TIME Parents

Navy Secretary Wants to Double Paid Maternity Leave for Sailors and Marines

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 10, 2015,.
Molly Riley—AP Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 10, 2015,.

Ray Mabus will detail the proposal during a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy on Wednesday

(NORFOLK, Va.) — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants to double the amount of paid maternity leave that sailors and Marines can take to 12 weeks.

A senior Navy official says Mabus will detail the proposal during a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland on Wednesday.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to disclose the changes ahead of the official announcement.

Doubling maternity leave is one of several initiatives aimed at retaining talented women that Mabus will unveil. Other plans call for extending child care hours and allowing hundreds to leave the military for a career intermission and then return.

Mabus also wants more sailors and Marines to go to civilian graduate schools and be embedded at top corporations.

TIME Nutrition

Most Parents of Obese Children Think Their Kids Are ‘Just Right’

Getty Images

Because they're compared to their peers, not to medical standards

Parents of obese kids often don’t recognize that their kids are overweight, and the vast majority think their obese children are “just right,” according to a new study.

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center studied two groups of young children: a group of 3,839 kids from 1988-1994, and another group of 3,151 kids from 2007-2012, and published the findings in the journal Childhood Obesity. Similar findings were reported last year in the journal Pediatrics.

The NYU researchers found that even if their kids were overweight or obese, the vast majority of parents were likely to see no problem with their child’s weight. In the earlier group, 97% of parents of overweight boys and 88% of parents of overweight girls said their kids were “about the right weight.” In the more recent group, 95% of parents of overweight boys and 93% of parents of overweight girls thought so, too. The children in the later group were significantly more obese than the kids in the earlier group, but their parents were just as likely to see them as healthy.

In both groups, misperception about overweight kids being “just about the right weight” was most common among African-American and low-income parents, and the misperception decreased as family income rose. Researchers said this may be because lower-income parents are comparing their kids to their peers, who are also more likely to be overweight, rather than to medical standards.

Researchers warned that the lack of awareness of childhood obesity could contribute to the problem, because if parents don’t recognize that their children are overweight, then they won’t be able to help their kids.

TIME Research

Parents May Pass On Sleepwalking to Their Kids

Somnambulant parents likely to have kids who walk in their sleep too

Kids are more likely to sleepwalk if their parents also did, a new study suggests.

The new research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that over 60% of kids who developed somnambulism had parents who were both sleepwalkers.

The study authors looked at sleep data for 1,940 kids whose history of sleepwalking and sleep terrors (episodes of screaming and fear while falling asleep) as well as their parents sleepwalking were reported through questionnaires.

The data showed that kids were three times more likely to become a sleepwalker if they had one parent who was, and seven times more likely to sleep walk if both parents had a history of it. The prevalence of sleepwalking was 61.5% for kids with dual parent sleepwalking history.

The overall prevalence of sleepwalking in childhood reported among kids ages 2.5 to 13 years old was 29.1%, while the overall prevalence of sleep terrors for kids between age 1.5 to 13 was 56.2%. Kids who had sleep terrors were more likely to also develop sleepwalking, compared to kids who did not have them.

“These findings point to a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking and, to a lesser degree, sleep terrors,” the study authors write. “This effect may occur through polymorphisms in the genes involved in slow-wave sleep generation or sleep depth. Parents who have been sleepwalkers in the past, particularly in cases where both parents have been sleepwalkers, can expect their children to sleepwalk and thus should prepare adequately.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Kids Overeat When They’re Stressed, Study Says

Especially if their parents use food as a reward

Next time you watch Bambi with your kids, you may want to hide the ice cream: A new study shows that 5-to-7-year-old children tend to eat more when they’re sad.

According to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, kids are more likely to overeat when they are upset, especially if their parents have used food as a reward in the past. The study notes that stress eating is a learned and unnatural behavior, since stress and emotional turmoil usually reduce appetite, rather than increasing it. The fact that children were found to have stress eating tendencies at this age suggests that emotional overeating is something children learn in early childhood, perhaps because of the way their parents feed them.

The researchers divided the kids into two groups, asked them to color a picture, and then told them they would get a toy once the coloring was done. With one group of kids, the researchers withheld a crayon that was needed to complete the drawing, which meant the kids couldn’t get their prize. This was a “stressful situation” for the children. While the researchers pretended to look for the crayon so the kids could complete the drawing, kids snacked on a few different items around the room. Afterwards, the researchers found that the kids in the “stressful” situation ate more than the kids who were able to finish their drawing and get the toy, especially if their parents said they had used food as a reward in the past.

The study found that children were much more likely to stress eat if their parents over-controlled their eating, by doing things like using food as a reward or withholding food for health reasons. According to the researchers, these practices can override children’s natural hunger instincts, instead making food into a reward or an emotional comfort.

But because the sample size is relatively small (41 parent-child duos) more research is needed before we’ll get a clearer picture of how exactly parents’ feeding practices affect the way kids think about stress eating.

 

 

TIME Books

30 of the Best Parents in Literature

Atticus Finch ranks at the top as one of the great heroes and parents of American literature

It’s hard to find good parents in fiction. A lot of books deal either with the lack of a parent or a parent’s complete unsuitability for the role. But there are a few good ones out there, parents who make you think, “Gee, I wish my parents were like that.” Behold: Parents (or parental types) we wish were ours—or that we wish we could be.

  • 1. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

    to-kill-a-mockingbird-cover
    HarperLuxe 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

    The widowed father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes of American literature. Steering his young children along the path of moral rectitude is hard in the Jim Crow South, and when Atticus, a lawyer, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man from charges that he raped a white woman, it becomes even more difficult. But his own belief in rightness, morality, and good, even in the face of an unfair world, is communicated to his kids—and to the world. His impact on the legal profession, especially in the South, was also profound: The Atticus Finch Society, part of the Alabama Law Foundation, was founded to serve the legal needs of the poor and named after a fictional lawyer who “epitomizes the type of professional, and person, lawyers strive to be.”

  • 2. and 3. Alex and Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

    a-wrinkle-in-time-cover
    Time Quintet 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle

    Tesseracts are real, and Meg and Charles Murry’s scientist father has disappeared into one—and it’s up to these two brilliant but socially awkward children to save him. When it was published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was a sci-fi gift to all those nerdy kids out there for whom Star Trek hadn’t yet been invented. And the Murry parents—beautiful and smart microbiologist Kate and tesseract physicist Alex—made being scientists seem so cool. Who wouldn’t want parents like that?

  • 4. and 5. The Weasleys from Harry Potter Series

    harry-potter-last-book-cover
    Scholastic 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' by J.K. Rowling

    Harry Potter wanted them to adopt him—and we wouldn’t mind either. Though Harry was already remarkably well-adjusted for a child who’d been forced to sleep in a spider-filled cupboard under the stairs, his friendship with the Weasleys showed him what a loving family really looked like. Mom Molly was kind, fiercely protective of her children—her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book was immensely satisfying—and knitted a mean jumper. Dad Arthur was slightly bumbling, loved Muggle stuff, and was still a kid at heart. Best of all, they loved each other as much as they loved their children.

  • 6. Marmee from Little Women

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    Penguin Books Australia 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

    Marmee is the glue that holds the Little Women together through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. Kind and charitable, she’s their moral compass, their comfort in troubled times. Without her, the four girls—Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth—are lost.

  • 7. and 8. Mr. and Mrs. Little from Stuart Little

    stuart-little-book-cover
    Harper & Row 'Stuart Little' by E.B. White

    Interspecies procreation is typically cause for concern, but not for Mr. and Mrs. Little. When their son, Stuart, was born a mouse, the kind (though perhaps a bit dense) Littles treated him just like any other member of the family. A member of the family who had a long tail, whiskers, slept in a cigarette box and could climb up lamp cords.

  • 9. and 10. Ma and Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie

    little-house-prairie-cover
    HarperCollins 'Little House on the Prairie' by Laura Ingalls Wilder

    Though Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the Indian Territory, now Kansas, in the mid- to late-19th century are actually autobiographical, the books tend to be found in the children’s fiction part of the bookstore, so they make the list. Pa was a true pioneer with a serious case of wanderlust: He could build a house by hand and skin a rabbit, but still remained a gentleman, kind, courteous and upstanding. Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer wife, instructed her children to treat others with care.

  • 11. and 12. Mr. and Mrs. Quimby from Ramona Series

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    HarperCollins 'The Complete Ramona Collection' by Beverly Cleary

    Ramona Quimby, age 8, is a bit of a handful. Her imagination—and she’s got lots of it—often gets her into situations, like the time she went to school with her pajamas under her clothes because she was pretending to be a fireman. Or the time she put her doll in the oven. Or the time she squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.

    Her parents, Bob and Dorothy, meanwhile, are real parents, who have to deal with real things like quitting smoking, having children young, getting laid off, and 8-year-olds who accidentally dye themselves blue. And they even get in fights, like real parents do. But throughout it all, they manage to remain patient and affectionate with their children; they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good.

  • 13. – 16. Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther, and the Wolves from The Jungle Book

    jungle-book-cover
    Dover Publications 'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling

    After they save him from becoming tiger Shere Khan’s meal, Father Wolf and Mother Wolf raise the hairless man-cub Mowgli as one of their own. But it’s up to Baloo the sleepy bear and Bagheera the panther to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle—thereby becoming the coolest godparents in the world.

  • 17. and 18. The Gilbreths from Cheaper by the Dozen

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    Crowell Co 'Cheaper By the Dozen' by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

    So, the Gilbreths were actual people, not fiction, and this charming book, published in 1948, is a biography written by their children. But—and we mean this as a compliment—the parents are so lovely as to almost seem made up. Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, are world-famous efficiency experts whose studies in time and motion changed the way people worked. If Frank had his way, they would have also changed the way people raised children, especially after their incredible fecundity produced 12 kids. Having an even dozen children meant that the Gilbreths could apply some of their expertise in their Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hilarity ensues, as does an overwhelming sense of warmth and happiness.

    The two children wrote a follow up book, Belles on Their Toes, recounting what happened after Frank’s death in 1924, which left Lillian with a house full of children, the youngest just 2 years old, and a business to run. Mother Lillian managed to keep it all together, with good humor and warmth, and the book manages to stay away from the maudlin.

  • 19. and 20. The Cuthberts from Anne of Green Gables

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    Random House Children's Books 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery

    In L.M. Montgomery’s series about the red-haired orphan Anne Shirley, the Cuthberts are a brother and sister who, living together alone on their Prince Edward Island farm with no prospective children, decide they need to take in an orphan to help out with the work. They’d wanted a boy; they got Anne—spirited, imaginative, dramatic Anne. The two grow to love and care for her deeply in different ways: Where Matthew quietly encourages Anne’s flights of fancy and frivolity, Marilla offers a steely structure and hidden warmth. Matthew’s death from a heart attack at the end of Anne of Green Gables, the first book in the series, is eye-wateringly tragic, but Anne’s devotion to stern Marilla is a testament to the strength of their relationship.

  • 21. and 22. Caractacus and Mimsie Pott from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car

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    Candlewick 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' by Ian Fleming

    To be clear: this is not the Disney film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang featuring Dick Van Dyke (although having most any character Dick Van Dyke has ever played as a father would be pretty great, from Rob Petrie to Bert to Mark Sloan). In Ian Fleming’s 1964 children’s book, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, there are two Potts, mother Mimsie and father Caractacus, a Royal Navy Commander and crack-pot inventor who comes across the magnificent car with a rich inner life of its own. Potts is a fun dad, one who tells his children, “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” When their twin 8-year-old boy and girl are kidnapped by gangsters with a dastardly plan to rob a Parisian chocolate shop, the Potts and their loyal car set off to rescue them. International intrigue and gadgetized cars are pure vintage Fleming, but the love between an adventurous father and his children speaks to the Bond author’s softer side—he wrote the book for his own son, Caspar, but died before seeing it in print.

  • 23. Carson Drew from The Nancy Drew Mystery Series

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    Grosset & Dunlap 'The Secret of the Old Clock' by Carolyn Keene

    Nancy Drew, the great girl detective, wouldn’t have been quite so successful if it hadn’t been for both the encouragement and neglect of her father, important River Heights lawyer Carson Drew. The elder Drew’s attitude towards his daughter changed as the book series continued, possibly due in part to changing parental attitudes—leaving your 16-year-old daughter to her own devices while you’re away on business is the kind of thing that seemed like a good idea before Facebook and hashtag parties. But throughout, he remained a supporter of his sleuth daughter, encouraging her exploits, helping her figure out clues, and even relying on her when he needed help himself.

  • 24. and 25. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd from The Knife of Never Letting Go, Chaos Walking Series

    the-knife-of-never-letting-go-cover
    Candlewick 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness

    Raising a child right is hard enough; raising him right when everything around you is so incredibly wrong is even more difficult. In Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the masterful Chaos Walking trilogy, Todd Hewitt, nearly 13, is the last boy in Prentisstown, a damned settlement on a new world where the women and half the men were killed nearly a decade before. The remaining men are afflicted with “the Noise”—the constant cacophony of the thoughts of almost every living thing around. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd are Todd’s adoptive parents, who took him in when his own were killed. But since then, while they’ve raised him, loved him, literally listened to every thought in his head, and instilled in him a sense of morality, they’ve been secretly plotting his escape … even though it almost surely means their own deaths.

  • 26. Sam Gribley’s Dad from My Side of the Mountain

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    Puffin Books 'My Side of the Mountain' by Jean Craighead George

    Talk about free-range parenting. When Sam Gribley gets tired of living in his large family’s overcrowded New York apartment, he does what any self-sufficient 12-year-old would do: Teaches himself wilderness survival from a book he found in the public library and sells magazine subscriptions until he can afford a bus ticket to the Catskills, where he plans to live off the land at his family’s abandoned farm. And his dad lets him. No, really. But what could have become a tale of terrible parental irresponsibility is, in fact, a story of one boy’s self-reliance and passion for nature and the parent who trusted him enough to let him dive off the grid. In the end, Dad Gribley, inspired by Sam, decides that living in the city is no place for a family and moves the entire brood up to the abandoned farm. Fresh air for all!

  • 27. Mame Dennis from Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

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    Broadway Books 'Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade' by Patrick Dennis

    The flamboyant, eccentric, wonderful Auntie Mame of the 1955 book of the same title is absolutely the kind of accidental parent we’d love to have. In 1928, 10-year-old Patrick Dennis becomes the ward of his father’s unflappable flapper sister, Mame Dennis, after his parents’ deaths. Hers is a boozy, glamorous world populated by artists, poets, and bohemians that, to conventional types at least, would hardly seem suitable for a little boy. Yet Mame carves out a place for Patrick—involving a truly avant garde nude elementary school, among other things—and their tender relationship endures Mame’s scandalous society and wild whims, her rich husband who fell off the Matterhorn, and even Patrick’s atrocious fiancé.

    The book was a sort of quasi-fictional memoir and “Patrick Dennis” was the pseudonym of the enormously witty Edward Everett Tanner III, who based Mame on his own aunt, the self-described “ultimate Greenwich Village eccentric” Marion Tanner. Tanner’s own life was no less a study in eccentricity: He was an ambulance driver in World War II, wrote numerous best-selling books under pseudonyms, led, as his Random House biography says, “a double life as a bisexual man and a conventional husband and father,” and was a character of some renown in New York’s bohemian scene until financial ruin led him to spend the last years of his life as a butler in Palm Beach.

  • 28. Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn-cover
    Harper 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith

    In Betty Smith’s 1943 coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, protagonist Francie’s favorite parent, the parent who seems to get her, isn’t her mother, Katie; it’s her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But after Johnny’s alcoholism consumes him, making it virtually impossible for him to hold a job, it’s Katie who keeps the family afloat. Katie’s grit and determination that her children should have a better life than she had is the kind of tough love that gives Francie the tools she’ll need to survive.

  • 29. Mrs. Frisby from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

    mrs-frisby-rats-nimh-cover
    Aladdin 'Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh' by Robert C. O'Brien

    Sometimes being a parent is about doing things that absolutely terrify you for the good of your children. Mrs. Frisby, heroine of Robert O’Brien’s 1971 children’s book about the wonder and horror of scientific experimentation, is kind, sweet, and, when it comes down to it, tough as nails. Though the titular “rats of NIMH” had the benefit of laboratory experimentation that made them super smart and super strong (although possessing a somewhat questionable moral compass), Mrs. Frisby is just a regular field mouse. Still, it’s her bravery – drugging a cat! – and selflessness that saves her family and the rats themselves. Hats off to you, Mrs. F.!

  • 30. The Man from The Road

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    Vintage Books 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy

    Like much of his work, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is grim. Really, really grim. But the post-apocalyptic travelogue is also a testament to the love between a father, the unnamed man, and his son. The Man is the kind of parent we’d like to have in the aftermath of some cataclysmic world event. We just desperately hope we wouldn’t ever need him.

    For the most interesting parenting stores of the week, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

    More from Mental Floss:

TIME Family

This Is How You Can Put a Baby to Sleep in Less Than 60 Seconds

All you need is some tissue paper

If you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, don’t give up just yet. Simply reach for the Kleenex.

In under a minute, YouTuber and Australian father Nathan Dailo sends his baby to sleep by gently tickling the infant’s face with tissue paper.

“The tissue trick isn’t actually anything special. Any light touching on the baby’s facial areas such as the head, forehead or the bridge of the nose also works,” Dailo tells TIME.

The video has garnered more than 4 million views and inspired innumerable other parents to deploy the technique. However, Dailo cautions that his technique isn’t the only one.

“Remember that each child is different, and what works for some parents may not work for others. And always use you’re instincts. You are the parent,” Dailo stresses.

MONEY Kids and Money

How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Obsessed With ‘Stuff’

Chris Gash

As parents we want to give our children everything—but hope they don't start to expect it.

Years ago, after I’d gone off to college, a job opportunity led my parents out of the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia and into an economically diverse town in Massachusetts. They were happy for the move because it offered a more affordable life with the bonus of separating my younger brother, Todd, then 7, from the “spoiled rich kids.”

In Philly my parents had rented a two-bedroom apartment while my brother’s classmates lived in million-dollar homes. And it had become increasingly difficult to explain to Todd why he couldn’t have the newest videogame or why we didn’t go to Europe over spring break. “It was a bad environment for all of us,” my mom recalls. The move was a blessing as my parents aimed to unspoil my brother.

No matter where you live, raising kids who appreciate the value of a dollar isn’t easy—and it’s only gotten tougher since my parents were doing it. “We’re in a world that conspires against waiting,” says Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. “So much is available so easily and for so much less money. It’s easy to be in a situation where kids can get what they want without having to sweat it out.”

But what if your child is already obsessed with “stuff”? Can you reverse the trend before you end up with an entitled adult? Experts say yes (phew). Start with these steps.

Share Your Narrative

Explain to your kids why they can’t have certain things by laying out your values and priorities. Maybe you want to uphold attitudes you learned from your hardworking immigrant parents. Perhaps you’re saving for a bigger home. Sharing your stories and showing you’re maintaining the values yourself “can help take some of the sting out,” says Lieber. “Kids like knowing they’re part of a continuum.”

Set Limits…to an Extent

Rather than rejecting your child’s wants outright, allow him to make choices—and learn about trade-offs. With a teen, for example, you could set a clothing budget and let her decide how to spend it. You could help a littler one create a list that ranks desired toys in order of importance.

Make Them Earn It

Requiring kids to earn some wants through chores or a job can help curb entitlement, experts say. Case in point: When Susan Beacham, founder of financial education firm Money Savvy Generation, sent her two daughters to college, she and her husband paid for tuition but refused to cover extras like sorority dues—for those costs, the girls had to get jobs. Beacham found that this motivated her daughters to dispute certain charges they didn’t think were fair. “We gave them a sense of personal responsibility,” says Beacham. “That value would not have surfaced if they hadn’t been spending their own money.”

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money Magazine and the author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. Her new podcast So Money features intimate interviews with leading entrepreneurs, authors and influencers. Visit SoMoneyPodcast.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

Parents Hunt for Answers on Kids’ Mysterious Paralysis

Mikell Sheehan Eight-year-old Bailey Sheehan was diagnosed with mysterious paralysis in October.

"Over 100 kids are paralyzed and no one’s talking about it"

In August 2014, a small number of children began turning up at emergency rooms around the country with symptoms of severe respiratory disease.

“Our hospital was overflowing,” recalls Dr. Sam Dominguez, a microbial epidemiologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in Aurora.

From the last week of August through the first three weeks of September, the hospital admitted 325 patients with respiratory symptoms, compared to an average of 130 during the same period the previous two years. “This disease was unprecedented for that time of the year,” says Dominguez.

Soon, it was discovered that many of the children were suffering from a specific strain of enterovirus: EV-D68. Many children who get enteroviruses have no symptoms at all; others develop what amounts to a nasty flu. But in this new outbreak, some kids were turning up with weak or paralyzed limbs, stumping doctors.

When the first case of sudden and unexplained partial-paralysis turned up at his hospital, Dominguez says the situation was unusual but not completely unheard of. Two weeks later, another child showed up with limb weakness and paralysis. The following week, there were four more cases. “We were very worried,” says Dominguez. The hospital called the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for insight.

The CDC reached out to public health authorities in other states and sure enough, states across the country were reporting bizarre cases of children coming in unable to move their limbs. From August 2014 to early March 2015, 115 children in 34 states have been diagnosed with what authorities are calling acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

One of them is an 8-year-old named Bailey. Bailey’s mother, Mikell Sheehan, says that a few days after the family came down with what she describes as a bad cold, she discovered her daughter collapsed in the bathroom in their Oregon home, unable to move her leg.

In December, in California, Megan and Ryan Barr noticed their 6-year-old son Ryder was playing with only his left hand because his right arm felt funny. “It’s hard to explain to a six-year-old what’s happening to them,” says Megan.

One problem for doctors is that the sudden onset of paralysis among children, while rare, happens from time to time with other ailments, including West Nile or Guillain-Barré syndrome. Sorting between the possible causes—and deciphering what’s normal and what’s cause for concern—can be difficult, but experts agree this recent cluster is out of the ordinary.

“The short answer is yes, I think the cluster [of AFM] is connected,” says Dr. Jim Sejvar, a neuroepidemiologist with the CDC investigating AFM. “One of the challenges is there are a lot of different reasons kids can develop [sudden paralysis]. It’s a fruit salad. I think what we saw in the summer and fall of 2014, the vast majority of those children had the same thing. Whether it’s directly related to EV-D68, that’s the part we are trying to sort out.”

No Smoking Gun

Even more confounding to experts is the fact that no two cases are quite alike. Medical officials say a link between EV-D68 and AFM seems obvious, since the two upticks in cases occurred simultaneously. But while some of the paralyzed kids have tested positive for EV-D68, many haven’t. In January, the CDC reported that among 71 paralyzed patients who had their cerebrospinal fluid tested, not a single one was positive for enterovirus.

“The concurrence of EV-D68 and AFM is pretty difficult to ignore,” says Sejvar. “In the absence of any clear alternative, there is a suspicion that EV-D68 could potentially have played a role [in these cases of paralysis and limb weakness]. Unfortunately we don’t have the smoking gun that would allow us to say with absolute certainty that’s the case.”

An early attempt to establish diagnostic criteria for AFM was highly specific, with MRI images of lesions in the spinal chord being a requirement. But now experts worry that criteria set the bar higher than it should have been. “We know we are missing cases,” says Sejvar, who says MRI images can appear different based on when it’s taken. “It’s entirely consistent and possible that some children do have AFM, but for one reason or another were not meeting the CDC case definition that includes the MRI findings.”

While the CDC is still actively investigating what may have caused the recent cluster of AFM cases, it’s hit roadblocks. For instance, the agency developed an antibody test to see whether children with AFM were also more likely to have antibodies against EV-D68 compared to other healthy children. But the researchers discovered that nearly everyone in the general public has those antibodies, making the comparison useless to investigators.

Parents are looking for answers, too. A few days after Sheehan’s daughter was featured in a local news story, a woman named Erin Olivera, from Moorpark, California, sent her a friend request on Facebook. She said she’d gone through the same experience with her 3-year-old son Lucian in 2012. Though Lucian has slowly gained back some control over his legs since the initial onset, Olivera says he’s not “100%” and that she’s still looking for answers.

“I realize it’s frustrating to not have a definitive answer, particularly for parents,” says the CDC’s Sejvar. “We are working as hard as we can to establish the underlying cause.”

Parents Band Together

Together, Olivera and Sheehan created two Facebook support groups—one public, one for members—for families impacted by AFM. They launched the groups in January and now have about 90 members.

“We have a lot of polls going to see if we can figure out similarities,” says Sheehan. The patterns the women have noticed include: Most of the kids, their parents say, developed respiratory infections some time between August and December 2014, and shortly after that, their children had numbness, weakness or paralysis in one or more of their limbs. Many of the children were given steroids to treat their respiratory symptoms. Many had siblings who were also ill with a respiratory virus but had no paralysis. And many of the children have family members who have autoimmune diseases. (Some of these shared experiences are more substantiated than others.)

Some of the parents have signed up their kids for a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins that’s comparing the DNA of children with AFM who had an enterovirus infection to their siblings who also got sick but were not paralyzed. The researchers want to see if there are any genetic mutations that may make one child paralyzed and the other not.

Sheehan and Olivera plan to create a hub where science-based information about the disease can be easily shared by families facing similar situations. They hope growing awareness will encourage more attention for their children and the mysterious disorder. And just as much as the parents share research, they also share frustration. “There’s over 100 kids who are paralyzed and no one’s talking about it,’” says Megan Barr. “We are all kind of feeling around in the dark.”

Read next: Nearly Half a Million Babies Die From Poor Hygiene

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