What the Toddler-Hating Diner Owner Teaches Us About Parenting

There's a limit to "It takes a village..."

It’s a strange world when a person shouting at a child can make international news. But that’s what happened when the fed up proprietor of a Maine diner lost her temper with a screaming toddler.

The child’s parents, who have yet to step forward, took to social media to complain that they were having breakfast at Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine, when the “insane” proprietor shouted at their nearly 2-year-old child. The unrepentant owner then took to her own social media to say the parents had it coming, after ignoring their wailing offspring for 40 minutes, not feeding her the pancakes they ordered and disregarding the peace and quiet of other diners. [Update: the parents went public and pointed that it was raining, so they couldn’t take the kid outside.]

Since nobody can resist a story in which there are so many directions for fingers to point, the story quickly went national and international. Everybody had an opinion, none of it moderate.

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The “Marcy’s Diner Incident” is a new iteration of an old problem, made worse by social media. Earlier versions involve wailing toddlers on airplanes, a crying baby on a bus and even a crying baby in church. The tension between the different ways we react to kids has even spawned a book and TV show: The Slap.

Turns out there are hard limits to the “It takes a village to raise a child” theory. It sounds lovely, but there are practical issues that have to be ironed out. Some people aren’t really very good at dealing with children, or have other legitimately more important things to do than nurture someone else’s kids.

Moreover, we live in an era of strong opinions about the most optimal way to bring up offspring. We even have names for our various parenting philosophies. And since “bad parenting” is the go-to reason given for many of society’s ills, the stakes are high. Mistakes feel like catastrophes rather than what they usually are, which is rounding errors.

So it’s not surprising that a lot of parents take umbrage when other humans attempt to casually raise their offspring. Partly because some people are inexperienced or because they were raised differently, so their efforts are somewhat ham-fisted, counterproductive or not in line with a parent’s chosen style. But also because, thanks to the twin specters of social media and Sigmund Freud, parents feel very judged, so they get defensive.

There is no real (humane) way to stop toddlers from having the occasional meltdown. At that age, they’re a bit like a cheap car alarm: their switch is easy to trip and the resulting siren is hard to shut off. And there is only one guaranteed cure for getting annoyed by it: having a kid. For non parents, a crying child on a plane will provoke feelings of rage. For people with a recent memory of parenting, that same crying child will provoke feelings of sympathy for the parent—and perhaps a little relief that it isn’t their problem this time.

It’s like a vaccination; once you’ve had kids, you’ve heard so much relentless crying, your brain has developed an immunity. That’s probably why the allegedly inattentive diner parents didn’t even hear what so vexed the diner owner.

So apart from segregating all parents away from non-parents in any enclosed environment, there’s nothing to do but cut each other a little slack. The proprietor might want to take it up with the parents instead of the kid next time. The parents might want to bring a little snack or simple toy to the diner, to keep the kid amused.

As for the kid, he or she is probably no worse for wear. Unless it was really scary, toddlers don’t have much of a memory. They’re a bit like social media that way.

TIME Parenting

What It’s Like to Raise a Son From Behind Bars

I basically raised him over the phone

I’ve been in and out of jail since I was 13. My last stretch was four years: one at Rikers Island, about two at Greene Correctional Facility, and I bounced around a couple of others. I got locked up for running one of the largest drug delivery services in New York City. I was charged with kingpin conspiracy, a felony for controlled substance.

I got caught with a kilo and a half of cocaine and a whole bunch of money. My team did about 40 direct drug sales to a federal agent. I was making millions as a teenager. It went down in 2009 as one of the most significant cases, because I was young, and everybody working for me — about 20 people — was in their 40’s and 50’s.

My son Cathaniel was 1 when I went in and 5 when I got out. I basically raised him over the phone — talking to him with his first words, helping him with homework, teaching him the ABCs. That’s how I raised him: over the phone and when he would come to visits. Since he grew up with his mom, and didn’t have me around, he’s not athletic like I was as a kid. I just wasn’t there to show him the guy role.


I talked to him on the phone pretty often: every three days. When I was in a prison really far upstate, we had phone limitations. We could only speak on the phone every two weeks for around five minutes at a time, so it was very limited at that time. I sent him pictures. I paid people in prison to draw pictures of me and him. I would have people draw him cartoons that I’d send him.

A lot of inmates make money in prison by selling artwork. The price for a portrait of my son and me varies depending on where you’re at. Rikers Island was more expensive, and it cost 50 bucks. Once you’re upstate, you can get it wholesale, and somebody will do it for like 10-20 bucks. I’ve seen people get portraits of their kids — tattoos on their bodies — for like 25 bucks, whole-body pics.

Some guy taught me how to do a picture frame out of chip bags. I would get a bunch of Doritos, open it up, flip it inside out, and use the metal foil. We’d cut them out in pieces and make a picture frame by interlocking every little piece. Then you tie it up with a little string of thread.


My ex-wife brought my son over at least once a week to visit me at first when I was at Rikers Island. We actually got married at Rikers Island. Then, once I’d gone upstate, the visits became limited. She didn’t drive, so she didn’t have a source of transportation other than the bus to get up there, so I saw my son about once a month. The last year I was in prison, I probably saw him twice the whole year.

On Rikers Island there’s a table in the visiting room inmates can’t cross, and the visits are 2 hours. I would sneak him in food, like, Snickers bars and Reese’s Pieces. I could hug them over the table and have my son sit on my lap, but I couldn’t walk around with him. Once you get upstate, you have more breathing room. They have a playpen area for the kids. I would take him out there, walk around the little house, watch cartoons, hold him, play LEGOs, and read him a book. When I was upstate, they were six-to-eight hour visits and just better.

The problem is that once you have to say goodbye, you can’t see him anymore. That’s when he would cry and be stressed. He would be like “When are you coming home, daddy? I want you to go home! Let’s go home!” And he would try to pull me, and I was like, “I can’t. I can’t.” And he would just start crying.

That’s when that realization hits: “Damn, I’m stuck.” It’s just frustrating. You can’t break out. You can’t do nothing. You’re state property.

Between me and my son it was very hard. That was like a knife being stabbed into my heart. Him seeing me in the situation I was in was very sad for me, and I had this sharp pain in my chest. I was super disappointed. I thought I’d let him down.

My dad was in my life, but he worked a lot. I didn’t really see him a lot, but at least he was in my life. Being a dad for me was like, “Damn, I really messed up. And I can’t do nothing about it. I just got to deal with this situation.”

At the beginning, I was super cold-hearted when I was in the street. I didn’t really care about anything. What really hit me hard was when I got that deep emotion from my son crying in the visiting room. That’s what really made me say I can’t go back; this has to stop. Not only for me, but I got to show him an example and help him out.

Leading By Example

When I grew up, I knew my family loved me, but they never told me they loved me. I stress that fact that I love my son. I hug him and show him way more emotion than I received as a kid. I feel like that’ll keep him out. I spoil the hell out of him, which is not a good thing, but it feels like I missed all this time of his life, so when he asks me for something, I owe him. My ex-wife hates it and says, “Don’t do that.” So I’m sneaky, and I’ll hide it.

Cathaniel is an incredible kid. He’s super smart. He’s going to a really good Catholic school. I was a totally different child than him. I grew up running the streets when I was five years old. He’s sheltered and has the iPad and video games. I was hitting the streets, not going home until late. I was not scared of going downstairs and running around. It’s a whole different generation now.

I take him to my studio. He sees what I’m doing. He sees the transformation that I’ve had. He sees me on TV. He knows my story. He works out with me. He wants to do what I’m doing. Sometimes he tells me to hold the phone and record him because he’s going to try and do pushups or one of the workouts I do. And he’s like a little chubby butterball, but he has fun, and he’s cute.

The best I can do is show him an example of how to be a productive citizen and live the right way. I could be the greatest role model, but it takes just one temptation from some peers for him to fall into the wrong habits. I don’t see it in him, doing anything wrong like I did, but you never know.

He could go to school someday, and one guy will be like, “Hey, you want to smoke some bud?” And he could follow that way of life. The best thing I can do is just show him a good example today and talk to him. At the end of the day, it’s up to Cathaniel.

Coss Marte is an ex-convict who has, since his release, founded ConBody, a successful boot camp-style fitness and nutrition counseling service based on his experience in prison. This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME Family

How to Balance 2 Careers in a Family

It has to be an ongoing conversation

If your family isn’t just “me, the kid, and my partner,” but, rather, “me, the kid, my partner, and both our careers,” then you’re probably in the midst of a Flying Wallendas-like balancing act trying to keep everything on track. But figuring out whose career should take precedence in a family is never simply about dollars and cents.

“[It] can change, day to day,” says certified coach Rachael Ellison, whose practice focuses on strategic business consulting, executive coaching, and countless discussions about this exact topic. When talking through it with two working parents, she encourages them not to think about it as a one-off decision but an ongoing conversation about “who should lean into their career and who should lean back.”

And, if you feel weird subjecting your marriage and career to therapy with a certified coach, remember: “It’s not therapy. It’s a planning process.”

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Stop Making Assumptions

“These are conversations that people avoid having,” Ellison says. “Everyone kind of expects that the other one understands whose career should take precedence.”

If one of you has agreed to stay home and put a career on pause, have you talked about how long they’re comfortable doing that? If one of you is working more to accommodate a paused career and missing events or milestone because of it, have you talked about whether or not it’s worth it?

If the answer to questions like that is “Kinda?” then you have a bumpy road ahead. Even if you’re the next president and she’s Betty Draper, you both need to communicate what the other wants and expects.

Focus On The 5 Ps

These conversations are complicated because they affect your time, relationships, even where you live — so Ellison recommends breaking them down into 5 key areas:

  • Parental — Kid-related. Who’s packing lunches? Which days are soccer practice? Does the kid prefer bath time or doctor’s appointments with a particular parent (be honest)?
  • Professional — Work-related. Do you plan on moving if you land that dream job in Dallas next year? Why is your dream job in Dallas? Reconsider Dallas.
  • Personal — Whatever keeps each of you sane: golf, the spa, running, The Annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw. These things are essential and need to be accounted for.
  • Partnership — Lovelife. Don’t let the kid suck all the oxygen out of the conversation. Factor in the time and financial considerations to maintain the things you need as a couple, because the conversations get way more complicated if you’re divorced.
  • Practical — Everything else. Does gentrification mean you’re going to get priced out of your neighborhood? Will your aging in-laws need to move in with you? Is that a goiter developing on the dog?

Take The Long View

If your wife is a teacher, plan on childrearing duties shifting around her in the summers. If you’re a CPA, plan on shifting household duties around, say, every spring for the rest of your life. Is the kid about to start kindergarten, and how does that affect your finances? Does one of you want to go back to school for that MBA?

Get a sense of not just the year-in, year-out stuff, but what your lives will look like in five, 10, even 20 years out.

Take The Short View

“Breaking down those big-picture issues into manageable topics is what’s most important here,” Ellison says. “As long as both want to/need to stay in the workforce, then you’re ultimately making a decision around how the little things are covered.”

Who makes breakfast in the morning? Who’s doing drop-offs and pickups from school on Tuesdays, and should that change on Wednesdays? Once there’s a general understanding of each other’s future, navigating the daily hurdles comes easier. Keep in mind this is a “process,” Ellison advises,”not a decision that’s made categorically and finally.”

One last bit of advice: Nothing ruins date night like inventorying five years of ambitions and obstacles in order to assign spousal duties, so carve out a specific time to have these conversations. Like dental exams, appointments with the proctologist, or that conversation about porn you’ll soon have with your kid, it can be painful, but it’s for the best.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME Parenting

Malala’s Dad: How I Raised a Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai at the first Global Citizenship Commission in Scotland on Oct. 19, 2013.
Andy Buchanan—AFP/Getty Images Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai at the first Global Citizenship Commission in Scotland on Oct. 19, 2013.

"She's leading and I'm one of her supporters."

Before 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, she ran her acceptance speech by one guy: her father Ziauddin. After all, it was Zia’s support for the rights of girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley that inspired his daughter to write about life under the Taliban for the BBC. Zia encouraged Malala as she rose to international prominence through her own advocacy and, when the Taliban retaliated by shooting his daughter in the head, he left behind the school system he oversaw to be by her side in England throughout her remarkable recovery. So, what do you say to your daughter right before she becomes the youngest Nobel laureate ever?

“I kissed her on the head and wished her the best of luck,” he says with a chuckle. “That’s it.”

In your TED talk, you discuss your desire to contradict the powerful forces that define “honor” for boys and “obedience” for girls in your culture. Where does this desire come from and why don’t more fathers in the Swat Valley have it?

Generally, these two values of honor and obedience, outwardly they look positive. But in the context of a patriarchal society there are issues. Boys inherit from their forefathers that their sisters are like their honor. Whenever anything happens, they are incited and they bully their sisters, they even kill, if they find their sisters having an illicit relationship with boy, or anything that is not acceptable for their society.

The other value, which we call obedience and which is taught to girls — they should always submit to whatever is done to them and they have no right to say anything. If they are married very early or if they are married to anybody they don’t like, whatever rights are violated at home by their brothers, they are supposed to be submissive.

Why did I have this desire in me to change this? When I saw the suffering of the people, of women especially — and even the boys suffered — because I saw many couples who were killed in the name of “honor killings.” They suffered because this value of obedience or this value of honor, it was misused. There was naturally a desire in my heart to change this situation.

You ask why many fathers aren’t like me, the reason is that many people in society — whatever society they’re in — they like to live in-line with existing values and norms. It’s very easy to live as all other people live and to believe we are the victims of whatever happens in a bad society. It’s very difficult to challenge those norms and values which go against basic human rights.

You were very aware that your beliefs regarding women made you a target for groups like the Taliban. How did you weigh that risk against your need to encourage Malala to speak her mind and live her life as she saw fit?

I always challenged the Taliban and challenged the terrorists when I was working as an educator and as a human rights activist in Swat. [At one] very big gathering of parents and students, nearby the stage there was a man with a small girl child in his lap. During the speech, I just took her in my lap and I asked the people would you like to die, or to keep your daughters ignorant? And the gathering raised their hands and said no, we will die for the right of our daughters’ education. It was so inspiring, so motivating.

I encouraged [Malala] to speak, but I never thought it would come with such a big risk. I never thought that the Taliban would come to kill a child, especially a woman. Because I know that most of them, they are from Swat, and they are Pashtun, and it is culturally unacceptable that you attack a woman, and you attack a child, so Malala had two cultural protections. I can say that I misread or miscalculated the ethics of the Taliban, and what happened, that was horrible.

What about with your wife? How did the two of you assess opportunities like her invitation to blog for the BBC, when doing so came with so much inherent risk?

To be honest, we never thought that it was an opportunity. I think we took it as a call of duty. Because, being concerned residents of Pakistan and Swat, we thought that it’s our duty that when our basic rights are being violated and heinous atrocities and heinous crimes are inflicted against the people of Swat and they are victims of inhuman atrocities and barbarism, we thought that it is our human responsibility to speak against all of what was happening with our people. And my wife, to be honest, she is a very courageous, a very brave woman, and she always stood for truth. As the Holy Quran says, righteousness, the truth, it will come, and falsehood will go, because falsehood has to go.

Now that your daughter is as engaged in the issue of equality and empowerment for women as you are, what have you learned by watching her work?

I think that now she is more engaged than me, to be honest. Before, I was a leader of my small community in Swat. I campaigned for education, I campaigned for women’s rights, I campaigned for children’s rights, and because of living in the same environment and having an inborn passion for human rights, Malala joined me as a companion in that campaign. But when Malala was shot, she was reborn. Now, she’s leading and I’m one of her supporters. There are millions of supporters and I’m one of them. I have found her more successful than me, wiser than me, and more resilient than me. I have learned from her many things. I think for a father, maybe, a father always teaches. He’s supposed to teach. But, I learn from my many students and particularly from her, I learned how to be fair and honest to one’s own self, and how to be fair and honest to others. And I learned from her how to be clear in vision, and in one’s objectives. So also I have learned from her how to be beyond the greed of fame and name, and how to be sincere and simple.

You’re a pretty brave guy in your own right, but what have you learned about courage from Malala?

I think we might best look at her journey before the attack on her life and after the attack on her life. I really have found her braver than myself, to be honest, because I remember that when we used to go to different seminars and different conferences and we used to speak for the right of education, I used to compromise. I used to tell her “Oh, look Malala, don’t name the Taliban, they’re terrorists, don’t name them because they’re dangerous people.” And when she stood at the podium she named them always, in spite of my advice not to name them. And after the worst kind of trauma that God should protect every person, every child, from … she had the resilience and the courage to stand again and talk with more courage, more commitment, more resilience, for the right of children, for the right of women, and for the right of education. So I think that it’s really inspiring and I can simply say that she’s braver than me.

What advice do you have for a father whose children are in a situation similar to Malala’s?

I would advise the leaders of all those communities who are in conflict, all those countries that are in conflict, or suffering from terrorism: Don’t be hypocrites and don’t be apologetic about terrorism, and don’t be cowards when it comes to your children’s rights. Be brave, and stand for your children. It’s your duty, not your children’s duty. Don’t fail them. It is the society’s elders’ duty, to protect their children, and to make the right decisions that their children should be safe. I don’t wish any father to be in the situation in which I was.

What’s it like to watch your daughter accept the Nobel Peace Price?

It was a moment of honor. I was thinking that this girl, she is getting the Nobel Peace Prize, and she belongs to a nation that is notorious for terrorism, and now this 17-year-old girl, she is raising the flag of peace. Peace and education. In her own region, 400 public schools have been bombed, and she is raising the torch of public education and the flag of peace, and she is there to lead the world. It was a moment of real happiness for me, I think for a father, what could be more than that?

This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME Parenting

How to Raise Kids Who Actually Understand Money

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Allowance should not be given in exchange for chores

There are parenting books you should read but can’t because you’re too busy parenting, and then there are … pretty much no other kind. So, use our Crib Notes to make sure you always sound like you know what you’re talking about. Next up, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, And Smart About Money, from New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber. The book explores ways to think and talk about money with children, and offers some best practices for bringing up kids who are financially savvy without being entitled or avaricious.

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1. Start talking to your kids about money early and often

An understanding of money is no longer optional Your kid will likely grow up in a world where college loans are massive, health insurance is self-provided and retirement savings are ill-defined. At the same time, social media will amplify wealth disparities amongst them and their peers, so they’re at risk of developing animosity or self-esteem issues. On the plus side, there might be hover boards.

Traditional objections to discussing finances with kids are misguided — Talking to your kids about family finances won’t steer them toward greed. To the contrary, money is a great tool to encourage positive traits like curiosity, patience, thrift, modesty, generosity, perseverance and perspective. And, no, that doesn’t mean you should just spend a bunch of it on a life coach for your kids.

What you can do with this

  • Your kids will naturally start to express curiosity about money at some point. When they do, don’t evade them; engage them.
  • Whatever their questions — and the most common are “Are we poor?”, “Are we rich?” and “How much money do you make?” — respond with “Why do you ask?” This will give you and your kid context to explore the more complex answers, and it’s a better response than, “Yes, no and less than that jagoff Alan in accounting.”
  • With older kids, go over some facts and figures about your income and the family’s expenses. This gives them an understanding of the difference between what you make and what’s actually in your wallet, and it keeps them from Googling “How much does that jagoff Alan in accounting make?”, which will lead to all sorts of misconceptions (not to mention an understanding of what jagoff means).

2. Yes, you should give your kid an allowance; No, it shouldn’t be in exchange for chores

Allowances are about teaching kids how to save and spend — A work ethic is something kids should learn outside the home, in school or at a part-time job. Chores are how they gain an understanding of the family unit and the role they play in maintaining it (since Mommy will leave both of you if those Legos don’t get cleaned up).

What you can do with this

  • Start them with $.50-to-$1 per year of age, which means they get a nice raise each birthday and will distract them when you forget to buy them a present.
  • Give them 3 money jars: a “Spend” jar for impulse buys, a “Save” jar for big-ticket items and a “Give” jar for charitable donations. Help them establish how much goes in each, and as they get older give them increasing control over that decision. Establish incentives for saving (like interest) and encourage them to research the charities that they’ll donate to before doing so.
  • When they inevitably want to spend their own money on something stupid, don’t feel obligated to give them a detailed explanation of why you won’t allow on the spot. As the parent, it’s your prerogative to think it over carefully before explaining why sex-worker Barbie doesn’t jibe with the family values.

3. Both spending and giving present opportunities to teach money smarts

Set spending guidelines and model sensible tactics — Your kids are unmolded lumps of clay in their understanding of how money really works, so go beyond simple rules that dictate “what” and provide explanations of “why” you do the things you do with your money, from a practical standpoint but also a values standpoint.

What you can do with this

  • Introduce the “Hours-Of-Fun-Per-Dollar” test. Which purchase will bring your kid more long-term bang for the buck — a $2 deck of cards or a piece of plastic that blares catchphrases from the latest animated blockbuster? And if your kid doesn’t like cards, now’s the perfect time to teach them poker so you can get some of that allowance back.
  • Introduce the “More Good/Less Harm” rule. Does the t-shirt with the fart joke that’s made in an Indonesian sweatshop for the brand with discriminatory hiring practices do more harm than good? Could you buy something from a local business that’s just as awesome and also helps the neighborhood in a tangible way?
  • Explain to them what charitable causes you give to and why. Let them select their own charities for their “Give” jar and always make sure the donation is made in their name. You’ll forfeit the tax deduction, but they’ll establish a personal relationship with the charity that encourages future giving. Also, why do you care about a 2-digit tax deduction, you cheap bastard?

4. Put the kid to work

Little kids like to have jobs to do — Encourage their innate industriousness before they get old enough to realize that work is work. You might change the trajectory of their lives (or you might just get a few more months of room cleaning out of them).

Employment looks good on a resume — There’s a strong correlation between teenagers with part-time jobs and good GPAs and college expectations. Furthermore, college admissions officers are often as impressed by evidence of a work ethic as they are with academic or athletic accolades.

What you can do with this

  • In little kids, the usual: Lemonade stands and collecting and redeeming recyclables. But, also, look around the house and figure out what labor they can subcontract from you — small hands can be surprisingly adept at certain cleaning tasks (like car detailing).
  • With older kids, don’t always prioritize academics over employment. Of course a balance needs to be struck, but recognize the value to their long-term prospects that a good part-time job provides. Also, it will save you money.

5. Don’t let your kids be ungrateful

Foster an understanding of different circumstances — Even if your kids want for nothing, it’s important that they’re exposed to other situations.

What you can do with this

  • If you don’t live in a socioeconomically diverse community, make the effort to ensure they meet kids from other backgrounds through sports, play dates and other activities.
  • Even if you’re not religious, make a ritual of articulating thankfulness at family meals. A secular version of grace isn’t going to assuage the wrath of any vengeful gods, but it’s just as good as a religious one for encouraging kids to reflect on their family’s good fortune.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME Opinion

Not Without My Smartphone: The Case for Somewhat Distracted Parenting

Mother holding telephone and hugging daughter (12-13)
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Here's why being on your phone doesn't make you a bad parent

Somebody once told me I treated my smart phone like Wilson, the volleyball Tom Hanks turns into a friend when he’s stranded on a desert island in that movie “Castaway.” It’s an apt comparison: parenting a toddler occasionally feels like being marooned and your phone is your only connection to the rest of the world. Thanks to the Internet, moms like me can now get Amy Schumer videos and Instagram to help us survive the monotony.

But fellow parents, there is trouble on the horizon. A growing army of journalists and experts are calling for an end to using phones in front of our kids. They say it makes kids feel less loved, and teaches the wrong lessons about how to use devices.

To quote my three year old: “No. Noooooo. Noooooooooooooooo.”

That phone in my hand keeps me sane, not to mention employed. If anything, I’m writing a new movie for Lifetime called Not Without My Smartphone. Here are all the reasons I’m rejecting this latest round of parent shaming, and why I’m going to keep on cherishing my screen time, yes, in front of my kid:

Parenting can be boring. Brutally, mind numbingly boring. In a dispatch from her fainting couch, Jane Brody of the New York Times writes, “I often see youngsters in strollers or on foot with a parent or caretaker who is chatting or texting on a cellphone instead of conversing with the children in their charge.” Just asking: When was the last time Brody spent an entire morning pushing a stroller around town? It is like watching paint dry. Hell yes I’m going to be on my phone.

I’m not raising a self-centered brat. My daughter’s name is Estee, not Lady Mary, and I am not her valet, at her beck and call. Study after study has shown that making your child the center of her and everyone else’s world will destroy her competence, autonomy and resilience. That blog post I’m reading while my kid gives the State of the Union to her bath toys? It benefits her as much as me. Let her understand that I am not her raison d’etre (and vice versa), and that the world does not revolve around her. Let her have a moment to herself, to come up with a new song or bathtub game without my lavish praise of her every move – research shows that doesn’t help her, either.

My kid could use some space. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist with a new bestselling book on parenting and social media, attributes a 20% increase in pediatric ER admissions to a spike in screen-distracted parents. But wait: what about all those books telling me to let my kid fail, scrape her knee, and develop independence?

Okay, now I get it: I’m supposed to nag my kid to get down from that ledge and stop trying to catch a bee for the fiftieth time. Why should my daughter learn anything the hard way if I can protect her from ever having to figure out not to touch bees on her own.

There’s no way to win as parents right now. If I hover, I turn her into an incompetent basket case. If I let go and check my gmail, I send her to the ER.

I give up.

I have a job. Steiner-Adair told Brody that “parents should think twice before using a mobile device when with their children.” All this parent-shaming is distracting us from the fact that, like the dishwashers of the 1950s, smart phones are labor saving devices. In 2015, with the Feminine Mystique in our rearview mirrors and nearly 70% percent of moms working, my phone lets me work remotely.

These experts seem to be implying that I’m spending all my time with The Fat Jewish on Instagram (and, okay, I’m spending some of my time with him, and loving every minute of it). But I can be with my kid because I can pretend to be at work, using that smart phone to respond to emails and calls.

Experts like Steiner-Adair rightly point out the times to put away your phone, like school pickup and dropoff, and meals (and obviously, while driving). And I’m sure there are parents that need to hear this. But I am growing weary of the parent police. All this finger wagging, well intentioned as it is, implies that parents – code moms – are merely vessels for their children, and should attend to their every last need and feeling at the expense of all else.

If smart phones had been around for women in the 1950s, The Feminine Mystique might never have been written. The depression and ennui of housewives would have been blunted by Pinterest and Facebook. But this is 2015. Devices aren’t going away, for us or our kids. When parents pretend they don’t exist, kids don’t learn how to use them, either. Instead of telling me everything I’m doing wrong as a mom, it’d be nice if someone cut me a break and told me what I’m doing right. It’s enough to make you want to find a volleyball for company.

Rachel Simmons is co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. She develops leadership programs for the Wurtele Center for Work and Life at Smith College. Follow her @racheljsimmons.




TIME Parenting

How to Help Your Kids Be Better Travelers This Summer

Pramod R. Mistry—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images Children play at the feet of the world's largest dinosaur in Drumheller.

It's more than learning a list of local dos and don'ts

Summertime means travel. With kids, that can give a simple trip to the beach all the complexity of a year long arctic expedition.

But travel is also a great way for families to bond—and for kids to learn about the world, and themselves.

So how can parents start good conversations with kids to help them get the most out of travel?

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At any age, it’s important to be a “good traveler,” says Tamara Gruber, a family travel writer who has crossed continents with her own family, and writes about those travels at we3travel.com. “As you’re researching a place, it’s good to know your cultural norms, which sparks a bigger conversation of different cultures, and understanding that not everything is done the way that you are accustomed to.”
But being a good traveler is more than just learning the lists of local “dos” and “don’ts,” she says. “It’s about teaching kids to be more resilient, and more open to new experiences.” Lessons, she says, that they can apply “throughout life.”

At elementary school age, Gruber says, parents can encourage kids as travelers by starting local: “local museums, local historic sites, local parks, hiking trails, wherever you live.” This gives kids a sense of “how beautiful the world is, and what fun things there are to do.” It’s also a good age, according to Gruber, to start talk with kids about places they may someday see. If parents have had conversations with kids about the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, or even the Taj Mahal, “it’s so much more meaningful when they see it in person.”

Middle school kids, says Gruber, can start to contribute to planning trips themselves. “They have a little bit more knowledge of the world and studied different places in school.” So it’s a great time, Gruber says, to get them “involved with the process, looking through the travel guides,” and asking what places they’re interested in, and what they’d like to do there.

High school kids probably have some memories of travel under their belt, Gruber says. So parents can look back with them over the places they’ve been—just remembering the good times together, or thinking more deeply about what kids learned by being there. And as high school kids get ready to step out into adulthood, parents can also encourage them to think about where they might like to travel one day—all on their own.

TIME Parenting

Why I Taught My Daughter How to Punch

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The moment will come when you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves

You are approaching that age now, when you look around and see how other dads raised their daughters. You are noticing that I did things differently, that you are not like other little girls, the ones who never leave home without a ribbon in their hair. You are brave and curious and are beginning to realize that these qualities are not accidents. I want to explain why, because it will help you understand the way you are.

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I taught you how to punch. Not because you should grow up fighting, but because, if ever forced to, you should know how. I once saw a little girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face because she wanted to go to school. You are not yet ready to know what some people do to each other, but I want you to be prepared. You will grow stronger every day, and the moment will come when you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

I have nurtured your curiosity. When we found the spider under our orange tree with the red hourglass on her belly, we did not kill her. We watched, night after night, as she tended her web and waited patiently. We read books about her and told jokes about how she ate her boyfriends for lunch. And when she finally caught a beetle, we watched her strike and wrap it tight with silk. You found that the things that scare most little girls have the most to teach us.

I taught you to respect nature, to hunt, and to fish. Not for the sake of killing but because the surest way to honor the living earth is to be part of it. You dug for worms and baited your own hooks, and most of the time we cooked what we caught. We raised chickens together and loved them, and ate the eggs they laid and offered thanks. You know and love the world that sustains us, and you understand that meat does not grow on grocery store shelves inside plastic wrapping.

I allowed you to test your limits. When we surfed together, you paddled towards the outside break, even as the big waves kept pushing you back. You fought, and failed, but not really. We rode in, side by side, determined to try and try again until we owned the sea. Someday we will catch that giant storm-driven wave and the crowd on the beach will rise to its feet and marvel at the little girl riding down the mountain of water.

I taught you these things because one day I will let you go. You will walk down a long aisle to start another life and another family. You will be perfect and beautiful. But no one will mistake that beauty for fragility. You will fight for others while seeking new wonders. You will run barefoot through snow while exalting all of creation. You will live life to its fullest, testing your own limits while obliterating those set by others.

Until then, be proud of who you are. Never let anyone tell you what a woman can and cannot do. And should someone make fun of how little girls hit, offer to teach them. Smile politely, square your stance, and give fair warning. Then knock the effing wind out of them. Because that is how a girl should punch.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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

TIME Education

More Than One Valedictorian? That’s a Real Winner of a Problem

Melanie Howard has written for SELF, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and other publications.

Just because there is one winner doesn’t mean everyone else is a loser

Let’s get this straight: I was never valedictorian, salutatorian or whatever they called the third person on the platform at high school graduation. However, if I were graduating this year, by virtue of not completely disgracing myself academically, I might have earned top honors. This year, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, boasted a stunning 117 valedictorians — more than a quarter of the graduating class. Some schools have a more modest 20 or 30, while others did away valedictorians altogether. Kumbaya! By eliminating the elitist concept of a top scholar, educators have made everyone a super-achiever. Except, of course, they haven’t. All they’ve done is deprive a student who has worked his or her whole life toward a singular academic goal of the recognition he or she deserves.

This is the natural outgrowth of the “participation” trophy, which was supposed to make our kids feel good about showing up for sports and not hitting anyone. The participation trophy was a great idea for four year olds, who have a really hard time with those two goals. Unfortunately, the idea has grown and persisted. Now kids get awards for nothing well beyond the age of reason, when they all realize it is a sham. Unfortunately, their parents are not as enlightened.

One of my proudest parental moments was when my eight-year-old son announced that he didn’t want a trophy because his basketball team had lost every single game and for the most part behaved atrociously while doing it. I backed him on this, refused to pay my $5.99, and was given a lecture by the coach on how trophies build self esteem. My son has plenty of self esteem. (He once told me he wished he were twins, because who could be more awesome to hang out with than himself?) He also has always had self respect. Too much, in fact, to take that bogus trophy. “I’d rather wait until I win something,” he said.

Supposedly, naming multiple valedictorians also builds self esteem. I disagree. If you are the valedictorian, you’ll have to explain to college admissions officers and others why your valedictory status is better than that of the other 116 lucky winners from your school, hoping they believe you. Meanwhile, valedictorian number 117 is probably dreading the college interview where and admissions officer catches on, and he has to explain that he’s not exactly that valedictorian. Kids are not stupid. Back in the participation-trophy age, parents and coaches were strictly admonished not to keep score on the soccer field and basketball court. We didn’t have to. Kids who could barely count past ten were doing a great job of it.

Here’s another thing that’s unfair about this concept: It only equalizes the playing field in one area. No one is suggesting that the school field 117 quarterbacks, crown 117 homecoming queens or let 117 students take turns singing the lead in the musical. True, academics are more important – the raison d’être of school – but all the more reason to reward outstanding achievement rather than dilute and obscure it.

Finally, let’s talk about the future, beyond high school and college. Some of the school officials and students interviewed in the coverage of Washington-Lee’s valedictory mania said having just one valedictorian made things too competitive. But competition, for better or worse, is the world we live in. Students will have to compete for their first job, and every job, bonus or promotion after that. How can we expect excellence in our soldiers, our municipal workers, our doctors and our executives if they’ve been taught from peewee soccer on that mere participation is a virtue and that achievement is an embarrassment?

We are currently in an election cycle where, at last count, there were 15 declared Republican candidates and four declared Democrats. No one is suggesting we just play nice and have nineteen presidents for the next four-year term, or even just the top six. There will be one winner. He or she will be called the President and will give an inaugural address and will move into the White House. The good news is the other eighteen will not be garbed in sack cloth and ashes and forced to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the sound of jeers. They will go back to their lives and careers.

This is the other essential our educators have forgotten. This is not Talladega Nights, in which Ricky Bobby famously proclaimed “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” Just because there is a winner, doesn’t mean everyone else is a loser. There is no dishonor in not being valedictorian. In fact, many of us who were ranked second or fifth or 376th in our classes have survived with no lasting signs of trauma. Some have gone on to do amazing things. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Let’s teach our children to deal with not being number one, to give the valedictorian a round of rousing applause and to move on.

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

Here’s What I Learned When My Twin Daughters Went Viral

Annie Nolan's twin daughters in the photo that went viral
Courtesy Annie Nolan Annie Nolan's twin daughters in the photo that went viral

Annie Nolan is a mother and blogger in Australia.

I'm sorry for some things I said—but not about others

The only thing I know about being viral and parenting is not to bother asking your doctor for antibiotics because they won’t work. But I went a different kind of viral the past few days, over a cheeky photo I posted on my Facebook page. Antibiotics won’t help me now, either! You may have seen it: my twin daughters holding an FAQ of sorts about their origin, provoked by the endless questions people want to ask me. “No, not identical,” I wrote. Followed by, “Yes, I’m sure they’re not identical.” And also, “Conceived by f-cking,” among a few other choice phrases.

It isn’t unusual for me to be slightly controversial — I let my political opinions be known, I take a fairly hard stance on animal rights and I joke often. But I posted this photo without thinking twice, and certainly didn’t expect the reaction from millions—yes, millions! 2 million in the first two days!—of people around the world. And many of them were not very kind.

What had I said that was so breathtaking?

I had been laughing with my fellow twin-moms about the public fascination with twins. We all agreed that you can hardly buy a loaf of bread without it taking 45 minutes due to the questions from strangers; some days, it would just be easier to have some FAQs on display. I have a son who is a singleton and I never get questions. He has blonde dreadlocks and jumps up and down waving his hands and saying, “I’m Malachy, my name is Malachy!” and still people are drawn to my twins.

I really love to talk about all my kids—really, I can go on!—but the questions the twins elicit range from funny to personal to downright offensive. I can’t count how many people have written to me saying that they get asked all the time if their fraternal girl/boy twins are identical. That always gives me a laugh. Unfortunately, other questions leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I have been asked, “How long did you have to go through IVF?” I didn’t, actually, but that’s nobody’s business. Or, “I can tell them apart because that one is prettier but which one is smarter?” And even, “Did you consider aborting one?”

I wouldn’t dare ask why you have maxi pads or adult diapers in your shopping cart.

But it was the IVF questions that elicited my “Conceived by f-cking” line, and that was the line that won me criticism. Let me explain, then, to anyone who might misconstrue my intentions: Every time I get the “Are they natural?” question I squirm thinking of my friends who went through IVF. Does that mean that if a child was conceived by IVF they are not natural? Despite IVF being so common and the twin population reaching new heights because of it, it is still part of someone’s personal health history. IVF is nothing to be ashamed about and many twin parents are comfortable enough to discuss having gone through the process, but it is an emotional, deeply private journey for others.

I felt the swear-word was necessary. It was my way of showing my support and solidarity to my friends who sometimes feel they have to answer, “Yes, IVF,” for umpteenth time that day. One of the other criticisms of my sign was the fact that I placed it near my child. I’ll let you in on a secret: my daughters aren’t old enough to read. Also, it is fairly common to swear in Australian culture (we can be an unruly lot) and if we need to emphasize a point, we do it. I thought I was being tame adding the asterisks, to tell you the truth!

The other scorn I received was along the lines of “You should be grateful you even have children,” with great offense taken by some who have lost a child, or can’t conceive a child. This crushed me. I never meant to hurt a single soul with this photo. To offend grieving parents, or people battling infertility, well, I was devastated. I am grateful for my children. Every. Single. Day. One person posted photos of her child who had passed away. That was when I had to sign off this week. Although the reaction has been mostly supportive, I would like to say that I’m sorry to those people I did offend in that way. The intention was only ever to make my friends smile, as a joke.

Every now and then when I receive emailed death threats or judgments about about how poorly my children are going to turn out, I try to regroup and remember why I did this: to make people smile. I was trying to be a mother extending a hand to another mother. I may have made mistakes but I am comfortable that overall I am doing the right thing by my children, my partner, my friends, my family and myself. Not everyone is going to like me, but I also know that not everyone is going to like themselves.

I was fortunate enough to carry two very premature twins out of the hospital after months and months to take them home and call them mine. I am the luckiest. I am the proudest. And if you want to hear all about them, go ahead—ask me a question.

Annie Nolan blogs at Uncanny Annie.

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.

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