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For as long as I can remember I’ve started to get excited about Christmas as soon as the weather began to cool and the leaves began to turn. I’ve always loved the sparkly lights and the at-home coziness of the holiday season, but the day itself has taken on a new significance now that I have children.


Over the past few years I’ve loved seeing my son’s eyes light up as he opened his presents and, each year, wooed by holiday ads and the thought of my child’s smile, I’ve ended up spending a lot more than I intended.

This year, out of necessity, I’ve decided I’m doing things differently.

Since last Christmas, my husband and I have had a baby, taken a partially-paid maternity leave and an unpaid paternity leave, bought a new home and started our older son at a full time preschool. We’ve also made some intentional decisions about how we want our children relate to money.

The average American family is planning to spend an average of $983 for gifts this holiday season. But they don’t have to.

This Christmas, we’ve decided to opt out of going above and beyond and, instead, stick to a strict $200 budget for our little family. If you’re considering (or being pushed by circumstances) towards a budget Christmas, here’s how we have an amazing holiday together—without spending much.

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The Baby

The baby will receive gifts this year mainly because it would seem suspicious for Santa not to bring him anything. As a 13-month-old, his interests are limited: he enjoys napping, nursing and getting into the kitchen cabinets. Under the tree he’ll find:

A television remote: $7

Again, not a very Instagrammable gift, but something that I know my child will love. As of now my tot totes around our real TV remote, come Christmas time he’ll have one of his very own.

A soft duck: $25

My baby is the classic second child, born in the same season as my first, he has hand-me-down everything. Almost all of my baby’s possessions, from books to clothes to toys were once used by my first. As my babe enters the phase of his life when he might become attached to a comfort object, I plan to get him a brand new and very soft stuffed duck.

A large ball: $4

A big fan of chasing and rolling, my baby will be unwrapping a brand new ball on Christmas morning.

Baby total: $36

The Preschooler

A personally curated art kit: $20.00

My preschooler loves art and, while the quality of the supplies might matter to a more seasoned artist, I’ve found that my boy simply loves the feel of paint on his fingers and the sensation of cutting paper with “real scissors.”

For less than $20, I’ve created an on-the-go art box that my boy can haul around the house and explore over the next few months. The art kit includes the box itself ($5.99) a pack of construction paper ($3.99), 3 mini-sets of paint ($2.99) a pack of paintbrushes ($1.99), markers ($2.99) and 2 pairs of silly scissors ($1.99).

A pair of character pajamas: $19.99

Pajamas are a practical gift that are also incredibly fun. My son is a big Daniel Tiger fan so he’ll be getting a trolley adorned set under the tree this year.

An E.T. Poster: $7.99

This past summer my son stayed a weekend with his grandparents and, despite our Daniel Tiger only decelerations, my parents gave in to nostalgia and let my son watch E.T. Ever since, he’s been obsessed. This Christmas he’ll be getting an E.T. poster to hang next to his bed.

A kids wheelbarrow from the neighborhood list serve: $10

While we buy a lot of our children’s clothes and supplies second-hand we typically shop new for toys simply because it can be really hard to find what you want. This year we started looking early and scored an almost-new wheelbarrow that my boy will love.

A set of pre-cut 2x4’s: $8

My son loves to build in the backyard and, as un-instagrammable as plain old 2x4s are, I know my boy will be thrilled to have something he can use to construct.

Two books: $12

As an avid reader, my son will be more than happy to receive a couple of new books he can read with me or my husband and that he can flip through as he drifts off to sleep.

A “movie night” bundle: $2

At our house, movie nights are a real treat. This Christmas we’ll be gifting my son a movie night by wrapping up a bag of microwave popcorn, a hand drawn movie ticket and a pack of Sweedish Fish.

A flashlight: $2

While a flashlight might not seem exciting to a grown up, to a preschooler it’s the key to after-dark adventure. I know my son will be thrilled opening up this gift and look forward to hours spent reading under the covers and creating shadow-puppet shows on his bedroom wall.

Preschooler total: $82

The mom and dad:

While it’s always nice to receive a little something, my husband and I typically buy what we need for ourselves and aren’t big spenders. This year, because we had a few major expenses, we’re opting out of getting each other anything big and, instead opting for a few small gifts.

A Handprint ornament for each child: $6

We love honoring our kids and plan to make handprint ornaments as gifts to each other. In the future I’m sure we’ll look back at their tiny hands and wonder how our sons ever used to be so small.

Two $10 Chipotle gift cards: $20

Throughout the week my husband and I each pack our lunch for work. Giving each other gift cards is really giving the gift of being lazy one evening and skipping the chore of packing lunch.

A gift card to the movie theater $26

Date nights are hard to come by in our house but, because we have full time childcare for both of our kids, afternoon dates are a little more possible. A gift card to the movie theater will give us the chance to sneak out of work a couple of hours early and head to a matinee showing.

Assorted teas: $15

My husband enjoys hot tea each evening and, this year, I’ll shop for an assortment of teas he may not yet have tried yet.

Assorted chocolates: $15

As the chocolate lover of the family, I’m counting on my husband to pick up a few nice truffles from the local chocolate shop.

The mom and dad Total: $82 (split)


Holiday Cheer (free)

While presents are fun, we all know that the holidays are really about spending time with the people we love the most.

This winter, we’ll work hard to create holiday magic without breaking the bank by planning ahead and engaging the resources we already have. As the holiday’s approach we’ll:

Listen to holiday music

Nothing says “Christmas” like the jingle of familiar music. This year we’ll sing along to the classics on our favorite Pandora station as we wrap gifts, bake cookies and decorate our tree.

Check out the local lights

Some of my favorite childhood memories involved peering at Christmas lights from the back of my parent’s car as we cruised around town and sipped on vanilla milkshakes. This year, I’ll map out the best displays in town, suit my sons up in their pajamas and take a long cozy ride.

Create homemade holiday cards

While professionally printed holiday cards can be pricy, my family has enough art supplies lying around to create beautiful, homemade cards I’ll be proud to send out. This year I’ll let my preschooler get in on the fun by helping me paint, draw and craft our holiday notes.

Cook our holiday favorites

As the holidays approach I’ll be pulling out my grandmothers recipe cards and baking my way though her favorites. Engaging seasonal recipes won’t cost us any more than our regular groceries and will ensure our boys have cozy memories of their favorite holiday foods.

Watch the classics

This year, most popular cable channels will be showing a variety of classic holiday movies. While I’ve seen most of the classics at least a few times, I’m looking forward to watching the joy spread across my child’s face as he watches one of my old favorites.

If your family is interested in opting out of going overboard, consider setting a limit that seems reasonable and sticking to it.

In our family, the keys to our shopping success have been focusing our spending on our kids, selecting gifts that will make our kids happy (even if they don’t appear on any top-toys list) and choosing not to compare our gift piles with those of other families.

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

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

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

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

1. Getting on the school bus.

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

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

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

3. Posing with their backpack.

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

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

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

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

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

6. With their graduating class shirt.

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

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

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

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

8. In their classroom.

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

9. With their teacher.

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

10. With you!

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

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

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[Editor's Note: We support parents in making the best infant feeding choices for their family, whether that be formula feeding, breastfeeding, pumping, donor milk or any combination of feeding methods.]

Feeding babies takes a lot of effort, no matter what a baby is eating. Parents need support whether their baby is drinking breastmilk, formula or both, but we know mothers often don't feel supported in either choice. Mothers who choose or have to use formula often feel stigmatized, while mothers who breastfeed often get shunned for public breastfeeding or find themselves needing to pump in a workplace that offers no lactation room.

Individual mothers pay when society doesn't support parents in breastfeeding their babies. Formula can be expensive, but when workplaces discriminate against nursing moms, it's an expense some women have no choice but to take on. But that's not the cost we're discussing here.

A new website created by breastfeeding researchers Phan Hong Linh, Roger Mathisen and Dylan Walters suggests that, on a global scale, failing to support breastfeeding is costing an estimated $341 billion a year.

The Cost of Not Breastfeeding tool was developed by Alive & Thrive, an initiative to save lives and prevent illness worldwide through "through optimal maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and complementary feeding practices." To be clear, the site isn't targeted at individual parents who are unable or choose not to breastfeed their babies. Rather, it's a tool that illustrates the global economic losses that might be attributed to the low percentage of breastfed babies.

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The researchers behind the tool hope policymakers will look at it and decide to commit more resources to support parents.

Using the tool, you can use a dropdown menu to see how these costs break down for 34 different countries. In the U.S., where only 24% of children are exclusively breastfed, the tool estimates that it costs more than $28,000,000 in healthcare just to treat diarrhea and respiratory infections in children that could be prevented if more mothers were supported in breastfeeding.

Though many of the developing countries in the tool have higher percentages of breastfeeding than the United States, the costs of not breastfeeding the remaining children are higher. This is presumably because the risk of the associated diseases is already higher in those countries (due to factors like poverty, water quality, etc.).

Alive & Thrive gathered data on mortality (of children and mothers); cases of diarrhea, pneumonia, and obesity in children that could be attributed to not breastfeeding; cases of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes in mothers; the cost of medical care for those conditions; the cost of formula; and then the future cost to the economy of the loss of children's lives and having unhealthy children and mothers.

Many of these numbers are estimates based on estimates, but it's hard to argue against the bigger-picture argument of the tool's developer, health economist Dylan Walters.

"We need to be sensitive to the constraints and hardships faced by mothers and families in a world that lacks basic support systems for their physical, psycho-social, and economic well-being," Walters said in a post on Alive & Thrive's website. "Even more, mothers and families are up against a constant barrage of corporate marketing of alternatives and misinformation spread that undermines what should be boringly second nature and not stigmatized by society."

The organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks of paid family leave and more support of nursing mothers on work sites. It also states that governments should enforce laws limiting the advertisement of infant formula.

Such laws may make sense in countries where access to clean water makes formula feeding difficult, but in wealthy nations like the United States, where formula feeding is a safe and legitimate choice, some worry limiting information about formula stigmatizes and patronizes mothers who are capable of choosing what is best for their babies.

The World Health Organization recommends that babies exclusively breastfeed for their first six months, and then receive a combination of breast milk and other nutrition until they are 2 years old. UNICEF estimates that globally as of 2016, 43% of children are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months of life, and 46% continue until age 2. A recent survey found 1 in 4 Americans do not believe moms should be allowed to breastfeed or pump in the clear view of the public, and while 90% of Americans say they believe women should be allowed to pump at work, about 1 in 3 do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room.

The discrepancy here between what is recommended and what is actually supported is shocking. Mothers are being told to breastfeed, but then are also being told to cover up, or that they can't pump at work. When there are so many obstacles to breastfeeding it shouldn't be shocking that breastfeeding rates in America are lower than the WHO would like.

This lack of support and mixed messages are making the work of motherhood—something that is already deeply emotionally and mentally draining—even harder. The conversation about infant feeding should not be about supporting one type of infant feeding over another, it needs to be about supporting women in motherhood and in their choices. The cost of not doing so is staggering.

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"This time I'm really prepared," I think to myself as I board yet another plane with my now very active and mobile toddler. By the number of things I'm carrying you'd think I'm moving across the country, but actually, we are only going away for a few days. I have snacks, favorite toys, the lovey, books he likes us to read on repeat.

I will not have a screaming child on this flight. I. Will. Not.

Before I was a parent, I was one of those annoying passengers who would huff and puff when a baby started crying on a plane. I say this with full guilt because I cannot believe I was so mean. In my (tiny) defense, I used to travel A LOT for work and my time on the plane was either to catch up on sleep or decompress so the last thing I wanted to have was a screaming baby next to me.

But I am that mom now. And I wish I could go back in time and apologize to all those parents I gave nasty looks to in an attempt to make them feel bad. Because now I know, oh… I know.

Travel is annoying for everyone. Think about it: the waiting around the airport, the rushed boarding, everyone being grumpy as they try to fit their carry-ons in the overhead compartment, the tiny seats.

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Now, look at it from the perspective of a child. It's a new place, you can't really go anywhere, there are weird noises and smells and you are confined to a tiny tiny place you can't really explore. Plus, you have a bunch of strangers looking at you. And the pressure in their ears. It must be really confusing when you don't know what is happening.

Recently a mom in one of my Facebook groups asked if she should bring little candy bags with a note apologizing for her baby's cries to distribute to her seatmates on a plane. The answers were all the same: Don't. Because this is the thing, we can't go around life apologizing for our kids being kids and for us being the best parents we can be.

What I do distribute when I fly with my son is smiles. He starts screaming because I don't let him play with the tray table and someone gives me a look? I smile at them.

He gets cranky because he's trying to get comfortable to take that nap he wasn't able to because of a change in schedule? Yup, I smile.

I don't apologize, I try to not get frustrated. I just let everyone else know with my smile that "I know, toddlers are a handful huh?"

Most of the time it works, and if it doesn't, too bad for them.

What we need more of, though, is people helping out parents in stressful situations (like air travel, or any travel to be honest). I will never forget the flight attendant who gave me extra packs of cookies after seeing how into them my son was. Or the person who asked people to wait for the bathroom so I could cut the line and change him out of his blowout diaper.

I will be forever grateful to everyone that cooed and smiled and said hello to my son from the gate to baggage claim. I wish I could go back and thank the woman who held my son after she saw me fumble with all the bags and the stroller so I could get everything ready without him running away from me. This is what we need more of.

We parents already deal with tons of stress on a daily basis—are they eating enough, did they have enough playtime, are they having too much screen time, am I keeping them active enough?—that we don't need the judgment of passengers when we choose to (literally) embark on an adventure with our kids to show them the world.

So next time I travel without my son, I will be that helping hand for any parent I see. And mama, if your baby is crying, screaming and kicking on what seems like a never-ending flight, take a deep breath and smile at everyone around you, you will be landing soon.

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Life

Before my son was born, I had no idea how good my sleep life was. On the weekends especially, it wasn't unusual for me to sleep in until noon. Sometimes 1 pm if it was a really late night. (Anyone else ever finds themselves kind of hating envying their pre-mom selves? No? Just me? 🤷🏽♀️)

I remember being pregnant and everyone saying, "Get as much sleep as you can now." I knew that having a newborn meant sleep deprivation, but I felt like everyone was being so extreme in their advice to me. Yeah, you don't sleep, but they start sleeping through the night eventually right? Like at 2 months old, right?

(Oh, pre-mom me. You naive, sweet soul.)

Let's say those first two weeks home were truly eye-opening. Actually, literally eye-opening. Because it was a rare moment when I could actually close my eyes. The first night home was especially brutal.

I had not slept well in the hospital—not being able to get used to the low buzz of the hospital sounds, having random nurses or doctors come in and out of my room, and oh yeah, staring at this squishy little newborn alien that was now mine to take care of and be completely responsible for. (That thought alone is enough to keep any woman lying awake when she should be sleeping, regardless of her child's age.)

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So that first night home, I craved sleep. All my tired mind and sore body begged for was rest. In my own bed. For at least 12-14 hours straight. I went to bed earlier than I ever had before. The baby was sleeping soundly in his bassinet next to me and I thought it was my chance to catch up on what I was owed.

One hour later, the little one was crying and hungry. I popped out of bed to feed him. He settled down, I changed his diaper and got him back to sleep. Back to his bassinet. Back to my bed.


Thirty minutes later, it happened again. How can he possibly be hungry again? I thought. I stared at my husband and that's when we both realized we had a long night ahead of us.

The next morning (or really, what felt like the continuation of one very long day), I got up and wondered how I was going to do this. I hadn't slept. I felt like a shadow and my mind was as foggy as ever. I was walking around in what felt like a completely foreign postpartum body, and now my sleep-addled brain was going, too.

How do people 'mom' like this? I thought.

They just do, I would later realize.

Moms who are sleep-deprived just get through the day and do what they need to to keep their family's world—and their own—spinning on its axis.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms get up and make breakfast. They get their kids dressed for school, buckle them into their car seats and make it to pre-school dropoff on time.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms remember to bring their pump to work. They get dressed for the big meeting, pat each hair perfectly into place and walk into the building looking and acting like the boss they are.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms serve up the no-foam, double-shot mocha latte with Stevia instead of sugar the customer orders. They remember to hold the bread, serve the ranch on the side, and ask the cook if there are any peanuts in the recipe.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas tame the tantrums. They soothe their 2-year-old in the middle of the aisle in Target during an epic meltdown and they still don't forget to grab the milk they went shopping for in the first place.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas sing funny songs to make the baby laugh. They tickle chubby baby bellies, they rock their precious one to sleep for as long as it takes to see those soft baby eyelids flutter closed and content.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas get themselves ready for that first day back at work from maternity leave. They sit at their computer facing a blank screen and know that they can do this today, even though they miss their baby desperately. Because they are ridiculously good at their job.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms change that 6th diaper of the day. They wipe up the 50th time the baby spits up. They put away the same toy for the 8th time that day.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, moms ask their friends or partner how their day was. They listen intently to the problem or great thing that happened and commiserate or celebrate accordingly.

Even though they're sleep deprived, moms rally to go out for girl's night. They answer the distraught message their best friend sent them—even if it is a day (or three) later. They cook up an extra meal for the neighbor who just had a baby.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas check their babies' temperatures. They wait for fevers to break. They call the doctor in the middle of the night. They lay beside their children on tiny twin mattresses, offering comfort for stuffy noses and worn-out little bodies.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas want to feel like themselves. So they stay up late. To get a little bit of me time and binge-watch Younger or The Bachelor or finish reading that novel or listen to that podcast that she'd heard such great things about.

Even though they're sleep-deprived, mamas push to check off everything on their to-do list. They squeeze in one more load of laundry or finish cleaning that last pile of dishes so it won't be waiting tomorrow. They go around the house checking windows and doors to make sure everyone is safe. They stay up worrying even though they desperately need to sleep.


As my newborn grew into the toddler he is now, I learned more and more what I could accomplish on two, three, four, hours of sleep. I became amazed—and still am—by what I see my fellow mamas and myself achieve.

Just imagine how much more we could get done on a full night's sleep.

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Life

Maisonette is a go-to destination for high-quality baby and children's fashion and products, and they just launched their very own baby registry to make preparing for your new bundle of joy that much simpler. 🙌

When growing a family, functionality is just as important as style, but that doesn't mean you have to skimp on having a nursery that is beautiful, mama. The Maisonette Baby Registry offers endless registry essentials and exclusive products from layette bundles and teething sets to Moses baskets and knit clothing. Plus, they're featuring plenty of top-rated gear to cover you from newborn stages and beyond.

"With the introduction of the Maisonette Baby Registry, we wanted to create a one-stop destination for first time parents and parents expecting their second or third child—not just for what you need, but for the extra-special items that parents actually want," sais Sylvana Ward Durrett, co-founder and CEO of Maisonette

If you're a fan of the Maisonette aesthetic, you can now create a registry (or shop for another mama!) right on their website. Even better? They're collaborated with several influential mamas, like Daphne Oz, Diane Kruger, and Lily Aldridge so you can check out their very own registries for a little inspiration.

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We can't wait to look through the curated registry picks. 🎉

Shop the Maisonette Baby Registry

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