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I gave my toddler choices—instead of just telling him what to do

Giving a toddler choices may seem like a bad idea—a really bad idea. But, I needed to find an alternative to the “because I said so” I was so used to hearing growing up. That ultimatum was not working for us, and I could tell he was struggling with not being heard, which lead to inevitable meltdowns over the silliest things. Call me an optimist, but I feel that I’m outsmarting him a bit. I’m giving him a chance to make his own choices, but what he doesn’t realize is I have steered him in the direction I want him to go.

Not to say it doesn’t come with challenges as we establish who holds the power in this household (spoiler alert: It’s Mommy and Daddy). It also came with a newly coined phrase from my son, “Tell me what my options are?” Which sort of makes me cringe every time I hear it.

But I’ve tried to structure how we provide options to help him feel independent and in control of his choices, but also not create a three-year-old monster.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

I offer a max of two options

“What would you like for snack?” is a slippery slope. One, I open myself up to a crazy request that I may not be able to fulfill. Plus, I imagine the answer is always an ice pop or some sweet treat that I wouldn’t want him to have.

By instead giving him only two things to choose from it helps me keep my sanity and ensure he is still getting a snack that I deem acceptable. But he doesn’t realize that—he thinks that he is in control of his choice—which he is, but only to a certain extent.

I pick my battles (and set both of us up for success)

There are a few areas where I let his imagination soar in terms of options, and ironically most have to do with bedtime. When it comes to what PJs he wants to wear and what two books we read before bed, those are choices he can make himself. As we are winding down for the night I have found this actually leads to a calmer bedtime routine.

It is worthy to note, the bookshelf in his bedroom does not contain long books, they are all “bedtime length” and the PJ drawer is always stocked with seasonally appropriate options. AKA no fleecy footie PJs in August. Those are hidden in a separate drawer.

I let him negotiate (to a degree)

Most nights there are severe negotiations that occur in this household around screen time. You would think there was a multi-million dollar business acquisition at stake. I have found that by giving him the option to choose makes for a more peaceful experience.

For example, “if you want to watch another Paw Patrol, that means only one book before bed instead of two.” I allow him to make that choice for himself. If he really wants to watch that additional episode, something else will have to be sacrificed to make a timely bedtime, and avoid the overtired meltdown.

I love watching his face as the wheels turn in his head and he computes which option will allow him to stay up just a few minutes later.

I ask him what he needs

My son has had a hard time at school drop-off, so I was determined to find a solution. We read all the books, tried all the talking and all the bribing. Nothing worked.

Finally one day I asked him, “What do you need that Mommy isn’t giving you?” And he said, “so many kisses.” Cue simultaneous heart melting and heartbreak.

Of course I always gave him a kiss before I dropped him off, but he felt he needed more. So now, on the way to school every day he gets to choose the number of kisses he gets before he goes in the door. Today was “twenty-hundred” (working on counting is for another day).

Since we started the “you pick the amount of kisses” routine, he walks in happy and smiling every day...some days even giggling. What a change! Allowing him the ability to make his own choice has made for a much happier boy (and mama).

At the end of the day, what’s most important to me is to cultivate his confidence—and independence.

Let’s be honest—no one likes to be told what to do, especially a toddler. Allowing him to make choices on his own give him the confidence in his own decision-making ability. I may be projecting too far out, but I think that this confidence helps fuel his independence. He can be sure that he knows the right thing to do, or what will make him happy.

And a happy little man equals a happy mama, any day.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent. Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, is more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued so the crisis can be averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

For me, the fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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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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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas


Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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