Carl EsPen

The Vermont lake was the perfect setting for a mother-daughter day. The mother packed water and towels. The daughter, an excitable young girl, shoved cheese sticks into a cooler. When the two arrived at the beach, they swung the cooler between them as they walked to the water.

But the mother’s smile was strained, because the day of family fun would be closely watched. Joining the pair was Sharon Lamb, a psychologist who evaluates parents and makes recommendations to family courts regarding whether their rights to their children should be terminated. The daughter had been in foster care for two years, and her mother was in danger of losing custody permanently. Lamb was there to help determine whether the mother could be considered fit to parent.

Throughout the day, Lamb took notes on whether the daughter felt close to the mother. She observed smaller details too—such as whether the mother remembered to pack food and sunscreen for her child. Shortly after they arrived, the mother ran into the water, leaving her daughter behind on the sand, where the daughter timidly watched in a baggy bathing suit. “Was I wrong to expect what I would have preferred to see? More encouragement for the hesitant little girl …?” Lamb writes in The Not Good Enough Mother, a new book that details the lake trip and other anonymized anecdotes from Lamb’s work.

After dropping to a historic low in 2012, the number of children in foster care has steadily increased in recent years. The number entering foster care because of parental drug use, in particular, has more than doubled since 2000 as the opioid crisis has consumed the United States. Lamb and psychologists like her are the ones tasked with helping to decide what will happen to these children. They find themselves in a difficult situation: Based on just a few, stilted interactions, they must describe the true nature of the bond between a child and a mother—she’s usually a single mother, Lamb says—and predict how it will play out into the future. If the mother’s care seems unsafe, they must recommend separating her from her child, an outcome most Americans find tragic.

Lamb recognizes the importance of preventing abuse and neglect, but she nevertheless feels some unease about helping to make distinctions between good and bad mothers. Does running into the water without your child make you a bad mom? Does packing cheese sticks make you good enough? If not, what does?

Lamb is a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Separately, she also takes two or three of these child-custody cases each year. “They’re so stressful,” she told me in an interview. At one point in her book, Lamb mentions she has considered giving up these types of evaluations altogether. She began doing them shortly after she moved to Vermont in 1996, when a local attorney called her to evaluate the case of a boy in foster care. That led to her name being bounced around listservs of family-court lawyers.

Typically, Lamb says, the Department of Children and Families calls her in to evaluate cases involving younger kids who have been in foster care for more than a year and whose parents still aren’t improving. In more than half the cases she works on, the judge permanently places the child with a new family. Lamb told me she sometimes does evaluations for parents’ attorneys, too, who want her to show the courts that their clients are fit.

To be clear, parents who are in danger of losing their children have done more than simply hurt their kids’ feelings at the beach. Typically, Lamb and other experts told me, those parents’ cases involve multiple reports of abuse or neglect, including heavy drug use at home and a failure to take advantage of the help offered by social workers. A neighbor might call because a 2-year-old is left unattended; a teacher might call because a child is not coming to school. Some parents are isolated and friendless, and child protective services is the final net that catches them. It is the point at which the state says that adults might live that way, but children can’t.

Lamb understands all this, but in a deeply personal way, she also knows how even the best-intentioned parenting can’t prevent every calamity. Lamb’s own son, she writes, struggled with addiction. At one point in the book, she weighs what she calls “motherlove”—the special connection between a birth mother and her child—against “the stability of a foster home.” She asks herself, What kind of stability did I provide? and wonders whether her mothering contributed to her son’s addiction. One section is dedicated to the slog of finding a rehab facility for her son, and several more to the lies and worries that come with having an addicted family member.

For her evaluations, Lamb follows clinical guidelines, which include observing the adults in their role as parents, as she was doing with the mother and daughter at the lake. She describes a mother who mocked her child for hurting herself, instead of kissing her finger—a sign, Lamb told me, of “not being able to cope with a child who needs something from you.”

She also carefully studies how children react to their birth parents. One thing she looks for is what’s called “secure attachment,” or an impression that the child can depend on the parent to be there when the child feels unsure or afraid. “Insecure attachment,” meanwhile, could manifest itself in several ways. Anxious attachment might mean an extremely clingy child; avoidantly attached children act as if they don’t need the parent; a disoriented child freezes or simply doesn’t know what to do.

Even when everyone—the evaluator, the social worker, the judge—tries to execute her part perfectly, the child-welfare system can be heart-wrenching and unfair. Much of what determines whether parents’ rights are terminated is how well they work with their social worker, says Julianne Woolard, an attorney who has worked with Lamb. The process can require a level of social skills and diplomacy that many people—especially low-income mothers and fathers—haven’t learned. “It’s sitting through meetings with 10 people at a table, talking about you, talking about your parenting skills,” Woolard says. “It’s tough.”

Certain parental afflictions tend to be punished more harshly than others. Fetal alcohol syndrome is shockingly widespread, but as Lamb writes, “If we removed children from all the homes of people struggling with alcoholism, it would be hard to find enough foster homes for these kids.” And Lamb repeatedly describes how we—society, the system, and sometimes even children themselves—seem to expect much more from mothers than from fathers. “Mothers who don’t protect are always worse than fathers who abuse,” she writes.

Parents themselves vary widely. Poor people and rich people often have different definitions of “good enough” parenting; they might have been raised differently and cope with different amounts of stress in adulthood. A parenting tactic that is merely strict in one mother’s hands can appear cruel when performed by a mother who is already considered suspect.

Money, in part, determines who gets to be mean with impunity. The infamous “tiger mother,” Amy Chua, has said she once rejected her children’s handmade cards because they weren’t made with enough care. At one point in the book, Lamb hints that had a less wealthy and accomplished mother treated her children that way, she might have lost access to her children. It would be rare, Lamb told me, for somebody to report a wealthy-looking mother to the police if she were seen criticizing her child in public. “It’s interesting to think about who has a right to be verbally abusive to their child, and it seems like with money, you do have that right,” she says.

Just as money can protect parents, the lack of it is often what creates the conditions for abuse and neglect. One prosecutor in Texas, who wished to be anonymous in order to speak freely about his small town, told me several years ago that he sees many children left at home with ill-equipped “baby daddies” because the mom has to work and can’t afford child care. Or families cram into old trailers and have milk spoiling in a broken fridge. Even getting to a church that’s giving out free diapers requires a car.

Ultimately, family courts have to determine whether parents will provide adequate care for their children. It’s not a question of whether the birth parents outperform the foster parents. It’s a matter of whether they are, essentially, good enough. “You’re looking for stability for the child … It doesn’t have to be excellent care,” says Pam Marsh, a Vermont lawyer who mostly represents children in child-welfare cases. “You don’t have to get the Mother of the Year Award or the Father of the Year Award to get your child back.”

Toward the end of her book, Lamb settles on a definition of “good enough” parenting: being able to understand what’s in the mind of your child. In our interview, she described it as a kind of empathy, of recognizing your child as a whole person and caring what he or she thinks and feels. It’s seeing a child who is having a meltdown and thinking, She’s really mad because I had promised her that I would have this treat and I forgot it, Lamb says, rather than thinking, She’s just spoiled.

The book is not a call to reform the child-welfare system. In our interview, Lamb imagined one kind of intervention, though she acknowledged it’s hardly practical or likely to happen: The best approach, she speculated, might actually be a foster home for the least functional parents she sees. That way, those parents could themselves be “parented in a foster home while their kid was being parented in a foster home,” she says. It might be the only way to help these traumatized and struggling parents get to “good enough”—and beyond. A mother who messed up, used drugs, failed to come to appointments, or kiss the hurt finger, Lamb says, “needs that kind of love.”

In the middle of a vigorous argument over Medicare for All during the Democratic debate tonight, former Representative John Delaney pointed out the reason he doesn’t support moving all Americans onto Medicare: It generally pays doctors and hospitals less than private insurance companies do.

Because of that, some have predicted that if private insurance ends, and Medicare for All becomes the law of the land, many hospitals will close, because they simply won’t be able to afford to stay open at Medicare’s rates. Fact-checkers have pointed out that while some hospitals would do worse under Medicare for All, some would do better. But Delaney insisted tonight that every single hospital administrator he’s spoken with said they would close if they were paid at the Medicare rate for every bill.

Delaney also brought up another, less discussed fear about Medicare for All: that it will, in effect, set up a two-tiered system, one in which wealthy people can afford to go to the best doctors outside the insurance infrastructure, while others are funneled into the public system. “If you start under-paying all the health-care providers, you’re going to create a two-tier market where wealthy people buy their health care with cash,” he said, while people “like my dad, the union electrician,” will be “forced into an underfunded system.”

A two-tiered system is by no means destined to happen under Medicare for All—more on that later. But some countries that transitioned to single-payer health care have, indeed, found their health systems bifurcating. In 1988, Brazil promised free public health care to every citizen, and it has delivered, in the form of the Sistema Único de Saúde, or SUS. As a result, Brazilians got healthier and lived longer, and they have very few catastrophic health expenditures.

Still, the system looks more like “a safety net with holes,” as one doctor put it to me a few years ago. The public SUS is rife with shortages and long waits. “You have to take four buses to get to the ER,” one physician told me. “Your stomach could explode before you get there.” Instead, wealthy Brazilians go to private doctors using private insurance plans.

A two-tiered system doesn’t have to be a disaster, of course—and it’s not necessarily worse than what we have. (Indeed, just a few years ago, leading health-care economists were arguing for a two-tiered health system in the United States.) In the U.K., some providers take private insurance and cash, while government-salaried NHS doctors take all patients for free. Yet the U.K. still is considered to have a better-performing health-care system than the United States. Even one of Senator Bernie Sanders’s favorite countries, Denmark, has a two-tiered health system.

Instead, whether the two-tiered system actually happens, or affects Americans negatively, hinges on the ultimate shape that a potential Democratic administration’s health plan takes. We just don’t know enough yet about the what the prospective Democratic victor would be able to get passed through Congress. Would the public system be adequately funded? Then it would work better than the shoddy Brazilian SUS. Would doctors be required to accept Medicare? If so, doctors wouldn’t be able to bill patients privately, period. Perhaps most importantly, would Medicare reimbursement rates be higher than they are today? That would make doctors and hospitals, and maybe even voters, more likely to accept the plan happily.

In a recent post on Courtney Perkins’s Instagram account, two gray-haired women stand with their arms around each other, their gazes purposeful, their mouths unsmiling. It’s not clear who they are or what they’re doing, but the two have planned their outfits for the occasion: One woman is wearing a turquoise T-shirt that says I get us out of trouble in a white block print. Next to her, the second woman’s coral shirt declares, I get us into trouble. She’s also wearing sunglasses, presumably because she’s the cool one.

To make the photo into a meme, Perkins, a 24-year-old comedy writer living in Los Angeles, divvied up the 12 zodiac signs under the two shirts’ proclamations. She then posted the finished product to @notallgeminis, an astrology-meme account she created in 2017 that now has nearly half a million followers. The comments underneath the post are full of thousands of people, mainly young women, tagging the Thelmas to their Louises with messages like “thank u for looking after me n my heart.”  

Different corners of the internet are devoted to different pastimes: yelling about current events, posting vacation photos, sharing recipes. Each medium tends to have its own conventions about how to appropriately express emotion, which might mean ironic detachment on Twitter, placid domesticity on Facebook, or political rage pretty much anywhere. But research shows that young Americans are acutely aware of their own emotional struggles and those of their peers, and many of them seem to want an online home for their more tender thoughts. In the past two years, millions of them have found a conduit to talk to one another about their real lives: massively popular meme accounts and newer micro-social apps, all devoted to astrology.

As The Atlantic’s Julie Beck noted in early 2018, astrology has rerooted itself in American youth culture at precisely the time many young people, who are less religious and more online than ever, feel adrift. “It does give one a pleasing orderly sort of feeling, not unlike alphabetizing a library, to take life’s random events and emotions and slot them into helpfully labeled shelves,” Beck wrote. That’s especially true among queer people and in other marginalized communities, where it’s common to look outside of mainstream culture for ways to process and talk about experiences. Accounts like Perkins’s @notallgeminis, many of which are run by meme-makers in their teens and 20s, allow young people to turn that introspection outward and into something more social.

[Read: The new age of astrology]

Because meme accounts exist within Instagram’s standard messaging and sharing structure, their creators have a front-row seat to the interactions sparked by their posts, such as the sweet notes in the comments section under the troublemaking elderly duo. “What I’ve found is that astrology is a jumping-off point for what people really want to talk about, and that can be anything,” Perkins says. “Astrology is a framework for analyzing yourself and your experiences, and people naturally bring other people into that.” On Instagram, the self-aware humor of meme culture lowers the stakes of involving friends in your personal reflections. Addressing the tedium and emotional distress of everyday life might be a lot easier if you lead with a photo of Martha Stewart riding a horse into the ocean.

Banu Guler, a co-founder of the astrology app Co-Star, thinks the ease with which astrology allows people to talk about personal struggles and negative emotions plays a huge role in its popularity. “It’s much easier to say, ‘I’m a Capricorn, so it’s hard for me to express my feelings,’ than to walk into a room and be like, ‘I’m an emotionally repressed psycho,’” she says. Perkins, too, has noticed that she gets a deeper reaction when her memes allude to the signs’ more negative qualities—that is, when her followers feel “dragged and roasted.”

Astrology can allow people to depersonalize and recontextualize their emotions as part of a common, collective journey, which can battle the isolation that often comes with feeling sad or anxious. In American culture, emotional struggles or “difficult” personalities are often seen as personal failings. In its own way, astrology gives people an opportunity to acknowledge the forces and power structures beyond the self that affect mood and behavior. At its best, it can encourage self-awareness instead of self-flagellation. That’s particularly important for young people, for whom shame can be especially harmful.

Research has also generally found that those with deeply held spiritual beliefs, such as faith in the personality-predicting powers of the stars, have better mental-health outcomes. But some psychologists believe that those effects may be more muted with astrology, with its intensely self-reflective nature, than in traditional religion, which tends to come with a community. Through social media, astrology buffs are building that crucial interpersonal network. “I get messages all the time about how I’m the main way people keep in touch with their siblings or their friend across the country, or that they have a group chat about my memes,” Perkins says.

[Read: Instagram meme accounts are pretty now]

Co-Star, which launched in late 2017, is part of a new crop of apps, along with The Pattern and Sanctuary, that use the time and location of a person’s birth to generate a detailed natal chart that goes deeper than the sun-sign horoscopes first developed as newspaper curiosities. Most of these apps have significant Instagram followings of their own (Co-Star has more than 600,000 followers) and post sleek, well-designed memes, complete with soothing colors and fashionable fonts, that have a more professional feel than the DIY culture built by Perkins and her contemporaries. The aesthetic seriousness offers an option for people who want to joke about feelings and anxiety, but don’t think an image of the Jersey Shore cast mate Snooki sipping from a giant, beer-infused margarita is the note they want to strike.

Co-Star has also spawned a different kind of sharing: The app’s frank (or rude, depending how you look at it) daily push notifications have developed a social-media life of their own. The messages, which say things like, “Your biggest challenge is to avoid becoming dead inside,” are frequently screenshotted and shared by users on Twitter and Instagram who feel, well, dragged and roasted.

The notifications are generated by artificial intelligence, and Guler says the company is constantly tweaking the formula to strike the right note. “We really try to think about how we talk to and text each other,” she explains. “It’s not sunshine and rainbows; it’s also pushing each other to be better humans and think more clearly.” Many people seem to find the approach compelling: Co-Star had more than 3 million members as of April, and the app has a five-star rating in the Apple App Store.

No matter your preferred medium, experts agree that a willingness to open up to others is a key step in the process of maintaining mental health. A close reading of one’s natal chart is by no means a replacement for necessary professional care, but the Child Mind Institute calls reaching out “a vital part of getting the help you need,” and research suggests that repressing negative emotions worsens stress. With rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicidality rising among young people, astrology’s ability to break down communication barriers and depersonalize the prohibitively personal has proved valuable to plenty of people. “That’s why astrology has stuck around for so long, especially in communities of punks and queers and anyone outside of mainstream culture,” Guler says.

[Read: How birth season affects personality]

Now interest in the practice goes far beyond those communities—a 2014 study by the National Science Foundation found that almost half of Americans believe astrology is at least sort of scientific, the highest proportion the organization has found since 1983. In the years since those data were collected, astrology has only gained cultural momentum, in part because of the efforts of people like Perkins and Guler.

There’s no scientific evidence that the planets have an effect on personality or behavior, but as with any system of belief, total adherence to astrology’s teachings isn’t necessary to dabble in its benefits. Maybe all it takes is an image of The Rock making friends with a porpoise, accompanied by a gentle joke about how Capricorns have trouble with intimacy, to help you feel seen by the stars.

This dairy-free, vegan Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream is made using juicy-sweet summer strawberries and buttery cashews as the base. Cashews create my favorite DIY ice cream. The texture churns up ultra-creamy and rich, the sweetness perfect and the fresh strawberry flavor the star of the show. So if you are obsessed with summer berries right now like me, give this healthy treat recipe a try…Read more »

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In order to fall asleep at night, I must run a gantlet of bedtime rituals. I must be marinating in overnight-skin-care products from head to toe. One (but only one) of my legs must be hooked around the side of my covers, poised to alert me to the presence of monsters. I must be lying on my stomach, with one arm folded under my head between me and my pillow. Not only must the air in the room be frigid, but it must be blowing directly on me.

Most people will probably cop to at least one idiosyncratic sleep habit. The presence of a fan is a common one. Some people are so attached to a particular pillow that they’ll haul it through the airport. Others are dead set on having their toes dangle off the mattress. Some adults still cuddle a stuffed animal. I started taking this inventory of bedtime peculiarities after someone asked whether I could explain why her face always had to be touching her childhood blanket at night.

Requiring a particular toe positioning or pillow assortment can sound silly, but if you’re convinced you need these rituals, then their absence can affect your ability to fall asleep, disturb someone you sleep with, harm your job performance, and mess with your life. Clinical sleep disorders such as insomnia or apnea affect as many as 70 million Americans, and 60 percent of the country’s adults report experiencing sleep problems every or most nights. Bedtime eccentricities might not have an obvious connection to such widespread difficulties, but they can play a quietly pivotal role. For most people, how they came to develop the entries on their own nighttime checklist is entirely opaque, as is why completing them feels so essential.

One of the biggest factors in creating sleep rituals is comfort. “It’s about this descent into sleep and getting into a comfortable place, and you will start to replicate that night after night,” says Dianne Augelli, a sleep-medicine expert at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York–Presbyterian Hospital. People tend to return to the circumstances of sleep that have worked in the past, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing and they’re not satisfying any real physical need.

Other habits might be meeting physical and psychological needs that are less obvious. “Our hands and feet will tend to warm, and our core body temperature will cool, as we’re descending into sleep,” Augelli says. “We need to have the cooling of our core body temperature to help initiate sleep.” She says that many people who have hard-and-fast rules about sticking their foot out of their covers or wearing socks to bed are trying to regulate their entire body’s temperature. The same is true for people who want a fan nearby, which has the added benefit of helping drown out intrusive noises—another enemy of sleep, even if you don’t wake fully in the night to notice them happening.

Augelli notes that the consequences of disrupting people’s deeply ingrained habits vary widely depending on the individual. For some people, simply not being able to configure their pillows according to preference can start a stressful chain reaction. “If we get frustrated or anxious about falling asleep, that actually makes us more activated and wakeful,” Augelli says. “We always want to be mindful and have healthy sleep practices and keep a nice sleep environment, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on sleep, because that can indeed backfire.”

Augelli’s explanation of the vicious cycle of sleep anxiety and sleeplessness snapped into quick focus something I’d never understood. When I’m watching a movie on my couch, I can fall asleep easily without satisfying any of my sleep rituals. Apparently that’s because when I’m in my living room, I’m not thinking about sleep or trying to achieve it. Rituals might be helpful in preparing the mind for sleep, but Augelli notes that the need to maintain them can also be stressful, especially in unfamiliar environments. Being conscious of how much you want to fall asleep is among the biggest and most common barriers to actually sleeping.

Susan Malone, a nursing professor at New York University, says that people with poor rest patterns frequently put too much effort into falling asleep. To combat that anxiety cycle, she recommends something that might sound counterintuitive: “We tell people that if you’re not asleep in 15 minutes, or if you wake up and you’re awake during the night, get out of bed,” she explains. “We try to create a very strong connection between the bed, bedroom, and sleep.” Malone also recommends against taking naps and sleeping in on weekends if you’re trying to break bad sleep habits, because letting yourself get fully and profoundly tired helps your body override expectations and rituals to wind down.

Many sleep rituals are benign, but problems can start when people’s senses of psychological and physical comfort pull them in different directions. When I gave my laundry list of environmental and position preference to Augelli, she audibly groaned. Stomach sleeping is not very good for your back, and it probably goes without saying that having one of my shoulders at maximum extension for a third of my life could create some problems down the road. My psychological preferences don’t currently cause me any discomfort, but I’m still relatively young. “As we get older, we do become more sensitive and more easily awakened by things that are not comfortable,” Malone says.

For people already in their aching prime, Malone notes, overriding old, unhealthy sleep rituals can help them avoid pain and sleep more soundly. Still, she acknowledges that changing harmful sleep behaviors can be a lot more difficult than other daily health interventions, such as drinking more water or taking a multivitamin. Even one bad night of sleep can significantly impact how a person performs at work and behaves in social situations, and Malone estimates that creating a new sleep habit takes most people anywhere from eight to 12 weeks.

Scientists still know relatively little about why people need to sleep in the first place, but the ability to do it regularly determines so much about the quality of a human’s life. If people seize on toe-dangling, pillow-arranging, or another generally controllable factor to provide a sense of calm, it’s probably because summoning sleep on demand is often so futile. “A good analogy is if you were to go surfing, you can’t try for a wave to come,” Malone says. “You just have to wait for it to come.”

I was craving some color and fun in the kitchen, so these Rainbow-Colored Smoothies happened! Today I want to show you how to use sweet, antioxidant-packed fruit (and other plant-based ingredients) to create a smoothie in every color of the rainbow..Read more »

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updated post, orig pub: 4/26/09

This recipe is for a straight up, dessert-tasting, vegan Chocolate Milkshake. But I promise, this tall, frosty, creamy concoction is absolutely good for you…..Read more »

This is a summary, images and full post available on HHL website!