baby-formula boom of the 1950s. And despite public-health warnings against it, in 2005, according to the CDC, 19% of 2-month-old babies slept in beds with their mothers, a phenomenon almost unheard of 20 years ago.

“So many of the ideas of attachment parenting are in the culture even if you don’t believe in Dr. Sears per se,” says Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé, a new book on French parenting, which Druckerman says demands far less of mothers than its American counterpart. “This is a new common sense.”

According to a 2014 CDC report, about a quarter of U.S. babies were still breastfeeding (though not necessarily exclusively) at 1 year.

Read the rest of the story, here in the TIME archives: The Man Who Remade Motherhood

TIME Family

Being a Stay-at-Home Mother Is Not a Job

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

I was able to do nothing but focus on giving my daughter the best early years at home that I could provide. That was a gift. Not a career

xojane

Alright, calm down. Before you get angry, you should know that I was a stay-at-home mother of my daughter for five years. I proudly made that choice, too, so I’m not speaking out of ignorance/anger/first-wave-feminist desire to put women down for their decision to parent from home.

And I definitely understand where the desire to complain about being a stay-at-home parent like it’s more rigorous than some lousy 9 to 5 comes from. I lived it. It was really hard. I was lonely a lot. There were many days I wanted to call in sick.

I also understand a stay-at-homer wanting to validate her or his life choice by calling it a “job.” We get a lot of grief from academics and professionals, and we’re very often belittled by our society for not contributing anything “valuable.” There’s a sense that we need to defend ourselves against a culture that wants to make us feel inferior or useless because of the way we’re spending our time, but trying to argue its worth by identifying it as something identical to a full-time career isn’t helping the cause. If you’re proud of how you’re living your life, there’s no need to rephrase it to make it more palatable to those who don’t agree with its worth.

Being a stay-at-home mother to your own kids is not a “job,” no matter how difficult it is or how hard we work. Period. Getting to do nothing but raise a person you opted to bring into the world is a privilege, and calling it anything else is ignorant and condescending.

Sure, parenting is hard work, but so is going camping or throwing a party for a friend; I don’t go around calling those things my “jobs.” And FUN FACT: While there are obviously labor-intensive tasks involved with running a household like cleaning and cooking, those are things every person has to do (or pay someone else to do) regardless of their status as parents, and they don’t define our life’s work.

Obviously, staying at home and taking care of people in lieu of working for wages is a valued lifestyle, but it is not a “career”; people who retire early to care for their elderly parents don’t suddenly tell everyone they’ve gone into the health care profession. Choosing to care for your own small child is no different.

Statistically, it’s unbelievable that I was able to afford being a SAHM at all. I found out I was pregnant three months into a relationship with a guy I’d met our senior year of college. I wasn’t the type who ever wanted children, but the minute I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to keep her. Never mind that I was still living with my parents after moving back in with them during a mental breakdown my sophomore year at an out-of-state university four years prior. Never mind that I was only employed 15-ish hours per week and was due to graduate a few weeks later with a BA in English. Nope! We were havin’ a baby!

The wonderful, unassuming young man with whom I was about to take this ill-advised journey had earned his way through college as the Art Director for the student magazine, and he was able to start working a full-time, professional job literally two days after we graduated from college in May 2007. I started working part-time as an administrative assistant, but I was upfront about being pregnant and knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay on after having my daughter, especially because my pregnancy was rough on my health from the start.

After I gave birth, I worked part-time while my mother watched her free-of-charge, and for the first couple years, we participated in the government’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which helped provide tons of nutritious groceries for myself while I was pregnant and nursing, then later when my little girl was eating solid foods. Once my partner had moved to a more profitable job, we were able to quit the program, and I kept working freelance writing and acting gigs here and there. We survived the 2008 financial crisis (which happened the week we were away getting married all by ourselves, incidentally), and my husband got a new job three hours away from my family.

For a while, I kept plugging away at freelance work when I could find it, but was always confined to staying at home. Ultimately, though, I made the choice not to take the first mediocre full-time job that came along that required me to not be with my daughter in her early years in exchange for a paycheck that would just go back into childcare. We didn’t have any extra money, but I was able to do nothing but focus on giving my daughter the best early years at home that I could provide, and she was happy and healthy. That was a gift. Not a career.

During this era, I tried joining mommy groups and was constantly astounded by how many women reveled in bemoaning our apparently torturous conditions. Don’t get me wrong; it was nice to have people who could empathize with the frustration of existing in a perpetually disheveled state while someone literally screamed in my face a dozen times per day instead of clearly stating her requests. I loved The Feminine Mystique, and I fully understand that mothering isn’t completely fulfilling to most women.

However, the negativity that comes behind SAHMs’ unabashed martyrdom is belittling to the entire parenting community. For example, I listened with real compassion to one woman I befriended who spent a year (and thousands of dollars) on fertilization treatments to conceive her second child, only to begin whining about how much it sucked being pregnant once it finally happened. Other women in that social circle were happy to join in with her complaints; I was quick to leave.

I’d like to say that this was the scene at just one or two of the groups I desperately tried to fit into, but the truth is, for every mother who is happy with her choice to be a stay-at-home mother, there are at least three who are using its tribulations as a means to smugly declare their superiority to anyone within earshot.

“Mothering is the hardest job in the world!” is a phrase I’ve grown to loathe, but only because of the unemployed, self-righteous idiots who love to proclaim it after spending all their energy harping on their children or bitching about their spouse’s ineptitude. The mothers who don’t have time or interest in repeating that overused trope are the ones who recognize that the stay-at-home lifestyle is an incredible freedom they were in no way obligated to participate in, or are actually working to support the children they decided to contribute to society.

No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags. Whether you call it a “blessing” or a “privilege,” the fact remains that having someone else foot the bill for a lifestyle that only benefits you and your close family is by no means a “job.”

Have some self-respect, own up to your decision, and call it what it is: a lifestyle that is hard but definitely worth the struggle to you. The people out there who actually have jobs will appreciate you much more if you’re not going around whining about a way of life that is most parents’ dream.

Liz Pardue-Schultz wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: I Am About to Become a Stay-at-Home Parent and I’m Terrified

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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

TIME Family

I Don’t Want My Daughter To Hate Pink

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

I suddenly felt ashamed of putting a bow on my daughter’s head

xojane

“Good thing you put a bow on her head, so we know she’s a girl.”
A good friend sent me this text as a joke after seeing a photo of my daughter wearing a tiny silver headband with a bow on it.

This friend knows me incredibly well. She knows that most of my baby’s things are not specifically gendered. She knows our nursery is outer space themed: blue and gray with robots. She knows earlier that week she’d met us in the park where my one-month-old was rocking a Captain America onesie. (My daughter also has several Batman and Superman onesies — and Wonder Woman, obviously.)

But despite my friend knowing we’re just as likely to put our kid in a t-ball uniform as in a tutu, the joke bothered me. I suddenly felt ashamed of putting a bow on my daughter’s head. It was as if all my progressive, feminist street cred was choked out of me with the twist of a shiny ribbon. My gut reaction was to respond quickly (and truthfully), “This is the first time we’ve ever put a bow on her.”

I was about to hit send on this disclaimer text when I had an epiphany: I was feeling embarrassed because I put my daughter in something feminine, because feminine means frivolous and silly. This is NOT OK.

Society teaches us boy stuff is awesome and girl stuff sucks, even for girls.

It’s awesome when my little girl is dressed like Batman or a dinosaur, but why isn’t it just as awesome when she’s dressed like a ballerina? And how did I somehow fall into this way of thinking?

I grew up as a little girl who liked to climb trees while wearing frilly dresses. I’d say that is still a fair description of who I am today. I am feminine in so many stereotypical ways: I love shoes and make-up and getting my nails done is one of my favorite forms of “me time.” But these are things that I feel the need to justify. I find myself adding disclaimers and pointing out the ways in which I am not as traditionally femme: I’m a comedy writer. I know how to change a tire. I’m a lesbian.

But why can’t I just be a woman who kicks butt? Or better yet, a person who is a whole complex being, and as such has a blend of masculine and feminine qualities? To be human is to have a mix of traits and the faster we acknowledge that we aren’t cardboard cutouts predetermined by the way we urinate, the better off society will be.

Yet here I was ready to begin subtle coding on my one month old, apologizing for girlhood, womanhood, and femininity. “Cool girls” like boy stuff. “Cool girls” don’t wear bows. Girl stuff is silly.

Forget that. Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect. And that respect is way, way overdue. Why do we associate weakness with wearing lipstick? Didn’t lipstick-wearing women do the tough task of giving birth to and raising many of us? Weren’t suffragettes rocking high heels when they fought for, and won, our right to vote? Wasn’t Rosa Parks in a skirt when she became the catalyst for a civil rights movement? There is nothing fragile about feminine power.

Now, I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to cover my daughter in pink and bows. It grosses me out when people pretend like it’s shocking for a girl to be in blue or for a boy to snuggle his baby doll. Women are often still forced into femininity and trapped by it. We need the extra push and support when we do things that don’t fall in line with gender expectations. I love a woman who defies stereotypes and I hope my little girl has a thousand more women like Janelle Monae to look up to. Luckily, my wife, her mama, is one of those role models: a comic book illustrator working in the very male world of superheroes.

We don’t want our kid to feel confined by her sex, or societies expectations for gender roles. My wife and I have no idea at this point how she will identify later, but I want to make sure that as we present the world to our daughter it’s a world of “and,” not a world of “or.”

She is allowed to love sports AND fashion. She can spend her allowance at Game Stop AND Sephora. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that in order to be thought of as intelligent or treated as well as “one of the boys” she has to turn up her nose at anything “girl.” Or that girls who are smart and love to read can’t also want to be cheerleaders or love cute, fluffy things.

I want my child to grow up with no concept that any door could, or should, be closed to her. I want her to feel entitled to walk into any room and enjoy anything she wants to enjoy, but I am suddenly aware that needs to include pink rooms, too.

Amanda Deibert wrote this article for xoJane.

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

How to Talk To Kids About Art

Mother and daughter in art gallery
Getty Images

Even when you know nothing about it

It’s not always easy to talk about art. As the dancer Isadora Duncan is quoted as saying, “If I could say it, I wouldn’t have to dance it.”

Still, art is good for kids. Studies show that when they get into art, they’re more empathetic and more involved with their communities. They have higher career goals, better critical thinking skills, and better academic outcomes. Yet schools are increasingly finding art is squeezed out of their curriculum in favor of more “useful” subjects.

So how can a parent start good conversations with kids about art?

Barbara Hunt McLanahan, executive director of the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, says that the first thing parents need to understand about art is that “there’s no right and wrong. That’s the joy of it,” she explains. “Especially today when there’s so much emphasis on testing and standards. With art, you can encourage individuality. It’s good to be different.”

Parents may feel like they’ve got to be experts in art to talk about it, but McLanahan suggests a different perspective: learning along with your kids. “Side by side learning is one of our philosophies,” she says. You don’t have to know everything to start a conversation on art with your kids – you just have to be curious, and willing to learn.

For more parenting tips, news and guidance, sign up here to get our free weekly newsletter, TIME for Parents.

Michelle Lopez, Director of Community Programs at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, suggests starting conversations about art with elementary school kids with three simple questions. When looking at a work of art, start by asking, “What’s happening?” Give them a chance to form some opinions by asking, “What do you see that makes you think that?” Then keep exploring with, “What else can we find?”

Middle school, McLanahan says, is a good time for kids to start getting curious about the artist. Parents and kids can talk together about questions like, “Why would an artist make those choices? How would the piece change if they’d made a different one?”

As students move into high school, Lopez says, art can be an interesting way “to get to know your children as they get older.” When looking at art, kids often “project their views, thoughts, and emotions.” Then parents can “demonstrate that you respect their ideas or disagree” – all within the “safe space in the conversation about the artwork.”

The most important thing for parents and kids at any age to know about art? It’s pretty simple, McLanahan says: “Have fun with it. It’s all about having fun.”

TIME Parenting

How Not To Raise a Narcissist

A young girl's reflection in the mirror
Getty Images

New study looks at what parents do too often —or not often enough

If you can’t figure out where your uber-beautiful, ultra-exceptional 7-year-old’s selfie obsession came from, maybe it’s time for some self-reflection. Should you put the brakes on all that love and affection and take the kid’s self esteem down a notch? Or do you just need to remind the kid that he or she is sooo much better than other kids that narcissism is unnecessary?

The answer to both questions is a definitive no. According to new research out of the Netherlands, overvaluing the awesomeness of your kid is partly to blame for raising nasty little narcissists. Withholding affection, on the other hand, lowers the kid’s self esteem, but does nothing to affect narcissistic tendencies.

Eddie Brummelman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam, wanted to test out two competing theories of where narcissism comes from. One school of thought holds that kids become narcissists when their parents withhold warmth and affection; by putting themselves on a pedestal, the theory goes, they get the approval their parents never gave. Another theory blames parents at the other end of the spectrum: when they overvalue their kids’ abilities, leading their kids to internalize their own supposed exceptionalism.

What’s so wrong with a little narcissism? The field of research is new, but some evidence suggests that narcissistic kids are more aggressive than other children and more prone to addiction, Brummelman says. “When they don’t get the admiration they want, or when they’re criticized or rejected by others, they tend to become more aggressive,” he says. It’s not pretty in adults, either. Full-grown narcissists, of course, don’t often have the best social and relationship skills.

For a year and a half, Brummelman and his colleagues questioned 565 children in the Netherlands aged between 7 and 12—when signs of narcissism first start to emerge—about how much love and affection they felt from their parents. The researchers also surveyed the parents, asking them the degree to which they believed their child was more special and entitled than other kids.

The results were clear. When parents overvalued their children, believing their spawn to be more special and entitled than others, those children were more likely to be narcissists.

MORE: Why Men Are More Narcissistic Than Women

“Children become more narcissistic when they are put on a pedestal—when they are given the feeling that they are more special, more entitled and more unique than others,” Brummelman explains.

They also found evidence of a much healthier kind of internalization. Kids had higher self esteem—the feeling of being happy with oneself as a person—when their parents showed them affection and appreciation. Treating your kids with warmth seems to make them internalize the notion that they’re valuable as individuals. Withholding affection, on the other hand, had no effect on narcissism.

The field of childhood narcissism is so new that scientists haven’t yet come up with science-backed parenting advice to combat it. But Brummelman says that clinicians are looking into effective defenses. “One approach, given our findings, might be to teach parents to express warmth and affection to children in a way to raise their self esteem without putting children on a pedestal, without conveying to them that they’re more special and more entitled than others,” Brummelman says.

Though it seems slight, that parenting tweak may make all the difference. “Self esteem is more about feeling good about yourself,” he says. “Narcissism is more about wanting to feel good about yourself.”

For the most interesting and useful parenting news of the week, sign up here for TIME for Parents, a free weekly newsletter from TIME.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com