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9 ways to manage your fear + anxiety—and become a more peaceful parent

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As we grow tiny souls in our bellies, it's much more exciting to take breastfeeding classes, a birthing course, or even DIY wallpaper classes at Home Depot to plan the perfect nursery… but planning for fear, anxiety and anger? Not so much.

At least that's what I always thought before real humans (who quickly turned into toddlers that screamed "NO" with explosive tears and meltdowns), were actually entrusted to my care.

I had always thought I'd handle parenthood with total ease and calm because that's who I was. I had always been great with kids, but we all know it's different once you have your own, a lesson I definitely learned when things took a sharp turn south for me as a mom the year I had my second colicky baby and my first child's strong-willed soul reached its record-breaking peak at age 3.

Fear, anger and anxiety became my everyday go-to emotions, and my back-breaking norm.

After working with thousands of parents through the years, I know that these three strong emotions catch a lot of moms by surprise and it makes sense. Most of us didn't grow up in homes that taught us how to take care of ourselves and act with integrity when we got angry, felt anxious or were scared of something.

We grew up thinking happy was good and sad, angry and scared was bad. Do anything to avoid those and if they did come up, get out and away from them fast.

Building a solid preparation kit for how to identify and manage these strong emotions is essential in finding more peace in parenthood.

These nine tips and tools can help you navigate through these feelings with integrity to get you to a place where even the most challenging of parenting situations are handled with great purpose, intention, confidence and calm.

1. Practice a pause and connect with your heart.

  • Take a break from: Reacting like a volcano.
  • Try: Responding as an EMT driver would.

Many times, when a strong feeling of anger, anxiety or fear pops up, we have zero space between the stimulus (misbehavior) and our reaction. When we react so quickly, we squash our chances of purposely planning our next steps.

When something triggers you, take notice of your blood boiling, or your urge to yell, or your teeth clenching… and just pause to practice a heart connector. Put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath and find a healthy intention (to teach, to model, to redirect), then respond to the challenging situation.

2. Ask yourself why. 

  • Take a break from: Assuming you know why your child misbehaved.
  • Try: Getting curious and asking questions.

It can be so easy to think we know what is going on, but often, our kids are here to teach us just as much as we are teaching them. When we slow down to "seek to understand" why they're upset, or the reason behind a sibling squabble, or the feelings they felt when they talked back, we open our hearts to working with our kids and many times get surprised by what we learn.

Trusting that our kids are not out to get us, but instead just figuring out how to live this thing we call life, leads us to want to understand them versus assuming we know their negative intentions.

3. Dive headfirst into empathy.

  • Take a break from: Thinking I would never or seeing your child as so different than you.
  • Try: Imagining what it must feel like to be in their shoes.

We were kids once and we've all had those times in life where you just hated having a little brother, or just really disliked math, or really, really wanted to have soda with dinner every night.

Exercising your empathy muscles will cause you to feel connected with your kiddo and will do wonders to soften your heart while also helping your child feel understood (causing them to listen and behave better).

4. State your feelings aloud. 

  • Take a break from: Internalizing everything and skipping over feelings.
  • Try: Saying aloud, "I feel _____"

Our feelings are meant to be felt, but since many of us didn't grow up with this truth, it can be easy to skip over them and move right to actions we regret when we feel angry, anxious or scared.

Slowing down to say aloud how you feel helps your brain remember, This is a feeling and I have a choice with how I process and manage it. Saying your feelings aloud also models to your kids what healthy emotional intelligence and management looks like.

5. Ask for help. 

  • Take a break from: Thinking you have to do it all alone.
  • Try: Asking your kids or spouse for what you want after you've stated how you feel.

When we get angry, we can create a pseudo sense of power with actions like yelling, controlling or forcing, that later make us feel guilty and shameful. Combining verbiage of "I feel like...", with "I want..." will help you feel powerful at the very same time you are feeling powerless (which will lead to you feeling better).

Asking for what you want is important to model for your kids too as we want our children to grow up being able to ask for what they want instead of always telling people what they don't want.

6. Walk away if needed. 

  • Take a break from: Thinking the problem is a life or death situation.
  • Try: Stepping to the side to self-calm.

It's beyond easy to get caught up in the busy rat-race style of life where every day is a rush, every moment of the week is filled, and every situation needs to be handled in a rush. But it's important to slow down and think through the way we show up, especially when challenges arise.

Rushing through conflict resolution doesn't work well. Effective problem solving takes place once we are calm, so be sure you and your children have built a self-calming bag (a tool taught inside of The Fresh Start Family Foundations Course) to use when you feel anxiety, fear or anger rising. Step to the side, do some things to take care of yourself and then come back to the situation when you're ready to be a teacher.

7. Try it again.

  • Take a break from: Quitting when things don't go perfectly the first time.
  • Try: Consistently trying to look inward and model what you want, even after failure.

Many parents jump off the train way too early when trying new positive parenting tools. Kids (just like adults) often have trouble transitioning to new things. Switch it up and everyone gets a little confused.

First time application can be like a new deer learning to walk with shaky legs. Slipping and falling is part of the journey but doesn't mean it's not working. Expect messiness, embrace messiness, learn from messiness, keep trying.

8. Experiment with silence. 

  • Take a break from: Believing the myth that sometimes you have to yell to get your child to listen.
  • Try: Walking over and using loving touch, a warm smile and silence (or one word).

Silence and fewer words can be incredibly effective at getting kids to listen, especially if they're used to an adult who yells when angry. Raising our voice can be exhausting, so save your energy and instead use it to walk up and look your child in their beautiful eyes and touch them softly on their shoulder or offer a warm hug.

The connection this process brings will help bring you down to room temperature with your emotions while also moving your child to listen and cooperate better.

9. Give yourself credit. 

  • Take a break from: Berating yourself about the times your fear, anxiety or anger has flared up.
  • Try: Keeping track of all the times where your hard work and efforts to learn and grow have paid off.

Beating ourselves up over our moments of complete messiness doesn't help us learn and grow. When you try new things like:

  • Empathy instead of nagging
  • Silence instead of yelling
  • Responding instead of reacting
  • Walking away instead of hurting
  • Asking for help instead of silently wishing others would change
  • Feeling your feelings before jumping into action…

...acknowledge your courage and success. Share with someone how proud you are of yourself and how much work it took to even try some new things with your kids, emotions and parenting.

Writing in your journal each night is a great way to do this, or even saying to yourself while you brush your teeth three things you slayed today will help you see your magnificence and remind you that even amidst anger, fear and anxiety, joy and growth can exist.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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

Our Partners

There's nothing more important than the bond between a newborn baby and their parents. And while an emotional bond and attachment between parents and a child happen overs years of development, the first year is the most important because a baby's brain grows most rapidly in the first 12 months of life.

In fact, According to Scientific American, paid parental leave benefits baby's brain development. Research shows infant's brains form up to a thousand new connections per second, but those connections form best when the babies are exposed to the kind of stimulation parents on paid leave can provide.

Every parent in America should have the chance to bond with their newborn child, and America deserves a national paid leave policy that supports families.

While the nation works on a single policy, there are some very special workplaces stepping up to the plate and leading the way when it comes to helping parents do what they do best: parent.

Here are 11 employers who get it.

3. Pinterest

The folks at Pinterest are doing things a little differently over there and we like it. Not only do moms and dads get four months off, but for the following four weeks after that they will only be required to work once a week but receive full pay.

That's not all; Pinterest will pay for four one-on-one classes with a personal parenting coach. They also cover adoption costs up to $5,000 and surrogacy for up to $20,000. Parental benefits matter to Pinterest and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out the full list.

[This post was originally published July 8, 2019. It has been updated.]

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Dear mama,

This isn't how you wanted it to be, I know. In all those months of imagining what motherhood would look like, you never expected it to look like this. I know from experience—I was a NICU mama too.

You thought you'd spend these first precious days snuggled up in bed, holding your baby skin-to-skin. You'd watch for her hunger cues, feed on demand, and marvel at the tiny person lying on your bosom. When it was time to sleep, you'd tenderly swaddle her and place her in the bassinet, just an arm's reach away.

Instead, you watch your sweet babe sleep in an isolette. The IV looks enormous in her little arm. Wires extend from her body. Monitors beep. The bilirubin light shines bright blue.

The distance from your hospital room to the NICU feels like miles. Maybe your C-section incision hurts with every move. Maybe you're stretched, torn, and sore from a vaginal delivery. Or maybe you were discharged before your baby, and your heart breaks every night when you have to go home. Like you're leaving a part of yourself behind.

I wish I could sit beside you and hear your story. But since I can't, I'd like to send you some love and offer encouragement.

You are a good mama. And you will get through this.

You will find strength you didn't know you had. You'll learn new terminology, talk to doctors, and make decisions. You'll take pictures and rejoice in the smallest of victories — an ounce of weight gained, a treatment tweaked. Your sweet moments will look different from everyone else's, but they will be sweet, nonetheless.

You will also discover your weakness. Sometimes, you'll fall apart, and that's okay. Let someone else be strong for you — your husband, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a nurse. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the way you thought things would be. But as you process all those emotions and adjust to your new normal, remember, you are still mothering.

You will find a way to bond that is unique to your situation. Maybe you'll touch your baby's tiny toes through the side of the isolette and savor the soft warmth of skin on skin. Maybe you'll squeeze out a bit of breastmilk, like love in liquid form. Maybe you'll whisper a prayer, sing a lullaby, or simply tell your baby you love her, over and over again. In this big, unfamiliar world, your voice is the one she knows from her time in the womb.

Every gesture, no matter how small, is an expression of your love. Even if you can't be by your baby's side, you're still the one who carried her inside of you. No matter how much or how little contact you have, nothing can change the fact that you are her mama.

I know you want nothing more than to take care of your baby. But these NICU nurses are some of the most vigilant, big-hearted people you'll ever meet. Your baby is in good hands. You need to make sure you're taking good care of yourself. Stay on top of your pain meds. Eat. Take a shower. Get some fresh air. Sleep. You need it—physically and emotionally.

In the most difficult moments, remember that you are not alone. Your family and friends are beside you. Beyond your inner circle, you're surrounded by a community of other NICU parents. There's even a NICU awareness month — it's September.

Every baby has a different story. But there's no competition for which baby is the healthiest or who has it the hardest. That's one of the NICU's hidden beauties. Everybody simply wants their baby to be OK. Whether you share stories with your NICU neighbors or keep to yourself, the other parents are there with you. They get it. And so do all the other NICU mamas who have come before you.

With all my support,

A fellow NICU mama

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Life

I hear your requests all day, every day. They're like little birds chirping in my ears. I'm with you when you wake up and ask for breakfast, I'm with you when you're tired after playing and want to rest, I'm with you when you wash up after a long day before you protest bed.

When we're at the park, I know what I'll hear before I say we have to go. "Mom, can I do the monkey bars one more time? Can we stay, just one more minute?"

Honestly, it usually frustrates me. Because we have to go. We have errands to run or chores to get to at home. We need to do pickup or cook dinner. We have our lives to live. We can't stay at the park all day. When you don't listen and we have to move onto the next thing, sometimes I want to yell. Or cry. Or sit down and give up.

When we're trying to get out the door on time, I always hear, "Mom, I'm just finishing this drawing, okay? One more minute?"

When I ask you to get out of the bath, so we can move onto stories and bedtime, I can guarantee what you're going to say. "Mom, I'm just finishing this game with my mermaid. One more minute. Pleeeease?"

When I get up out of your twin-sized bed, after lying with you so you'll calm down for bed, I can mouth the words as you say them. I know exactly what's going to happen. "Mommy, lie back down. For one more minute, okay?"

I'm in my head and running through my to-do list and sometimes my stress screams at me louder than your requests. So sometimes I tell you "no." No, I can't do it for another minute. Not even one more second. Because I have to get to the next thing—I have so much stuff to do, so much to get done. I couldn't possibly do this for one more minute.

But today, after looking through photos of you from this summer and all our adventures, thinking about you starting kindergarten in a few weeks, I know just how you feel when you ask me that question.

Because now I want to ask you that same question.

So, to you—my big kid who I can still see crawling around the house, who I can still feel lying sound asleep on my chest, who I can still remember meeting for the first time on the day you were born. To you I ask, could you stay with me, by my side, just as you are—for one more minute, please?

Could you snuggle up next to me and fall asleep in the curve of my hip where only you can fit, for just one more minute?

Could you look at me with wonder in your eyes, hanging on my every word as if they are the most important sounds you'll ever hear, for just one more minute?

Could you call me "Mama" instead of "Mom" for just one more minute?

Could you let me hold you in my arms, in the quiet evening hours, and rock you sleep singing your favorite song, for just one more minute?

Could you giggle uncontrollably over our silly inside jokes for one more minute?

Could you sing at the top of your lungs, without caring if you sound "good" or not—for one more minute?

Could you ask me to dance with you and sway to the beat of Hakuna Matata as we twirl in circles for one more minute?

Could you stay this little, this wide-eyed, this innocent, this playful—for just one more minute?

Before you leave me before your world widens before you find yourself not needing me to be by your side every second...

I want you to see the world and take everything it has to offer. I want you to know love the way I know it today. I want you to make best friends and go on adventures. I want you to feel your soul light up when you're doing what your heart knows you are meant to do.

I want it all for you. And I know all of it won't include me. I'm okay with it, and I'll figure it out along the way.

But before you go out there, before you take on this wild and busy world… could you sit with me, right here on my lap like you've done so many times before, for just one more minute, please?

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If you're at all worried about how to prepare your young child's math skills before school starts, you can relax, mama. Teaching the early fundamentals of math is something you can do just by playing games and pointing out math in everyday life.

"You can be really impactful doing very informal, playful experiences that are math-related," Erica Zippert, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar of developmental science at Vanderbilt University, tells Motherly. "These skills are important because they predict later academic achievement, and not just math domain, but in reading as well...You have to have a strong foundation in math in order to learn more challenging things."

In her research into how parents lay the groundwork for their children's understanding of math, she found that many assume it's just about the numbers and counting. But math is also about patterns, shapes, and spatial relations, which parents might not be consciously teaching to young kids.

"Spatial knowledge is important because it early-stage projects later math," Zippert explains. "There are spatial concepts where you have to be able to juggle a lot of things in your head."

Zippert, along with her postdoctoral advisor Bethany Rittle-Johnson, PhD, are currently looking into why studying patterns early helps kids with math, but she has some theories. "There's something about shared reliance on rules and structure in both math and patterning, the idea of predicting what comes next."

While teaching your children skills is important, you don't have to force your 4-year-old to sit still while you instruct her.

Zippert has found that once parents have these guidelines in their toolkit, they can bring them up in a way that engages their young brains:

1. Play games.

Classic board games, like Chutes and Ladders, and card games like War are perfect for combining number cues with space.

2. Use blocks and puzzles.

This is one of the easiest ways for children to learn spatial dimensions, locations, and directions.

3. Point out numbers, patterns and spatial relationships in everyday life.

Ask your child to fold the laundry with you and arrange the socks in a simple pattern (such as, red, blue, red, blue). Notice the patterns in a nursery rhyme or a song. Talk about the direction you're driving, the spatial features of household objects, and the numbers on street signs.

"There's different little ways to entertain your kid and entertain yourself that can really focus on math," Zippert says.

Parents don't actually have to call these concepts "math." But if they can cultivate a child's curiosity and give them a good introduction to these concepts, they might find themselves with a kid who will enthusiastically embrace that term later in life.

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