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Ever look around and think: there just isn't any. more. room? It seems that as soon as we take a carload of bags to the donation center, whatever space or order we have been able to forge is almost immediately replaced with more stuff.


It's exhausting. It's defeating. It's depressing. And it can all be explained by the way our brain is wired.

Our brain on clutter

Described as anything that is kept, even though not used, needed or wanted, clutter can also be defined as having a disorganized and overwhelming amount of possessions in our living space, cars or storage areas. Clutter creates stress that has three major biological and neurological effects on us—our cortisol levels, our creativity and ability to focus, and our experience of pain.

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But clutter isn't just physical. "When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head, or you hear a ping every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn't get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences," says Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a New York Times bestseller on controlling the flow of information in the digital age.

The overconsumption of digital stuff—like social media notifications, news feeds, games and files on our computer—competes for our attention, creating a digital form of clutter that has the same effect on our brain as physical clutter.

Neatness and order support health—and oppose chaos.

So, what is going on? Our brains love order. The human body consists of thousands of integrated and interdependent biological and neurochemical systems, all organized and operating along circadian rhythms, without which our bodies would disintegrate into chaos. It's no wonder that the organization within our very own bodies naturally extends to the desire for order and tidiness in our homes. And, "order feels good, in part, because it's easier for our brains to deal with and not have to work so hard," says psychotherapist and professional organizer Cindy Glovinsky.

The science of cortisol

No matter the ways, reasons and means by which the creep of stuff exceeds our ability to mentally and physically manage it—all of it amounts to stress. Clutter can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase tension and anxiety and lead to unhealthy habits. Cortisol is a hormone produced in response to stress by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).

Chronic clutter can create prolonged stress, throwing us into a state of low-grade, perpetual fight-or-flight—the system designed to help us survive. The fight-or-flight response involves the complex interaction of many body systems and organs that activate needed functions and minimize unnecessary functions during times of stress. These systems must remain in balance to maintain optimum physical and psychological health.

According to a Cornell University study from 2016, stress triggered by clutter may also trigger coping and avoidance strategies, like eating junk food, oversleeping or binge-watching Netflix.

If we are not stressed, we get most of our cortisol in the morning to get us going. Levels taper off the rest of the day if we are relaxed, enabling us to enjoy psychological and physical well being. But a messy home environment can prevent our body's cortisol levels from naturally declining throughout the day. Taxing this system eventually results in higher levels of depression and anxiety, and a lower capacity to think clearly, make decisions, and stay focused.

To supply the body with the energy needed to deal with stress, there are several physiological changes that occur with elevated cortisol levels:

  • Diversion of blood flow to the muscles from other parts of the body
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood sugars
  • Increased fats in in the blood

If there is no relief from stress, all of these changes are bad for healthy brain activity and can cause lasting negative changes in brain function and structure. Additionally, when stress raises our body's cortisol levels, our overall health can be adversely affected, including organ damage, the suppression of our immune, endocrine and reproductive systems, the lowering of our metabolism, and the disruption of our sleep cycle, to name a few.

It is difficult to maintain a state of wellness over time when our body energy is channeled into coping with stress.

Just as concerning, when we are in a state of chronic stress and not thinking clearly, we tend to only see that which is negative and reinforces our sour point of view, perceived lack of social support and subsequent poor interrelationships.

Research from a 2009 study out of UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) has shown that women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to have unhealthy patterns of cortisol levels. A team of professional archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists studied the home life of 32 middle-class, dual-income families with 2-3 children of ages 7-12 in Los Angeles. In the study, family members recorded self-directed home tours describing objects and spaces in their homes, during which saliva samples were taken at regular intervals to measure cortisol levels.

The data were collected for three days and compared to and correlated with vast amounts of other data previously collected over the course of four years. According to the CEFL study, the amount of stress women experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff they and their family had accumulated.

We see what is relevant to us.

It's interesting to note in the UCLA study that men did not exhibit the same results, having normal cortisol fluctuations. Presumably they were not as stressed by the amount of stuff in their home. This can be explained possibly by the results of other studies that have shown that the home is traditionally perceived as women's domain and ultimate responsibility, even in households where both partners work.

Other studies also support the finding that if men don't think the responsibility of keeping the house tidy is relevant to them, they may not be inclined to see the clutter and so are not as stressed about it.

This may be explained further in part by research that has indicated that there are distinct differences in vision between men and women, since men have 25% more neurons in their visual cortex, a part of the cerebral cortex that processes visual information. The irony is that even though the visual cortex of a man has more neurons than a woman's, men are impacted more by the things they see that they think have to do with them, and less by the things they think do not.

The science of focus


From our computer desktop, to our car, to our kitchen counter and fridge—clutter is clutter, and it affects us whether we think so or not.

In a study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, researchers monitored task performance when an individual was surrounded by organized versus disorganized environments.

Overall, subjects were more productive, less irritable and distracted in the clutter-free environment versus the disorganized environment where their stress increased.

Researchers concluded that physical clutter in our environment can overload the visual cortex, competing for attention in our brain and interfering with our ability to focus and process information.

So what's happening in our brain?

There are two neural mechanisms at work that interact dynamically when processing information. Stimulus-driven fast reactions and quick visual identification are considered bottom-up processes because they rely primarily on sensory information, whereas context-dependent motor control and directed attention are considered top-down processes because they are goal-directed. These two mechanisms work together to organize in our brain the visual stimuli—aka, clutter—in our home.

There is a reason why we have an urge to straighten up at home before we can sit down to focus on selecting a new healthcare plan.

The brain has a limited capacity to process information. To filter out extra stimuli and focus on what we are trying to achieve at any given moment, the top-down and bottom-up attention mechanisms compete. By mutually suppressing each other, brain power is exhausted, and ultimately we lose focus. Whether we know it or not, a kitchen counter stacked with mail and basket full of unfolded laundry can be as distracting to us as a toddler in the throes of a tantrum.

The science of decluttering

Now that we know what all of our extra stuff is doing to our health and ability to function, it's time to get rid of it, right?

...Oh, but if it were only that easy.

We collect things for many reasons–maybe we think we'll need to use them later, or they have sentimental value, or we spent good money on them so feel we need to keep them, even if we've never used them.

It literally can hurt our brain to get rid of things we probably made a mistake buying in the first place. Most of us can accomplish this with a little dedicated time and some degree of mild discomfort, though there are others who cannot manage to part with one. single. thing.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) states that people with hoarding disorder have a conscious, ongoing compulsive urge to acquire unusually large amounts of possessions and an inability to voluntarily get rid of those possessions, even when they have no practical usefulness or real-world value, such as old magazines, newspapers, notes, outdated clothing, or old mail.

To understand what goes on in our brain when we throw things out, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine recently studied compulsive hoarders using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scan technology. While in the scanner, hoarders considered various possessions to determine whether to keep them or not. The items were destroyed in front of them, so they knew their decision was irreversible.

The pain is real.

When people with hoarding tendencies were faced with throwing out something with personal value, two regions of the brain associated with conflict and physical pain showed greater signs of activity, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) a part of the brain involved in decision-making and planning, and the Insula, the same area that produces nicotine cravings. By comparison, people who didn't hoard showed no extra brain activity. These are the same areas of the brain that light up when you feel physical pain from stubbing your toe or burning your mouth with hot coffee.

The brain views the loss of a valued possession the same way it does something that causes physical pain. Although most people don't experience heightened ACC/Insula activity to this degree, we can all identify with the feeling of angst when finally tossing that pile of unread magazines, or those ticket stubs from last summer's trip to New York to see Hamilton.

The scientific benefits of decluttering

The good news is, those who suffer from hoarding respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. For the rest of us... there is decluttering.

In addition to improving our mood and focus, decluttering often acts as a catalyst to taking better care of other aspects of our life. "By purging unneeded items from our homes, it is like deleting files to create disk space on your computer. Suddenly, the whole operating system is more efficient… this decreases stress and increases your effectiveness personally and professionally," says Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Joyce Marter.

Decluttering promotes:

Better sleep

A study by Pamela Thacher, assistant professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., found that "People who sleep in cluttered rooms… are more likely to have sleeping problems. This includes having trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances." Additionally, people who make their beds every morning experience longer, more restful sleep, especially when they use fresh, clean sheets.

Better diet

Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that people who spent time in an unorganized room were twice as likely to eat a chocolate bar than an apple. And researchers at Florida State University reveal a link between hoarding and obesity, noting that "people with extremely cluttered homes are 77% more likely to be overweight."

In a more organized home, there is more time to plan and more space to prepare healthier meals, as well to relax and eat more slowly.

Better body

Research scientist and associate professor Nicole R. Keith, Ph.D., at Indiana University found that people with clean houses are healthier than those with messy houses, and tidy homes were even more of a predictor for physical health than neighborhood walkability.

In the study, Keith and her colleagues tracked the physical health of 998 African Americans between the ages of 49 and 65, a demographic known to be at an increased risk for heart disease. Those who kept their homes clean were healthier and more active than those who did not, the process of keeping a home clean constituting exercise.

Our stuff is consuming our energy and robbing us of health and satisfaction.

Since our brain is able to absorb only 1% of the visual information it gets, this suggests that information overload is real. Decluttering our home of things that bring us neither joy nor use can help us create spaces that help us relax, restore and rejuvenate.

So instead of blaming ourselves for noticing too much, or our partners for noticing too little, maybe we can just know that our brains are geared for order, step outside for some fresh air, and then enlist the family in clearing the path for a more peaceful and refreshing home.

Fewer, better, more beautiful. For the brain, less is actually more.

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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.

Our Partners

Gift-giving is always well-intentioned: It's rooted in the joy of seeing the kids open something new and showing their excitement. It's rooted in a language of love that lavishes gifts decadently like extra butter on a roll. It's rooted in an attempt to connect.

It's an immense privilege to have a family who loves my kids and showers us with gifts—I don't take that lightly. But what my kids need is a present mom, and the overflow of presents makes that harder than ever.

When birthdays and holidays are approaching, I find myself looking around every corner of my house. I see the Lego pieces that once created an incredible train track now scattered in every crevice. I see the pieces just waiting for me to step on them in the middle of the night.

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I see the discarded toys that I try to bring back to life because, after all, they were purchased not that long ago.

I see the tubs of "rotate in and out" toys that we use to try to keep things fresh because, after all, kids can only play with so many things at one time.

I see the pile of things we have yet to open. Things we reserved for later because the pile of "new" grew too large.

These piles of plastic make me feel out of control. They make me feel like I'm the manager of "things" instead of a safe place for my little humans. The toys call out to me to be picked up and organized during times that I need to rest, connect with my family or do anything else.

As a stay-at-home-mom, one thing I never anticipated was how many days can pass that I feel disconnected from my kids because the anxiety of "stuff" takes the front seat. Days when I feel like all I do is pick up "stuff" and try to keep my kids engaged in something for more than a few minutes. Days when it feels like the toys are literally mocking me out loud—reminding me of the control I've lost and the ongoing task list of keeping "stuff" from taking over the entire house.

This feeling of no control is a huge trigger for my anxiety. Anxiety has been a part of my life for years but as a mom, it has had bigger implications.

When anxiety takes over, I can't see the small moments and opportunities.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and laugh and tell stories like I want to.

When anxiety takes over, I can't get lost in hours of imaginative play.

When anxiety takes over, I can't sit and snuggle my little one without a constant flood of frustrated thoughts.

I want my kids to have an anxiety-free mom. I want them to have a mom who is connected and purposeful. A mom who gets lost in play and laughter. I want them to have a mom who encourages them to use their imagination and gets on their level. I want a mom who feels less pressure to "busy the kids" with something so that the "stuff" can be picked up.

You see, having all the stuff actually results in my kids spending less time enjoying what they have. It results in less time for play and more time for clean up. It results in more screen time because I need more "mommy needs to get this cleaned up so she doesn't lose her mind" time.

In a world that is so fast-paced and always screaming for "more!" I am constantly trying to help my kids slow down and savor what they have. I don't want my kids to not be able to focus on one activity because their brain is darting to the next thing. I want them to have intentional values—values of creativity and connection. The abundance of stuff feels like a roadblock to instilling these values.

So as the holidays and birthdays continue to come and go, I'll do my part to take care of my anxiety and ask my family and friends to do their part in helping us focus more on the values of our family and less on filling our home with toys that are sure to be deserted in just a few weeks. After all, is there anything better than love and connection?

Life

I am a planner, so when I was pregnant, I tried to plan for all aspects of becoming a mom. I was the woman who read ahead. I took the hypnobirthing classes and practiced every night. I prepared a detailed maternity leave plan, talked with my husband about the kind of parents we wanted to be, ate only whole organic foods, and even preemptively childproofed our home. I prepared my body, my life, every part of myself.

The one thing I did not adequately prepare for was breastfeeding. The message I'd received during pregnancy was that breastfeeding was something my body would just know how to do. I didn't need to overthink it or stress. When the time came, I'd be Mother Earth—or so I'd been told.

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But breastfeeding didn't come easily for me and my daughter, and I was overwhelmed by the pressure to try to make it work. I felt so much guilt about not being able to get it right, that I was failing at what was I was told was the biggest part of new motherhood. It affected my relationship; it affected my ability to bond with my baby; and it affected my ability to heal. It was the first place in my life (though not the last) where I felt mom guilt. My struggle with breastfeeding stole much joy from the first months of motherhood.

After spending hundreds of dollars on lactation consultants and trips to the ENT to explore my daughter's possible tongue tie, I eventually turned to formula. In desperation, I chose the brand my pediatrician recommended without question.

Months later, when the fog of new motherhood finally started to lift, I learned that it—and so many other infant formulas on the market—was loaded with corn syrup solids. What?!?!? How is this possible? I remember asking myself.

My experience made me wonder: Why are women, including my generation of the most educated women ever, being guilted (without support) to breastfeed for a year? And when we can't, or choose not to breastfeed, why are there so few healthy alternatives for our babies?

While mothers are under an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed, we lack the access to information, cultural support, and healthy options that we need to successfully feed our babies.

Less judgmental, didactic education about feeding infants

When I started to dig into why I felt so misled about the realities of breastfeeding I learned that the World Health Organization, the organization that established recommendations around breastfeeding, as well as guidelines for marketing breast milk alternatives (all of which trickle down to lactation consultants), has an enormous influence on hospitals.

To earn a Baby-Friendly designation from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, hospitals must adopt clinical practices intended to promote successful breastfeeding. One of these practices is, "Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated." In practice, this essentially means hospitals are encouraging moms to do whatever it takes to make breastfeeding happen.

And, the influence of the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes extends well beyond hospitals. This code, though not legally enforced in the U.S., discourages the marketing of not just formula, but also bottles and nipples. Ironically, this ignores the fact that many moms rely on nipples and bottles to feed their babies breast milk.

It also encourages health professionals who support breastfeeding, such as lactation consultants, to take a firm stand against collaborating with companies who violate the Code. That means that if a media company takes advertising money from a bottle company, they jeopardize their ability to draw upon a lactation consultant's expertise in the future, thus potentially limiting moms' access to information.

This isn't to make the WHO out to be the bad guy. There are plenty of benefits to breastfeeding for both mom and baby — especially in countries where clean water is scarce and formula feeding poses serious health risks. The Code, too was developed with the best intentions: to prevent misleading marketing claims and reduce corporate influence on feeding practices. And for many moms, certified lactation consultants are a force for good and a source of support.

But forcing a binary choice between breast and bottle-feeding — without giving moms all of the information they need — doesn't support mothers. Instead, moms deserve access to information about all their options, including formula supplementation.

Better leave and pumping policies

Even if breastfeeding does come easily, our culture is not set up to support women exclusively breastfeeding for the WHO-recommended length of time.

While we're told that we should exclusively breastfeed for six months and continue to breastfeed for at least a year, the median length of (paid or unpaid) maternity leave in the U.S. is 11 weeks, and only 14% of American workers have access to paid leave.

This is especially frustrating when research indicates that leave is a key part of the breastfeeding puzzle. Returning to work before three months may reduce a mother's ability to meet her breastfeeding goals. Studies show that working women who receive 12 or more weeks of paid maternity leave are more likely to start breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for six months than women without paid leave. In another study, researchers found that a one-month increase in maternity leave led to a 2.2 month increase in breastfeeding duration. If we want moms to breastfeed — and to sustain breastfeeding — we need to provide better paid parental leave.

And once women do return to work, we need to provide them the time and space to pump. Despite the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law, women still face barriers at work that prevent them from expressing milk. Research suggests that 60% of women do not have the time and space they need to pump at work, but women who did have the time and accommodations were 2.3 times more likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at six months.

An alternative to sugar-laden formulas

Unfortunately there are barriers for formula-feeding mothers too. In the United States, we're lacking in not just education about formula, but also healthy options that we feel good about feeding to our children.

While formula is highly regulated, there aren't yet restrictions on the sugar content in baby formula. Formula needs to contain a certain number of carbohydrates in order to meet a baby's nutritional needs. In breast milk, the primary carbohydrate is lactose. But in formula, that carb is often corn syrup or sugar. In some formulas, babies are getting up to 10 grams of corn syrup per 5-ounce serving. That means over the course of a day, they're guzzling more sugar than you'll find in a bottle of Coke!

Recently, many parents have begun to seek out better options by purchasing formulas from the European Union. The E.U. has stricter rules about pesticides and limits the amount of corn syrup in formula (there, corn syrup can only make up 50% or less of carbohydrates, while in the U.S. all carbs can come from corn syrup). Unfortunately, European formulas pose risks too.

The bottom line: To be successful, moms and families need support without judgement. We need education that acknowledges the real challenges of breastfeeding at the same time it teaches the benefits. We need information about all of our options. We also need policies that help working moms meet their breastfeeding goals. And for the mamas who rely on alternatives to breastfeeding, we need formulas with ingredients lists we can understand and feel good about using to nourish the next generation.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

The guilt is real for me. I try to keep it at bay but inevitably it creeps up. Telling me I'm not doing this motherhood thing right. Whispering I'll never advance in my career. Trying to convince me that my husband deserves a better wife.

Most days, the guilt is like a light breeze, brushing past me as I walk down the street. It's there, I feel it, but it doesn't slow me down. Other days, it feels like I'm walking face-first into a gale-force wind, pushing me into a dark storm I can't control.

I recently had one of those very windy days. Our daycare had a power outage. The AC went out so they asked all of the parents to pick their kids up early, at 11:30 AM, in the middle of a workday. I called in to better understand the issue and ask if my son was in imminent danger. As it turns out, he was not. So, I let them know I would get there as soon as I could. Hopefully, around 2:30 PM but maybe closer to 3:30 PM.

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It just so happened that I had some very important meetings that day and it's REALLY hard for my husband to leave work (he won't get paid and they could choose not to renew his contract, hard). Well, at 2:30 PM the daycare called to inform me that my son was the last one there. They were very clear that all of the other parents had been able to pick up their kids.

So, again, I asked if he was in danger. They said no, and I let them know I would be there in the next hour.

I know this was the right thing to ask to help me make a decision about whether or not to cancel every meeting, let the folks at work down and push deadlines. I know I made the right decision to stay, deliver what I promised and support my team. And yet, the guilt set in. The wind picked up.

The whispers in the back of my mind started:

"You picked work over your son, bad mom"

"You love your job more than your baby, what kind of mother are you?"

"Your son is the last one there, what's wrong with you?"

"Your son will think you don't love him since he's the last to be picked up."

"You're being an irresponsible parent."

This time, the guilt quickly transformed into indignation. I was angry that they had to tell me he was the last one. Why does that matter? Our daycare costs thousands of dollars a month.

When he is sick I drop everything and pick him up. I follow all of the rules, labeling food, clothes and diapers. We pay our bill on time. Why do they need to make me feel like a bad mom?

On the train ride to retrieve my son from his non-life threatening situation I got deep into my own mind. All of these thoughts started to flood my head as anger and guilt swirled in my heart. And then, as if through some divine intervention, like clouds parting to let the sun in after a storm, I had a revelation: I am NOT a bad mom. I am a mom who needs to make choices.

That day I chose work. My son was not in danger and my job had serious demands. Choosing work is something I will have to do sometimes and it's okay. I am a whole being. A woman, not just a mom or a worker or wife.

All of these facets of who I am will always compete with each other. And I will always rise to the occasion and make the best choice for me and the situation. Choosing not to drop everything to rush and pick him up that day doesn't change how much I love my son. It simply reflects that trade-offs and decisions are an ongoing part of life.

When I arrived at daycare, it was clear he was having a grand old time with one-on-one attention. And, I can't lie, as annoyed as I was to leave work early, I was grateful to have a couple of extra hours with him that afternoon.

Choosing between work and family is inevitable. Whatever choice I make doesn't make me bad. It makes me human.

Life

It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019.

BabyNames.com has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.

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But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.

RANK

BOYS

GIRLS

1

Liam

Charlotte

2

Oliver

Amelia

3

Theodore

Violet

4

Declan

Aria/Arya

5

Henry

Aurora

6

Owen

Ava

7

Finn

Olivia

8

Caleb

Vivienne

9

Emmett

Hazel

10

Benjamin

Nora

The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says BabyNames.com founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at BabyNames.com.

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