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There's a natural momentum to a new year that spurs people to hop on their treadmills clean their closets, or finally stop chain-surfing the web until way past their bedtimes. But while the new year naturally helps you think about what you want to add to your life, implementing changes works better if you first close certain experiences and clear space by letting go of the parts of your life that are dragging you down, are sapping your energy, or are no longer needed.

It is not just an act of getting rid of things, it's an intentional practice of brightening energy by making room for the new.

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This is a great time for strategically removing from your life all the things that are not working or not flowing. Reflect on the parts of your life that are weighing you down—bad habits, stressful activities, addictions, negative thought patterns, old resentments or things that puts you in a sour mood every day. When you declutter your life, you create an invigorating, inviting space for passion, action and creativity to take hold.

Here are a few practices that help parents clear the old to make room for the new:

1. Create closure with gratitude

One of the best ways to achieve closure on the year is by expressing gratitude. Reflect on the few people you've been most grateful for during the year and creatively thank them.

One man was grateful to his chiropractor for helping cure his chronic migraine headaches, so he sent her a thank you card stating what her care meant to him. A mom was thankful for the friendly crossing guard who not only helped her kids cross the street every day, but who also greeted them with warm smiles or compliments—sweet and simple gestures that made them feel welcomed onto the school grounds. She thanked the crossing guard with a snuggly scarf for winter, hot chocolate and a card that her kids helped make. One couple was grateful for their reliable, patient and fun-loving babysitter who made it possible for them to enjoy date nights without guilt. They wrote her a letter detailing the positive things they appreciated about her.

Closing with gratitude lets you reflect on the year and sets you up for continued positive experiences in the year to come. As a bonus, research suggests that when you thank others, it creates an enormous increase in your own happiness as well.

Action step:

Think of one person to whom you're especially grateful toward this past year—such as a friend for listening, a grandparent who helped with child care, a teacher for helping your child, a mentor who gave you new ideas, or a boss who treats you great—and write them a detailed thank you card (or bake them cookies).

2. Declutter your to-do list

Decluttering your to-do list—especially the tricky stuff—frees up energy for creativity and playfulness. There are to-dos that all of us get stuck procrastinating on, whether due to an unconscious or conscious "block," an underlying fear, or a timing issue. Create a tiny bit of movement in your most-stuck tasks.

Action step:

Think of at least one thing hanging over your head or causing you stress—that complex medical bill that's hard to sort out, the enormous pile of socks without matches that stares you down every weekend, an old friend you've always been meaning to call—and take a small step toward taking care of it.

3. Declutter your space

Clearing your environment encompasses throwing out expired food from cabinets, decluttering closets, giving away toys or clothes, or going through old papers. Research suggests that managing a huge volume of possessions is a "crushing problem" in many homes, which often increases mothers' stress levels.

One study by Princeton researchers found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress. Decluttering "stuff" may help kids too. For example, a recent study showed that too many toys actually reduced the quality of toddlers' play, whereas fewer toys helped toddlers play more creatively and in a more focused way.

Action steps:

  • Get rid of 10 toys
  • Get rid of 10 pieces of mail
  • Get rid of Tupperware without matching lids
  • Get rid of 10 things from your garage
  • Empty 1 drawer
  • Get rid of 10 food items from your kitchen and donate them to a food pantry
  • Get rid of 10 pieces of clothing from your closet and donate them
  • Clean the papers off your fridge
  • Delete 10 old voicemails

4. Declutter your schedule

There is increasing pressure to sign kids up for structured activities such as karate lessons, gymnastics, painting classes, chess clubs, and the like. A Pew Research Center survey showed that a full 31% of parents say they always feel rushed. Constantly running from here to there increases stress levels in both parents and kids. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, argues that children experience a "cumulative stress reaction" from too much enrichment, activity, and choice.

Decluttering your schedule helps rebuild time for free play, time for connection, and cozy time (also known as hygge). Reclaiming children's unstructured time is especially important, as research consistently finds that children absolutely love free time, especially outside. One survey of mothers in 16 countries found considerable agreement that free time—especially playing outside, at playgrounds, or at parks—was their children's most enjoyable activity. Backing off a busy schedule also allows children to spend time nurturing natural friendships through imaginative, kid-directed play.

Action steps:

  • Remove at least one structured activity from your schedule.
  • Take your kids outside for free play over the holiday break, even if it's cold.
  • Remember something you or your kids used to like to do for fun (like snowshoeing, knitting, having dance parties, doing puzzles, or watching animated films) that got edged out of your schedule due to busyness, and make a plan to reintroduce it into your life.

5. Clear a bad habit

Think of one aspect of your parenting you don't like, are exhausted by, or are tired of, and identify one way to clear it by "doing something different."

One mom hated the way she nagged her daughter to get her socks and shoes on before they went somewhere. She "did something different" by putting a bin of her daughter's socks and shoes by the door and, if her daughter had them on by the time they left, she played her daughter's favorite song as soon as they got in the car.

A dad got tired of yelling at his sons to go to bed, so he "did something different" by adding a few extra rituals into the bedtime routine—some time for playfulness, some time to talk about their day—and giving them 10 minutes to read or look at books before turning off the lights.

Action step:

Identify one thing you dislike that you do as a parent and get specific about how you'll "clear it" by handling things differently. The more you clear and work toward closure, the more you make space for all the good waiting for you around the corner in the new year.

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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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