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Childproofing the holidays: How to keep your kids—and your ornaments—safe

Christmas is a busy time of year. Add to that the need to keep your tiny elves from destroying your decorations and risking their own health, and it can get pretty stressful. “There are a lot of household accidents at Christmas—people’s homes are filled with all sorts of decor that isn’t normally there,” says Sage Singleton, a safety expert with Safewise.


Dr. LeAnn Kridelbaugh, president and Chief Medical Officer of Children's Health Pediatric Group in Dallas, Texas, adds “A recent study from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 15,000 injuries occur during November and December because of unsafe holiday decorations.  That’s more than 250 injuries a day that require an emergency room visit.”

So how do you protect your precious children while simultaneously protecting your heirloom Christmas decor handed down over the generations? Luckily we have some tips.

Ornaments, tinsel + decorations

Depending on the location and material, ornaments can appear to be great toys to curious little minds. Just make sure that the ones toward the bottom of the tree (if you choose to decorate it) clearly say “shatterproof” on the label. Glass, metal with sharp objects, or ornaments with tiny parts should be placed at the top of the tree.

“Small ornaments, light bulbs, and other tiny decorations pose a choking hazard if swallowed by small children. Keep small, breakable decorations out of reach.” Kridelbaugh recommends, “The best option is to store delicate ornaments and decorations until your children are older.”

Kridelbaugh also points out that, “Another area to look out for is decorations that can irritate skin, eyes and lungs. Artificial snow can have chemicals that can be harmful when sprayed and inhaled, so follow instructions on the can carefully.”

If you use tinsel, make sure your child can’t get tangled up in it. In fact, it may be wise to skip tinsel and garlands for a year or two until your kids are older, or restrict them to the top of the tree.

If you’re going to place ornaments low, opt for ribbon hangers rather than metal hooks, which can injure children and pets who put things in their mouths.

Be especially cautious of any length of string on your tree that is 12” or longer.

Toys

And of course, be sure that the gifts you’re giving meet safety standards as well, given the age of your children.

"When choosing a toy, always check the intended age range listed on the packaging and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Keep toys meant for older kids away from infants and younger kids. Buy dolls or stuffed animals with eyes that are sewn on, rather than plastic. Plastic eyes tend to fall off and are a choking hazard for younger children,” says Kridelbaugh. Additionally, “Batteries are made with chemicals that can be deadly,” so Kridelbaugh recommends checking that toys and watches have batteries that are locked in place.

And always, if you have any doubt about the safety of a toy you purchased, it can be checked for recalls at www.recalls.gov.

Candles

If you’re going to use candles, place them up high. Never put any candle near a Christmas tree, stockings, or decorations, or leave them unattended. Wax burners will reduce the fire risk, and many manufacturers make faux candles if you are interested in the look without the actual flame.

Wrapping paper, ribbons and snow

"All the trimmings for gifts are beautiful, but they are a triple threat for small children. Prevent possible suffocation, choking and fire hazards by gathering all wrappings and packaging material as gifts are unwrapped,” recommends Kridelbaugh.

Stockings

Weighted stocking holders for mantle pieces are dangerous during the holidays. “Every year, without fail, children are seriously injured by tugging on a Christmas stocking and bringing the entire heavy stocking holder down on top of their heads,” says Singleton.

She suggests that until your children are older, hanging stockings on hooks that are securely nailed in place to the mantel or even a wall is a safer alternative to weighted stocking holders.

Lights

Make sure your Christmas lights are shatterproof and the all plugs are out of a child’s reach. Putting a fake weighted present box in front of the outlet is a great way to shield your child from playing with a plug.

Alternatively, you could follow the lead of Dustin Christensen, co-founder of The Toddle and father of twin girls. He switches his electrical socket safety plugs out for a box-style cover that lets him use the outlet while still keeping them away from his twins.

"Make sure that no child under 4 can pull the string and potentially topple your tree,” instructs Kridelbaugh. She adds that, “Few people are aware that strings of lights may be coated in a plastic that contains lead, so be sure to wash your hands after handling lights.”

Poinsettias and other Christmas plants

Mistletoe can be extremely poisonous to humans, and although it’s usually placed high up, it’s not advisable to have it in a house with small children. “I’d refrain from using mistletoe in any home with a child under the age of 4,” says Singleton.

For the same reason, Singleton also cautions against the use of holly berries as they are also poisonous to humans, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Kridelbaugh adds amaryllis to this list.

Poinsettias can make some pets sick but are rarely poisonous to humans if ingested. If your child ate quite a few leaves however, it might upset their stomach.

Medication

This is an area that is all too often forgotten. “If you're hosting guests, remember to put medications well out of the reach of children. Blood pressure medications, blood thinners and prescription opioids are especially dangerous for kids,” states Kridelbaugh.

The Christmas tree

Ah, the Christmas tree—an endless source of fascination for little ones. Those bright, shiny lights and sparkling balls can be irresistible to curious elves.

"If you’ve purchased a natural tree, make sure it's in a sturdy stand that's rated for the tree's size, and place it where foot traffic won't knock it over. Additionally, replenish the water regularly to keep your tree from drying out,” recommends Kridelbaugh. She adds, “When it comes to artificial trees, remember that trees made in China, or trees that are older than nine years, may also contain lead or give off dangerous levels of lead dust as they deteriorate. This is a good time to toss out your old tree and check labels for lead content as you purchase a new one [made of polyethylene (PE) instead].”

There are a few options for safeguarding your tree against damage and (worse yet) tipping over.

  • Decorate the top half. If you have a big tree, this works well. Just decorate the top half, lights and all, and keep all ornaments out of your child’s’ reach. Or, place the bigger, unbreakable ornaments on the bottom half of the tree where, if taken, they won’t harm your child or break your heart.
  • Fence it in. Many parents buy a 360 degree circular fence to put around their entire tree. This is great if you have a lot of space. Another option is to put the tree in the corner and put a fence from wall to wall.
  • Faux present wall. Christi with Love from the Oven offers a how-to for making your own wall out of large boxes. Just fill the boxes with something heavy like books, and wrap them like pretty Christmas presents. Your baby will be blocked from the tree and presents without compromising your decor.
  • Go tiny. You may decide that a standard-sized Christmas tree is too much bother this year. A great alternative is a tiny tree on top of a table. Still festive, but out of reach of little hands.
  • Add weight or anchor it. Be sure to add weight to the base of your tree. “Every year children get hurt by pulling the Christmas tree down on themselves,” says Singleton. She suggests using sandbags or rice bags to weigh down the base of artificial trees. “Real trees are usually heavier, but if you can weight those down too or even anchor them to the wall with a strap, it will help ensure your child’s safety,” she says.

Be safe, have fun.

Having a tour of the house can also go a long way in preventing holiday accidents. “We go around the house and explain to our toddlers what the ‘new’ lights and decorations are so that they understand they're not to be played with, and it's a great chance for them to learn new words and holiday songs too,” says Christensen.

Christmas time is a magical time of year and one that delights babies and children alike. With a few simple tricks and cautious use, your Christmas decorations can provide a lot of enjoyment without endangering your children.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.

I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child.

This was uncharted territory.

I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn't sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU'RE AMAZING!!" Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!"?

Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I'm sorry, um, can you hold her?" She held out her crying infant towards me.

“YES!" I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.

“I have four," I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn't chosen a psychopath.

“Me too," she smiled.

“Target with kids is hard," I said, “how old is she?"

“Four weeks," she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes, “thank you so much," she took back her baby and I watched her walk away.

No…thank you. I thought.

I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count.

I've stood sweating in this woman's exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I've felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I've felt so alone and so out of control.

I've thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.

I've pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I've felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.

But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper—hey, I get it, I've been here too—you're doing a great job.

This mama was brave.

She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I'm not alone.

I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.

Whatever stage I find myself at, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.

I'm not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I'm not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I'm not the only Mom to lose her temper. I'm not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.

We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.

Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn't met yet.

She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.

To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don't know how she felt. I don't know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don't know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.

I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.

I hope she felt like I was WITH her.

No judgement.

Just respect.

We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment."

It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one."

#Solidarity

Jessica writes at her blog Wonderoak. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We all know that being a mother brings many joys, but a phenomenal sex life is not usually one of them. While parenting with a partner can be the most beautiful bonding experience, it can also be a breeding ground for resentment, romantic disconnect and unsatisfying sex.

But all is not lost to a life with little ones. As a mom of two, I attest to the fact that parenthood can actually improve your sex life; and as a relationship coach, I know I'm not alone in that. But here's the thing: you have to give it some attention. Great sex doesn't just happen on its own.

A truly satisfying sex life after kids requires education, communication, commitment and confidence. It asks that you shift your attitude from seeing sex as a chore to something pleasurable that you have the privilege of doing with the partner you love.

And I'm here to show you how.

Here are six elements to have a great sex life after kids.

1. Time

A great sex life requires time. I know what you're thinking: there's already too much on your to-do list. But you're just as important as everything else, and you need to make pleasure a priority. Maybe you put the kids to bed 30 minutes early or swap babysitting nights with your sister-in-law for a pre-planned date night. But you need to find the time to focus on yourself as a woman and as a lover.

2. Sleep

You need sleep to feel like a human, and you need to feel like a human to rekindle your sex life. A 2015 study found that with just one more hour of sleep a night, women were 14% more likely to engage in a sexual activity the next day. So do whatever it takes to get more sleep; take two 20-minute naps or promise yourself one early bedtime a week and see the difference it can make.

3. Ask for help

Between picking up after the kids and laundry and dishes, household responsibilities can put a toll on your relationship. After all, they provide the perfect breeding ground for resentment; and, let's face it, resentment is the opposite of attraction. So ask for help. Yes, from your partner (research shows that sharing household responsibilities increases the frequency of sex a couple has), but also from the reinforcements. Call your mom or your best friend and ask for help, or even splurge on an agency to help you get things back in order.

4. Attitude

When you want a happy and healthy sex life, you need the right attitude—one that doesn't treat sex and intimacy like a chore, but enthusiastically embraces sex positivity. Although it sounds difficult, it's really just four principles.

First, make sex a PRIORITY, which may mean giving up an evening playing Candy Crush to have a romantic night with your man. Then you need to do some PLANNING and put sex on your calendar. Planning intimacy does not have to take the fun out of it, but instead builds the rhythm we need for spontaneous lovemaking to occur.

But you also need FLEXIBILITY to make a great sex life work, especially with parenthood. Is one of the kids sick? Push back your special night until tomorrow. Babysitter cancelled? It's okay to settle for Netflix and a quickie. Go with the flow a little more and you may be surprised what fun you can have. Finally, FOLLOW-THROUGH and commit to these principles. If you throw in the towel after the first roadblock, you're telling yourself and your man that your sex life isn't important enough to fight for, which only leads to more disappointment and resentment.

5. Sex toys

Sex toys aren't only for solo play, they can add fun and excitement when used with your partner. A toy, whether a vibrator or silk blindfold, brings newness to the bedroom, which can turn you on and inspire you to explore. Beyond their aphrodisiac effect, sex toys can give you the extra stimulation you need and ensure that you get your happy ending, too.

6. Sense of humor

Parenting can bring MAJOR frustration to your sex life, and when it goes unaddressed, it drives a wedge in your relationship. Don't let it. Approach parenting's chaos with a sense of humor. Share your oh-my-god experiences together and laugh about them. Embrace the crazy joy parenthood offers and use it as a connection point, something that ties you together, not tears you apart.

Mamas, I know you're exhausted. And I know sex is often the last thing on your mind. But I promise, if you put in a little bit of effort and dedication in your sex life, it pays back tenfold. You get better sex. Your relationship improves. And your partner transforms, once more, into your lover.

The mental load of motherhood is heavy, but it can be difficult to explain what it really feels like to others. It's that never-ending to-do list that has to get done, but only seems to get longer. It's the constant worry of having to get all of those things done, from routine check-ins to managing the emotional balance of the household.

Simply put, it's invisible work that has to be done by someone—and that usually falls on mama.

If you're having trouble explaining that load to others, whether it be friends or your partner, Karen Kleiman, a well-known international maternal mental-health expert, put it into words. And Molly McIntyre, an illustrator and comic artist drew beautiful images.




Illustrated by Molly McIntyre. Molly McIntyre is an illustrator and comic artist with a background in traditional printmaking and book arts techniques. Her illustrations have been featured in Bitch magazine, Everyday Feminism, ScaryMommy, Psychology Today, and more. She is currently working on a collection of comics about new motherhood, called Momzines. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and young son.

Comics from Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, an accessible collection of comics and resources, releasing March 1st from Familius and available at bookstores everywhere.

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