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I did a ridiculous amount of reading when I was pregnant. I read natural parenting books and baby scheduling books and how to make your baby happy with no crying and eating is good for everyone led by the spirit of your baby your self books. If there was a book to read, rest assured, I gave it a go.

I thought I knew everything I'd need to know.

How much of that information did I actually use? Some. A little. The best bits of this, a quick trick from that, but no single book was spot-on accurate, and nothing was anywhere near as easy as all my reading had led me to believe. Fable was just herself, and apparently she hadn't been reading the same stuff I'd been bingeing on. All that reading was mostly a waste of time.*

These are the words I wish I'd read instead, before jumping headlong into the mommyhood with my books and my charts and my ideals and my high horses. They're flawed, and they aren't all pretty, but they're hard won and honest and as true as I can get'em.

Here's what I wish I'd known:

1. You are going to suck at this parenting gig + be awesome at it at the same time, all the time.

You will be a different parent every morning to a child who will also be different, sometimes changing in just hours, or minutes, or before your eyes. There will be good days and bad days, good minutes and bad minutes, good choices and not so good ones. You will do some things, probably a lot of things, wrong. Be gentle with yourself, because you are wildly loved and incredibly needed. You are climbing Mt. Everest with basically zero conditioning – expect to be kind of terrible at it for awhile. You are beautiful. We are for you.

2. Postpartum bodies are squashy + wobbly + dimpled + stretched.

Also foreign and embarrassing and difficult and painful and gorgeously imperfect, and they tend to stay that way for quite awhile. You made a human. Now make your peace. Eat good food. Walk around when you're well enough. Listen to the people who tell you you're beautiful. Take them at their word. Remember where your worth comes from.

3. Your baby is not like the other babies.

Your baby is the only one of herself who has ever been, and you and your partner are the only experts on her. Your baby will not behave like the books say, won't like what she's supposed to like, won't do what she's supposed to do when she's supposed to do it, and that's normal and great and perfectly okay.

The best thing you can do is put down your literature and get to know your baby. What does she like? What makes her laugh? How does she best fall asleep? What does hungry sound like? The discovery of these things will serve you so much more than any stranger's care instructions ever will.

You don't have to make your life or your family look like any particular model—you don't have to follow the rules. You just have to create a life that works for you and fosters love and security and a whole lot of laughter. If that looks like 2 a.m. pancake parties, I'm not going to tell on you. I might actually admire you and be just a little bit jealous.

4. We have to stop telling people that things should be easy + painless.

We live in a culture that equates ease with value. The easier it is, the better it is; if it hurts you, something is wrong. Reality check: sometimes things that are hard and painful are also really, really good.

Every once in a while as a parent, one of the things that you thought would be really difficult turns out to be incredibly easy and drama free. This is called a miracle, and though it might be somehow related to some book you read and the alignment of the stars and a magic way you pat the soles of your baby's feet and the tea you drink on Thursdays, it's still mostly a miracle, and the odds of that same miracle happening to EVERY OTHER PARENT EVERYWHERE are pretty slim, even with books and stars and tea and so much foot-patting.

We get excited in our victories, and want to share them, but it's important to remember that we are all struggling with different issues. One daddy's easy is some mama's nightmare. And just because your baby doesn't sleep through the night at 5 weeks or eat with a fork by her first birthday or cries a lot, or your boobs get sore from breastfeeding (even though her latch is perfect)—just because it isn't EASY and PAINLESS—it isn't necessarily wrong. Sometimes hard is okay, sometimes, often, it's even good. Hard is how we grow. And guess what, kiddo? Parenting is hard.

5. Oh mylanta, the poop.

They warn you. They tell you. And despite every warning, it is still baffling and alarming and downright awe-inspiring how much of your next year is going to be spent dealing with, assessing, smelling for, washing off, evaluating, discussing, logging and transporting poop. Get good and comfy with poop, friends. The poop cometh. For whom the poop tolls. The hunt for poop—you get the idea.

6. The sooner you can figure out how to accept unwanted advice gracefully, the easier your year is going to be.

For whatever reason, people love to weigh in on babies—everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to share. I believe that most of this advice is pretty well-intentioned. Most of it falls into the "It worked for me and I am so happy and I want to share my joy with you because you look very tired" category, which is at least only mildly offensive and really very sincere.

Here's the thing: You can stumble through this crazy first 12 months in defense mode, snapping witty comebacks at judgmental old ladies or know-it-all childless people, or you can decide to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, smile and say thank you, and become very Zen and confident about knowing what's best for your child and not giving one ounce of your abundance of poop about what anyone else says.

If I were you, I'd aim for Zen.

Nobody is out to get you. Everyone wants you to succeed. And screw them all anyway, because you are raising a child, and that is awesome. Did your kid eat something today? Is she relatively hygienically sound? Smiles occasionally? You win all the things. You are awesome enough to absorb any and all commentary, keep the bits you like, and toss the bits you don't. How sweet of them to care.

7. Start stretching, because it’s time to get flexible.

I'm not a big fan of general statements like "All babies like swaddling," or "Co-sleeping is best for everybody," but there is one I can get behind: Babies are really inconvenient.

Your schedule, your sleep, your stellar punctuality record, your deadlines, your best shirts, your relationships—everything is about to get messy and complicated. You have two choices: become a weepinghungrytiredmess of doom, or swallow every ounce of pride you have and become flexible.

Ask for help. Admit failure. Be late. Stay in your pajamas. Ignore the dishes. Let slide what can slide and rejoice when you make it through with all your bare necessities intact. You are going to miss a few parties and a lot of snoozes and probably many other important things, and it will be okay. It will be better than okay. It will be amazing.

8. It actually does take a village.

The most important thing to get for your baby is not a Rock n' Play, nor a good set of swaddling blankets, nor a high-end stroller. The most important thing to get for your baby is a village.

Your village will keep you afloat. They will carry you when you are tired, feed you when you are starving, forgive you when you are unkempt and hours late and a neglectful friend who can't remember to wear socks let alone whose birthday it is. They will love your baby when you are too tired or frustrated to hold her at the moment, because you are imperfect and human and have imperfect and human failings. They will remind you who you are when you start to think your whole life is only about poop. They will lift you up.

I did a ridiculous amount of reading when I was pregnant. I read natural parenting books and baby scheduling books and how to make your baby happy with no crying and eating is good for everyone led by the spirit of "your baby, yourself" books. If there was a book to read, rest assured, I gave it a go.

9. We have to lift each other up.

Raising babies is the hardest thing many of us have ever done. We can tear each other to bits, criticize choices and turn up noses, or we can love each other, admire adorable babies, offer a hand and celebrate victories. This is not a difficult choice, people. Nobody cares that your way is better. Everyone cares that your kid is gorgeous and let's chat over coffee and what have you been doing with your hair lately because you look fabulous. Don't be horrible. It isn't really that hard.

10. Success is found in being willing to grow.

Here's the truth: You don't know much of anything.

A year from now, after your fantastic kid turns 1, you won't know much of anything still. Gather wisdom around you. Learn from your mistakes. Stay humble. Stay open. When you know better, do better. Be a better parent tomorrow than you were today, always, everyday, as often as you can. Try things out and leave them behind shamelessly if they don't work out.

Life isn't a contest or a game. It's simply only beautifully life. Live the minutes instead of scoring them. Love that incredible baby.

Oh, lovely, you are going to have so much fun!

Originally posted on Girl of Cardigan.

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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New mama Shay Mitchell is the latest celeb to prove that breastfeeding can be so glam.

Eleven months after Rachel McAdams' viral breast pumping photo from her Girls Girls Girls shoot, Michell posted her own a gorgeous portrait she captioned "Breast friends."

The pun is so intended and Shay obviously intends to normalize breastfeeding.

Shay isn't the only celeb to follow in McAdam's footsteps.

Earlier this year Hilary Duff posted an Instagram shot comparing her own pumping moment to McAdams'. In the black and white photo she's seen using a manual breast pump while wearing a parka and a disposable plastic hair cap (it looks like she's getting her hair done).

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With plastic wrap on her head and a towel draped over her shoulders she looks a lot less glam than McAdams did in diamonds and Versace, but that's kind of the point.

"Am I doing this right?" Duff captioned a comparison of the shots.

Yes, mama. You're doing this right.

Whether you've got a Willow tucked into your ball gown like Nicole Phelps did, or are going hands-free with a double electric pump like McAdams, or are nursing in a Target dressing room like Jessica Alba did, or are feeding your baby a bottle full of formula (Alba did that, too), you're doing this right.

We don't all look like movie stars when we're living this mom life, but Duff reminds us that movie stars don't always look like that either.

Sometimes, they (and we) look like multitasking mamas, and it's okay to laugh about it together.

[A version of this story was first posted January 4, 2019. It has been updated.]

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It's officially matching family pajama season—okay, technically you can match all year round, but the holidays are the perfect excuse to get everyone in the family into the same cozy outfit. Hanna Andersson, one of our favorite destinations for all things matching and comfortable, just dropped a last-minute surprise pajama collection for the season and you're going to be obsessed, mama.

If you can't get everyone on board to wear holiday-specific looks, we can guarantee they'll sign up for these avocado or bacon and egg prints. All pajamas are made with organic cotton knit, making them incredibly soft and gentle on even the littlest kiddo's skin and high enough quality so they won't fade. Plus, the seams are flat so they won't be itchy. Kid sleepers start at $42 with adult long john PJs $48 for bottoms and $46 for tops—but we promise they're worth it!

If you're still in search of the perfect Christmas morning pajamas or holiday loungewear, we adore these:

Bacon + eggs 🥓

matching family pjs

What better print to wear for breakfast? The background blue is beautiful and kids will love the fun bacon slices and egg prints. This one even comes with a matching outfit for your family pet.

$46

Lemons in white 🍋

matching family pajamas

This is one of the most classic prints from the collections, and perfect to wear all year round. It features a sleeper, kids short set and women's long john set.

$46

Avocados 🥑

matching family pajamas

If we're being honest, this would 100% be our option for an Instagram post. What's cuter than a little one dressed in an avocado pair?

$46

Lemons in navy 🍋

matching family pjs

If white isn't your thing (or you're too worried about messes) you're in luck. The classic lemon print comes in a navy background, too.

$46

Bananas 🍌

matching family pjs

Go bananas over this bright and fun pajama. It comes in long johns for parents and a short set for kids. Plus, a sleeper for the baby.

$46

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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I often joke that if I were to draw a food pyramid to represent what my toddler actually eats, it would consist of a wide, sturdy base of starches and fruit and a fat midsection devoted to dairy (but let's be honest, mostly cheese). Its pinnacle would be a nearly microscopic triangle representing the two vegetables he occasionally eats (carrots and cucumbers).

Though I like to think my son is a special unicorn in all sorts of ways, I know from my shared laments with other parents that his eating habits, as specific as they are, aren't all that unique — at least for many American kids (culture has a big influence on our food preferences). In fact, there's no shortage of ink (er, html?) spilled about how to feed toddlers and young children whose eating patterns, like my son's, don't deviate much from staples like macaroni and cheese, flavored yogurt, and fruit (give or take maybe a chicken nugget or hot dog).

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It made me wonder: Why do kids love the foods they love? Was society imposing these food preferences on our kids, or did they burst forth from their mothers' bodies craving fluorescent orange cheddar, buttered noodles, and bananas?

The answer is kind of the latter.

Babies are born with a preference for sweet and salty flavors

If you think about a typical toddler's favorite foods, many of them have either sweet (fruit, juice, flavored yogurt, and anything sweetened) or salty (cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs) flavor profiles. Meanwhile, their oft shunned foods (hi, green veggies) tend to be bitter. Scientists believe this has evolutionary roots.

Studies show that babies have a biological predisposition for sweet tastes before they're even born. And there's a purpose for this. While you may associate sweetness with sugar-sweetened junk food (not exactly a survival imperative), sugar is an easy form of energy, which young children need. "If you're developing, you have energy needs," says Rachel Herz, PhD, senses and emotion scientist and author of Why You Eat What You Eat.

In addition to signifying calories and carbohydrates, sweetness is a predominant taste signal for human milk, says Julie Mennella, PhD, researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center. So an infant's hankering for sweetness primes them to like breast milk. But children don't outgrow this preference once they leave infancy. Throughout childhood kids gravitate toward sweetness, which could explain a toddler's preference for sweet foods, like fruit, juice, or flavored yogurt.

So what about other American kid favorites that aren't sweet, like cheese, chicken nuggets, or hot dogs? Part of the appeal could be their salty flavor profile. Children prefer a higher concentration of salt than adults. This too serves an evolutionary purpose. Saltiness is a signal for protein, Herz says. Plus, it's a mineral that our bodies need to function.

On the flip side, there's a lot of nature behind a child's reluctance to eat vegetables, which sometimes have a bitter flavor. "In nature things that are bitter tend to be poisonous, so it's advantageous to not to be consuming bitter foods. Having these predispositions are helping with survival," Herz says.

Texture and color factor into food preferences too

Of course, taste isn't the only factor that influences a child's food choices. Though less researched, a food's texture and color may also play a role. Children are naturally neophobic, meaning they're apprehensive about new foods. To a mild degree, this is adaptive, Herz says, because it steers them away from unfamiliar foods that could be poisonous.

Along these lines, a slimy, crunchy or uneven texture (think: yogurt with fruit chunks in it) can raise a child's red flags. "Texture can be a signal for food that could be contaminated," Herz says. "If you were eating something and detected grains of dirt or sand, you know you shouldn't probably eat it. Likewise, if you're eating something with little bits, your reaction is to be cautious. That's connected to biology." This could make the unnaturally smooth texture of processed meats, like chicken nuggets or hotdogs, more appealing than the less predictable consistency of a real chicken breast or piece of pork.

Color too may be a signifier. Children may show a preference for foods that are white, such as rice, plain pasta, or bread because they perceive them to be "safe." As far as why kids love the vibrant orange and yellow of processed cheeses, "foods that are yellow have been shown to make people happier," Herz says.

How to expand a picky palate

Despite the fact that there's a biological basis for flavor preferences, they aren't set in stone. One of the best ways to raise an adventurous eater is to start 'em young. "When introducing solids, expose a baby often to bitter vegetables, fish, and spicy foods — foods that most toddlers would refuse," says Dr. Natalie Muth, MD, RD, a pediatrician and registered dietitian based in California.

But what about those of us for whom babyhood is a mere memory? Is all hope lost?

Not quite. Food preferences will evolve over time, independent of how we parent. Though our partiality to sweet and salty foods lingers through childhood, it lessens with age. For instance, if you ask a four-to-six-year-old to sweeten a drink to their preferred level of sweetness, they'll put in 12 sugar cubes, while an adult would add only seven, Herz says.

Parents can also help shape and broaden their children's picky palates in a number of ways, as well:

Prioritize exposure over clean plates. For a parent desperate for a child to try new foods, the sight of a barely-touched plate can be stressful. But Muth urges moms and dads to try not to fret.

"Be as relaxed as possible about offering a food they'll probably reject," she says. "Don't be so invested in whether they eat or not. Focus more on exposure," she says.

It can take 15 to 20 exposures for a kid to come around on a food. The key is that they're trying it. "They don't have to chew and swallow," Muth says, it just has to touch their tongue."

Make food more appealing. Rather than forcing toddlers to try new things, "the key is to find tricks to make them want to try the food out of their own volition," Muth says. A few ways to drum up interest in new foods include getting kids involved with meal prep or letting them pick out foods at the store. Or you could gussy up a disliked food by cutting it into a fun shape or putting it in a bag covered in stickers.

Try 'bridging.' Strategically bridge the gap between your child's likes and dislikes. Start with a food your child likes and use it to introduce a food that either has a similar flavor but different texture or a different flavor and similar texture.

For example, if your child likes french fries, offer sweet potato or zucchini fries because they have the same texture, Muth suggests. Or, if your child likes sweet potato fries, you could introduce them to mashed sweet potatoes, which feature the same flavors, but a different texture.

If that goes well, move to similarly prepared but gradually less sweet foods, such as mashed squash or mashed carrots.

Pair likes with dislikes. Bring your kids around to bitter-tasting foods by serving them with sweet or salty flavors (depending on what they like). Add cheese sauce to broccoli to make it more alluring. "Once they like that, progressively take off more cheese, until they've transitioned to eating it plain," Muth says.

Model an enjoyment of eating. One thing that becomes more important with age that may influence flavor preferences from a psychological perspective is the social context of eating, Herz says. A meal becomes more than meat and veggies on a plate when it becomes associated with having fun or being surrounded by loved ones. Parents can nurture this by showing their kids just how enjoyable eating can be when everyone sits down for family dinners.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Learn + Play

As a mom, I often find myself in a rut of self-doubt. I endure a lot of critical comments—and even some side-eye—and it can start to wear on even the most confident of mothers. So many people in our lives "never had to deal with a child doing such-and-such" or "didn't do it that way" or "think things would be better if we just 'fill in the blank.'"

That's why a simple pat on the back goes such a long way. Personally, words of encouragement have always been my love language. That means I would gladly forgo a nice gift for some acknowledgment, recognition and praise.

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Tell me I'm doing a good job.

Tell me you appreciate me.

Tell me my kids are lucky to have me (especially if they can't tell me themselves).

I'm so grateful when my husband takes the time to notice all the things I juggle on a daily basis or when he acknowledges the special talent I've developed for talking our 2-year-old out of a tantrum (which is successful only some of the time). Even the unsolicited advice that pours in from family members is softened quite a bit when it's followed by an encouraging word or two.

For example, I especially appreciate when people tell me, "You'll figure it out." It reminds me that I am the one in charge of this whole beautiful mommy journey. Yes, people can make one suggestion after another. They can think they have all my parenting challenges figured out. But, ultimately, I'm the one who will do what's best for my children. I love to be reminded that this motherhood thing is not only my greatest responsibility, but it is also my most amazing opportunity.

As a matter of fact, my kids (and partner) are probably craving the same words of encouragement too. I can remember growing up that I had a deep need for my parents' approval and praise, and honestly, I still do. I see my toddler and infant respond so gleefully when we applaud what they do or tell them, "Good job!"

So my hope for all of us this holiday season—especially those with busy, overloaded, tired-but-trying mamas in our lives—is that we can all pass along some words of encouragement to one another.

This time of year often finds us plowing away at our holiday duties and obligations. Wouldn't it be nice if we all pulled our heads out of the fog to thank the mothers in our lives?

You can even turn this encouragement into an actual gift if you want to. Buy the mom in your life a journal and write your own inspirational quotes throughout. Write a compliment or reassuring message on each day/week of a calendar for next year. Or even get out a pen and paper, sit down, and write that mama in your life a good, old-fashioned letter. It's a sentiment I guarantee she will remember forever.

To be clear, I don't want to discourage you from buying her that spa gift card or that fabulous necklace she has had her eye on if you want to, but I do think the holidays are a perfect opportunity for all friends and family members to throw a little love each mama's way. It's nice to know that someone sees and appreciates our dedication to surviving this roller-coaster journey called motherhood.

The good news is that a compliment doesn't cost a dime, so we can freely spread cheer and praise to everyone around us.

Life
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