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Am I loved and cared for? Why every child should be able to answer ‘yes’

The greatest gift we have to offer a child is an invitation to rest in our care. This isn’t the type of rest that comes from sleeping, but from an enduring invitation for contact and closeness, a sense of significance and mattering, as well as sense of belonging and being known by the people a child is most attached to.


To invite a child to rest is about inspiring them to depend on us to meet their relational needs. As creatures of attachment we crave connection and should seek relationships in which we can become rooted and nourished. To bring a child to rest relationally is to assure them that their hunger for connection will be satiated.

It means they can take our relationship for granted and that it is unwavering across context and conduct.

To bring a child to rest means they will not be driven to pursue an answer to the question, “Am I loved and cared for?” It means we have become the answer to their greatest hunger by assuring them our caretaking has no expiration date.

Why is relational rest important? When kids are at rest they grow. Just as arms and legs grow while sleeping, selfhood unfolds when a child is in right relationship to their adults. Research in neuroscience and attachment science are unequivocal in their findings that the brain is wired for attachment and will pursue this need above all else. When these needs are met, the energy and bias in a person will move away from seeking attachment and towards developing a separate self through play, discovery, learning, trial and error.

Rest matters because it frees our attention. When we don’t have to look for love, we can start to figure out who we are.

The challenge is we cannot grow if we are not first rooted in healthy relationships. The unfolding of healthy personhood is firmly grounded and sprouts from relational rest. As Gordon Neufeld states, “We liberate children not by making them work for our love, but by letting them rest in it.”

We cannot make a child rest in our care, but we can work to create the conditions that will foster this. There are three things we can do to give our kids an invitation they cannot refuse.

1. Accept the work of the relationship

When we accept that the person in charge of the parent/child relationship is us, we won’t hold a child accountable for preserving a sense of contact and closeness. It isn’t their job to mend fences or to cross bridges, but for us to hold onto them across conduct and in the face of immature emotional expression. To hold onto a relationship with our children means we can’t outsource all of their caretaking to others, we need to actively engage with our role. We need to convey to them a sense that they are valued, desired and wanted.

Working at keeping our relationship strong means we will also find ways to hold onto them by bridging the distance when separation happens. It means we work to give them a sense of security in our relationship and convey that it is enduring.

To accept the work of the relationship is to keep our fingers on the pulse of whether our children feel close to us, depend on us and trust us. If our relationship feels strained or weakened, we need to move to repair and protect it.

To take care of our relationship means we make it safe for a child to depend on us and refrain from using separation based discipline methods. We aim to use our relationship to influence a child and not to control them. When we understand that a child’s desire to obey, follow, attend, listen and share the same values as us all come from having a strong relationship, we will take the lead in preserving and protecting it.

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2. Assume the alpha role in the child’s life

To assume an alpha role means we vulnerably accept our position as the one to lead and assume responsibility for caring for a child. We see it as our work to ensure a child has a secure home base to grow in and to keep them safe. We aim to preserve their dignity when their behavior is difficult.

To claim an alpha role in a child’s life is to act as their compass point and to help them make sense of the world around them. It means we don’t simply meet their demands—but take the lead in answering their needs. It means we don’t turn them into consultants when it comes to their caretaking by asking them too many questions.

We need to seize the lead in nurturing our kids and to comfort them when they are facing all the things that cannot change. It means we sometimes have to help them accept the futilities that are part of life, such as no cookies for breakfast or why we need to limit technology use.

To invite a child to rest in our care we need to portray a strong alpha presence so that they feel we are in charge and can handle whatever comes our way. From their tantrums, to resistance, to emotional outbursts–there is a sense that we are holding onto them and will find a way through the impasse. To claim an alpha position in a child’s life is not about having all the answers, but communicating we are the answer.

3. Provide more than the child is pursuing

To fill a child’s relational needs we will need to do more than just give them what they ask for–we need to give them more. The only way rest can be achieved is through knowing there is more there than you could possibly consume. Like a banquet or buffet table brimming with food, it is generosity that puts one at rest because you can take the invitation for granted.

To help our children rest in our care we will need to give them more attention than they demand and more connection than they seek. If they ask us for a hug we can hold onto them and give them a swirl and a kiss, too. We need to give more approval than they are looking for and more significance than they deserve. At every turn we need to communicate we are generous with everything they need, and they can take it all for granted. Even when we have to say no, we can be generous by giving them space to express their feelings.

Wendell Berry writes in his poem, The Peace of Wild Things, “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” It is this freedom, this sense of security, this idea that one can rest in someone else’s care taking that is transcendent like in nature.

The reason it matters for kids is when they are at rest they are free to play. It is in the relational playgrounds we create for them where they steadily morph and shapeshift into the mature forms we long for.

We cannot control our children’s growth; we can only provide the rest they need to flourish. We cannot make our children depend on us, we can only invite them into relationship with us. We cannot make our children become their own person, we can only ensure they are at rest in the relational roots we nourish and cultivate.

To rest in another person’s care is a vulnerable place. We can get hurt, mistreated or ignored. It is much easier to be the one to lead and to care for another than to be the recipient of that caretaking.

Our fulfillment as parents lies in inviting our children to rest in our care and having them take us up on our offer. For both caretakers and the ones cared for–this dance of relationship is where true rest lies.

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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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As any parent knows, newborns need to eat a lot to keep fuel in those tiny tummies. For breastfeeding mamas, that can translate to nursing sessions anywhere, any time of day—which can make it feel like a full-time job. So, what's a mama to do when she has other things on her to-do list?

Let's take a look at some celebrity mothers who are showing the world that mamas have legendary multitasking skills. 👊

Jessie James Decker is a backseat breastfeeder

By the time her third child was born, Jessie James Decker had a few tricks up her sleeve when it came to breastfeeding on the go—including how to get situated in the backseat of the car to nurse her son while he was strapped into the car seat.

Decker doesn't recommend mamas go without a seatbelt like she did, but sometimes, a bad day out with the baby calls for extreme measures. When little Forrest couldn't stop crying on the way home from his mama's photo shoot, his mama did what she had to do.

"I hopped in the back seat with Forrest and fed him with boob out leaned awkwardly over the car seat to calm him down," Decker says. "On the way home I cried, I got stressed and anxiety, and I was just a mom trying to do my best just like we all are no matter the situation."

Pink takes a hike

When son Jameson was a baby, Pink proved that breastfeeding didn't have to mean sitting at home in a glider. With some assistance from a baby carrier and a perfect position for Jameson, the multitasking mama was able to go about her hike like it was no big deal.

Gisele Bündchen 'grammed her breastfeeding glam session

In 2013, the super model proved she's also a super mama by multitasking a full-on beauty session while breastfeeding. Recognizing what a team effort it was, Bündchen captioned the post, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours of flying and only three hours of sleep."

Tess Holliday was inspired by her fellow supermodel mama 

Tess Holliday followed in Gisele's footsteps after her youngest was born, posting this photo to Instagram. It that proves that breastfeeding mamas can not only multitask, but also don't have to conform to certain body ideals to look amazing postpartum. Any size, any shape, any time, anywhere—breastfeeding mothers like Holliday are normalizing breastfeeding and our bodies.

Padma Lakshmi proves you don't need a team

Without a beauty squad on call, Lakshmi took her multitasking to "level 💯" by using a nursing pillow to free up her two hands. It takes a brave woman to attempt mascara while breastfeeding, but the Top Chef host clearly pulls it off.

Whether a mama is trying to feed her baby on the go or while she's getting glam, it isn't always easy. Motherhood is about trying to do your best even when it feels like 100 things are going on at the same time—and yet we manage, like the super mamas we are.

[Update, September 23: This post was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Tess Holliday's Instagram post]

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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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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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  1. Chrissy Teigen + mesh underwear is the postpartum real talk all moms need to hear 👏
  2. Behati Prinsloo shamed for 'pumping and dumping' during date with hubby Adam Levine
  3. Nicole Phelps pumping in an evening gown is the ultimate definition of a multi-tasking mama 👏
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