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As of early June, Minnesota’s measles outbreak has led to more confirmed cases than in all of the United States in 2016.


Minneapolis’s Somali population, in which vaccination rates have sharply decreased throughout the last decade, has seen the majority of the measles cases. In 2014, their vaccination rate was just 42 percent, significantly less than the 95 percent needed to ensure herd immunity.

Part of the reason for that decrease, experts suggest, is the lectures Andrew Wakefield gave to Minneapolis’s Somali community in 2010 and 2011 about the dangers of vaccination.

You may not be familiar with Wakefield’s name, but you’re likely familiar with his most impactful work: linking vaccines and autism. For vaccine skeptics, that work makes him a hero. For vaccine proponents, that makes him a villain.

This article is not another contribution to the larger debate nor is it a judgment of people on either side. Yelling at each other on the Internet is not going to solve the “problem” of vaccines, whether you view the problem as an increasingly unvaccinated population or an increasingly vaccinated one.

Instead, this article focuses on how a single scientific study had such an outsized impact on how the world understands vaccines and autism, and draws out five research lessons all parents can learn from that study.

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The link between vaccines and autism

In February 1998 the British medical journal, The Lancet, published Wakefield’s article, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.” You wouldn’t expect a paper with that title to generate decades of impassioned fighting over vaccine policy. You probably wouldn’t even expect that of its main finding: that children’s bowel disorders, which might be causing autism, were “generally associated in time with environmental triggers.”

However, if you’d listened to the press conference about that paper, you would have heard Wakefield asserting his belief that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was causing autism.

Retraction and disbarment

Even without the fraudulent behavior that led to the paper’s eventual retraction, Wakefield’s work would not have been considered very strong science. First, the study enrolled 12 children. That is an impossibly small size from which to draw any conclusions. The study mostly relied on parents’ narration of events, which is not generally considered strong evidence.

In an editorial that also ran in that February 1998 issue of The Lancet, Robert Chen and Frank DeStefano critiqued Wakefield’s reasoning. They pointed to the millions of vaccinated children around the world who had not experienced gastrointestinal problems. They raised concerns with Wakefield’s data collection, which relied heavily on parents’ memories of events. They warned that correlation of an autism diagnosis with the timing of the MMR vaccine did not mean that one caused the other.

The last paragraph of Chen and DeStefano’s critique is eerily prescient. They feared that without a careful system of rigorous measurement, the vaccine-safety fears stoked by papers like Wakefield’s “may snowball into societal tragedies when the media and the public confuse association with causality and shun immunisation.”

Chen and DeStefano’s concerns were echoed by other researchers and physicians at the time Wakefield’s article was published. Even greater concerns emerged once The Lancet’s editorial staff began investigating ethical claims about Wakefield’s research. By 2010, when Wakefield was giving those lectures targeted at the Somali population of Minneapolis, his article was being retracted and he was being banned from practicing medicine in the U.K.

The Lancet’s editorial staff retracted the article for two main reasons. First, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that the children who participated in the study were “consecutively referred,” meaning that they were chosen as they came and that no eligible participants were selected. That turned out not to be true. Second, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that they had received permission from local ethics boards to conduct the study when they had not.

After the retraction, other investigators found even more serious issues, such as Wakefield’s undisclosed role in a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers and his falsification of data in each of the 12 cases included in his study.

The aftermath

Wakefield’s disbarment doesn’t appear to have slowed him down. In 2016, he released “Vaxxed: From Coverup to Catastrophe.” The promotional website describes him as “an academic gastroenterologist” before listing his degrees, accolades, and publications.

Despite that description, Andrew Wakefield is not an academic gastroenterologist. He is a disbarred gastroenterologist, disallowed from practicing medicine in both his home country and unlicensed to practice medicine in the United States. He is not employed by an academic medical center. Those details don’t appear until six paragraphs later, so only the most thorough readers are likely to see that information.

In the documentary (and basically to whatever journalist will interview him), Wakefield defends his research and his integrity, noting that he never said that he’d proven a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. But, as Susan Dominus puts it in the New York Times, “his concerns, not his caveats, ricocheted around the world.”

So now here we are in June 201 with a measles outbreak in Minnesota. In an interview for The Washington Post, Wakefield claimed that the Somali community of Minneapolis “had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned” about vaccines. “I was responding to that,” he states. In its coverage of the outbreak, Vox’s Julia Belluz explains what Wakefield imagines himself to be doing: “he’s just giving concerned parents information they want.”

Maybe concerned parents shouldn’t always get what they want.

Five research traps to avoid

You don’t have to look hard for “evidence” that vaccines cause autism, because Wakefield will pop up right at the top of your search results. If you want to build a case that vaccines are dangerous, you can get what you want.

Your child isn’t likely to suffer from this choice, at least not directly. The reason that Minneapolis’s measles cases now outnumber the entire U.S.’s measles cases from 2016 is that, overall, the rate of measles is incredibly low. Even if you choose not to vaccinate, your child isn’t likely to contract any of the diseases that those vaccinations have been designed to ward off, because many other parents will be picking up the slack in establishing herd immunity.

What suffers is science and reason. In a world where the accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are feverishly lobbed at those who disagree with us, it’s more important than ever for parents to model good scientific literacy and critical thinking. It is our obligation as parents to educate ourselves, not about a specific issue like vaccines, but about how to do high-quality research. That education will help us make sense of the seemingly contradictory results in our Google searches.

Trap #1: Googling a yes or no question

Wakefield’s Lancet paper appears to have been built on a yes or no question he already “knew” the answer to. He looked for evidence that a vaccine caused a bowel issue that caused autism, and guess what? He “found” it.

The same basic principle applies to your own research. If you’re asking a yes or no question, you probably already have an answer in mind. If you Google that yes or no question, you will find whichever answer you’re looking for, because it’s incredibly difficult to consider contradictory evidence if you’ve already answered your question.

Of course, it’s impossible to be completely open-minded about the question you’re researching, especially if you’re researching about your own child’s illness. But you can open up your research question by phrasing it in terms of “how” or “why.”

Trap #2: Mistaking correlation for causation

Wakefield’s subjects may very well have had diagnosable autism and diagnosable bowel disorders. They may also have had MMR vaccines near the timing of those other symptoms.

Even if this was the case, the correlation of those conditions is not proof of causation.

Humans are really powerful storytellers. It’s well-documented that we see patterns even when none exist. When we read about medical tragedies online, it’s really easy to connect the dots and decide what caused it, but there are countless other details missing that could help complete the picture.

When conducting your own research, don’t settle for the first cause you find. Or better yet, focus less on what may have caused a medical problem (you don’t have the lab equipment to make that determination, anyway) and instead focus on what to do about symptoms.

Trap #3: Focusing on newsworthy numbers

Humans may be good storytellers, but we are lousy unaided statisticians. When we see an one-in-a-million chance, we tend to see ourselves in the “one” rather than in the “one million.” Or we see a scary sounding conclusion and forget to look at the sample size.

Even if Wakefield’s sample wasn’t compromised, even if his research methods were pure, he only studied 12 children. That’s an incredibly small number to base any conclusion on, especially given the millions of children who have received vaccinations without developing either bowel problems or autism.

When you see stats reported in the news, pause and consider them in context.

Trap #4: Not identifying “they”

In her profile of Wakefield, Susan Dominus mentions his use of a powerful rhetorical tool: “He said he believes that ‘they’ – public-health officials, pharmaceutical companies – pay bloggers to plant vicious comments about him on the Web.”

Even as the medical community was rejecting him, Wakefield’s work continued to gain popularity. Perhaps that’s because of the very scary “they.” Invoking a mysterious other, with potentially impure motives, is a sure way to pull people over to your side. “They” don’t want people to see the research. “They” have money to gain from the existence of vaccines. “They” gain from making vaccine federal policy.

Now imagine that you are a parent to a child with an autism diagnosis. You’re probably also really angry with some amorphous “they.” “They” told you vaccines were safe. “They” didn’t tell you about Wakefield’s work. “They” didn’t catch the warning signs early enough. It’s easy to put your “they” and Wakefield’s “they” together.

In your own research, if you’re seeing frequent references to whatever “they” don’t want you to know, be skeptical. Define “they.” Ask yourself what “they” really have to gain from this supposed deception.

Trap #5: Failing to ask why you’re researching in the first place

Wakefield has defended the conflict-of-interest allegation against him, arguing that none of the money he received from law firms arguing against MMR vaccine manufacturers went to funding the 1998 Lancet paper. Even if that was true, he cannot be an impartial observer of the evidence because his erstwhile employers had something to gain if he concluded in their favor.

Parents who conduct research without asking themselves why they’re doing it may face similar conflicts of interest. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, but asking hard questions about your own research motives can help you avoid most common research traps. Has your child just received a scary diagnosis and you’re looking for comfort? Are you looking for someone to blame? Are you looking to find evidence to win a fight with your spouse or mother-in-law? Those circumstances don’t mean you will do bad research, but they can interfere with your interpretation. Making your own biases clear can help you steer clear of sources that cater to those biases.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth is an example of the kind of character she seeks to foster in the next generation. As the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to children's character development, as a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a mom, Duckworth is trying to teach parents to let their kids struggle and that success is a long game.

According to Duckworth, grit is "this combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods. So it's loving what you do and working really hard at it for a very long time."

During the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Duckworth tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety, "One could argue that motherhood requires more grit than anything else because it is such a stamina sport and the grind doesn't always feel like it's working."

As Duckworth explains, mothers can model grit every day by persevering in the face of challenging parenting moments, but we can also instill grit in our children, even very young kids, by encouraging them not to give up. It is so easy to tie a child's shoes for them when we're running late, but if we take a moment to stop and let them work through that challenge on their own we are being gritty and encouraging it.

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"You let them struggle and you don't solve their problems for them too early," Duckworth tells Tenety, recalling a time when one of her daughters was struggling to open a box of raisins. "When she gave up and like walked away thinking that's too hard, I did worry about her long-term grit. I was like, oh my gosh my daughter's been defeated by a box of SunMaid raisins. But the important thing is that when you see your child struggle, let them struggle a little longer than maybe is comfortable for some of us."

By not rushing to open the box of raisins for her daughter, Duckworth taught her an important lesson in perseverance: If you want something you have to keep working at it yourself because you can't assume people will do things for you. This can be hard for parents because we often want to rush in and fix things for our kids, but Duckworth suggests we force ourselves to wait a beat and give our kids a chance before coming to the rescue.

"If you solve their problems guess what? They will not figure out how to solve their own problems if you make life a frictionless path. Then don't be surprised when they are not very resilient," she explains.

When we don't do everything for our kids they learn that they are capable, and we're cultivating a growth mindset. When we let our kids struggle and persevere, we're teaching them that the ability to get back up and overcome challenges is more important than talent—we're teaching them grit.

To hear more from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth about grit and growth, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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News

Relocating is one of the most stressful life changes families will experience, even more so when you add kids into the mix. Packing boxes and getting everything ready for your move with toddlers around can seem like an impossible task. You know the scene: You're trying to pack clothing and lift heavy boxes, but they want to play and see everything that's going on. But packing doesn't have to be a chore, mama.

Try these playful interventions whenever you're struggling to keep your little one entertained.

1. Create special time.

Believe it or not, children want to help us. When they feel disconnected to us their behavior can go off-track. That whining, moaning, tantrumming toddler is sending out a red flag that says, ''Help! I need connection!''

So before spending a day packing boxes, be proactive and connect with your child. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and tell your child it's their special time and they can choose whatever they'd like to do with you. As you play, shower your child with attention, so their cup is filled. This helps them to internalize a sense of connection to you, so they are less likely to demand it in challenging ways and get in the way when you need to focus.

2. Host a packing party.

Put on some music and make packing fun! Give your child their own box, and allow them some freedom to pack their own toys themselves—even if you go back and rearrange things later. Don't seal all the boxes so they still have access to toys to play with. And remember that they're bound to get distracted and start playing with every. single. toy. they pack away. Make sure they're occupied so you can continue packing.

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3. Try giggle parenting.

Giggle parenting is when you get a child to laugh to ease the tension. If you notice your child getting bored, or frustrated, giggle parenting can ease tensions, and give your child mini doses of connection to help their behavior stay on track.

For example, maybe you playfully say, ''I really need to pack this big object,'' then you attempt to place your child in a box and exclaim, ''oh no, that's not an object, that's [insert child's name!]'' Or pick up a dirty sock and say with a playfully inviting tone, ''I really don't want this sock to be packed'' and put it on the floor. Cue your child trying to pack the smelly sock, and you can act playfully annoyed, and retrieve it from the box. Repeat as the long as the giggles keep coming,

It's the perfect antidote to situations where they feel powerless and out of control. Spending 5-10 minutes being playful at various intervals throughout the day can help shift the feeling that something big is happening.

4. Pack with a puppet.

Although toddlers don't always listen well, you will probably find that they are much more likely to respond to a plush toy or puppet. So use a puppet to ask them to pack in a silly voice that gets them laughing. Or have a naughty puppet who removes items from boxes, while you act playfully frustrated. After a few laughs to release tension, your toddler will be more able to listen to you about what needs to be done, or will be more likely to play independently.

5. Use reverse psychology.

Good old-fashioned reverse psychology works wonders when trying to distract little ones. Say to your child in a playful way that you'd really like them to leave their toys on the floor, and not pack them. Then leave the room. They are bound to take this as an opportunity to pack things up, and you can pretend to be upset that they didn't listen.

6. Turn packing into a race.

Older toddlers love to win so why not set up challenges to get them moving and competing? Have a race to see who can pack five things the fastest. Make it a close call but let them win, and act playfully disappointed when you lose. You could also try setting a timer to see how many things can be packed in 5 minutes or how long it can take to pack a whole box.

7. Practice pretend play.

Use a trolley or a toy stroller to act as a delivery service. Ask your child to bring you items to pack. Pretend play gives them a sense of purpose, and a fun, novel way to be involved.

8. Take a break outside.

At some point during a full day of packing or moving, get outside, even if it's just for ten minutes. Have a playful game of chase in your yard, or go to a local park. This can really help shift grumpy moods.

9. Stop for tantrums.

At some point during the day, tears and tantrums may come up. You may be tempted to stop tantrums, but this is counterproductive as it may just postpone the upset. Crying is a healing process for children, a natural way to release stress and tension, so the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Be the lighthouse guiding your child out of the stormy seas of their emotions, and when they recover they will feel well-connected to you, and be much more willing to help in the process.

10. Remember to relax.

Do something for yourself, mama. Order takeout. End your day with snuggles and bedtime stories. Packing and moving with toddlers can be one of the most challenging jobs you can do, so well, done, you did it.

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Learn + Play

Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

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I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

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Life

The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

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Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

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Life
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