TIME Parenting

5 Rules for Finding the Best Caretaker for Your Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

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

Clarissa Leahy—Getty Images

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

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

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

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

What’s going on?

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

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

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

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

So what can parents do?

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

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

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

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

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TIME psychology

10 Scientific Insights About Happy Families

family boots
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Education

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

Preschool Children School
Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

Paternity Leave Isn’t a Paid, Drunken Vacation

Baby on fathers shoulder
Aurelie and Morgan David de Lossy—Getty Images

Aaron Gouveia writes for his site The Daddy Files.

Paid leave is a luxury most dads (and moms) aren’t afforded. It’s a shame to waste it on the wasted

The first few weeks after the birth of my second son are tough to remember through the fog of sleeplessness, stress, and levels of exhaustion. But William Giraldi’s recollections might be hazy for a different reason – he spent his paternity leave in a drunken stupor.

Giraldi, a novelist and fiction editor of a Boston University literary journal, recently detailed his 9-month-long paternity leave in a piece for The Baffler magazine. Except after taking advantage of the university’s “workload reduction” program – in which he stipulated he was taking on more than 50% of parental duties – Giraldi ran into a very serious problem.

He had way too much free time to sit around drinking beer while his wife took care of their two kids. Seriously.

“But since his care was taken care of by his mother – whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe – I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due,” Giraldi wrote. “Hey, the proper dose of lager seemed to slacken my body without sapping my mind, and all day long, while I was not-writing my novel and not-feeding my newborn son, I looked forward to those drinks with a religious panting.”

Giraldi went on to describe hangovers that incapacitated him for days at a time, “iffy decisions involving the diaperless infant on an antique couch,” and long days spent simply in boredom. Because “let’s be honest: even in self-consciously progressive households, it’s a rare new father who does as much baby work as a new mother.”

Perhaps some of this is satire (fingers crossed), but whether fact or fiction, it promotes a tired image of the clueless – not to mention inebriated – dads so often portrayed in idiot sitcoms. It promotes the idea that women are automatically the doers of household chores and all things kid-related. And it adds to the harmful and misguided notion that paternity leave is a sham perpetrated by men who want paid time off to sit at home and do nothing but drink and play video games.

Only 15% of American companies offer paid paternity leave, and I’m lucky to work for one of them. Seven years ago, when my oldest was born, I didn’t have that luxury and had to cobble together vacation and sick days. Those first two weeks were instrumental in helping me bond with my youngest, guide my oldest into beginning stages of being a big brother, and help my wife recover from childbirth.

I didn’t do all the work. Hell, I probably didn’t even do most of the work. Giraldi is correct in that breastfeeding moms are often biologically forced to be the main caretakers due to the sheer number of feedings every day. However, there is still plenty for dads to do. But free time? Being able to drink for days on end and then spend even more time recovering from a hangover? I’m not even sure what that would look like. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without my newborn screeching or my oldest pounding on the door to play outside.

I’m involved with groups of dads who practice what they preach in terms of shared parenting. Many of them sacrificed promotions for paternity leave because they recognized how important that initial bonding opportunity is. Others had to strain their finances and take unpaid family and medical leave. One dad, Josh Levs, even filed a discrimination complaint against his employer in the name of increased paid parental leave for biological fathers. These are all positive steps in the right direction, but the battle gets exponentially tougher when employers have their initial fears validated after reading about a 9-month Heineken bender disguised as paid paternity leave.

Life with a newborn is tough. But the sobering fact is that nine months of paid leave is a luxury most dads (and moms) aren’t afforded. It’s a shame to waste it on the wasted.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site The Daddy Files. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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 psychology

The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist Frozen

Frozen Disney

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

A preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of 'Frozen' heroine Elsa’s internal struggle

Disney’s Frozen, which earned more than $1.2 billion at the box office, is not only the first “princess” movie to make the list of top 10 grossing animated films, but also the number-one animated film of all time. Its songs and characters are culturally ubiquitous.

Little girls have long been drawn to princesses. But what is it that makes Frozen so much more appealing than previous princess movies—and why does it enrapture young children in particular? As psychologists (who happen to be sisters just like the heroines in the film) and the mothers of princess-loving daughters, we decided to consider this question.

First, a preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of Frozen heroine Elsa’s internal struggle: Her emotions are strong, passionate — and seem uncontrollable. Preschoolers too, are driven by their impulses. When Elsa laments that she’s afraid that there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me,” it resonates with young children (and perhaps their patience-tested parents, as well).

Second, preschoolers’ imaginations can make the world a wondrous place filled with the possibility of excitement and adventure. Children respond to stories that employ magical realism, so Elsa—as a superhero with what one of our daughters (Maryam’s) and her friends call “ice powers” (the ability to create a whole castle of snow and ice using only her fingers)—has special appeal. Perhaps because they are so in awe of her magic and power, children are less likely to get caught up in Elsa’s experience of isolation and desperation when she is locked away in her room as a girl and hides herself in a remote castle as a woman.

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But with the allure of magic and the sense that anything is possible comes a high potential for terror. Maryam’s daughter particularly liked that there isn’t a witch in Frozen. Though she adores other Disney princess movies, the witch-like characters (like Mother Gothel in Rapunzel) are all too real. The scary parts in Frozen are minimal and temporary, and the villain is an ordinary guy who sings a catchy love song.

Thirdly, Elsa has a genuine connection with her sister, Anna. Despite Elsa’s repeated rebuffs to Anna’s attempts to develop a friendship throughout most of the movie, their bond underscores dedication to family above all. Preschoolers are deeply entrenched in their families and tend to demonstrate a strong in-group attachment, meaning that they favor members within their social circle. Even when Frozen viewers are rooting for Anna to form a relationship with her love interest Kristoff, the love between the sisters is much more appealing. The heroines of Frozen are authentic and real, and no longer solely focused on finding a prince. They preach sisterly love and girl power.

Finally, the sing-along music seals the deal. Maryam’s 4-year-old daughter and her friends love to sing the anthem “Let it Go,” wagging their fingers at each other: “Be the good girl you always have to be!” They stomp in unison, pretending to be Elsa stomping on the ice to create her castle. Even Maryam’s 1-year-old son gets into the act, mimicking their behavior.

When asked what she thought the song was about, Maryam’s daughter smiled and put it succinctly: “It’s about Elsa being happy and free, and nobody bothering her.”

So there it is, the crux of the matter: a universally appealing desire to be happy and free.

Perhaps understanding the perspective of a preschooler can help us appreciate some of what draws us all to this movie: We all feel internal struggles with our impulses. None of us really wants a (too) scary villain. Most of us are pretty loyal to our families, despite their eccentricities and the emotional challenges that we face at times. And all of us want to be happy and free.

Maryam Kia-Keating, Ph.D. and Yalda T. Uhls, MBA, Ph.D. are sisters, psychologists, and, most importantly, moms. Maryam is an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Yalda is a senior scientific researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA at UCLA and the Regional Director of the non-profit Common Sense Media. They wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

Read next: Frozen Director Now Apologizes to Parents for ‘Let It Go’

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

TIME Parenting

What Parents Can Learn from the 7-Year-Old who Survived a Plane Crash

A Facebook fundraising page for Sailor Gutzler Fund for Sailor Gutzler

Kids Are Capable of More than Adults Realize

No one can believe the bravery and pluck of 7-year-old Sailor Gutzler, the little girl who survived the crash of the small Piper PA-34 plane that killed her parents, sister and cousin, and then scrambled her way through the deep, dark woods to a stranger’s house for help on Dec. 2.

With a broken wrist. And no moon to guide her. And dressed for sunny Florida, but wandering through the chill of a Kentucky winter’s eve.

Her injuries were minor and she was released from the hospital to relatives the next day, but her story is still making headlines.

An expert on one of the talk shows said that in times of extreme stress, adrenalin kicks in, enabling us to go way beyond our normal capacities. As if Sailor was somehow beyond herself in that moment. Superhuman.

Because no one can imagine a 7-year-old being just, plain competent.

Sure, what she did was fantastic. But maybe ALL our kids are capable of being smart and resourceful, if only we give them a chance.

The thing is: we don’t. Underestimating kids has become our national pastime. We think they need us to wait with them at the bus stop, to organize their social life, to solve all their problems. An article in Parenting told parents never to let two friends play together unsupervised, even if they’re old enough to stay home alone: “You want to make sure that no one’s feelings get too hurt if there’s a squabble.”

That’s right. We’re told our kids can’t even handle a squabble without parental intervention.

With this kind of advice being shoved down our throats, I don’t blame parents for overprotecting. I do blame the fearmongering media for insisting that almost everything—a plastic bottle! a bad grade! a bike ride!—could somehow cripple our kids.

When, ironically, the ones really being crippled are the parents. Crippled with fear. Obviously, kids are more competent than we allow them to be: Until modern times, the parents were 13 year olds! They kept the species going! And to this day, says David Lancy, author of The Anthropology of Childhood, between 40 and 60% of the world’s toddlers are cared for by their older siblings, who may be just a year or two older than they are. We forget this when we worry that our kids need mom to pick up her 8 year old from the playdate a few blocks away.

There’s only one way I’ve found to fight that fear, and that’s with reality. In fact—promo alert— I’m about to host a reality show, World’s Worst Mom, starting Thursday night, Jan. 22, on Discovery Life.

Here’s what fear looks like: One mom I visit follows her 10-year-old daughter not just into the public bathroom, but into the stall, to keep her safe. Another wants to put videocameras throughout the house so she can make sure her six kids, aged 0-13, don’t sneak outside to play, even in the yard.

These aren’t bad moms, just terrified. They have no idea how competent their kids really are, because they’ve never let them go.

So my job is simple. I take the kids away from them. The 10 year old? I sent her to the park across the street park with her 12-year-old brother—something they’d never been allowed to do.

The kids of the mom who didn’t want them to go outside? I sent the three tweens down their suburban block, beyond where mom could see. Then I kept her in the house, while they set up a lemonade stand.

When all these kids came home—happy, sweaty, thrilled to have finally had even the most modest of adventures—I thought maybe the moms would be mad. Instead, they were out of their minds…with joy.

They were so proud of their kids, one of them actually grabbed me in her arms and twirled me around.

Now, obviously, it takes a lot more to get yourself out of a plane wreck than to run a lemonade stand. But at base what we’re talking about is this: Our kids are way more competent than we think. We cheat them—and us—when we don’t let them prove it.

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TIME ces 2015

This Gadget May Change Parenting Forever

The Pacif-i Smart Pacifier BlueMaestro

A smart pacifier that tells you where your kid is

If the Pacif-i Smart Pacifier does all it promises to do, it’s going to take a lot longer for parents to wean their kids off their pacifiers.

Blue Maestro’s Bluetooth-connected smart pacifier, on display at CES this year, beams data to your Android or iOS device, measuring your kid’s temperature and recording when medication was administered. With an app on your smartphone, Pacif-i timestamps and graphs your kid’s temperature. Perhaps most importantly, the $40 smart suckable allows parents to monitor the pacifier’s location, so you can be alerted when your kid wanders away with the pacifier in his mouth.

Pacif-i has a battery life of more than one year. But if you find yourself replacing the battery, maybe it’s time stop giving your kid a pacifier, even if you don’t want to. It’s scheduled for early 2015 release.

Read next: The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist ‘Frozen’

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TIME Television

Like Your TV With Strong Female Characters? Thank Murphy Brown

Murphy Brown cover
The Sept. 21, 1992, cover of TIME Cover Credit: FIROOZ ZAHEDI

Gender issues on TV get lots of media attention, but we've forgotten to give credit where credit's due

This week brings the debut of ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, an action series starring Hayley Atwell as a woman who’s underestimated by her male colleagues despite her incredible acumen as a spy. It’s a period piece, set in the 1940s, but one hardly needs to look back that far to find women on TV whose strength in the workplace and self-confidence defined them and befuddled critics.

Murphy Brown, the hardworking, single title character of a CBS sitcom starring Candice Bergen and the subject of a 1992 TIME cover, had been on-air for three seasons when, in 1991, she discovered she was pregnant and decided to keep the baby. It was a predicament not just for the character but for a TV show that, though unafraid of political controversy, was now going far beyond traditional parameters. TIME compared Bergen’s character to Lucille Ball’s on I Love Lucy after Murphy decided to keep the baby: “And to think, Lucy couldn’t even say pregnant on TV.” Even despite the electoral gains by women in the Senate that got 1992 dubbed “the Year of the Woman,” Brown may have been the most-talked-about female political figure of the year.

Murphy Brown’s televised pregnancy and her decision to raise her child as a single mother were a flashpoint in the 1992 election — and changed the role of women on TV. Today, from Scandal to The Good Wife, TV’s packed with strong and complex female characters; thanks, Murphy! Though Murphy Brown is rarely watched or invoked today, the high point of its relevance made a lasting impact on the way we talk about television, and about motherhood.

The show had made waves in the years before Murphy Brown’s pregnancy with, as TIME critic Richard Zoglin put it in May 1992, “the smarts and the moxie to take pokes at everything from gossip-mongering tabloids to the Anita Hill hearings.” Bergen’s character, a recovering alcoholic working for a Washington-based TV news magazine show, was unafraid to be unlikable; the show, and its dependence on sharp, pop-culture-centric comebacks, struck Zoglin as “cleverly written, but in a smug, soulless, metallic way.”

Viewers disagreed. Murphy Brown went into its big fourth-season pregnancy plot line in the Nielsen ratings top ten and with a shelf full of Emmys, including one for best comedy and two for Bergen’s performance. But while viewers and critics were accustomed to the show’s sharply political tone and its acidity, the pregnancy plot touched upon a third rail of sorts. The show foregrounded the question of working motherhood, with a fictional baby shower for Murphy attended by real-world TV news stars from Katie Couric to Joan Lunden. It was a pointed argument that work-life balance was possible (though Zoglin hastened to point out, in his May 1992 take, that more serious journalists like Diane Sawyer, the ones “who Murphy is really modeled after,” skipped the shower).

The fourth season ended with the birth of baby boy Avery — but the controversy was only beginning.

In a May 1992 speech about the breakdown of the American family in San Francisco, Vice President Dan Quayle decried Murphy Brown’s decision to raise her child alone: “It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘life-style choice.’”

Quayle came in for more criticism from Hollywood — and from TIME. Zoglin characterized the treatment of the incumbent veep, up for re-election, at the 1992 Emmy Awards as “a Rodney King beating by the Hollywood elite,” noting that Bergen thanked Quayle sarcastically in her third best actress speech. The show’s creator, Diane English, told TIME that Murphy Brown was “a liberal Democrat because in fact that’s what I am” and lead actress Bergen described Quayle as “Bush’s buffoon” in the TIME cover package.

But this sort of rhetoric was nothing new: Earlier that year, President George H.W. Bush had urged American families to be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” But even The Simpsons were, at the end of each episode, a traditional nuclear family; they even went to church. Murphy Brown was making a reproductive and family decision that stood in opposition to far more than mere matters of taste: As Zoglin pointed out in a June 1992 piece responding to Quayle’s complaint, “prime-time TV these days is boosting family values more aggressively than it has in decades,” citing everything from Home Improvement to Roseanne. It turned out that Murphy Brown was worth highlighting in a Vice-Presidential speech not because it represented the state of television and the culture in general but because, in the particulars of Murphy’s choice, it was so far outside the mores of its day.

But — in a twist that did not go unremarked-upon at the time — once one got past the specifics of how baby Avery came into the world, Murphy Brown was not so outside the mainstream at all. It was a show that followed the vogue at the time in portraying the family bond, however one found it, as an ideal. “It took a Top 10 network series that will undoubtedly be around for years to grab the Vice President’s attention,” wrote Zoglin. “Now he needs to do some channel switching.”

There’s no question that Murphy Brown was attention-grabbing — but, decades later, the show is markedly absent from much of the discussion about great television of the ’80s and ’90s. Perhaps it was the ties to Quayle, and to Bush I-era Republicanism, that spelled a slow death for Murphy Brown, a show whose central mother-son relationship, after all, was as life-affirming as anything on Home Improvement. The show was hardly in immediate danger of cancellation. And yet Quayle’s speech, which TIME columnist Michael Kinsley called in 1994 “the best-remembered speech of the Bush presidency” may well have consigned Murphy Brown to be remembered within the context of the Bush presidency. The show lost some heat off its fastball once the President and Vice President left office in the middle of the fifth season. Every subsequent season fell lower and lower in the ratings — not shocking for a long-running TV series, but proof positive, perhaps, that Murphy Brown’s formula of explicit political discourse, something the series indulged more and more post-baby, was a turn-off for some.

It’s hard for pathbreakers. By the time it left the air, Murphy Brown was a footnote. But two months after its cancellation, Calista Flockhart appeared on the cover of TIME in service of her character Ally McBeal, a single woman whose pursuit of a career hardly stood in the way of her desire to be a mother. Indeed, Ally’s biological clock was the very text of Ally McBeal. And two years after that, the women of Sex and the City would be on TIME’s cover, asking “Who Needs a Husband?” (Soon enough, cover subject Cynthia Nixon’s character Miranda would carry a baby to term without the intention of getting married.) Today, the (anti?-)heroines of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder define themselves through their acuity at work, with the biological clock left entirely aside; Claire Underwood of House of Cards is the most fascinating character, male or female, on television, and one whose decision not to have a child is presented matter-of-factly and with little agonization.

Neither Ally McBeal nor Sex and the City – nor Desperate Housewives, whose star, Teri Hatcher, played a single mother and appeared on TIME’s cover in 2005– would end up becoming political talking points the way Murphy had. Carrie Bradshaw is the one who still makes news, but someone had to blaze a trail. Later series just learned that specific political references burn quickly – and benefited from Bergen’s character going through a political maelstrom so none of them had to.

TIME Parenting

How to Help Your Kids Keep Their Resolutions

Don Mason/Blend Images—Getty Images

...and learn some persistence, darn it

New Year’s resolutions. We’ve all broken so many that they serve more as a punchline for jokes than a way to actually change.

But setting goals, and plugging away at them, is a crucial part of life. So we talked with Dr. Laura Markham, expert in child development and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, for tips on how to start conversations with kids that will help them set and meet their goals.
For all kids, Markham says it’s important to make sure we’re helping them meet their goals—not ours. “Parents have goals for kids,” she says. But meeting a goal always takes effort, and “if you’re trying something hard, you need to have some motivation to overcome. And that can’t just be to please parents.”

Parents can help elementary age kids start to think about their goals by having low-key conversations, Markham says. “Ask questions like, ‘What do you like doing? What do you like about your life?’” And listen, Markham adds. Often, kids will spontaneously express interest in anything from a sport to an instrument to helping pick up trash at the park.

By the time kids reach middle school, most of them already know what it’s like to miss a goal, Markham says. And it bothers them at least as much as it bothers their parents. So instead of focusing on what’s gone wrong, parents can help kids focus on what’s right, with questions like, “What am I good at? What is good in my life?” A focus on the positive, Markham says, can actually set kids up for more success. “People shift into a positive frame of mind when they feel they’ve been successful,” she says. “It allows us to rise to the situation and fight.”
High school kids are in a position to get practical. For older kids working towards a goal, “it can be worth noticing what got in your way,” Markham says. But parents can help them to stay practical even as they face tough realities: “Instead of beating yourself up about it, get the support you need to do it.” And think small, Markham advises, by breaking big goals down into manageable pieces, with questions like, “What’s gotten in my way? What support do I need to move forward? What’s the next step I can take?”

But setting a goal is only half the battle. What can a parent do when kids get discouraged?
Markham says the research shows that perseverance in children doesn’t come from a “get tough” approach. It comes from empathy. Kids of all ages are less likely to give up when they feel that someone listens and understands their feelings.

So at every age, acknowledging all the feelings kids have as they try, fail, and succeed, is key. In fact, giving them room to talk about how they feel may be just as important than strategizing the next step.

“Your job as a parent is to empathize and hold the light so kids can see the way out of the box they’re in,” Markham says. “You can never see the whole road, but you can see the next step to take. And whether it’s learning to play the violin, or feeding the hungry, when you take one small step, then you’ll be in a new place.”

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