TIME Parenting

Meek Mill: Being a Father Means Giving My Son the Life He Deserves

Photo courtesy of author Meek Mill with his son.

Meek Mill is a chart-topping rapper from Philadelphia.

'Growing up without a father made me realize just how special time is with my son'

As a father, now I get to give my son the life I never had. Being able to give him anything he wants is one of the best feelings in the world—but it’s also scary. When you see how much one person can trust you, look up to you, and depend on you, the last thing you want to do is disappoint them. The fact that no one can teach you how to be a father means you are always learning on the job. I love my son with all my heart, and I would do anything for him. It’s a crazy feeling knowing that I will help him become a great man.

With my career and my crazy schedule, sometimes it’s tough to be able to spend the amount of time with him that I want and that he deserves. After spending time away from him, one of my favorite things to do is get on my four wheeler with my little man in tow. Picture us riding around my neighborhood waving at all my neighbors. My son is fearless on his bike. Those are the moments I think about when I’m on the road.

Before I leave, I always explain to him that everything I do, I do for him. All the shows, all the nights in the studio, I do with my son in mind. It doesn’t make it any easier, but I’m blessed to be in the financial situation that I’m in. I’m grateful I don’t have to think twice about whether there is going to be food on his table. My son doesn’t have to worry about that the way that I did—nor does the rest of my family. I’m not just a father to my son, but a provider to my whole family. I provide for them not because I have to, but because I want to. They have all been there for me through my highs and lows. They’ve always made sure I was taken care of, and now it’s my turn to take care of them.

I never had a strong male figure in my life. I didn’t have that person to teach me things fathers teach their sons because my father was killed when I was young. It was just me, my mom, and my sister, so I had to be the man of the house. When I was younger, I remember being able to speak to my father and then in the blink of an eye, he was gone. My mom played the role of both mom and dad. We had nothing growing up, so my mom worked any job she could find to provide for me and my sister. I love her so much for that. But as much as I appreciated everything my mother did for me, she couldn’t fill the space that a father should hold in a child’s life.

I still miss my dad, and I always will. Growing up without a father made me realize just how special time is with my son and how much of an impact I can have on his life. There are so many single mothers out there struggling to fill both roles, raising their families all by themselves. They don’t get the credit they deserve. There’s not enough ways to really say thank you, but we celebrate them, too, for all they do. To all my family and friends who are celebrating Father’s Day with their children, we salute you for being role models for all the young fathers in our community.

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

What Parents Can Learn From Inside Out

disney, pixar, inside out, amy poehler, mindy kaling, lewis black, movies
Pixar/Disney Amy Poehler stars as the personification of Joy, left, with Phyllis Smith starring as the voice of Sadness.

It's the anti-helicopter parenting movie

All parents want their kids to be happy. I mean, obviously. But for most of history in most of the world that has meant keeping them from hunger and death and physical bodily harm. What happens when those threats aren’t quite so looming? Pixar’s new movie is an examination of our modern obsession with keeping our kids in a permanent state of delight. It could be the ultimate anti helicopter-parenting movie.

Of course, like all Pixar movies, it’s also about eccentric characters going on an unlikely adventure. In this case, our heroines are exploring the inner workings of that undiscover’d country, the brain. And those heroines are Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, this generation’s go-to embodiment of spunk and optimism) and Sadness (voiced, with wonderful melancholy, by The Office’s Phyllis Smith).

Joy is a type-A workaholic, running around manically to make sure the little factory that is the brain of Riley, a Minnesotan girl who has recently moved to San Francisco, is always fully stocked with upbeat feelings. She tries to keep her co-workers, Anger, Fear and Disgust in line. But most of all she wants to sideline Sadness. Sadness’s chubby little blue hands are not allowed to touch any of the childhood memories that roll like marbles into Riley’s brain.

Especially precious are the more brightly gleaming marbles that represent the core memories. When one of those arrives in the processing room and it’s blue, not chatreuse, meaning it’s sad, not happy, Joy takes extreme steps to prevent it from finding its permanent place in the brain. And ultimately, that puts Riley at risk.

The parallels with modern parenthood are hard to miss here. Feeding and protecting kids from existential threats is no longer the absorbing task it once was, but the instinct to raise happy kids doesn’t go away. So parents try to stave off any potential source of distress—a failure, a loss, a heartache—by flooding the zone of childhood with delight.

For a start, this is exhausting—anyone with less energy than Amy Poehler would just lose her mind—and secondly, it’s counterproductive. Without sadness or failure, kids can’t build resilience. The little islands of security that Joy has built in Riley’s brain, with very little input from Fear, Anger, Disgust or most of all Sadness, prove to be quite fragile and not very colorful.

In his book on building resilience in kids, Grit, Paul Tough quotes the principal of a prestigious U.S. school: “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” Spoiler alert: Joy comes to understand that sadness has its place too, that it’s a useful and necessary emotion.

Inside Out doesn’t just gently and comically suggest that perhaps we are making our kid’s lives unhappier by trying to make them happy, it offers an alternative: Riley’s actual parents. Her dad has moved to San Francisco for a startup and is obviously under a bit of stress. Her mom is distracted by the stress of finding a missing truck with all their belongings. (Some Pixar peeps clearly have their issues with moving companies.) But they’re there for Riley. They ask if she wants them to take her to her new school; she doesn’t, so she goes alone. They find a new hockey league for her, but don’t make her join. They make a fool of themselves to support her, when that seems appropriate.

They don’t notice her unhappiness, and she makes a few ill-conceived decisions, but, of course—spoiler alert again!—she realizes her error. Pixar has always made movies for adults cleverly disguised as movies for kids, and and Inside Out is no exception. It simplifies certain concepts in brain science, but it illustrates others in a way that almost anyone could grasp —the dream studio is a particularly inspired sequence—and that may make it simpler for grownups and kids to realize why they’re feeling as they do. As Tough says, “Any time you need to use the term hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal in order to make your point, you’ve got trouble.”

One note of warning. Some people have labeled the movie PMCIFOTC. (Parents May Cry In Front Of Their Children.) Adults should be accompanied by an understanding minor.

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TIME Parenting

Why I Hate Gratuitous Childhood Graduations

Group of children wearing graduation robes, rear view
Getty Images

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

"It’s not noteworthy that your kid is officially a middle schooler; it’s expected"

xojane

When I was a child, I remember passing from one grade to the next. Sometimes it was eventful. At other times, it was anti-climatic, but that is the nature of being a child. Graduation was something that seemed far off in the distance, somewhere otherworldly even, because when you are a child, you can’t possibly imagine the day that your life will be in your own hands—and your primary education is done. That was the significance of graduation back then.

Today, it seems like children are graduating from everything under the sun, from nursery school to eighth grade. As a parent, I’m watching and rolling my eyes. Who are these “graduations” for, anyway? I don’t want to send my child the message that each and every step in their winding path is one where we need to stop, drop and celebrate. Sure, life is grand, but if you ask me, we need to be a little more comfortable with the mediocre and mundane.

Don’t get me wrong, becoming a parent is a joyful experience in many ways; watching my child hit milestones is filled with wonder. Many times my husband and I are looking at one another saying, “Can you believe she did that?!” But not all milestones are created equal—in fact, some milestones are just plain made up. That is precisely how I feel about the creation of the preschool, kindergarten, fifth grade and eighth grade graduations. And I’m dreading it.

When I was a kid, the school year just ended. Maybe we had a pizza party, or a small family or in-class celebration, but that was it. Graduation, in my opinion, is something that happens when you truly accomplish something—and if you ask me, passing a grade that you are expecting to pass as a child is not worthy of a graduation.

I know that some parents will poo-poo me, or call me a bad sport because they think it’s cute to put their kids in little graduation caps and gowns, but hear me out. Making every occasion one that is ceremony-worthy can start to send the wrong message. We seem to state to our kids that everything they do is so special and that they should be constantly doted over. The real world isn’t going to celebrate our children every time they do what is expected of them.

While I understand that childhood is “special,” some parents need to come to grips with the fact that childhood isn’t a dress rehearsal—it’s real life—and we’re setting the foundation for our children for them to come up in the world. It’s not noteworthy that your kid is officially a middle schooler; it’s expected. It’s not a rite of passage to put on a cap and gown every time you switch schools; it’s called growing up.

I believe that graduation is a significant marker of completion. Graduation from high school signifies the ability to be in control of your life and destiny, and you have a choice whether to continue on in your education. College graduation is yet another milestone where your world is once again expanded and new opportunities become available to you. Those are significant, cap-and-gown-worthy moments. But why should our children ever care about that when by the time they reach their high school graduation, they have already participated in up to four “graduations?”

All this faux-graduation business really does is cheapen the experiences that were once really special and meaningful.

The worst part in all of this is that as a parent, you are basically forced to participate. Because as much as I truly think it’s awful that I will have to play along in these ceremonies, I’m not about to be the parent who tells my kid we’re not doing the thing all her peers are doing. That would only create trauma where it doesn’t need to exist.

I don’t know how I will handle it, ultimately. Should I explain to my child that this graduation is really just some silly game of dress up? Do I say nothing? It’s hard to know exactly how I’ll react. The simple truth is I don’t want to participate at all. So I’m appealing to parents to come to their senses.

Stop this insanity of endless graduations in the most elaborate of make-believe set ups. As a parent, I spend a lot of time playing make-believe, as a good parent should. In playgroup, we collectively spend time making things magical for our children, and it’s great. But sometimes, as is the case with these types of trumped up celebratory moments, it’s not the children we’re putting on a ruse for, it’s ourselves, and to pretend otherwise is just ridiculous.

Basically, in the end, we adults in the room are making our children get all gussied up for a graduation ceremony so that we can feel good. Our children would never know the difference, and—like we were at their age—would be completely satisfied with a pizza, some ice cream and a movie to mark the end of the school year.

Do your children a favor and request that these graduations end because they are fake, serve no purpose, and mostly, I don’t want to attend them.

Billie Criswell 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 Deadbeat are Deadbeat Dads, Really?

New study suggests they give stuff rather than money

There are fewer pariahs more deeply loathed by society at large than the deadbeat dad, the fully-grown man, who, having had his fun, abandons his responsibilities. And the numbers of men who pay little or no child support has always been staggering. In 2011, only 61% of child support payments were made by men to the mothers of their children.

But as with most pariahs, things are more complicated than they seem. The Census reports that in 2011 about the same percentage of moms who didn’t live with their kids paid all the child support they owed as dads who didn’t. And a new research paper suggests that baby dads are not quite as useless as the numbers and their popular image would imply.

The study, which appeared in June in the Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that many fathers who don’t pay child support in cash, nevertheless make a significant contribution in kind. Almost half of the fathers in the study who were cash-poor nevertheless tried to contribute in other ways—providing baby products, clothing, school expenses and food—worth an average of $60 a month.

“The most disadvantaged dads end up looking like they’re completely distanced from their kids but they’re actually giving quite a lot,” said one of the authors, Kathryn Edin, a sociologist and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Distinguished Professor. “I was really surprised by how much these disadvantaged guys, these truly marginally employed men, are putting all of this thought and what little resources they have into showing their children that they care.”

Of the 367 lower income, noncustodial dads studied in three different cities, only 23% gave what the courts would recognize as child-support through the system, but 46% contributed in-kind support and 28% gave cash straight to the mom, says the study, which is the first to look specifically at the more informal ways dads try to look after their kids.

Sixty six of the dads in the study were what’s considered the full-on deadbeat, giving absolutely no cash support to the 95 children they fathered between them. But the researchers found they gave $63 per child a month through in-kind support — support that doesn’t show up in statistics.

Edin, with her husband Timothy J. Nelson, has done extensive study of so-called deadbeat dads; together they wrote the book Doing the Best I Can about inner city fatherhood. She may be one of the nation’s foremost experts on non-custodial fathers and is certainly one of the group’s biggest (female) defenders.

Many sociologists believe that the current system of child support payments often leads mothers to deny fathers access to their children until they have paid what they owe, thus souring the relationship between all three. Indeed, the study found that fathers who did not visit their kids gave only about half as much in-kind support as those who spent at least 10 hours a month with them.

Why do dads prefer to buy stuff for their kids, rather than give money to the kids’ moms? Because they get more recognition for these acts from their children. It’s a way, says Edin, of bonding. “We need to respect what these guys are doing, linking love and provision in a way that’s meaningful to the child,” she said in a statement accompanying the release of the journal. “The child support system weakens the child/father bond by separating the act of love from the act of providing.”

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TIME Family

This Dove Commercial Will Make You Cry Happy Tears

The spot is made from real-life footage of men getting happy news

To mark this Father’s Day on June 21, Dove is releasing an ad that wouldn’t have been possible without the foresight of some clever females.

The company cobbled together footage of men finding out that they were going to become fathers, news that their baby mamas (and one baby daddy) surprised them with in gift boxes and cards—with the camera rolling. All the footage was posted on public sites that Dove employees trawled through, contacting the parents to ask them to be part of the campaign.

Dove, whose “real beauty” campaign turned 10 years old in 2014, brought a similar approach to their men’s line, attempting to reflect dads as they are rather than as unrealistic archetypes. Jen Bremner, U.S. marketing director for Dove Men+Care, a line the company has been aligning with dads since it debuted in 2010, said that when the company was researching how to position the brand, they found that fathers felt falsely depicted in advertising, as either bumbling dolts or super-hot supermen.

“Actually becoming a dad is a very significant and transformative experience,” Bremner said. “It redefines their masculinity.” It also makes for some very good television.

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TIME Parenting

How to Deal with a Bored Kid

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Photo and Co; Getty Images

Different ages need different answers

School’s out! Yay! Now what?

Kids and parents who once looked forward to the summer break may suddenly find themselves dealing with the aggravation of a familiar complaint: “I’m bored!”

But boredom can also be an opportunity, according to Linda Caldwell, professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State.

“Boredom should be motivational,” she says. “It’s a sign that you need to change what you are doing and do something else.”

In fact, learning to beat boredom is a crucial life skill. Kids who are always bored in their leisure time, says Caldwell, are in danger of developing “long-term boredom, where nothing is ever interesting.” That long-term boredom has been linked to substance abuse, school drop out, and vandalism. And boredom doesn’t just come from having too few activities, Caldwell says. “It could be a sign you have too many.”

The good news? When kids connect with activities that mean something to them, their health and sense of identity both improve.

So how can parents help kids beat summer boredom?

When kids are in elementary school, Caldwell says, they need “a lot of support finding things they are interested in.” It’s important for parents to expose kids to different activities, and encourage them to try new things. Parents can help kids discover what they like – and what they don’t – by starting conversations about how kids enjoyed new experiences, what else they might like to try, and what they’d like to do again.

In middle school, Caldwell says, kids’ brains are primed for sensation seeking. With too much time on their hands, that can lead to a bent for dangerous thrills. But their neurological desire for novelty at this age also means they’re primed to develop lifelong passions, for everything from technology to arts. “Because of the pruning that takes place in the brain,” Caldwell says, “youth can actually sculpt their abilities to control impulses and hone their skills.” Parents can encourage middle school kids by checking in with them about what activities they get the most out of – and encouraging them to stick with them, even – or especially – if they’re challenging.

Even more than support in their activities, high school kids need freedom, according to Caldwell. Leisure is a time to feel “self-determined,” Caldwell says, “that they are making decisions and in control of the situation.” It’s an important time for kids to “experiment with who they are as a person: am I a soccer player? A photographer? An artist?” But if kids are too over-scheduled, Caldwell says, they “often are even more bored.” So unscheduled time is crucial. “We have an activity bias,” Caldwell says. “But creativity can happen in these quiet moments if you don’t panic because you are bored.” Parents can help busy high school students by letting them know it’s important to rest – and by starting conversations with them about the activities that matter most to them, and how those activities shape their ideas about who they might become.

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TIME Parenting

Stop Saying Moms Can’t Be Ambitious

Michele Weldon is emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. Her latest book, Escape Points: A Memoir is out this fall.

Many say a working mother cannot have it all—They're wrong

“Having it all would cost her everything.” That’s the tweet-ready tagline of the 2011 remake of Mildred Pierce, this iteration an HBO series starring Kate Winslet. I never saw it.

I have seen—and more than a few times—the black-and-white, over-the-top 1945 melodramatic horror show original. In it, Joan Crawford (who won the Academy Award for the role) plays Mildred, a single, working mother of two daughters. She struggles her way up from divorced waitress to restaurant chief executive officer, saying lines to her ungrateful, oversexed teenager daughter, Veda, like this one, “I took the only job I could so you and your sister could eat, have a place to sleep and have some clothes on your backs.”

I get that.

There’s a classic back-and-forth with one of her many gentlemen suitors, who, on his way out, nearly spits to Mildred, “You want Veda and your business and a nice quiet life. And the price of all that is me.” Mildred writes him a check and says goodbye.

I get that, too.

I heard the same break-up speech from a partner who declared after six years that he refused to any longer come in last place after my work and my three children, who were 10, 13, and 16 when we started dating. I have heard more recently from men frustrated by my travel schedule, professional commitments, and deadlines that I am too intense about my work. That particular line was delivered by the physician director of the intensive care unit at a major hospital.

No, a working mother cannot have it all. Everyone tells us so.

Just ask Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of ambition in her second quest for the White House, demonized as a mother and now grandmother. Did anyone ask Mitt Romney if he sacrificed much to be away from his children and grandchildren? As Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, elbows her way into the presidential race, we’ll see if and how her professional ambition and stepmotherhood are used against her.

It’s like a woman can’t be yin and yang at the same time: We can’t dream to rise to the top if our screensaver features our own kids. Do not fly too close to the sun, Mommie Dearest, if you have hatchlings in your nest. You will crash and burn.

To remind us, we have YouTube clips of classics, TED talks on working moms, and Modern Family episodes presenting the hazards of motherhood as a roadblock to ambition and professional fulfillment. We have the studies and the surveys and the confessions of crazy moms. It’s all just so, I don’t know, impossible.

It’s almost Father’s Day, and it reminds me of all the divisive and derisive camps where we splinter off and hunker down as parents to finger wag, blame, recoil, and claim no one parent does parenting better, no one does it well, but others certainly do it worse.

Perhaps the assumption that blisters most is that to be ambitious and to love what you do as a mother makes you a heartless Medea. Or incredibly wealthy with live-in help. Or married with an amazing parenting partner as Sheryl Sandberg was. Unfortunately as a new widow, Ms. Sandberg is in a rocking boat with her two children, adjusting to its weight shift with one set of oars. I salute her, and I want to reassure her that she can do this—be an ambitious single parent.

I do not believe I am alone in the endeavor to fill myself up professionally and to have enjoyed years of doing so while also spending every weekend and two to three nights a week watching three sons play baseball, basketball, soccer, football, and also wrestle. I do not consider the galaxy stars of hours I spent in those humid, feral gyms being a cheering mom as a hinderance to my career.

I feel my presence and my support to my sons made a difference. I also feel that the hours I spent teaching at a university, writing articles and books on deadline and giving seminars to thousands of people around the country made a difference. If not to my students and audiences, then definitely to me.

The painful, arduous narrative that surrounds working and parenting is not altogether truthful. Yes, it is mostly in the realm of the privileged, and meaningful work is not available to everyone. But I do not feel that it is a guarantee that every mother always must sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice to have both a family and work that is fulfilling. I do not believe that your mind has to suffer for your heart.

I feel you have to try and emboss the gray areas with improvised effort and attempt to give of yourself wherever you are most needed. You take a sick child to the immediate care center during after-work hours instead of the middle of the day. You finish the speech at 1 a.m on your laptop propped up in bed instead of by 5 p.m. seated neatly at your work space. You share babysitting, you multi-task, you wake up early.

And you tell everyone who listens that motherhood is not where ambition goes to die. Especially your children. Yes, especially them.

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

Virgin’s New Paternity Leave Policy Is Wishful Thinking

A detailed view of the undercarriage of the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 as it passes overhead at Gatwick airport in West Sussex on December 29, 2014 in London, England.
Jordan Mansfield—Getty Images A detailed view of the undercarriage of the Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 as it passes overhead at Gatwick airport in West Sussex on December 29, 2014 in London, England.

Kenneth Matos, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Research at Families and Work Institute.

It won't have any game-changing effects in the U.S.—yet

One of Virgin’s company slogans is “breath of fresh airline.” Clearly the airlines’ news Wednesday that it was offering a year of paid maternal and paternal leave seems to be just that. Well, it probably won’t be a “breath of fresh airline” for most of the company’s employees, and it won’t do much to breathe fresh anything into the lack of substantial paid leave in the U.S.

The policy only applies to the about 140 employees who have worked for Virgin Management and are based in London and Geneva, and employees must have worked at least four years to receive their full salary during that time. In reality, it’s probably just an example of a company trying to keep some key employees from skydiving into the job market by making sure its benefits exceed the national standards. (The U.K. now mandates 52 weeks of partially paid leave that can be shared between spouses/partners.)

This isn’t the ground-breaking transformation of parental leave many want, especially not for the U.S., which has actually seen a decline in such leave. According to our research, only 58 % of employers in the U.S. provide any pay during maternity leave, while only 14% offer any pay during spouse/partner leaves (usually referred to as paternity leaves), and employers have become significantly less likely to provide full pay during leave for maternity-related disability between 2008 and 2014 (from 16% to 9%).

In addition, Virgin’s decision actually doesn’t even affect any U.S. employees at this time. So any hype in the U.S. is more wishful thinking than a game-changing new paradigm of work and life.

Or is it?

While U.S. policymakers and many U.S. citizens are unmoved by work-life policies overseas, large global companies are ever more concerned with creating work-life packages that make sense for all their employees. Both from a management standpoint (multiple policies are a ripe opportunity for lawsuits and extra administrative costs) and from a staffing standpoint (“No, I won’t relocate from London to Chicago and drop from 52 paid to 12 unpaid weeks of parental leave).

Research has shown that short maternity leaves are associated with various risk factors for the health of a new mother and baby. When fathers take shorter leaves, they are unavailable to help reduce these risk factors for mother and child. On the other hand, longer parental leaves, especially paid leaves, have been found to reduce depressive symptoms in new mothers, and increase the likelihood that a father will be involved in direct child care nine months after birth.

From an employer perspective, longer paid leaves have advantages as well. The Rutgers Center for Women and Work found that new mothers with paid leave were 93% more likely to be working at postpartum months nine to 12 than those who did not take any leave. This means a more robust talent market and better chances for women to stay on track with their careers, helping both organizations and families thrive.

Of all the companies to start experimenting with alternative policies, Virgin is a remarkably sensible choice. It has a history of bold moves and a transformational leader who has made strong public statements in support of flexibility. I expect it could also be fertile ground for cultural exchanges between employees.

Think about it: On a transatlantic flight, there’s a lot of time you don’t see flight attendants moving through the cabin. A lot of that time is just spent sitting and waiting for the next phase of the flight. What do you think they talk about during those times? I’m guessing family and life back on the ground is a big part of those conversations. It’s one thing to know that an anonymous colleague in an English branch of your company gets 52 weeks maternity leave and can share it with her spouse/partner. It’s another thing to listen to her talk about how wonderful her one year of paid leave was for seven hours.

Virgin is still a long way from having such a system mandated for all their flight attendants, baggage handlers, and other employees. Yet making their fairly limited policy so public still creates an opportunity to consider how it would work in broader practice. We’d all do well to watch how this plays out and push Virgin to keep to its brand as an experimental and ground-breaking company and to continue to expand this “breath of fresh airline” to ever more employees.

Kenneth Matos, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Research at Families and Work Institute and conducts research on a wide range of workforce and workplace issues, including paid leave, diversity, mentoring, work-life fit, and workplace effectiveness. He received his master’s in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at the George Washington University.

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 I Explained Caitlyn Jenner’s Transition to My 7-Year-Old Daughter

“A man can become a woman?”

Last evening after dinner, my husband and I were comparing notes from our social-media news streams while our 7-year-old daughter was doodling. My husband was reading aloud from a statement that a personality (who shall remain nameless) we follow had posted on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner. A conservative with deeply rooted religious beliefs — very different from our own — this person expressed that in his mind it would never be acceptable for a man to choose to become a woman.

Suddenly, our daughter’s ears perked up. “A man can become a woman?” “Yes,” I replied, “if he wants to.” My husband’s eyes widen and he lightly shook head his to signal “let’s not go there.”

“How can a person do that?” she asked, clearly intrigued. I looked at my husband, gave him my “we’re going there” smile and continued.

“Sometimes, when people are born, they may look like boys and girls on the outside, but on the inside, they know something is not right. For example, there are people who may look like boys, but know that they are really girls, and would be much happier if they could look like the way they feel on the inside. And, there are people who look like girls, but feel like they are boys on the inside. They would be much happier if the world saw them as boys. We are lucky enough to live at time where doctors and science can help people like that be who they are really meant to be.”

She got up from her seat and walked over to me and crawled onto my lap. She knew this was something serious. My husband, watching the exchange, laughed as if to say, “I warned you.”

“Mom,” she asked softly in my ear, “do the boys that become girls still have, you know, their things?” She nodded her head toward her own lap. “If they want to keep them, yes,” I replied. “They can decide.”

She gave me a kiss, walked back to her seat, picked up her colored pencil, and started doodling again. That was enough … for now.

Our girl has not yet encountered the Vanity Fair images of Caitlyn Jenner that were released last week. If she did, we’d have talked a bit about Caitlyn’s journey, and also about ideas of beauty and how magazine cover images get made. Luckily, she’s still in a childhood phase that is not affected by pop culture and media. I am hoping we can stay there a bit longer.

Want to know more about talking to your children about transgender issues? Here are a few sources you may find useful.

Angela Matusik is the executive digital editor at InStyle, and she is not afraid to talk to kids about the tough stuff. You can follow her on Twitter @angelamatusik

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TIME Parenting

Ed Sheeran to Kids Who Stutter: Embrace Your Weirdness

Ed Sheeran gave this speech at 9th Annual American Institute for Stuttering Benefit Gala

This is the second award I’ve ever got in America, so that’s pretty nice.

I didn’t actually know I was getting an award tonight, because I didn’t expect one. I was coming here to support the cause. I got an email from Emily [Blunt] a couple of months ago telling me about the thing, I said, “of course I’ll turn up.” So turning up today and saying your getting an award is pretty wild, but yeah.

I was a very, very weird child. Very weird child. And I had a port-wine stain birthmark on my face that I got lasered off when I was very young, and one day they forgot to put the anesthetic on, and then ever since then I had a stutter—and I also had very, very big blue NHS glasses – NHS is the National Health Service, one day, I hope you’ll have the same.

And I lacked an ear drum on one side of my face—one side of my ear—so stuttering was actually the least of my problems when I went to school, but it was still quite a difficult thing, and the thing that I found most difficult about it was, knowing what to say but not really being able to express it in the right way.

So I did different speech therapies and stuff, which wasn’t very successful. I had homeopathy, which is like herbs and s—, where you’re drinking… It’s alright.

But I got heavily into music at a young age, and got very, very into rap music—Eminem was the first album that my dad bought me. I remember my uncle Jim told my dad that Eminem was the next Bob Dylan when I was—say what you want, it’s pretty similar, but it’s all just story-telling. So my dad bought me the Marshall Mathers LP when I was nine years old, not knowing what was on it. And he let me listen to it, and I learned every word of it back to front by the age I was ten, and he raps very fast and very melodically, and very percussively, and it helped me get rid of the stutter. And then from there, I just carried on and did some music, but it’s I think the one thing I actually wanted to convey in my speech today for not so much the adults here because I feel like the adults are fine—you’re solid, everybody’s got a lot of money and everyone’s chillin’. But more the kids that are going through the therapy, and I want to stress the point that it’s not—stuttering is not a thing you have to be worried about at all, and even if you have quirks and weirdness, you shouldn’t be worried about that. I think the people I went to school with that were the most normal and were the coolest when we grew up—I was telling Emily earlier that one of the cool kids from school now does my plumbing. So that’s a fact. That’s a fact, so being my thing that I want to stress most here tonight is not necessarily to shed light on stuttering or make it a thing. It’s just to stress to kids in general is to just be yourself ‘cause there’s no one in the world that can be a better you than you, and if you try to be the cool kid from class, you’ll end up being very boring, and doing plumbing for someone that you don’t really want to do plumbing for.

And just be yourself, embrace your quirks—being weird is a wonderful thing. But I think, you know, I’m not very good at speeches, I don’t really do a lot of speeches but I think the one thing I want to say is be yourself, embrace yourself, embrace your quirks, and embrace your weirdness.

And from from a stuttering point of view, don’t treat it as an issue—work through it and get the treatment that you want to get, but don’t ever treat it as an issue, don’t see it as a plight on your life, and carry on pushing forward. And I did alright—I did alright is all. Emily did alright. Nice, thank you.

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