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My dear, darling daughter,

I owe you an explanation.


You’re really into princesses right now. Crowns, flouncy dresses and anything that sparkles or glitters. I used to pride myself on the relative gender-neutrality of your toy collection, but now, there’s no mistaking that a princess obsession has taken over our household, much to my dismay.

The thing is, I grew up with these stories. So I get it. I do. I loved them.

I knew (and still know) most of the words to the movies and feel nostalgic whenever I hear their soundtracks. But reading them to you was the first time I found myself asking, in horror, “Wait a second, what are these stories teaching little kids? How did I never see this?”

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And so, dear daughter, instead of banning you from ever reading these stories again (à la King Triton), if we’re going to do this princess thing, I need to get a few things off my chest first.

1. You don’t have to change who you are to be loved.

Ariel traded in her mermaid tail for a pair of legs at the expense of her ability to properly communicate, in addition to her entire family and community. I mean, I know she loved Prince Eric, but I’d like to think that if it was love—real, honest-to-goodness love—surely Eric still would’ve loved her back, without her having to give up so very much of herself.

When you love someone, and indeed when someone loves you, that love needs to include what differentiates you, what makes you unique. I actually think that it’s through those differences, those challenges to our own characters or opinions, that we grow— individually and as a couple.

Take Princess Anna in Frozen, for example. She and Kristoff were polar opposites, in many ways. They came from different walks of life. They kinda irritated each other at the start, too, (and, spoiler alert—they’ll continue to irritate each other as their relationship blossoms) but she was the truest version of herself with him. He accepted and loved her as she was—I daresay because she was true to her authentic self.

2. On that note, ‘happily ever after’ is not really an ending.

Many of these stories end with a nice, neat “and they lived happily ever after” bow, like it’s all done and dusted. Again, spoiler alert: when you find your partner in life, and decide to commit to one another—honey, that is just the beginning.

Part of the beauty of falling in love is that actually, you get to fall in love with several versions of that person. We all grow and evolve over time. Our characters, beliefs and worldviews aren’t meant to be static. So we can’t expect the person we love to always remain who they were when our love first began.

It’s not always easy. They’re not always adorable. Some versions are harder to love than others. (Ask your father and he’ll gladly testify.) But through that evolution, together, you will find new and sometimes unexpected reasons to keep falling in love with each other. Those less than “happy” times are often the ones that bring you closer to each other, funnily enough.

3. If you keep on believing, your dreams—well, they might come true.

Look, this made for a great song in Cinderella. It sounds lovely. Just believe—and boom(!)—your dreams will come true. Okay. Yes. Believing in yourself and your aspirations is absolutely crucial.

But you also need to be proactive, take risks and make things happen.

You have to work really, really hard. Sometimes you have to fail once, twice, or 4,293 times until you get there. Sometimes, you have to change course completely because what you thought was your dream is actually a stepping stone that leads you elsewhere.

4. Have the courage to stand up for yourself because you are worthy of respect.

Belle and Cinderella are great examples of kindness, grace, compassion and selflessness—especially when faced with disrespect and cruelty from others.

But—I’m sorry—you need to demand more.

Yes, be kind. Yes, be compassionate. If someone treats you unkindly, while sometimes it’s okay to forgive them and move on, do not accept this as a pattern in any of your relationships—even, or maybe especially—if it is someone you love.

Don’t make excuses for their behavior. Call it when you see it. You have to dig deep, find that courage, and stand up for yourself.

In Brave, Merida showed courage in standing up to her mother about not wanting to get married. She decided that the best course of action was to turn her mother into a ravenous bear, so I hope we can avoid that route, because I promise to listen to you when what you want is different from what I want for you, no matter how hard that might be sometimes. Respect is a two-way street, and you deserve it from everyone, including me.

5. Golden hair, dainty feet, or “skin white as snow” is not what makes you beautiful.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t much variety in terms of how princesses looked. Jasmine, Mulan, or Pocahontas were as close as it got, and even then, they were essentially very slightly modified clones of every other Disney princess. In the more traditional stories, one of the princesses’ primary accomplishments is that she is “beautiful.” Kind, but also “beautiful.”

While I’m glad that nowadays you get to see some different representations of physical beauty in the newer Disney heroines, l want you to know that there’s one overarching thing that eclipses their skin color, hair, or body type.

Moana’s real beauty comes from things like her courage and determination. Princess Tiana’s beauty comes from her confidence and perseverance. Princess Elsa’s beauty comes from her loyalty and (eventual) wholehearted acceptance of who she really is.

Being physically beautiful means different things to different people, but the beauty of character, the more important, valuable and timeless beauty, is universal.

6. No one is inherently a “bad guy.”

Gaston, Cinderella’s stepmother, Mother Gothel, Maleficent, Jafar, Prince Hans—every story has a villain, right? The bad guy. But in the same way that I never tell you that you’re “bad” or “naughty,” these characters are not inherently bad or naughty, either.

We are all capable of making bad choices. We can all succumb to our lower nature and fail to rise up and better ourselves. And that applies to absolutely everyone.

No one is, by default, a “bad guy” or a “good guy.” It just doesn’t work that way. I know that these characters behaved in some reprehensible ways, but in real life, it’s just not that cut and dry. People change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Each person has their own journey and no one is entitled to judge another.

My sweet, dear daughter. I know this is a lot.

In fact, I could probably keep going, because there is just so much to say. I know that I’ve done some serious overthinking here, and it might be a while until we can have a thorough conversation about all of these things. But it’s my job to show you, as well as I can, the beauties and challenges of this world.

Fairy tales are all well and good, and I want you to enjoy them. I want to see that glint in your eye as you turn the page to the next part of the story. I love watching you twirl in your dress-up clothes.

But when you ask me questions about these stories and why the characters behaved as they did, I’m going to answer you with a dose of reality.

Now come over here, snuggle up to me and let’s read another story.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

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Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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