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If you are a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably already had THE Talk. By now, your child understands where babies come from and the potential consequences of having sex.

In addition, most public schools provide some level of sex education as part of the health curriculum. In our area high school, each student was assigned an STD to research, so each of my kids came home one day announcing what they “had.” For the most part, you know that they’re informed, but is that enough? If they are going away to college, for instance, are they really ready for the reality of independent living and making responsible decisions?

Moving out of your childhood home, whether it’s temporary (a semester at school) or permanent (getting one’s own place) is one of those things in life for which you really can’t fully prepare. There are some aspects (having a roommate, for example) that may be familiar, but there will certainly be something unexpected too.

Some teens have grown up sharing a room with a sibling, or have spent a week or summer at camp, but moving into a small space and sharing it with a complete stranger for most of a year is something very different. There are going to be things about this new person, and this new situation, that’ll be surprising and unfamiliar.

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I was unprepared for much of college life and I worried about my children going to college unprepared as well. I knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to prepare them. Before they left for school, I suggested problems they might encounter if, for no other reason than simply so that they could think about how they might approach various situations.  I wanted them to be better prepared than I’d been for communal life as a young adult. 

Sex is everywhere. It’s implied or explicitly addressed in entertainment and advertising. Even children’s movies have a level of innuendo. Companies and schools have been forced to set up guidelines and rules addressing sexual behavior. Reports of sexual assault on college campuses are getting increased media attention and schools are responding with prevention and awareness programs.

While it’s true that today many have their first sexual encounter in high school, that number jumps quickly in college. According to the CDC, 47% of high school students reported they’ve had sexual intercourse, and the Guttmacher Institute reports that by age 20, 75% of individuals are reporting they have had sex. 

Studies indicate that the perception of sexual activity is actually higher than the reality, and some worry that this may encourage teens to engage in sexual activity earlier than they might otherwise. In study after study, individuals underestimate the number of people in the study group who are not having sex.

Despite the appearance that everyone is doing it, not everyone’s happy about it. There’s been much discussion and study on “hookup culture” common today. This idea tends to reinforce stereotypes: All men want sex all the time. Men are praised for their exploits, women are reviled. Casual sex is devoid of emotion, it’s simply an act. The implication is that relationships are superficial, and that old-fashioned “dating” is dead and gone. This is true, to a degree, but people still want relationships.

The New York Magazine’s 2015 Sex on Campus Survey reveals a more conservative attitude about sex than one might expect. While reports of the hookup culture imply an epidemic of one-night stands, an overwhelming majority responded with the longest period of time offered on the survey (longer than a month) when asked, “How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?”

The majority of college students are also finding romantic partners through friends, rather than at bars or parties. The question, “How many sex partners do you think you should have before marriage?” also reveals a more conservative tendency, with the overwhelming majority of people answering 1-5.

While most young people – 91% in the New York Magazine survey – want a relationship, and someday marriage, many are afraid that doing so at this point in their lives will complicate things, that they will not have time necessary to devote to studies or that they will no longer have time for friends and social activities.

To understand hook up culture, it’s important to look at how relationships are defined. As was true with prior generations, the meaning of words is constantly, if subtly, changing. In order to have meaningful dialogue, we need to make sure we understand the terminology.

Hookups are defined as anything from kissing to intercourse, without the expectation of commitment. It’s interesting to note that a hookup does not necessarily lead to a relationship, but that most relationships evolve from a hookup. Although this may sound alarming, according to a 2010 report published by the American Sociological Association –  Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?  – when looking at college students’ most recent hookup, only about one third involved sexual intercourse, while another third involved other sexual acts, and the final third engaged in “kissing and non-genital touching.”

The report goes on,

“Hookups may be the most explicit example of a calculating approach to sexual exploration. They make it possible to be sexually active while avoiding behaviors with the highest physical and emotional risks (e.g., intercourse, intense relationships). Media panic over hooking up may be at least in part a result of adult confusion about youth sexual culture—that is, not understanding that oral sex and sexual experimentation with friends are actually some young people’s ways of balancing fun and risk.”

The Media Education Foundation Study Guide indicates that despite this, many traditional roles remain. Men initiate more dates and sexual activity than do women, and report greater pleasure from sexual activity than the women reported. Women still worry that they’ll no longer be respected after a hookup. More than 75% of men contact the woman afterwards. Sex is more common within a relationship than with a hookup. In a curious flip of stereotypical gender roles, today’s women are slightly more likely than men to no longer be interested in a relationship after a hookup and it’s men, not women, who more often initiate the, “define the relationship” talk.

Leah Fessler, a recent graduate of Middlebury College questioned the value of the hookup culture on campus, making it the topic of her senior thesis. In it, she makes the assertion that, in some ways, the hookup can be seen as a feminist statement. It’s a way to avoid commitment, to dedicate one’s self to studies and/or a career.

After completing her study, however, she concluded that, “Despite diverse initial perceptions of, and experiences with, hookup culture, 100% of female interviewees stated a clear preference for committed relationships, and 74% of female survey respondents say that ideally, they’d be in a “committed relationship with one person.” Perhaps more surprising is the male view on relationships – only 6% responding that they desire casual hookups devoid of commitment.

So, why do college students engage in hookups? Fessler says, “In hooking up we see a glimmer of hope, we see potential, we see the only, if not the most accessible (remember: we’ve got almost no free time), means of taking a step toward what we really want: something more, commitment.”

In an article she wrote for Quartz, Fessler further asserts that, “sex is inextricably linked to emotions, trust, curiosity, and above all, self-awareness. To attempt to separate emotions from sex is not only illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure, but also impossible for almost all women.”

She goes on to say that, “…men’s experiences with hookup culture are equally complex. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of males I interviewed and surveyed also ideally preferred committed relationships. But they felt strong social pressure to have casual sex. Culturally, men have been socially primed to believe they ought to “drive” hookup culture, and that a crucial part of the college experience is sleeping with many women and then discussing these “escapades” with their male friends. So despite what men might truly want, pervasive hookup culture prompts them to predicate their public identity as heterosexual men on the number and physical attractiveness of the women they’ve slept with. Needless to say, the detrimental effects of this performance pressure are countless and severe.” 

This all points to a disillusionment with the status quo. There is evidence that young people yearn for emotional connection, yet their actions indicate otherwise. 

What is perhaps news to some is the casual acceptance of the various sexual acts between kissing and intercourse. We need to define sex. For many, sex is exclusively intercourse. Oral sex or other sexual acts are seen as something “other.” Many with considerable sexual experience are technically considered virgins, perhaps because the perception is that oral sex is “safe.” 

And STIs remain a huge concern. In the U.S. alone there are approximately 20 million new STI cases each year, half of which occur among youth ages 15-24 years. Though some STIs have obvious symptoms, many have no, or only mild, symptoms. A test from a healthcare provider is the only sure way to confirm infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 4 new STI cases occur in teenagers. It’s a little known fact that, “for some STDs, such as chlamydia, adolescent females may have increased susceptibility to infection.” In 2014, people aged 15-24 accounted for 66% of all cases of chlamydia, 63% of all cases of gonorrhea, and 28% of syphilis cases reported in the U.S.

Some STIs can be spread through any contact between the penis, vagina, mouth or anus – even if there is no penetration. For example, genital herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. Though many think that oral sex is safer, it’s not. STIs transmitted through oral sex include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HPV and HIV.

How to talk to your kids

Even though, or perhaps because, sex is everywhere today, we need to have conversations with our children. According to Dr. Michael A. Carrera, of The Children’s Aid Society,

“Young people inevitably learn about sex and sexuality from their environment anyway, and it’s evident that the environment is not always very safe or reliable, so it is up to caring adults to influence their sons’ and daughters’ moral development, healthy decision making abilities, self-esteem, and knowledge of, and comfort with, their own sexuality. A parent really has no choice in this matter. The only choice is whether the job will be done well or poorly.”

Sex education classes tend to be clinical, and portrayals in the media tend to be unrealistic. Neither of these convey our values, and opinions which carry more weight than many parents think. Barbara Huberman of Outreach for Advocates for Youth, points out that, “parents who act on the belief that young people have the right to accurate sexuality information are parents whose teens will delay the initiation of intimacy and use contraceptives when they choose to become sexually active.”

Preparation for this conversation is crucial. If you expect to talk to your child about sex, then you can’t be surprised by questions. You don’t always have to have the answers, but being open and willing to talk will set the tone for a positive (and hopefully ongoing) dialogue.

Be an “askable” parent.

Be willing and available to talk. Encourage questions and conversations. Be honest. Be prepared to answer questions that may make you uncomfortable.

Initiate the conversation.

Research shows that teens are reluctant to bring up the topic. They may be embarrassed or worry about their parents’ reaction. They’re afraid their parents may assume they are already having sex, or simply are unsure about how to bring up the topic.

Show that you’ve done your research. Share statistics and anecdotes like those above that illustrate how people view sex differently.

Be specific.

Deborah Roffman, the author of Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex points out, “Parents have to stop talking in code. Children need accurate definitions, facts, and guidance. If we don’t teach our children, someone else may teach them what we don’t want them to learn.” 

Admit to your mistakes.

It’s easier to talk to people who aren’t perfect. You don’t have to know everything or have all the answers. If you made poor choices, own up to them – simply, and without detail. Too many teens feel pressure to live up to expectations of perfection.

Listen, don’t react.

Don’t jump to conclusions. Often, questions are simply that. Just because a child is asking questions about sex, doesn’t mean that he or she is already sexually active.

Don’t laugh or ridicule.

There is a place for humor, but never at your child’s expense.

Acknowledge your feelings.

It’s okay to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Sex is a complicated subject. Everyone talks about it and no one talks about it.

Teach safe sex.

Don’t assume that talking about contraception gives your child your blessing to be sexually active. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, talking about both abstinence and birth control results in a fewer teen pregnanciesWe should talk about both abstinence and contraception; they are not mutually exclusive.

Talk about more than avoiding pregnancy and STIs. Educate your kids about sexual assault. It’s an unfortunate truth that women, especially, need to be wary of assault. The Department of Justice reports that nearly 1 in 5 undergraduate women experience an attempted or actual sexual assault and it’s understood that many more cases go unreported due to the prevalence of victim-shaming.

Remind them to watch out for others.

The Department of Justice report also indicates that bystander intervention helps prevent assault.

Teach that sex can have consequences other than STIs and pregnancy.

Though it’s downplayed, there are emotional aspects to sexual relationships. It’s important to talk about sex with a partner before having sex. Things to address include birth control, the possibility of STIs, each person’s expectations.

Consider who else can provide accurate information.

No matter how good your relationship with your child is, there are things they may not want to discuss with you. Where else can your child turn for accurate, helpful information? The doctor?A counselor? 

Address ways to manage stress. 

Simple things like exercise and meditation can relieve some of the intense pressure many young adults feel. It can be deeply tempting to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Substance use impacts the ability to make good decisions about intimacy, consent, and self care.

Talk about your values.

According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), “Research shows that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values.”

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

No pregnancy and birth are exactly the same. Each of us has a unique story, and so do our babies. As Hilary Duff proves, a mother's second birth story isn't a just a rerun of her first.

Motherhood changes people, and for Duff welcoming her second child, daughter Banks, at age 31 was a very different experience than birthing her son, Luka, when she was 24.

Luka was born in a hospital, while Banks was born at home, and Duff recently shared a video of that amazing day on Instagram.

Sharing this video clip isn't the first time Duff has opened up about her home birth. In a two-part interview for the Informed Pregnancy podcast released last fall, Duff admitted that at some points in her home birth she was scared and asked herself why she wasn't in a hospital "with all the drugs," but she says she's so glad she did it this way and would totally do it again.

During her first pregnancy, Duff says she started out wanting an elective C-section (although she did not end up having surgery). She was 23 when she and ex-husband Mike Comrie found out they were expecting, and she didn't have a lot of peers who were having kids. She was really scared.

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More than five years later, during her pregnancy with Banks, Duff was way more confident as a woman and a mom. She watched Ricki Lake's 2008 documentary "The Business of Being Born" and started considering a different kind of birth plan the second time around.

"I'm older now. I love motherhood more than anything—I never thought I would be this way, I never thought I could be so happy and so fulfilled. It's not easy, because being a parent is not easy, but it's just a joy. And I thought to myself that I want to like fully get the full experience of what it is like to bring a baby into the world," Duff tells the host of Informed Pregnancy, prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor doula Dr. Elliot Berlin.

Having support from Matt, Haylie and her mom

When Duff brought the idea up with her partner, Matthew Koma, he "was amazing," she explains. He had some questions, but was down to support Duff in her birthing choices.

Duff says she thinks her mom Susan and sister Haylie were "nervous to think about not being in a hospital" at first, but once Duff explained things a bit and got to talk to them about her doula and midwives, Haylie got really pumped about the idea.

"She was so supportive and amazing. I think my mom was a little more worried but she got behind me," Duff recalls, adding that because her mom had C-sections herself, even seeing Duff deliver Luka vaginally in a hospital was a bit of a different experience for her, so being there for the home birth was taking things to an unfamiliar level.

"The first time she saw me having a contraction in the house she was cooking bacon for Luka," Duff explains, adding that she had to pause the conversation she was having and squat down during the contraction.

With the family around and the TV on, Duff's labor progressed a little slower than she'd imagined.

"When I pictured my birth I didn't picture watching Guardians of the Galaxy on TV. Luka was like explaining the characters to me," she explains.

The birth

Duff says when she was moved to the birthing tub, her brain really let her body take over. After the birth she estimated she was in the tub for about 30 minutes, but Koma told her it was really more like 90. "My brain disconnected," she says. "I remember telling myself that I don't need to be here for all of this."

At one point, she looked at one of her midwives and said, 'I'm really scared right now." Exhausted and unable to hold her body up as she channeled all her energy into pushing, Duff let her team hold her legs and arms while she pushed.

When Banks' head emerged, it didn't feel quite like the birth videos Duff has seen.

"Honestly, when I got her head out I was shocked by the feelings," she told Dr. Berlin. "I've seen women reach down and pull their baby out, and I couldn't do that…I was like, okay I'm there, I'm there, I've got to finish this job, but it was like really intense. It wasn't pleasant at that point. I think I wasn't fully in my headspace, my body was doing what it needed to do. It wasn't until her body came out that I could like want to grab onto her and bring her up out of the water."

Baby Banks needed some breaths from a midwife when she was first pulled from the water, but because her son Luka was also born looking a little blue, Duff says she wasn't freaked out. Once she figured out how to breathe, little Banks did "the most amazing thing," her mama recalls.

"They hand her to me, and I'm looking at her—and you know, babies are like floppy little worms, they just don't have any control—and she reaches up both of her arms right at my neck as to give me a hug. It was so clearly a hug."

Duff says the hug made her feel like baby Banks was saying something: "Like, good [teamwork] mom, we did it."

To hear the whole interview, check out the Informed Pregnancy podcast.

[This article was originally published November 14, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Several years ago, when I was a high school teacher and not a mom, my ninth grade students took a values assessment in class. The point was to determine what motivated them in life: money, family, success, a moral compass, education, relationships, religion, care for the environment, etc. I thought, what the heck, I'll take it, too.

When I got the results, I was shocked.

My number one value was beauty. Not family or morality, not relationships or religion. Beauty. I had never felt so shallow in my entire life. The description said something to the effect of: "You need to be in a place that is aesthetically pleasing to feel at peace," and went onto say that I would value the arts more than others and prioritize making a space beautiful.

And the truth is: It was absolutely 100% accurate.

Before I became a mom, I spent a lot of time beautifying our space. I would tidy up a pile of books, vacuum streaks into the carpet several days a week. I couldn't stand the sight of piles of dishes on the counter, nor a pile of clothes on the floor. I would change decor seasonally. I would cut fresh flowers and put them around the house, light candles, dim lights, put on quiet music when company came. It wasn't completely because I was trying to impress—it was because I liked it that way.

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And then came kids.

Every pile of books I've tidied has been pulled onto the floor. The vacuum chokes down crumbs and bits of paper maybe once a week. For three years straight, I've had a breakdown on Christmas-decorating day. We pick fresh flowers together, but I somehow always forget to notice when their vibrant petals turn to spindly black stalks. Now, when company comes, my children greet them with big grins in dirty clothes, and I yell from my kitchen, complete with stacks of unclean dishes, "Sorry, my house is a wreck!"

I had to choose, as we all have to: Do I prioritize housekeeping or parenting?

I remember trying to lay my son down as a newborn. I expected him to sleep peacefully in his woodland-themed room, the room I had put together with great care. But moments after I would fill the sink with sudsy water, I'd hear him cry. I'd run upstairs and pick him up, soothe him to sleep, and lay him back down, only to have it happen again. I felt anxious.What about the dishes? What about the 100 other things on my to-do list?

But when I looked down at that little face, and I saw the most beautiful thing I'd yet to encounter. My values system didn't entirely shift, but my perception did.

This morning, as I sit in the warm morning glow, my baby girl is asleep on my chest. I can see the sunlight dancing across the floor, illuminating the dust and crumbs. From my vantage point, I see little lopsided piles of laundry on my dining room table that is still doubling as a fort for my toddler. And beyond the dining room is the kitchen, and in that kitchen is a sink filled with unclean dishes. The dishes will always be there.

But my baby, with rose-petal lips and a perfect fan of lashes, with skin as flawless as a cloudless sky, she won't be this small ever again.

My house is a mess, but it's a beautiful mess andI wouldn't have it any other way.

Originally posted on With Quiet Hands.

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My dear daughters,
Tomorrow I go back to work, and it's going to be really hard. All I can do is hope that it's harder for me than it is for you. Twelve weeks have come and gone faster than I could've imagined. I thought that going back to work after my second child would be easier, but I actually think it might be harder.

Baby Girl #2, not only have I enjoyed your newborn snuggles every day but Baby Girl #1, I've had special time with you that I'd been missing so much. Because this is my second child, I realize even more how quickly this time goes by—and that I'll never get back these sweet moments.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep thinking about all of the things that people say to me to try to make it better.

People say you'll look up to me and learn to value hard work.

People say it'll be nice to have time away and that it will make our time together more special.

People say that most moms need to work nowadays.

People say you won't remember this and that you'll be fine while I'm away.

Maybe those things are true, but it doesn't make it any easier. Of course, I want you to look up to me and to see the passion and love I have for my job, but I hope you never feel like I'm choosing my job over you.

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As a high school assistant principal, I have 600 other "kids" that I get to take care of, and I love that, but I worry about what I'll lose, what I'll miss out on while I'm away from you. Could your dad I and I make it work on one income? Maybe. But that would come at costs, too.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I realize I'm luckier than most.

I'm lucky that because of his shift you'll get to spend a few days during the week with your dad and get to have special time with him. I'm lucky that he's such a wonderful father and partner who is supportive of my career.

I'm lucky to have a daycare provider that I trust. I'm lucky to have family members who help out whenever needed.

I'm lucky that I love my job and work at a school where you're not only allowed to come in but where my boss and co-workers love you, too and understand that family comes first.

You are both blessed to have so many people who care about you, so I know that when I can't be with you, you are well taken care of, but I still wish it could be me.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and there are a few things I want to promise you.

I want to promise you that for the time we do get to spend together, you will have my attention. I will do my best to turn work off, put my phone down and focus on you two. We will find fun things to do or we will just relax in our jammies and watch movies. But whatever we decide to do during our time together, I will do my best to be present. You both deserve that.

Tomorrow I go back to work, and I keep hoping that by the time you have children, if you choose, that our country realizes that 12 weeks just isn't enough.

I'm sorry that I can't have more time with you, but please know that in our time apart, I'm loving you still. Please know that I'm working hard to provide for you. Please know that when I come home, I will take off all of my other hats and just be Mama because no matter what, that will always be my number one job.

Love,
Mama

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We hear a lot about the wage gap between men and women in the workplace, but the wage gap between mothers and fathers is even wider. Women make just over 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, but if we look at the paychecks of parents only, the gulf widens.

According to the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) analysis of U.S, Census data, mothers only make about 71 cents to a dad's dollar, resulting in a loss of $16,000 in earnings annually.

This, despite the fact that millennial women are getting college degrees at higher rates than men, proving that we can't educate ourselves out of the motherhood penalty.

"Families depend on women's incomes, yet mothers, regardless of their education level, their age, where they live, or their occupation, are paid less than fathers. When mothers are shortchanged, children suffer and poverty rises. Families are counting on us to close the maternal wage gap," says Emily Martin, NWLC General Counsel and Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice.

Why the motherhood penalty (and fatherhood bonus) exist

The gap in the pay between mothers and fathers is due to how parents are perceived in our culture. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology found working mothers are penalized in the form of "lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries."

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And as CNBC reports, a more recent study by childcare provider Bright Horizons found that 41% of American workers perceive working moms as being less devoted to their careers.

But becoming a dad doesn't put dads at a disadvantage, or make them appear less committed. It actually often results in a so-called "fatherhood bonus." A recent study published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, found having kids often results in men earning more, even when they aren't particularly hard workers.

According to the study's lead author, Sylvia Fuller, this suggests that our preconceived cultural ideas about fatherhood are impacting employers thinking and parents' paychecks. "They think dads are working hard, they have positive stereotypes about them, or maybe they just think, you know, dads deserve more because they're thinking of their family responsibilities," Fuller told Global News.

Moms are still the default parent

While parenthood dulls a woman's CV, it gives fathers' a shine because mothers are still seen as the default parent in our culture. Not only do men make more after becoming dads, but researchers have also found that men's leisure time increased after parenthood, while mothers see their workload at home increase. And because the wider society knows that women carry heavier loads at home and spend more work more hours doing unpaid labor, employers see us as distracted by our other responsibilities.

Basically, employers see fathers as people who have big-picture responsibilities to their families and a lot of support in raising their kids. They see moms as the managers of the small stuff and know that many of us don't have a lot of support in managing that load.

Closing the gap by changing the way we view fathers

We can't close this gap by only changing the way employers think about mothers. We also have to change the way our society thinks about dads. Today's dads want to be more involved in their children's lives and have pretty egalitarian beliefs about dividing household responsibilities between partners, but many find they can't live up to those beliefs. Most fathers in America can't take paternity leave and those that have the option of doing so only take about a third of what is available for fear of being seen as uncommitted.

"Fathers repeatedly tell researchers they want to be more involved parents, yet public policy and social institutions often prevent them from being the dads they want to be – hurting moms, dads and children alike," writes Kevin Shafer, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

An investment needs to be made

That extra $16,000 that mothers are missing isn't going to come without investment from society. The United States is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without paid parental leave and also spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries.

Investing in paid family leave and affordable, quality childcare would level the playing field for mothers, but that's just the first part of change that needs to happen. We need employers and lawmakers to implement parental leave policies, but we also need our peers to embrace and encourage their use for all parents.

When fathers are expected and respected as caregivers, mothers are no longer seen as the default parent at home or at work. When the parenting responsibilities equalize, so will the paychecks.

Pay inequality happens all over the world, but the country that has come the closest to closing the gap, Iceland, the majority of fathers take parental leave. That isn't a coincidence, it's a recipe for change.

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