TIME Parenting

Stop Saying Moms Can’t Be Ambitious

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

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

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

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

I get that.

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

I get that, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

Virgin’s New Paternity Leave Policy Is Wishful Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

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

“A man can become a woman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read next: Watch Kids Share Eloquent, Empathetic Reactions to Caitlyn Jenner

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Parenting

Ed Sheeran to Kids Who Stutter: Embrace Your Weirdness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Parenting

The Over-Parenting Trap: How to Avoid ‘Checklisted’ Childhoods and Raise Adults

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success.

'I began to wonder whether lately we’ve been raising Stepford Children.' A Stanford dean on overparenting, and how to avoid it

As the author of a new book on parenting it’s heretical for me to disclose that I’m not particularly interested in the subject. But it’s true. I’m not interested in parenting. I’m interested in human beings.

I believe in humans. I believe that all of us should have the right and chance to make our way in the world. I believe this, not only for the sake of each individual but for the sake of a world that gains a little bit when any one of us figures out who we are, what we’re good at, what we love, and what we value, and then works very hard to be the very best version of that self we can muster. From my work with countless young adults over a decade as Stanford’s freshman dean I’ve learned that having the courage to be who we are regardless of what other people want us to be—even parents—is the path to a meaningful and rewarding life. I’m interested in that for all of us.

So I’m also interested in what gets in the way of each of us being our best self. And in doing something about it. I used to think the obstacles stemmed chiefly from otherness, outsider-ness, from being on the margins because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship, family background, hardship, trauma, or abuse. And yes, of course, those things are obstacles—sometimes tremendous obstacles—to a person’s chances for becoming their best self. When I was freshman dean, I presumed that it would be students from underprivileged, underserved backgrounds who would most need a caring, thoughtful dean to believe in them when their background and family narrative collided with all that Stanford would ask and expect of them. And some of my favorite moments as dean were indeed spent mentoring such students.

So imagine how surprised I was to discover among my more affluent, well-connected students a growing number who seemed to be lacking the ability to make their way independently in the world, as, frankly, 18-22 year olds always had been able to do and just as crucially, used to desire to do. I’m deliberately being vague about what exactly was missing in so many students because frankly I couldn’t quite tell at first. Something was just off. Odd. It took most of my ten years as dean before I figured out what exactly the problem was.

For starters, each year my students were more and more and more and more accomplished. The grades, but not just the grades: the scores. And not just the grades and the scores but the awards, and the accolades, and the activities, and community service, and leadership, and, and, and, and, and, every other prospect for perfection. Yet each year I noticed that more and more could tell you what they’d done but not so much why they’d done it. Could tell you what they’d achieved but not so much about what mattered to them. These students were far more interesting to look at on paper than to talk with in person. Was any of this stuff really their passion? Did they even know what that word meant or was it just something someone said they needed in order to get into the quote unquote right college? Did they have a budding sense of self, or were they really just content to let their parents plan life for them? As someone who believes in humans, this perplexed me.

Meanwhile, each year I saw more and more parents come to campus with their freshman kid and then . . . stay, literally or virtually, to: ask questions; select courses, activities, majors, internships, and careers; solve problems; handle conflicts; defend and advocate for their student; register for classes; fill out applications; track deadlines; and call to wake their kid up. And to top it all off, these students weren’t mortified when their parents did all of this—as my generation and the ones before it would have been—they were grateful! Grateful to be able to communicate with a parent multiple times a day, in the dorm, in the dining halls, in the student union, going to class, going to another class, going somewhere after class, in the lobby of the advising office. Even in my office. Or they tried to. “It’s my mom,” they’d say, sheepishly, with a small shrug. “Do you mind if I just… get this? I’ll just… Mom?”

I believe in humans so I thought to myself, Something’s not right. Is this college, or is it middle school? Remember the Stepford Wives—that 1975 feminist allegory of women who were not actually humans but instead were robots programmed by their husbands to be the paradigmatic perfect wife? The bots came to mind as I watched my students live their college lives still somehow looking over to the sidelines for mom or dad’s direction, protection, or intervention, as if they were five years old playing soccer and needing mom or dad to point in which direction to kick the ball. I began to wonder whether lately we’ve been raising Stepford Children.

Yes, of course, closeness, affection, love, frequent communication between parent and offspring, that’s all good. Who among us wouldn’t wish for a closer relationship with our own parents? I’m GenX. One of the “latchkey” kids. So this kind of constant communication between parent and child at first seemed so cute to me. But I believe in humans, and when the dynamic between parent and adult child is this constant chatter—about choices, possibilities, and outcomes, the should and shouldn’ts of life, the want to and ought nots, the how do I do this and the let me take care of that for yous—when it came to all manner of their academic, professional, emotional, and personal lives, this intertwinedness moved, in my view, from something cute to something rather bleak. My students were not only celebrating the joys of life with parents, they turned to them whenever something went even mildly wrong: a flat tire, a tiff with a roommate, a less than great grade on an assignment, as if their first instinct was to call or text a parent—an instinct as natural as taking a breath of air—and as essential. They didn’t seem to know how to contend with what life would throw their way. How to sit with discomfort or indecision or opportunity and emerge with their own sense of how to move forward. So intertwined with their parents they didn’t seem to know how to be their own selves.

As a believer in humans, that made me worry for the future lives of these students. And even for our future as a species, which I know sounds absolutely hysterical, but when you work with thousands of the so-called best and brightest, and you see this kind of existential impotence, and then you talk to colleagues at colleges around the country not just at the elite schools but at schools in every tier, and they see this, and you realize that this isn’t just a Bay Area thing or a Stanford thing but a middle- and upper-middle-class American thing, and the rates of mental health problems in children, adolescents, and young adults are soaring, particularly in affluent communities, you get concerned. Really concerned. That concern for humans is what made me write my book. On, well, as it turns out, parenting.

What’s going on? we’re all wondering in communities wherever this is being read. I was mortified to discover the answer staring back at me in the mirror one day. It was freshman orientation 2009 and in that year as in every other, I’d give a talk to parents, the purpose of which was to embrace parents, empathize with the big transition they were experiencing, and ask them to go home. Trust your kid is capable, I’d say (i.e. stop doing everything for them). They’re ready to engage this opportunity they’ve worked so hard to earn, (Stop interacting with the university on their behalf). As I recall it I never actually wagged my finger at parents but inside I was thinking Come on folks, back off. This is college now. Go away. In 2009, the day after giving that annual speech, I came home from work, sat down for dinner, and reached over and began cutting my kids’ meat. They were 8 and 10 years old. And it was like all of a sudden I was being visited by Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future. If you want your kid to be independent at 18, at some point you have to stop cutting their meat. I sat bolt upright. When do you stop cutting their meat? When do you stop looking both ways for them as they cross the street? When do you stop helping with homework? When do you let them talk to strangers? I realized I was still treating my kids like little kids. They never went anywhere alone. They did no chores. They had no responsibilities. I praised every little thing. A day earlier I’d been tsktsking my students’ parents about not letting go, not letting their kids be independent, and now I realized I was fostering tremendous dependence in my own kids with no end in sight. Was I in danger of being one of those parents who couldn’t let go when my kids were in college? What, me?

I’d been given the rare gift of seeing so many of other peoples’ grown-up children; the results of thousands of upbringings and childhoods, who, during my decade as dean, started referring to themselves as ‘kids.’ How would my generation pass the mantle of leadership on to such “adults”? Why was childhood no longer preparing kids for adulthood? How am I and countless other parents getting it so wrong? Because it’s not as if we aren’t trying. God knows we are trying so very hard to get it right.

For some perspective let’s go back to how it all begins. In the beginning our love is our umbilicus, our heartbeat, our body, and then our arms, our kiss, our breast. We bring them home to a sheltering roof and we delight weeks later when they make their first intentional eye contact with us. We nurture early babbles into first words, and applaud as they gain strength to roll over, to sit up, to crawl. We scan the horizon of the twenty-first century and see an increasingly interconnected and competitive world that at times seems familiar and at times utterly not. We gaze down at our precious little ones with a promise to do all we can to help them make their way into the long life that lies ahead. There is no amount of direction on our part that will teach them to stand or walk before they are ready. (When they’re learning to walk may be the last time today’s parents actually believe that falling, or failure, is the essential teacher, the builder of a human’s capabilities and resilience.)

We see almost instantly that they are their own person, but we also want them to start where we left off, to stand on our shoulders, to benefit from all we know and can provide. We expose them to experiences, ideas, people, and places that we think will help them learn and grow and thrive. We want them to reach and be stretched by the kind of rigor and opportunity that will maximize their potential and their chances. We’re sure we know best what it takes to succeed in today’s world and we’re quite eager to protect and direct them, and be there for them at every turn, whatever it takes.

We mean so, so, so, so well. But in affluent communities where parents have the disposable time and income to do everything for kids, doing ‘whatever it takes’ has come to mean what I call the “checklisted childhood” – all the things our kids must experience and achieve in order to gain entry to a small number of schools and a specific set of careers and therefore be successful in life. In furtherance of that, everything is: safe, selected, chosen, recommended, planned, decided, approved, improved, done, accomplished, handled, coached, figured out, fixed, arranged, solved, resolved, absolved, shaped, designed, orchestrated, enabled, and dreamed up for them.

Then we hover over our kids as they check off all the items on the checklist. We keep them safe and sound, fed and watered, and when we see an obstacle in their path we try to remove it all the while encouraging them along, nudging, cajoling, hinting, helping, haggling, nagging, as the case may be, to be sure they’re not screwing up, not closing doors, not ruining their future, calling for help when they need it in the form of tutors, coaches, handlers, extra spiffy coaches and handlers, in order to improve the child in front of us. We say we just want them to be happy but when they come home from school all we ask about is their grades. And they see in our faces that approval, love, and worth, comes from A’s. When the work is hard we stand ever closer, running alongside with clucking praise like a trainer at the Westminster Dog show, coaxing them to jump ever father and soar ever higher, arguing and contending with the rulemakers when they fall or fail, forcing them back on the path, using our own strength to boost their effort. Their ears are filled with our chirps of “perfect,” a rhetorical tic we use even when we don’t mean it, and we commend them to our friends and with stickers on the back of our cars and also we commend ourselves. Look what we’ve done. We did this amazing science project. We wrote this beautiful essay. We earned this GPA. We got this SAT or ACT score. We’ve gotten into this college.

When I finally connected the dots between that dinner with parents of Stanford freshmen and what was happening at the dinner table in my own house, I realized that this omnipresent overinvolvement means kids grow to be chronologically adult while remaining utterly stunted, dependent on parents to do not only the heavy lifting of life, but the lovely, light, ethereal dreaming as well.

The worst part of this is—besides the arrogance it takes to chart someone else’s path, the ethical slipperiness of overhelping with their schoolwork, the cruelty of being a constant crutch that will not always be there for them, the harm that comes from conditioning love on performance—the worst part, unintended yet insidious, is this hidden message we send to kids: I don’t think you can do this without me. Trying to boost them up, we are paradoxically tearing them down. We overhelp so as not to disadvantage them, yet they’re disadvantaged because we do so much. You’re not good enough for this life as you are, is the message. You never will be. You need me. You will always need me.

Our kids need us to back off but it’s healthy for us parents, too, if we back off. Carl Jung says the greatest impediment to the development of a child is the unlived life of the parent. Many of us spend our lives scheduled to the hilt between work and home, homework and homeroom, practice tests and practice fields, trying to keep up with the judgmental Joneses. Ours is an endless shuffle to a rehearsal, a practice, a tutoring session, an expert of some kind designed to make our kid better at something. We are on auto-pilot in our minivans, going through the motions, making the snacks, being on the committees, arguing with teachers, principals, coaches, and referees, serving as our kids’ concierge, personal assistant, and secretary, fearing our spouse’s expectations, vaguely wondering when we’ll get off the sidelines of soccer practice and start living our own vibrant life again. Our morning medication is caffeine. Our evening medication is wine.

Long, long gone are the days of throwing open the back door and saying “get out there and play; I’ll call you for dinner.” There are no wide-open afternoons. No wide-open doors. And no one is home to play. There is only the schedule and the dropoff and the pickup and some semblance of that family dinner we know we’re supposed to have. And then the homework. Until some set of us plus them is exhausted. Sleep. Repeat.

I believe in humans, in all of us, and I’m here to tell you—warn you—that this way of parenting is harmful to kids, to parents, to us all. You know it, I know it. We all know it. We see our children withering under the pressure of the checklisted childhood, feel ourselves struggling to keep up, and we imagine a different, saner way, exists elsewhere. Wyoming? Yet we look over our shoulder and see the galloping herd of other parents who are spending more money, hiring more help, taking more time off just to ensure their kid makes the grade, makes the cut, and gets admitted to that school over our kid, all the while bragging about their outcomes. We want to trust our instincts, wish we were brave enough to walk away, focus on family time not test prep, incite laughter, prompt joy, let our kids just be, but we fear the herd, and the short term win their kid will achieve with all that help. The overparenting herd has become a bully we feel the need to go along with.

There’s a lot that’s wrong in society. A college admissions arms race and other large forces that both constrain and impel us as parents. But let’s not forget we have tremendous control at what I call the local-local level–at our kitchen counter and dining table, where we’ve got children who need dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning. Join me in doing right by our children, by leaving the herd of hoverers, by fostering independence not dependence, and by supporting them in being who they are rather than telling them who and what to be. Together, we can push the parenting pendulum back in the other direction: toward raising the healthy, independent, happy, successful, adults they deserve to be.

 

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success.

Adapted from How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Julie Lythcott- Haims. All rights reserved.

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

Don’t Blame Women When Family Policies Backfire

Maternity
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Darlena Cunha is a journalist who writes about parenting.

Businesses should be doing more to ensure fair hiring practices

Women in the U.S. have fought long and hard for better family policies that would support the choice to have children while continuing to work. Unlike the majority of industrialized nations, the U.S. does not offer paid maternity leave guarantees. There aren’t many facilities that offer child-care or paternity packages, either. On top of that, mothers are often viewed as less-stable employees with less commitment to the business.

A recent New York Times piece seems to defend our archaic system, arguing that family-friendly policies can actually backfire on the women they’re supposed to protect. For example, after Spain passed a law in 1999 allowing employees with children under 7 to request reduced hours without the fear of being laid off, almost all of the workers who took advantage of it were women. In the decade following, businesses became 6% less likely to hire women, 37% less likely to promote them, and 45% more likely to dismiss them in comparison to men of the same age, according to a study from the IE Business School in Spain.

We should be outraged that those businesses were being permitted to display such blatant unfairness. Instead, many of the conclusions drawn from this article seem to blame the women and family policies involved, as seen in the comments section here.

Labeling these predatory practices as “unintended consequences” of better family-care packages is misleading at best and ultimately harmful to the structure of our society. It’s not the fault of women that businesses act in such an unethical manner, and to advise these women to ask for less and accept what they’re given to avoid such practices is short-sighted and wrong.

The Times article pushes for packages that are “generous but not too generous,” suggesting that more than nine months of maternity leave could hurt women’s prospects in the workplace. It mentions finding ways to implement family-friendly policies that the companies don’t have to finance. It seems to defend the paltry leave program we have in this country and absolve the businesses of blame and responsibility toward their workforce.

That’s the wrong approach. We shouldn’t be loosening these policies so they hurt businesses less in the hopes that those businesses will then turn around and act appropriately. Instead, we should tighten policy further. Companies need to be held accountable for unfair practices toward women. It’s not the job of a woman to make her company more comfortable. It’s the businesses’ responsibility to treat their workforce like human beings.

It’s also in their best interests, as about 70% of women with children under 18 years old will work at some point, according to the most recent statistics by the Department of Labor. That is a large percentage of workers, not to mention consumers, that businesses risk angering for their bottom line.

Why are businesses getting a free pass to treat women employees as second-class citizens? Why are we counseling women on what they should and shouldn’t ask for lest they be at risk of losing their jobs or passed over for promotion? We don’t need to accommodate the businesses in this model to protect women. We need to scrutinize the businesses causing these “unintended consequences” and issue them directives on how to make the workplace an inviting and encouraging place for all of their employees.

As we struggle to catch up to the rest of the world in terms of women’s rights in the workplace, the way up is not through counseling women to be meek and thankful. It’s though demanding ethical practices from our companies that ensure the rights of all who hold a job.

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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Ayesha Curry: How to Parent When Your Kid Goes Viral

Ayesha and Stephen Curry with their daughter Riley in 2014.
Caroline Egan Dahlberg Ayesha and Stephen Curry with their daughter Riley in 2015.

Ayesha Curry is the author of the website Little Lights of Mine.

Blogger and wife of NBA guard Stephen Curry on her daughter's sensational TV appearance, and parenting in general

Anyone who knows our family knows we are extremely low maintenance, no fuss, and very relaxed. You walk into our home, and there are toys scattered everywhere. It’s perfectly disorganized, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. My husband and I are, after all, two young parents in our twenties with a 2-year-old daughter, Riley, and another child on the way. We’re just trying to figure it all out and above all make sure we raise our family in a happy, healthy home that is full of faith and love.

All the hoopla and excitement of Stephen playing for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Playoffs has really put our life into perspective. If anything, the attention has brought us closer together and made us realize that through all of this, we need to remain balanced and relaxed, especially in our home with our daughter.

I feel that the biggest thing you can do, as a parent, is to engage. You can never be too busy for your child. There should always be time for a bedtime story, impromptu playtime, or a quick game of hide-and-seek—or “find me,” as Riley calls it. These moments with your child should never get pushed to the bottom of the list. In these moments we set the foundation for the kind of relationship we want to have with our children as they grow.

We also do what we can to make sure that non-game days are still regimented. Bedtime routines stay the same, as do daily activities. Riley loves to horseback ride and swim, so we make sure those events don’t change through all of the excitement.

Last week, Riley joined her father in a press conference, and some thought she stole the show. I thought it was beautiful, and I wouldn’t change a thing. There can be more than 50 people and 10 cameras—not counting camera phones—in the room during press conferences, so it can be overwhelming. But my husband handled his duties on the podium with ease and class. And my daughter was who she is—vibrant, spunky, and full of life. I hope she carries this with her through adulthood.

Stephen attends practice every day, and gives his all during the games on an almost-nightly basis. When that’s over, all he wants is to see his family, and on the day of that press conference, our daughter wanted to be with her father. I thought it was beautiful for him not to push his daddy duties to the bottom of the list just because all eyes were on him. I believe you should let your children be children, and don’t be afraid to be a parent, regardless of who’s watching.

Family matters! Our children matter! At the end of the day, when all the lights dim, and the cameras are gone, we are still here as his biggest, loudest, and most supportive cheerleaders. We are also extremely proud that in spite of some criticism, Riley was able to share in that experience with her father and bring joy and laughter into the lives and homes of many all over the world.

Read next: Riley Curry Mimics Dad Steph Curry’s Signature Chest Bump

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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.

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Harvard Obstetrician Speaks on Safety of Giving Birth at Hospitals

Stethoscope
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Much of the developed world offers only one pragmatic alternative: the hospital

There is a good chance that your grandparents were born at home. I am going to go ahead and assume they turned out fine, or at least fine enough, since you were eventually born too and are now reading this.

But since the late 1960s, very few babies in the United Kingdom or the United States have been born outside of hospitals. As a result, you may find the new guidelines from the U.K.’s National Institutes for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) just as surprising as I did. For many healthy women, the NICE guidelines authors believe, there may be significant benefits to going back to the way things were.

Shortly after the NICE guidelines were issued, the New England Journal of Medicine invited me to write a response. The idea that any pregnant patient might be safer giving birth outside the hospital seemed heretical, at least to an American obstetrician like me. Knowing that no study or guideline is foolproof, I began my task by looking for holes to form a rebuttal.

I soon realized that this rebuttal largely hinged on flaws in the American system, not the British one. While we take excellent care of sick patients, we do less well for healthy patients with routine pregnancies – largely in the form of turning to medical interventions more than strictly necessary.

As the guidelines suggest, some women in the U.K. with low-risk pregnancies may be better off staying out of the hospital. Why? Because the significant risks of over-intervention in hospitals, such as unnecessary C-sections, may be far more likely (and therefore more dangerous) for patients than the risks of under-intervention at home or in birth centers. But women in the U.K. have access to greater range of settings where they can give birth. For women in much of the U.S., the choice is often the hospital or nothing.

Are hospitals always the best option? The view from the U.K.

The British Birthplace Study, upon which the NICE guidelines are based, reviewed 64,000 low-risk births to compare the relative safety of giving birth in one of four settings: a hospital obstetric unit led by physicians, an “alongside” midwifery-led birth center (on the same site as a hospital obstetric unit), a freestanding midwifery-led birth center, and at home. The study included only women with low-risk pregnancies. Women with obesity, diabetes, hypertension or other medical conditions were excluded from the study.

For low-risk women who had never given birth before, home birth led to bad outcomes (such as encephalopathy or stillbirth) slightly less than 1% of the time. That’s rare, but still twice as risky as the other options. Birth centers were no riskier than hospitals for first-time moms, and all options (including home) appeared equally safe for women who had given birth before.

By contrast, this same group of low-risk women was between four and eight times more likely to get a C-section if they started off getting their care in the hospital compared to other settings. Rather than being driven by patient risk or preference, this tendency toward C-sections appeared to be driven by proximity to the operating room.

While the NICE guidelines make it clear that women should be free to choose the birth setting they are most comfortable with, they point out that the risks of over-intervention in the hospital may outweigh the risks of under-intervention at a birth center or at home for the majority of expecting mothers.

The situation is different for women in the U.S. Last year 90% of births were attended by physicians, while just 9% were attended by midwives. Fewer than 1% of U.S. women have their babies at birth centers. While access to care is guaranteed in the U.K., nearly half of U.S. counties have no midwife, obstetrician or other maternity care professional.

C-sections are routine, but not without complications

Today, newborn babies in the U.S. have a one-in-three chance of entering the world through an abdominal incision. In the U.K., the odds are lower – more like one in four, but everyone on both sides of the Atlantic agrees this still represents too much help.

Part of the challenge may be a feature of the species. Homo sapiens have always required some form of extra help being born. Narrow pelvises are required for walking upright, and large frontal lobes are required for nuanced thought. Neither works in our favor when it comes to navigating the birth canal. The unresolved question is how much help is truly necessary – and how much help is too much.

Cesareans are designed to be a lifesaving surgery, but they are now so routine that C-sections have become the most common major surgery performed on human beings, period. It hasn’t been until recently that we started to fully consider the downsides of cesarean deliveries.

For starters, caring for a newborn while dealing with a 12-centimeter skin incision in your own abdomen is the pits, especially when compared to caring for a newborn without having a 12-centimeter skin incision.

Though common, let’s not forget that C-sections are a major abdominal surgery that can lead to threefold higher rates of serious complications for mothers compared to vaginal delivery (2.7% vs 0.9%). These complications can include severe infection, organ injury and hemorrhage.

I should also point out that the first C-section a woman has is an easy surgery – I can train an intern to do one safely in just a few weeks. But most women have more than one child, and most women who have a C-section the first time will have a C-section the next time. Obstetricians are among a small group of surgeons who regularly operate on the same part of the same patient over and over again, dissecting thicker layers of old scar tissue with each surgery.

By the second, third, or fourth C-section on the same patient, the anatomy becomes distorted and the surgery becomes increasingly technical. I recently did a cesarean where the woman’s abdominal muscles, bladder and uterus were fused together like a melted box of crayons.

In the most dreaded cases, a woman’s placenta (a large bag of blood vessels that nourishes the fetus) can get stuck in this mess of tissue and fail to detach normally. In these cases, pints of blood may be lost within minutes, and the only way to stop the bleeding is often to do a hysterectomy.

Why do hospitals mean more interventions? It comes down to risk perception

Since 1970, the number of C-sections performed in the U.S. has gone up by 500%. Some of this increase is because mothers have become older and less healthy, conferring greater risks in pregnancy. But having a baby in this decade is not 500% riskier than having a baby in the 1970s. We know this because C-sections rates in just the women who are young and perfectly healthy have gone up just as quickly. And contrary to popular belief, this has little to do with maternal preferences. First-time mothers who request C-sections with no medical reason make up fewer than 1% of the total.

What’s driving the increase in C-sections in the U.S. is unclear, but much of the drive to do more comes from our perception of risk. Although my professional contribution to childbirth is often just to catch, my responsibility as a scalpel-trained, general obstetrician in the United States is to mitigate risk.

I am acutely aware that even women with healthy pregnancies can develop life-threatening hemorrhage, fetal distress or other unanticipated emergencies during labor that require surgical intervention.

My job is to get the baby delivered before it is too late, and often I’m working with ambiguous information. I know how long labor should take on average, but don’t have a precise estimate of how long labor should take for the patient in front of me. What if the baby is too big or the pelvis is too narrow? C-sections often come down to a game-time decision.

Fortunately, I can make sure this decision is never wrong. If the baby looks a little blue and lackluster right after I do a C-section, I’m convinced I did it just in time. But if the baby is pink and vigorous after I do a C-section, I’m still convinced I did it just in time. Without evidence to the contrary, it is easy for me and many of my colleagues to believe that operating is always the right course of action.

When it comes to the safety of mothers and newborns, most would agree that it is better to overshoot than undershoot. The problem is that we are overshooting by a lot, in ways that lead to more insidious harm. Nearly half of the cesareans we do in the U.S. currently appear to be unnecessary, and come at a cost of 20,000 avoidable surgical complications and US$5 billion of budget-busting spending in the US annually.

C-sections may have consequences for babies as well, in ways that we are just beginning to understand. Exposure to normal bacteria in the birth canal may play a role in the development of a baby’s immune system. A Danish study of two million children born at full term found that those born by cesarean were significantly more likely to develop chronic immune disorders. Others have suggested that going from the womb to an artificial warmer can have an impact on immediate bonding, and even success with breastfeeding.

In parts of the world where women do not have access to skilled birth attendants, large numbers of mothers and babies die from preventable causes. Even for the healthiest among us, walking into the woods to have your baby would be unwise. Still, much of the developed world offers only one pragmatic alternative: the hospital. For more than a half-century, we have believed that spending many hours, if not days, in a hospital bed with a smattering of ultrasound gel, clips, wires, heart tones, random beeps and routine alarms is the safest way to have a baby.

Many of the patients I care for benefit from my surgical training. I get to save lives while also sharing in one of the most profoundly joyous moments that families experience. But obstetricians like me may be hardwired to operate, and too many operations are harmful to patients. One strategy to fix this might be to change our wiring. Another may be the British way: for patients to stay away from obstetricians altogether – at least until you need one.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

The Conversation

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

TIME Parenting

What I Learned About Family from Organizing the World’s Biggest Family Reunion

AJ Jacobs

Sometimes taking on too much can bring you all together

You guys busy the first weekend in June? Because I’m having a party, and you’re invited. After all, you’re family. Really.

I’m holding what I’m calling The Global Family Reunion—a gathering for the entire human family. I got the idea because I learned about the mind-boggling advances in genealogy that are showing just how interrelated all of us homo sapiens are.

People can now use online services and DNA testing companies to join mega-massive family trees. I’m on one family tree that has 92 million people. That’s 92 million humans all connected by blood or marriage spanning 160 countries. Not all are close relatives. For instance, I’m related to Barack Obama—he’s my aunt’s fifth great aunt’s husband’s father’s wife’s 7th great nephew. See you at Passover next year, Mr. President!

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I fell in love with this idea and decided to make it the topic of my next book. And also to throw a party to celebrate our massive family. The event is Saturday, June 6, in New York City, and there will be more than 50 performers and speakers, 400 activities – and Sister Sledge singing the wildly appropriate “We Are Family.”

As I’ve been working on this for more than a year, I’ve learned several lessons. Here are four…

We can choose whom we consider family

AJ Jacobs

Here’s the paradox of modern families: Thanks to DNA testing, we can know more accurately than ever who is closest to us biologically. And yet, society is going the opposite direction. DNA is becoming less and less important in whom we consider family.

We are in the age of gay marriage, sperm and egg donors and open adoption. I have a friend who considers her ex-husband’s parents to be very close relatives. “I divorced my husband,” she says, “not his parents.” My kids consider their “cousins” in Providence, Rhode Island to be super-close family. In reality, they are the kids of my sister-in-law’s cousin. So quite a few branches apart.

Some traditionalists feel threatened by this. Not me. The more expansive our families, the more potential caregivers we have. And as my aunt’s 8th cousin twice removed’s wife Hillary Clinton once said, it takes a village.

My family is far more diverse than I imagined

JohnLegend1

The 190 million members on my family tree are of every hue on earth. My family is diverse. Like if the Village People mated with current and former members of The View (I’m guessing it’d probably be via sperm donorship)?

This is because many of us had ancestors who interbred more back then than we tend to think (sometimes by choice, sometimes by force). And thanks to jet travel and the breakdown of some taboos, the current rate of intermarriage is unprecedented. My immediate family is a good example: My sister married a man from Peru, my first cousin a man from India, my other first cousin a Korean-American.

For this project, I got to interview hip hop star Ludacris. I was able to tell him that he is 1/16th Jewish. He was surprised, but intrigued. (My friend suggested that his Hebrew name could be Mishpucha).

The melting pot used to be quite chunky, with lots of bits that stood out. But it’s slowly turning into a puree. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Some fear the mixing might erode each group’s cultural heritage. I can’t predict the consequences. But I’m hopeful that we can continue to keep cultural traditions even while mixing DNA.

You can teach compassion…at least a little

NickOffermanAndMe

One of my motivations for working on what I call a Global Family Tree is positively Woodstock-ian. I believe that once we see how closely we’re related, we’ll treat each other with more kindness.

Yes, I sometimes have doubts when I watch how my three sons wrestle. But still, I believe that we tend to treat family members with more kindness than strangers. (See how happy that nice bearded man is to have his photo taken with me? )

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein—who is my first cousin once removed—gave me some intellectual backup on this. He recently wrote an article about the Family Heuristic, the bias to be kinder to known family. The Global Family Tree tricks humans into applying the Family Heuristic to all people.

I’ve seen this happen with myself, and with my kids. When we read about the Nepal earthquake, my kids said that we needed to help our “cousins” in Nepal.

It’s not a perfect solution. A couple of months ago, I went to Chipotle with one of my eight-year-old sons and his friend. The friend dropped a napkin on the floor. I suggested he pick it up.
“Why?”
“Well, someone’s going to pick it up, and the people here are overworked, so it’s a nice thing to do.”
“But they’re my cousins. They won’t mind.”

Ridiculously overambitious projects are a great way to bring a family together

AJ Jacobs

I won’t say that planning a reunion for thousands of people has replaced Mario Party 8 in my kids’ hearts. But it has energized them.

I told my kids earnestly that I am overwhelmed and needed their help. That’s the key: They felt needed.

My 8-year-old volunteered to be head of security at the party. He weighs about 40-lbs., so maybe not the best fit for him. But they have helped me scan family photos for the tree, and manage the Twitter account about the reunion. If I ever run for President, I know they’ve got my back.

And they love coming up with ideas. This morning’s involved robot cousins. I love it. I’m just not sure if our family tree is that quite that diverse.

TIME Family

What Sheryl Sandberg Learned About Motherhood Through Grief

Grief sends some people scurrying into isolation and silence; the pain makes them want to shut out any light or human connection. Sheryl Sandberg is not one of those people.

In a heartrending post on Facebook, under a photo of her late husband Dave Goldberg and her in a particularly, now gutwrenchingly, carefree moment she talks in depth about grief and how it feels. “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser,” she writes.

It’s a very Sandbergian post, full of things she’s learned and hopes to pass along. But it’s also quite unSandbergian: raw and much less levelheaded than the cool, reasonable tone of Lean In. “I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass,” she writes of her ambulance ride to the hospital with Goldberg.

One of the things Sandberg addresses first is what she has learned about motherhood. “I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother,” she writes, “both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain.” To be a mother, she suggests, is to double down on the pain. But to be a mother is also to have a potential source of joy. “As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive,” she writes. “I appreciate every smile, every hug.”

The Sandberg family has always been tight knit. Her sister lives close by and her parents, who reside in Florida, are very frequent visitors to the Bay Area. Spend any time with Sandberg’s parents and you’ll realize that her father is the calm, steady brainy one and her mom, while also whipsmart, is the passionate, activist one. And she’s the one Sandberg thanks first.

“She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine,” Sandberg writes. “She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.” She goes on to say that her mother has been lying in bed with her at night, “holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep.”

While expressing grief so openly and vulnerably on Facebook may seem a strange thing to do—has any other COO of a huge multinational media concern ever used their own company’s product for such purposes?— it’s not at all uncommon. Since the disappearance of most of our public mourning rituals, such as wearing black armbands or veils or wailing in the public square, social media has become one natural replacement.

Facebook is already used for checking in with folks, displaying evocative photos of a loved one, reminding the world at large of the amazingness of a certain person. So while experts do not agree about whether public expressions of bereavement are always healthy, for those for whom it’s helpful, social media would seem to be a boon. Especially since farflung friends of the bereaved can be regularly expressing condolence and support without being intrusive.

Grief is a nasty, wily changeling, and can overcome people without much warning. Sandberg acknowledges she can’t always been the rejoicing, expressive, I’ll-make-everyone-feel-comfortable mom. “I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls,” she writes. “I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.”

Not every mother’s mourning will be as widely noted as Sandberg’s (within two hours, it had been shared more than 18,000 times), but at least her public declaration of vulnerability and loss might make less connected widows feel less alone.

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