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In 2005, I received a late Christmas gift—the best Christmas gift there could ever be. It was December 26th. The gifts from the day before still needed sorted and put away. The lights still twinkled on the tree. My feet were bare and cold on the bathroom floor, and my hands were shaking as I held a digital pregnancy test, watching the hourglass spinning ‘round and ‘round. When it stopped, my life was forever changed.


I spent the next 40 weeks talking, singing and reading to the baby growing in my womb. As I read the book Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, I would rub my tummy in circles and pat whatever little body part poked up. I didn’t exactly know who was growing in there, but—oh!—how I loved him so. I prepared a beautiful nursery (which he never used) but was symbolic for welcoming into our lives a new family member. His name was on the wall. He had a place here already. He belonged.

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He was placed in my arms in September, the most beautiful and perfect little boy I’d ever seen. The following two years were nothing short of magical. We played peek-a-boo and watched Thomas the Train. I clapped when he learned to roll over, to sit up, to crawl, walk, and run. I marveled at each new word he spoke. We were completely and beautifully connected, this little boy and I. In his eyes, I saw trust.

We welcomed another son 26 months after the first had joined our home, and I was once again totally and completely in love. I thought we’d carry on our days in perfect harmony until they went off for college in the far, distant future. But no. Slowly, things began to change.

My firstborn, struggling with this overwhelming change in his life, began acting in ways I’d never seen him act. Back then, I called it defiant. I now recognize it as disconnected. In order to get a handle on this defiant toddler, I began putting him in time-out. I thought this was simply the way of things. It didn’t feel good, but it’s just how it had to be, I thought.

Eventually, the days turned from being filled with playfulness, joy and laughter, to being filled with tears and time-outs. His behavior only worsened during that time. I tried all of the tricks. Counting to three. Behavior charts. Nothing made things better. In fact, every time I put him in that little green chair at the end of the hallway, separated from me as I held his baby brother in my arms, he seemed to break just a little more.

I just wanted to teach him, not break him.

One day, when I saw him sitting there, eyes downcast, chin quivering, tears rolling down his still-baby cheeks, I stopped cold. Suddenly my eyes were opened to what I was doing, to his grief, to his loss and to mine. I looked into his eyes, and I no longer saw trust there. I saw sadness. My little boy who used to sleep with his hand up my shirt sleeve no longer trusted his mommy. Not completely. Not like he had before.

My son wasn’t defiant. He had his world turned upside down, and he didn’t know how to cope. I was the center of his world, and suddenly at least half of my attention, if not most of it, was going to another little baby that he’d never asked for. He felt strong emotions, and he couldn’t process them. He couldn’t explain them. All he could do was feel, and it felt really bad. Bad feelings drive bad behavior, so I then punished him for his bad behavior, compounding his bad feelings. It is such a messy cycle, but it’s possible to get out of.

When I finally understood that what he needed wasn’t a time-out chair in the corner of the hallway but to feel connected to me like he used to, I completely changed my approach. I trashed the green chair and brought him into my lap. I held him and read him books. We colored together. We hugged stuffed animals and talked about better ways to deal with frustration, anger, fear and sadness. I told him I loved him just as much as I always had, and that my love for him would never, ever change.

To some of you, this may sound like I reinforced bad behavior, but that’s not true. I addressed the root cause of the bad behavior–disconnection–and in doing so, his behavior improved.

The brokenness was healed.

We built block towers and forts. We painted with our feet. We had water balloon fights. We danced. We sang. The trust returned to his eyes. He and his brother became best friends. There was laughter again. There was joy. There was connection. No more time-outs—just teaching, heart-to-heart and hand-in-hand. What I learned when I saw him sitting there that fateful day was that it wasn’t my job to make him feel bad enough that he’d act better, but to help him feel valued, accepted, validated and wholeheartedly loved so that he could be his good, compassionate, kind, true self.

Children are good. They are filled with amazing potential and secure attachment unlocks that potential and allows them to grow beautifully into who they were made to be. We don’t need to break them to teach them.

Today, my boy stands at nearly 5 feet tall. Last night he threw his long, gangly arms around me and said, “Mom, I love you.” In my mind, the book I read to him when he was yet in my womb came to the surface: “’Guess how much I love you,’ he said. ‘Oh, I don’t think I could guess that.’ ‘This much,’ said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go.”

“I love you this much,” I replied, as I stretched out my arms.

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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).

News

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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