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Debate Club: Should Parents Find Out How Long They’re Going to Live?

Should Parents Find out How Long They’re Going to Live? Of Course They Should*

Michelle Riddell

I’m neither a glass-half-full nor a glass-half-empty person. I’m more of an exact-volume-of-the-liquid-in-the-glass type. I’m the person who wants to know how many calories are in the entire package of cookies I’m about to eat and isn’t deterred after finding out they contain more than my recommended daily allowance.

I apply formulaic logic to every aspect of my life, and I’ve never subscribed to willful denial of any sort. So, when I heard that the TeloMe Company was offering its genetic telomere testing to the general public, I was intrigued.

To understand the significance of this test being publicly available, think of the trillions of cells that comprise a human body. Each cell will undergo mitosis (cellular division) 40 to 60 times before it dies. Each time a cell divides, the chromosomes housing its genetic material also divide.

Telomeres are the protective, structural caps on the ends of these chromosomes, buffering the DNA within. With every mitosis cycle, the telomeres fray and shorten until eventually they disappear. Once the telomeres are gone, the chromosomes are exposed, and the cell, unable to divide, dies. 

Genetic telomere testing is a blood test that measures telomere length. It is designed to reveal a person’s biological age, independent of chronological age. Biological age evaluates changes in the body’s physical structure and organ systems, as well as deterioration in sensory perception and motor skills. Chronological age simply notes the years since birth. The two aren’t always the same.

The telomere test analyzes the average length of an individual’s telomeres, theoretically providing insight into health, lifespan, propensity for disease, and most importantly, preventative lifestyle options.

Essentially, this test tells you how much longer you have to live. But first, before delving into the plethora of legal, fiduciary, logistical, and ethical implications of such information, the primary question – the core of the matter – is whether or not you want to know.

As a parent, a partner, and a health-conscious individual, I want to know.

Telomeres, like other parts of our anatomy, are amalgams of several factors, including ancestry, lifestyle, and outlying stressors. While research suggests that our genetic health is largely predetermined, we are still the catalysts of our own destiny. All is never lost, when it comes to the amazing resilience of the human body.

My grandmother smoked from age 20 to 50 and lived to be 99 years old. The moral of her story isn’t that she smoked and lived a long life, but that she lived nearly half a century after quitting. Taking the telomere test is like looking into the future from your current trajectory. If it’s heading in the wrong direction, there is time to change course.

The real question, as I see it, is what have you got to lose?

Just as we all hope (and expect) to live a long and healthy life, we all fear (and yet, accept on some level) our own impending death. It’s human nature. Fear of death is what keeps us alive. But fear is also the last straggler in our ever-evolving psyche and should not be catered to – especially if it impedes proactivity.

The logic behind avoiding this test is similar to the logic of postponing a mammogram because you’re afraid of being diagnosed with cancer, and that logic is flawed.

Consider the worst case scenario: You take the telomere test and find out that your body is older than its years. So what? Learning the results hasn’t altered the course of your life. Learning the results doesn’t change 30 years of poor nutrition or, conversely, good eating habits.

Vital statistics and medical test results are facts; your knowledge of them is incidental. What can alter the course of your life – doubtless for the better – is what you do with this knowledge. Let science be your guide.

Should Parents Find Out How Long They’re Going to Live? No Way!

Katie Schorr

As the kind of person who, at every doctor’s appointment, elects not to know her weight by cheerfully shouting to whomever is weighing me, “YOU CAN JUST WRITE IT DOWN, YOU DON’T NEED TO TELL ME, THANK YOU,” you can guess where I stand on the topic of knowing my lifespan.

If my clothes fit and my body can do things and looks to be in fine working order, I don’t have any use for a number on a scale – a number that will only compound my already anxious thought patterns. I can guess my weight, using context clues, memories of past weights, and some magical realism. The blurriness of that guess is what keeps me feeling both content in my skin and compelled to occasionally hit up a yoga class or sprint to the subway station or not eat all of the brownies.

The same theory goes for the year my body gives out. I’ve got a vague sense of when I’m going to kick it (based on the lifespans of my grandparents and wishful thinking), and that fantasy keeps me hopeful and also stops me from getting too cocky.

The fact that I have a child makes me no more interested in knowing when my days are numbered, in part because I am not sure what I would do with a tragic revelation, say that I only had a few more years left with him. I’m not confident that I’m one of those people for whom a death sentence would be liberating, allowing me to exist entirely in the moment, taking risks I never before considered, like skydiving or singing terrible pop songs loudly in public places.

Nor am I confident a death sentence would better my parenting, compelling me to savor every last second with my son, to tell him I love him more than I already do, to impart any more wisdom than I’m already dredging up on a daily basis, to prepare him for my being gone. I’m not convinced anything could prepare me for that. 

Funnily enough, my husband wrote a novel, “Denton Little’s Deathdate” (part “Back to the Future”, part “Superbad”, part philosophical musing on death), about this very conundrum, so I’ve had years to not simply stew on this, but talk it out in GREAT detail.

Denton’s story is set in a world where everyone knows the day they’re going to die – a sci-fi conceit, for sure, although…perhaps not for long – and when the book begins, 17-year-old Denton’s deathdate is 24 hours away, on the day of his senior prom. His parents have known his fate since birth, but have protected Denton from the tragedy he was born into by making his abbreviated life a very normal one.

Denton’s march toward the end of his life is goofy and unsettling and very funny and very sad and, without telling you what happens, I finished the book feeling more certain than ever that, if I could help it, I would never want to know my deathdate, nor my child’s.

Even without that knowledge, I feel plenty grateful for the life I’ve got. I read about the horrors the people of Syria endure daily and about the realities escaped by so many immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, in our country right now, and I cannot fathom how stupidly lucky I am. The lovely and terrifying uncertainty of every day as I know it in a world that is cruel to so many is inspiring enough to make me want to live without regret or fear.

Death is already imminent. Why make it more so?

*The views expressed in this article are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect those of Parent.Co or those of its sponsors.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99


This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For many families, getting out the door in the morning is one of the biggest hurdles in our day, whether you've got one kiddo or multiples. Mama needs to get ready, children need to find that missing sock, and everyone needs to find something to eat—all while making it to the car before the entire day is running behind.

So we asked Chairman Mom members for their best tips and tricks to getting out the door faster in the mornings. Here's what they shared:

1. Get your kids to help prep the night before

"The simplest thing you can do to streamline the morning is prep everything that can be prepped the night before. Often easier said than done. But once your kids are old enough, they can own a lot of this."—Amy

2. Set an alarm using your kid's favorite song 

"Something small that saves us a few minutes: I put on an alarm with my 3 three year old's favorite song at 7:42, he knows it signals it's time to get his shoes and coat on."—Nogo

3. Use smart technology 

"We use Google Home (I'm sure Alexa would do this too) to read kids a story. So much easier to stop after the story is over then telling her to shut off the tv from watching a show!"—Maven

4. Try wearing a mom uniform 

"I don't wear make up, and my hair is an inch long, so I do not spend any time styling anything. I have an Office Casual Uniform arrangement of clothing, shoes, and jewelry, so there is no real choice involved. I have a coffee maker that is programmable, so I set it up the night before to brew at 6:15am."—Melinite

5. Simplify your beauty routine

"I do mascara and tinted sunscreen. Lipstick that I can put on without a mirror."—Julie

6. ...and your kid's beauty routine

"I brush and braid my daughter's hair the night before so that we don't have to deal with tangles in the morning. This saves the morning from going off the rails..."—Crystal

7. Hire extra help just for the mornings 

"I have a nanny for 45 minutes every morning that comes to help us. That's the best hack my husband and I have found to have happy and stress free mornings and be working or at work by 8 or 8:30 am."—Maria

8. Make breakfast super easy 

"Keep breakfast food at my office (instant oatmeal, nuts + dry fruit) that I eat at my desk while doing the first round of email."—Petya

9. Find those lost socks

"Whenever I have a MOMENT I prep lunches, fix sandwiches, put them in Tupperware, chop fruit, etc. (Oh! I even let the kids earn extra spending money by chopping the week's fruit for me on Sunday with butter knives) And get uniforms and SOCKS ready. Finding socks can eat up a good 10 minutes of my morning routine."—Sarah

10.  Take the guesswork out of what your kid will wear

"I have a toddler who hates changing out of her PJs so we just dress her in her day clothes the night before—one less battle to fight in the morning."—Jess

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97


If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99


Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).

Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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