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Anxiety in motherhood: How I learned to calm and control my fears

There are plenty of things to worry about in everyday life.

Health, work, friends, politics, the economy…If you are a worrier by nature, it’s easy to find yourself in a state of heightened anxiety much of the time.

Add motherhood to the mix, and it’s hard not to fly right off of the anxiety charts.

I struggled with anxiety in my life long before I became a mom. However, since entering motherhood, I have discovered a whole new slew of topics that increase my anxiety and get my mind spinning.

It’s only by countering these motherhood anxiety triggers with truth that I am able to keep things in perspective and thrive in my journey as a mom.

6 thoughts that can trigger anxiety in motherhood

1. Am I doing things right?

I have no idea what I’m doing! How do I know what decisions are right when other people do things differently and are so polarized about their way being the ‘right way.’

Co-sleeping or crib? Breast or bottle feeding? Wean after first birthday or continue longer? Cry it out or let baby wake up as many times as needed? Purees or baby-led weaning?

Nothing is right or wrong, but it sure feels like it.

People are so opinionated about the way they choose to do things and it often feels like they’re directly criticizing you if you do things differently. People ultimately want to feel validated and know they aren’t making the wrong choices, which is why their opinions can feel like blatant judgments.

2. Is something wrong with my baby?

How do I know what is normal and what is not? Is my baby sick? How sick? Should I be worried that my baby hasn’t reached this milestone yet?

3. Mom guilt.

Do I play with him enough? Do I read him enough books? Am I feeding him enough? Is he gaining enough weight? Am I handling his tantrums correctly? Am I setting him up for a lifetime of emotional or behavioral problems by how I am parenting him now? Am I a good enough mom for him?

4. Comparison to others.

“Other moms are better dressed, better rested, better homemakers and just plain better than me!”

“Their kids are better dressed, have better rooms, better birthday parties and more fun than mine.”

“They do exciting things with their days like take daily trips to Disneyland.”

Compared to that, I stink at motherhood!

5. Time is passing fast and my baby is getting older.

Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long and the years are short.”

I am caught in the middle of the struggle between the long days and the short years. Sometimes, the long days just about suck me dry of attention, patience, energy, and joy. And yet, I know and am seeing firsthand that the years are so very short.

I feel intense guilt over having hard days where I simply pray for bedtime, knowing that at the same time, he is getting older and I can never get this time back.

6. Thinking about having another baby.

When is the right time? How big of an age gap is best? Will I love another one the same? How can I be as good of a mother as I want to be, when I have to divide my time and attention between two or more babies? How will I know when I’m ready to have another one?

6 corresponding truths about motherhood that combat these anxious thoughts

1. When you think, “Am I doing things right?, remember...

There is no single right way to do things.

You get to decide what works best for you, your baby and your family. Try to focus on what those things are, and keep your eyes and ears turned inward.

People have different opinions and will verbalize them loudly, often trying to validate their own choices and decisions. Those have no merit on your choices and your life. You do you.

2. When you think, Is something wrong with my baby?”, remember...

Trust your mother’s intuition.

When in doubt, consult a trusted medical professional. And stay off of Dr. Google. That’s a recipe for disaster every time.

3. When you experience mom guilt, remember...

You are enough.

Mom guilt is the worst. And you are doing a great job. If you love your baby and you keep trying to do your best, you are doing things right.

4. When you compare yourself to others, remember...

Keep your eyes and ears turned inward.

Focus where it matters—on your life and your family. This is especially true with social media and the internet.

It’s been said many times, don’t compare your everyday life to someone else’s highlight reel. Social media NEVER tells the full story. There’s always more than meets the eye in the beautifully curated photos on we see on social media.

Also, just because some moms love wearing high heels and lipstick doesn’t mean you need to feel bad about your yoga pants and flip flops.

Are your kids fed, clothed, loved and happy? Then, you’re rocking this mom thing.

5. When time feels like it’s flying by, remember...

The truth is the days are long and the years are short, and it’s okay to feel the reality of both. Some days are hard and long. Some days, you simply grit your teeth and pray for bedtime.

And that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or that you don’t love your kids. It doesn’t mean you are wishing away your kids’ childhood. It simply means you are human and you need a reset.

Keep the truth of the short years in mind as you go through your days, and it will help temper the long days. Motherhood can be a bittersweet, complicated journey. The only way to survive and thrive is to try our best to be present and soak up each new day, no matter how exhausting or hard they are.

As my grandpa used to say, “This too shall pass.”

6. When you wonder if you’ll be able to love another baby as much as your first, remember...

There is no simple way to explain this one.

The overarching truth, based on the experiences and comments of everyone with more than one child, seems to be that YES, you will love your next child as much as your first. Somehow, someway, your capacity to love multiplies and you will find a new groove parenting another child.

As for how long to wait between them—that, of course, is a personal decision. However, after talking with both parents of kids who are close together and those with kids far apart, each share positives to their particular situation. The bottom line seems to be that however far apart your kids are, they will be fine. They can develop significant friendships with their siblings, no matter what the age gap is.

One of the biggest themes involved in combating anxiety in motherhood is to keep your eyes focused inward, on your own life.

We need to stop looking for validation outside of ourselves, our families and our homes. What other people choose to do in their parenting journey is ultimately their business. It does not dictate how good of a parent you are.

Let’s do our best to leave guilt, comparison and judgement behind because they are each breeding grounds for anxiety in motherhood.

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Toxic masculinity is having a cultural moment. Or rather, the idea that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic is having one.

For parents who are trying to raise kind boys who will grow into compassionate men, the American Psychological Association's recent assertion that "traditional masculinity ideology" is bad for boys' well-being is concerning because our kids are exposed to that ideology every day when they walk out of then house or turn on the TV or the iPad.

That's why a new viral ad campaign from Gillette is so inspiring—it proves society already recognizes the problems the APA pointed out, and change is possible.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) youtu.be

Gillette's new ad campaign references the "Me Too" movement as a narrator explains that "something finally changed, and there will be no going back."

If may seem like something as commercial as a marketing campaign for toiletries can't make a difference in changing the way society pressures influence kids, but it's been more than a decade since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while the campaign isn't without criticism, it was successful in elevating some of the body-image pressure on girls but ushering in an era of body-positive, inclusive marketing.

Dove's campaign captured a mainstream audience at a time when the APA's "Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women" were warning psychologists about how "unrealistic media images of girls and women" were negatively impacting the self-esteem of the next generation.

Similarly, the Gillette campaign addresses some of the issues the APA raises in its newly released "Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men."

According to the APA, "Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health."

The report's authors define that ideology as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The APA worries that society is rewarding men who adhere to "sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men's ability to function adaptively."

That basically sounds like the recipe for Me Too, which is of course its own cultural movement.

Savvy marketers at Gillette may be trying to harness the power of that movement, but that's not entirely a bad thing. On its website, Gillette states that it created the campaign (called "The Best a Man Can Be," a play on the old Gillette tagline "The Best a Man Can Get") because it "acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."

Gillette's not wrong. We know that advertising has a huge impact on our kids. The average kid in America sees anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 commercials on TV each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, and that's not even counting YouTube ads, the posters at the bus stop and everything else.

That's why Gillette's take makes sense from a marketing perspective and a social one. "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man," the company states.

What does that mean?

It means taking a stance against homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment and that harmful, catch-all-phrase that gives too many young men a pass to engage in behavior that hurts others and themselves: "Boys will be boys."

Gillette states that "by holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come."

Of course, it's not enough for razor marketers to do this. Boys need support from parents, teachers, coaches and peers to be resilient to the pressures of toxic masculinity.

When this happens, when boys are taught that strength doesn't mean overpowering others and that they can be successful while still being compassionate, the APA says we will "reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide."

This is a conversation worth having and 2019 is the year to do it.

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Teaching a young child good behavior seems like it should be easy and intuitive when, in reality, it can be a major challenge. When put to the test, it's not as easy as you might think to dole out effective discipline, especially if you have a strong-willed child.

As young children develop independence and learn more about themselves in relation to others and their environment, they can easily grow frustrated when they don't always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally.

It's crucial that parents recognize these limitations and also set up rules to protect your child and those they encounter. These rules, including a parent's or caregiver's follow-up actions, allow your child to learn and develop a better understanding of what is (and what is not) appropriate behavior.

Here are a few key ways to correct negative behavior in an efficient way:

1. Use positive reinforcement.

Whenever possible, look to deliver specific and positive praise when a child engages in good behavior or if you catch them in an act of kindness. Always focus on the positive things they are doing so that they are more apt to recreate those behaviors. This will help them start to learn the difference between good and poor behavior.

2. Be simple and direct.

Though this seems like a no-brainer, focus your child using constructive feedback versus what not to do or where they went wrong. Give reasons and explanations for rules, as best as you can for their age group.

For example, if you're teaching them to be gentle with your pet, demonstrate the correct motions and tell your child, "We're gentle when we pet the cat like this so that we don't hurt them," versus, "Don't pull on her tail!"

3. Re-think the "time out."

Many classrooms are starting to have cozy nooks where children are encouraged to have alone time when they may feel out of control. In lieu of punishment, sending a child to a "feel-good" area removes them from a situation that's causing distress. This provides much-needed comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own.

4. Use 'no' sparingly.

When a word is repeated over and over, it begins to lose meaning. There are better ways to discipline your child than saying "no." Think about replaying the message in a different way to increase the chances of your child taking note. Rather than shouting, "No, stop that!" when your toddler is flinging food at dinnertime, it's more productive to use encouraging words that prompt better behavior, such as, "Food is for eating, what are we supposed to do when we're sitting at the dinner table?" This encourages them to consider their behavior.

The above methods help create teachable moments by providing opportunities for development while making sure the child feels safe and cared for. It is important to mirror these discipline techniques at home and communicate often with your child care providers so that you're always on the same page.

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To the mamas awake in the middle of the night,

If you are one of the many moms with a little darling who doesn't sleep through the night, I feel your pain. I really do.

Having been blessed with two wonderful sleepers (aka my first and second babies), my third baby has been a shock to my system. He hasn't slept through the night since he was born and he's now 16 months. I do everything "right." I put him down sleepy but awake so he can settle himself to sleep. I keep the room dark and quiet.

But one simple fact remains: When my son wakes up in the night, he wants me. And he'll scream the house down if he doesn't get me.

Last night my 1-year-old woke at 3:30 am. He was stirring a bit at first, then started to really let it rip, so I got him up out of his crib and brought him into bed with me. We cuddled for a while. Then suddenly, he wanted to get off the bed and I said no. Then he started to scream and throw himself around on the bed before eventually being sick everywhere.

It was now 4:30 am. I dutifully changed the sheets, changed my son, changed myself, and then we climbed back into bed, the smell of vomit still lingering.

I tried to put him back in his crib around 5 am but he woke right up. I brought him back into bed with me, but quickly realized this wasn't what he wanted either. He was thrashing around again, trying to figure out a way off of the bed.

Finally, close to 6 am he decided he wanted to go to sleep. After about 10 minutes of watching him sleep, I felt brave enough to try to put him back in his room. I gently lifted him up, placed him in his crib and quietly crept back into my bed.

This left me with just enough time to fall back into a deep sleep, which meant I felt exhausted when my alarm went off just after 7 am.

Sadly, last night wasn't a one-off. This is a fairly frequent occurrence for me (although dealing with vomit is luckily quite rare!). Which means that when I say I understand what it's like to have a baby who doesn't sleep, I really mean it.

So here's what I want you to know, mama.

If you are awake in the night because your baby needs you then you are not alone. Despite what you might read, it's common for babies to wake up through the night. So if you're sitting in bed feeling like you're the only mother in the world awake, trust me, you're far from it.

There are mamas like us all over the world. Sitting there in the dark. Cuddling babies or soothing them to sleep again. Some, like me, might be changing sheets or abandoning any hope of getting sleep that night at all. Others might be up and down like a yo-yo every few hours. The rest might just be up once and then will be able to go back to sleep.

There will, however, also be mamas who are sound asleep. Mamas who have older children who no longer wake in the night. And they would want you to know that it will be okay. It won't be forever. One day, you'll realize that your baby no longer needs or wants you in the night.

And while you'll be so glad for your sleep you'll probably also be a little sad that there are no more night time cuddles.

It's hard to cope with a baby who doesn't sleep well at night. Really hard sometimes. You may feel like you can't deal with it anymore or you may be wishing that this phase would just stop already so you can get some rest.

Exhaustion often means that you struggle to get through the day. It can mean that you find it hard to drag yourself out of bed. Or if you're anything like me, you might be irritable and snap at the people you love. Or maybe it means relying on caffeine, sugar and Netflix to get you and your kiddos through the day.

But here's the amazing thing about mothers—no matter what has gone down during the night, we get up as usual. We go about our day just like everyone else. We care for and love our children, without giving them a hard time for disrupting our sleep. We don't moan, we don't complain. We just get on with it.

And when night comes, we go to bed knowing that there's every chance we'll be awake in the middle of the night again...

We get up without fail when our babies need us and we do what we need to do for them. Because we are the nighttime warriors. We are mamas.

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No one decides to be a stay-at-home mom for the paycheck—but if we were to earn one, it would put us in league with some CEOs. Although it doesn't do much for the bank account, a survey that calculated what the average salary would be for a stay-at-home mom is mighty validating. (Remember this next time anyone asks what you do all day.)

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