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 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.

TIME Books

How My Premature Baby Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO and Taught Me Love

Deanna Fei is the author of Girl in Glass and is the recipient of a Fulbright Grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship.

If I don’t reclaim my daughter's story, I might as well label her a burden, a tragedy, a creature who shouldn’t exist

What happened?

There is a simple answer: a preterm birth. A premature baby.

My daughter is a preemie. That sounds common enough, even kind of cute.

I was a preemie, too. My mother can’t recall how early, maybe four or five weeks. Early enough that as she was being rushed into the delivery room, she was so distraught that a nurse told her not to worry, that her own child had been born early, too, and was just fine.

Then comes the laugh line: My mother sobbed, But—is your kid smart?

At this point in the storytelling, my mother would shake her head. “Can you believe it? That nurse should have slapped me.”

And we would laugh. There I stood, sound of body, brain apparently intact.

What happened?

Five and a half months into my second pregnancy, I woke up in labor—sudden, unexplained labor—and my daughter was delivered via emergency cesarean.

In recent years, I think I’ve read in passing about some increase in the incidence of premature births, in the level of prematurity. I think I’ve read about the astronomical costs and extraordinary interventions involved in caring for such babies. I probably wondered to myself, without dwelling on it for long, whether all of them truly ought to be saved.

I’ve heard of babies so tiny they can fit in the palm of your hand. I’ve seen those photos somewhere. The NICU here has one taped to the door: a baby nestled in a cupped palm, sepia-toned, serene and perfect. Just like a regular baby, only in miniature.

My daughter looks nothing like that.

She’s pre-premature. She’s pre-alive.

Then again, the books displayed in the NICU list a category for a baby like her: “extremely premature.” These books chart the probabilities of outcomes for each category of preemie, from “mildly premature” to her category: the odds of death, of major complications, of serious disability.

Her official gestational age is 25 weeks and three days. In terms of her odds, every one of those days matters. But we never had any certainty about her due date.

One of the books has no row for cases more extreme than hers. It also notes that, until recently, a preemie like her had virtually a zero percent chance of survival. This book distinguishes itself from other books for parents of preemies as the one with a “positive approach.”

Most of the charts list 1,000 grams as the lowest cutoff. My daughter has already dropped below her birth weight of 705 grams, and she is dropping lower by the hour.

Eventually, I find charts that include rows for babies born at 24 weeks, 23 weeks, even 22 weeks and under, but then there are no statistics, only words in parentheses: poor outcome, insufficient data, N/A.

Or blank spaces.

What happened?

Maybe it’s an unproductive question, an unseemly question, a petty question. As patiently as they can, the doctors attempt to dispel it from their higher realm.

If I’d arrived at the hospital sooner, wouldn’t my daughter have been safe?

“You were fully dilated when you got to triage,” Dr. Bryant, my obstetrician, says.

But if I’d arrived twenty minutes earlier, one hour, three hours—

“The baby was coming out,” she says.

My husband Peter fixates on the grimy suitcases he hefted up from the basement in preparation for the renovation. All evening, I was overtaken by fits of sneezing, but it had already been a terrible allergy season.

“It wasn’t the suitcases,” Dr. Bryant says. “It wasn’t the sneezing.”

Then was it that my pregnancies were so close together?

Dr. Bryant says that an interval of less than six months between pregnancies is considered risky. The interval between mine was at least eight.

Was it that Peter and I made love that night?

Gently, firmly, Dr. Bryant shakes her head.

Then what happened?

“It happens,” Dr. Bryant says. “In my decades of practice, I’ve known this to happen.”

When we ask Dr. Kahn, she says, “Well, someday someone will win a Nobel for figuring out the answer to that.”

The general prevailing theory, she says, is that, for some reason, the baby needed to come out.

Something went wrong and we all missed it. Something so wrong that my daughter exited my body before her skin could hold itself together, before her brain could withstand the trauma, before she could nurse, before she could breathe.

What happened?

Did I deliver a child or lose one?

Do I keep holding on or do I prepare to let go?

“Two things that happened in 2012,” AOL CEO Tim Armstrong declares at a town hall meeting one year after my daughter has come home from the hospital, the same week she takes her first steps. “We had two AOLers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were okay in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased health care costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

On his own computer screen, my husband watches the headlines proliferate, from Capital New York (ARMSTRONG: “DISTRESSED BABIES FIGURED IN 401(K) ROLL-BACK) to Fortune (ADD TIM ARMSTRONG’S “DISTRESSED BABIES” TO THE PILE OF GAFFES) to Daily Kos (BREAKING! THERE’S STILL AN AOL, AND ITS CEO IS STILL AN A-HOLE).

On Twitter, “distressed babies” is becoming a meme:

“How many distressed babies does AOL pay this guy?”

“I hope these ‘distressed babies’ are happy.”

On the overhead TV screens throughout the newsroom, Peter watches close-ups of Armstrong rotate among playbacks of the CEO’s previous blunders. On cable news shows, talking heads debate health care costs, privacy laws, the Affordable Care Act, corporate responsibility, crisis management, potential legal and civil liabilities, AOL stock prices—all in the context of “distressed babies.”

His own newsroom gawks and titters at the spectacle. A number of Peter’s colleagues—editors, writers, PR flacks—knock on his door to gossip: Can you believe this? What an idiot.

One of the first reports—by Re/code’s Kara Swisher, a prominent tech journalist—inaccurately summarizes Armstrong’s town hall comments as referring to “the difficult and costly pregnancies of two employees,” as if “distressed babies” could only be the result of such circumstances. All the subsequent speculation focuses on “AOL moms.” None of the experts challenge these assumptions. None of the commentators seem to consider the possibility that one of the employees in question could be a father.

Except for those of Peter’s coworkers who know the barest outlines of our daughter’s arrival and immediately identify Mila as one of those “distressed babies.” The sympathetic ones come by Peter’s office to express recognition of his uncomfortable position. Hey, he’s talking about your kid, right? How’s she doing? How are you?

The next day, the media uproar over “distressed babies” continues at a fever pitch. More talking heads, more commentary, more analysis, more tweets. Instead of a public apology, Tim Armstrong issues an internal memo, which is leaked to the media almost immediately:

“As we discussed at the town hall, we care about you and the company—a lot…In that context, I mentioned high-risk pregnancy as just one of many examples of how our company supports families when they are in need…As I have said over and over again, our employees are our greatest asset. Let’s move forward together as a team.”

The cold slap seeps in. With each clarification that Tim Armstrong issues, our family seems more and more at fault somehow, and our daughter’s humanity seems less and less evident.

Ever since my daughter’s arrival, my shame and guilt seem to have taken up permanent residence in my body along with my organs and bones, as fixed and familiar as they are unseen and unexamined. Likewise, my sense of being a burden, of encumbering others because of my failure to hold on to my own baby, has become the hidden pulse of my daily existence.

Somehow Tim Armstrong has managed to broadcast those innermost feelings at a companywide meeting before they became fodder for the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And now that those feelings are out there for the world to digest, I can finally take a closer look at them myself.

What did I do wrong other than experience a medical emergency?

What resources did my daughter use other than the health insurance that my husband and I purchased?

How did Tim Armstrong and his corporation extend themselves for my family other than by complying with the basic terms of our benefits?

Distressed babies. I know about “distressed jeans” and “distressed leather.” I’ve heard the terms distressed securities and distressed properties. Or distressed merchandise: damaged goods.

“Distressed babies” sounds like another bit of corporate-speak, except that I doubt it shows up on any MBA vocabulary list. It’s both a dehumanizing insult and a strange euphemism that seems intended to demonstrate extra sensitivity on the part of the speaker—as opposed to, say, premature babies or sickly babies or g-ddamn pain-in-the-ass babies.

It aims for a show of sympathy while positioning the speaker as the hero of this scenario. It brings to mind a fussy infant wailing to be picked up rather than a child fighting for every minute of her life.

Distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were okay in general.

After all these months of struggling to say those words myself—she was born—now Tim Armstrong has said them for me, in a context that suggests that she probably shouldn’t have been. Babies that were born. “That,” not “who.”

We paid a million dollars. Did he personally pay her bills? After all my dealings with the insurance company, this is news to me.

To make sure those babies were okay in general. Did he demand some guarantee from the doctors that I never received? Does Mila count as “okay in general” now? If not, should she be written off as a bad investment?

I tell myself that people make mistakes. But I can’t pretend that these off-the-cuff remarks don’t reveal a damning, perhaps unconscious judgment of me and my daughter.

Even if I accept that Armstrong’s intention was not to scape-goat those babies but to point out his pride in having paid for their care—an apparently exorbitant expense that somehow drained AOL’s coffers to the point that he was forced to recoup it from another component of employee benefits—that judgment just became explicit in his assumption that “distressed babies” must be the result of “high-risk pregnancies.” Which no one in the media has questioned, either.

The implication is that our baby was a risky proposition from the start, and therefore her care was optional. We selfishly claimed more than our fair share of health benefits, and Tim Armstrong and AOL bailed us out. The medical treatment that saved our daughter’s life was not a basic right or even a contractual obligation, but an act of corporate charity and proof of Tim Armstrong’s personal generosity. And Peter’s co-workers have only us to blame for those cuts to their retirement savings.

I reach for Peter’s hand. I tell him that if he can move on as if this never happened, I can, too. Peter says that if that’s what I want, he can. We go back and forth, around and around.

At last, Peter says, “I guess I can’t.” His anguish is plain on his face.

Ever since our daughter’s arrival, my rawer emotions and overt trauma have often taken precedence over his. Sometimes, I remind myself, my husband needs rescuing, too.

When I sit down at my desk, it’s past midnight. My hands are trembling and my heart is pounding, but my head feels very clear.

Thirteen months ago, my daughter left the hospital and never looked back. I’m the one living as if I’m trapped behind walls of glass.

If I don’t come forward as the mother of my baby, I might as well forsake her. If I don’t reclaim her story, I might as well label her a burden, a tragedy, a creature who shouldn’t exist.

So I write. All the details that have seemed unspeakable, I write.

I’m the mother of one of those “distressed babies.” I’m the reason the CEO of a large corporation felt the need to cut benefits.

A million dollars. At this point, I have no way of knowing if Tim Armstrong and AOL actually paid that amount, though this accounting certainly doesn’t square with my rudimentary grasp of how insurance works. I understand that a CEO might have a different approach to valuation of a human life than, say, a mother. But I’m not sure, in the final accounting, how many of us could survive such a calculus.

Would it have occurred to Armstrong to single out the medical expenses of an employee who survived a car crash, or needed heart surgery, or got breast cancer?

For the first time, it occurs to me that when Dr. Kahn described Mila’s birth as catastrophic, she meant the word in the medical sense. A catastrophic medical event is, almost by definition, unforeseeable and unpreventable.

Yes, our daughter needed costly intensive care. Yes, we are grateful—indelibly grateful—that our employer-subsidized plan covered most of the expenses.

But isn’t that the whole point of health insurance?

At last, I describe Mila’s first steps, those two tiny steps that she took in the days leading to Tim Armstrong’s town hall meeting. And I finally use the word that, for me, might be the most dangerous word of all.


I don’t mean that my daughter emerged from her birth completely unscathed. I don’t mean that she is an act of divine intervention more than a person. I don’t mean that she has to be a miracle—or even “okay in general”—in order to justify her existence.

She is a miracle in the way that any child taking her first steps is a miracle. And yes, she deserves a little extra credit. Some recognition of her strength, not only her suffering; of her resilience, not only her damage.

Excerpted from Girl in Glass: How My “Distressed Baby” Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles, by Deanna Fei.

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

TIME Family

The Day My Daughter Discovered I’m White

'She never saw skin color looking in my eyes'

My youngest daughter was adopted from the Massachusetts foster care system. She’s a beautiful, African American girl with huge brown eyes that smile 90% of the time — except when she’s being sarcastic, and even then she makes me laugh.

I remember clearly the day she joined our family in 2003. The social worker told me that, whenever possible, the system tries to place children in homes where the parents are the same race as the child, as they believe that’s in the child’s best interest. My husband and I were open to whatever child fate sent our way.

And so, on a stormy November night, baby Ayla was delivered to our doorstep. Literally the power in our house flickered as the social worker rang our doorbell and dropped her off with just a small duffle bag containing four onesies that no longer fit and an empty canister of formula.

Although we had already raised two other children through the baby stage, the moment the doorbell rang, I felt weak inside. My confidence in our parenting abilities was only as strong as is typical of parents with young children (which is to say, it varied by the hour). That night I questioned my sanity, my capabilities as a mother and if this child would learn to love me — for at the moment she was a helpless baby who had no choice or ability to affect her circumstances.

(As a side note, I still get tears in my eyes when I think about how, within 24 hours, our friends threw a spontaneous baby shower and delivered everything we needed — from clothes to a car seat to an ExerSaucer — to our doorstep. We hadn’t anticipated that our foster child would be a baby, and so we no longer had those items on hand. This was before the days of Facebook and I’m amazed at how quickly word spread and people rallied to support us.)

While I loved Ayla from the moment I met her — as did all of our relatives, neighbors and random people in the grocery store, the girl is seriously adorable — I wondered as she got older how she would feel about being raised in a white family.

My fears were cast aside one day when Ayla was 5 years old. We were in the bathroom together, taking turns using the toilet. “Mom — your butt is white,” Ayla observed. “Yes,” I replied, wondering where this conversation was headed. “And my butt is brown,” she said. “Yes,” I replied again. I could see her brain processing this information.

It occurred to me that, even though she had been staring at my face every day for the past 5 years, until that moment, she never realized we were a different race. She never saw skin color looking in my eyes.

I held my breath as I waited for her next question. I began crafting long, philosophical conversations in my head about how I would simultaneously explain the birds and the bees, the construction of our family, and race relations in the United States.

“What time will Daddy be home? What’s for dinner?” she asked. That was it. She had moved on. Skin color was of no concern or consequence to this kindergartener.

Denis Leary famously said in 1992 (and then recently tweeted): “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.”

As the confederate flag was lowered this month in South Carolina, I can’t help but reflect on Ayla joining our life. Fifteen years ago, my husband and I were living in Oregon. As we started having children, I had a strong desire to get back to the east coast to be within driving distance of our extended family. My husband interviewed for a job in Columbia, SC. Oddly enough, that year South Carolina was also considering the removal of the confederate flag. When we went to look at houses, this was the top news story and I remember seeing news vans everywhere.

Ultimately, my husband chose a job in Massachusetts. It’s crazy for me to think that, if we had moved to Columbia, Ayla wouldn’t have joined our lives. So many specific puzzle pieces had to fall into place for her to become my daughter — and they did. And now I know it was for a reason.

A quick Google News search on “foster children” shows that there continues to be a significant shortage in available homes for the more than 100,000 children currently in the system. There are also just as many (or more) instances of children being abused in foster care as there were so many years ago when my husband and I first decided we had heard enough and that we had the time and resources to provide for another child.

While my husband and I have shared our family story privately with friends over dinner, we’ve never before discussed it publicly. Now that Ayla is old enough to give her permission, I wanted to share the “butt” story in the hopes that it may inspire someone who has considered becoming a foster parent to take the next step.

While nature vs. nurture continues to be a hot debate in terms of what has the greatest impact on a child, I can tell you that Ayla has inherited my husband’s love of Star Wars, her brother’s love of soccer, her sister’s love of reading and my love of dogs. When I asked Ayla her thoughts on being adopted, she told me she likes that it makes her unique and it’s been a “strange, but cool experience.”

In a recent school project where she had to create her biography, she wrote “Ayla wonders what her birth parents are like, but she knows she would never love them as much as the ones she loves now. Ayla has so many dreams, she can’t list them all! In the future, she will move to Hollywood and take college courses in fashion and design.”

Whatever the future holds, I will be at her side.

This article originally appeared on Medium

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

TIME Parenting

How To Help Your Kids Get To Know Their Grandparents

Tom Merton—Getty Images/Caiaimage

It's all about asking the right questions

Whether you’re a family who sees grandparents all the time or just gets together for a big blowout family gathering during vacations, you probably think your kids know their grandparents pretty well.

But even in extended families that are very close, says Dan Zadra, author of My Grandma: Her Stories, it’s easy for stories from the older generations to get lost.

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So how can parents help kids take the initiative to really get to know their grandparents, whether over summer or on more frequent visits?

Elementary age kids, Zadra says, can start with questions about things that “all kids from all generations have in common: What was your room like? What was your neighborhood like? What was your first pet? Those things are easy to ask, and get rich answers. And they bring the generations closer together.”

Middle school kids, says Zadra, can ask more complex questions, like, “Who was your best friend? What was your first job?” And they can pose questions with “emotional sophistication,”as Zdra calls it: “What would you like to do over if you had a chance? What did you learn from it?”

High school kids can work at being active listeners, according to Zadra. Instead of questions with a simple yes or no answer, parents can coax them to ask open-ended questions that encourage people to tell a story. Parents might also want to encourage high school kids to “get comfortable with space” after they ask a question, says Zadra, to let the person they’ve asked “think it through.”

And at every age, Zadra says, kids should learn to look for something beyond “the first answer.” Instead, parents can teach them the old journalistic tick of the follow-up, “What do you mean? Can you give me an example? Why is that?”

When you do that, Zadra says, “you get a completely different answer.” And parents might learn something they didn’t know about their parents too.

TIME Media

Behind the Magic of Sesame Street

Sesame Street Cover
Cover Credit: BILL PIERCE The Nov. 23, 1970, cover of TIME

It's more than just a television show

What is it about the long-time favorite television show, Sesame Street, that has allowed it to influence generations of viewers?

A recent study by economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip B Levine concluded that children who watched Sesame Street in the 1970s fared better in school than peers who did not tune in to the iconic program.

The study found that children who lived in areas with greater Sesame Street coverage in 1969 were significantly more likely to be at the age-appropriate grade level.

This effect was particularly pronounced among boys and black, non-Hispanic children. The study found that the likelihood of these children being left behind was reduced by 16% for boys across race and 13.7% for black, non-Hispanic children, in areas with strong reception.

Sesame Street’s magic

As an educational researcher, early childhood educator, psychologist, and dedicated Sesame Street viewer during my own childhood in the 70’s, I am well acquainted with the show’s power to influence children.

I have spent the last 15 years working with children growing up in the context of urban poverty. Presently, I am investigating the educational experiences of preschool-aged children who are homeless.

These experiences inform my perspective on why Sesame Street, in particular, has had such a positive impact on young viewers.

What I am concerned about is the conclusion of the authors of the Sesame Street program study that “TV and electronic media more generally can be leveraged to address income and racial gaps in children’s school readiness.”


But we should proceed with caution in advocating blindly for an increased emphasis on children’s television and screen time as a potential remedy for America’s persistent achievement gap. And we must understand: why is it that Sesame Street has helped children learn all these years? For this, it is important to understand what makes Sesame Street such a powerful teaching tool.

First, Sesame Street is developmentally appropriate. Research on child development informs the show and concepts are presented in a way that is appropriate for young learners. Research shows when instruction is aligned with children’s capacity to understand it, they willingly engage the material and develop self-confidence.

Second, education trumps entertainment. On Sesame Street, children are engaged as partners in learning – they are asked to repeat, respond, and to think about what is occurring on the screen.

Third, Sesame Street honors children’s lives and engages them in discussions about things that matter to them, including diversity and difference. Children see people like them living and learning on Sesame Street.

Moreover, over the years, Sesame Street has not shied away from difficult topics such as death, homelessness, discrimination and incarceration.

As important is that Sesame Street helps children who have not experienced these things relate to them. This helps foster empathy for others. In short, Sesame Street relates to children and helps them feel as if they matter.

Screen time is not a remedy

However, increasingly, these crucial elements are being overlooked both in children’s classrooms and in media targeted at them.

Even though children are spending many more hours in front of the television than children did during the 1970s, there is much greater disparity in academic achievement and other indicators of learning.

The gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown about 40% since the 1960s and is now double the testing gap between white and black students. A separate study found that low-income boys who spend more than 5.5 hours per day using sedentary screen media are the lowest-performing students.

Learning has lost its fun for children. Young children are being asked to master content that is beyond their appropriate developmental level. This makes learning frustrating and leads children to feel insecure.

Frequently, screen time is used to entertain and/or manage children, shifting them into the role of passive observer. In my work as an educational researcher and clinician, I have found this is especially true for children whose behavior is viewed as challenging, who may be parked in front of a television or computer screen so that others might disengage from them.

Thus, children experiencing challenges in their personal lives are often not supported in developing coping skills.

In building on the findings of this recent study, it is important to keep in mind that Sesame Street made a difference because of its approach, not just because the television was used to deliver it.

Children are willing to tune into Sesame Street and pay attention because it is relevant. When learning occurs in a context that is relevant to children’s lives, they pay more attention and retain more information.

We should proceed with caution in advocating blindly for an increased emphasis on children’s television and screen time as a potential remedy for America’s persistent achievement gap.

Most of all, we must understand the magic that is Sesame Street in order to replicate its impact.The Conversation

Travis Wright is Assistant Professor of Multicultural Education, Teacher Education, and Childhood Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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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