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“Unfinished Business:” Work and Family, Success and Survival

A few years ago I was tasked with the unenviable job of developing the first employee handbook for a start-up I was working for. It fell to me to define everything from work hours to vacation to family leave. The first draft included a generous paid family leave policy which I had benefitted from after having my first child—four months of leave, two paid at 100% of my salary.


But when I gave it to my boss to review, she told me she “didn’t believe in paternity leave” and insisted we only give that benefit as a “pregnancy leave”—in other words, it was only for women who carried babies and gave birth. Everyone else was allowed 6 weeks unpaid leave. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Did she not believe that dads want to raise their kids, too? What about families who adopt or use surrogates?

We argued extensively about it, but in the end, my boss was shockingly straightforward about her rationale. Bearing and raising kids—especially babies—was women’s work. And if she, a highly successful woman in her own right, could somehow run a household and also run a company, then we all could.

Sadly, the bias baked into that policy—and the reasons behind it—is not at all unique. Despite the massive cultural and demographic transformations American families are undergoing, traditional notions about who is responsible for childcare persist.

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter

This puzzle is at the core of Anne Marie Slaughter’s important book Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, which she wrote after an article in the Atlantic on the same subject matter went viral in 2012.

Slaughter’s own journey began when she had to to leave her round-the-clock position as a foreign policy advisor for Hilary Clinton to attend to urgent family needs. Although she was already a full-time tenured professor at Princeton, the reactions of her peers showed that they subtly devalued her decision. The decision to “spend time with the family” was for women who had given up on promising careers and abandoned the ambition of “have-it-all” feminism which pushed women to simultaneously run their households and lean into punishing careers with no room for error.

Slaughter’s book is a clarion call to value caregiving and breadwinning equally, and to restructure our policies and laws to reflect the importance of family in our pursuit of living happy and fulfilled lives.

What’s holding us back? As Slaughter observes, it’s not just that we lack the political will and leadership to enact change, but on a more basic level (as my experience with my former boss shows), outdated notions of care persist up and down the socioeconomic spectrum and in all kinds of workplaces.

Slaughter systematically debunks the “half-truths” that women, men, and employers tell themselves, and which are responsible for maintaining the status quo. Most women cannot have it all even if they “are just committed enough” to their careers, “marry the right person,”  or “sequence it right” because none of us can predict what’s going to happen in our careers, marriages, with our health or our kids.

Workplaces that frame work/life balance as a “women’s problem”  shut women out from having the type of career they want while also erasing men from the caregiving equation. Flexible or part-time work schedules are not the answer, because research shows that, when it comes to things like salary and promotion, they penalize the caregivers—again, mostly women—who choose them.

All this may seem particularly surprising to younger generations, who are being raised at a time when the composition of the modern American family and workforce is radically changing. Today, 40 percent of women are the breadwinners in their families; in 60 percent of families in which there are two parents, both work; and over half of children are being raised in “nontraditional families”—with single parents, grandparents, or same-sex parents.

Many of our kids are also being raised by parents who are working in the “gig economy” or part-time jobs with no benefits, low-wage jobs with unpredictable hours, or workplaces with no paid family leave or sick time policies to speak of.

Maybe our kids will throw everything out the window and start from scratch when they become adults. Until then, Slaughter argues, just as the physical infrastructure of our nation—our highways, bridges and railways—needs updating and repair to support our modern ways of travel, our infrastructure of care—family leave policies, childcare supports, and workplace policies—need updating and an overhaul to support our modern way of parenting and working.

But where to begin? Slaughter argues that the type of change we need requires massive social, cultural, and political shifts, and so proposes tackling change in two realms—the personal and the political.

In our personal lives, Slaughter proposes we use a language of equality that does away with qualifiers like “stay-at-home” (implying that the office is the norm). She encourages us to talk about things other than work at social gatherings, to ask our potential hires how they plan to divide up care responsibilities at home, and to avoid overpraising dads for doing all the normal things that women do as a matter of course without praise (changing diapers, taking kids to the playground, taking the lead role at home while a spouse travels for work, etc).  

Some of Slaughter’s advice is naive: she urges couples to have, well in advance of adding a child to their family, the difficult conversations about careers and the trade-offs they’ll have to make.

It’s theoretically practical advice that’s unlikely to be followed by people who can’t really imagine the transformation that’s on the horizon. The arrival of a child is not like renovating a kitchen–you can’t draw up plans for what life will look like. Identities shift, career and life ambitions are revisited, prioriites and even personalities change.

And when Slaughter encourages us to think about our careers in terms of “interval training” (pushing hard, then stepping back), I can’t help but think about the number of women I know with advanced degrees who “stepped back” only to find it nearly impossible to step back into a workplace that penalizes them for ever leaving to begin with.

Slaughter points to promising models that are springing up around the country on an ad-hoc basis: for example, workplaces that are experimenting with results-only models of work, where employees co-create the policies, and where there are radically flexible work hours.

These are worthy examples, to be sure, but the irony is that these types of arrangements tend to flow to the people who can already afford other types of care, or have the skills available to go elsewhere. Slaughter has been accused of purveying a white-collar, elitist brand of feminism; and the “lifestyle” recommendations of the book’s second half do seem to shed the concern for working-class women, same sex couples, and other groups to whom she makes inclusive gestures in the book’s opening chapters.

Still, Slaughter knows that all the small-scale transformations in the world will not be able to compensate for a lack of a comprehensive infrastructure of care created and supported by government policies; it’s here where her recommendations are most inclusive and important.

High-quality and affordable child and eldercare, higher wages and training for caregivers, legal protections for part-time and flexible work, and financial and social support for single parents are among the essential elements of such a plan. Slaughter encourages more women to run for office, and for us to elect them, because female officeholders are more likely to propose and support family-friendly laws.

Unfinished Business stands at the gap between two worlds: the world we currently live in that values work and aggressively devalues care, and a seemingly inevitable world to come.

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In the world to come, women and men equally share caregiving, families aren’t shut out of benefits because they don’t conform to old definitions of what a family is, and, most importantly, caregiving is valued just as much as breadwinning. In our homes, Americans have already started this great transformation–never before have so many of us been modeling new norms of caregiving. It’s time for our aging institutions and policies to catch up, or we will all fall behind.

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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

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

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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

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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

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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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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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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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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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

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