Letting go of high expectations helped me become a happier mama

Despite what I have gained as a mother, what I let go of in my journey into motherhood is what’s most important.

Letting go of high expectations helped me become a happier mama

My son recently turned one, and many people asked me what I learned in my first year of motherhood. What a big question!

As I reflected, I realized how much hands-on experience I gained in caring for a child. I'm no longer squeamish at changing a blowout diaper or intimidated by feeding solids for the first time and, to my surprise, my heart has expanded more than I could have ever imagined.

Despite what I have gained as a mother in this first year, I believe what I let go of in my journey into motherhood is what’s most important. It’s what has truly made me become a better mother to my son.

I’ve let go of expectations.

As a coach working with women struggling with perfectionism, a great deal of my work with clients is adjusting the expectations they have for themselves and others.

A large part of my work revolves around expectations because I know both personally and professionally, when we attach to certain expectations, well...we expect them to happen. And if our expectations are not met, we typically feel disappointed, angry or sad. We feel like failures.

It's natural to want things to work out according to plan, but when they don't, it can cause a great deal of distress.

And what is often wrapped in our expectations, is what we think that expectation means or says about us.

Before my son was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, breastfeeding came with struggles and challenges throughout the entire process. Early on in my journey as a mother, I created an expectation that I would be able to exclusively breastfeed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was very much attached to that expectation. I expected it to happen.

When I needed to supplement and then when my son self-weaned at 6 months, I was heartbroken. I tried all the supplements, met with lactation experts, and tried to convince my son to keep latching on, but nothing worked.

Since I did not meet my own breastfeeding expectations, I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn't meeting his needs. I was stressed and sad. The more research I did on breastfeeding, the more discouraged I became. So one day, I just stopped. Stopped researching, stopped trying to convince my son to continue, stopped taking all the supplements. Just stopped.

Instead, I brought in Byron Katie's famous question, "Is this true?" And I asked myself:

“Is this true—I'm a failure as a mother?” Answer: Absolutely not!

“Is this true—I'm not meeting my son's needs?” Answer: No, in fact, he's meeting all his developmental milestones and is growing just fine.

This question stopped me dead in my tracks and helped me get out of my head. It stopped the negative feedback loop that was playing through my mind. I was meeting all of my son's needs, and he was thriving!

I was doing a great job.

The attachment I had to my expectations was not only causing me stress, but it also put a strain on my relationship with my son. When I let go of my expectations, it freed up mental and emotional space and allowed me to focus on what was truly important—the bond I have with my son.

So now, instead of creating expectations, I create plans/goals/intentions and allow for quite a bit of flexibility. This mindset reduces my stress so I can connect more with my son and it provides the stamina I need to handle meltdowns, messes, and lack of sleep in a more productive way.

I let go of perfectionism.

Before having children, I observed many of my friends who had kids, and I was constantly amazed how they seemed to have it all under control. These women have multiple children, hold full-time jobs, and some have side projects going on as well.

I used to look at them in awe and think, Seriously, how do they do it? On social media their kids seem well-behaved, my friends are well-groomed, and they look like they have it all together.

Then, when I had my son, my life with one child did not look as picturesque as my friend's lives.

My life looked like this:

  • Scattered toys were my new trending home decor look.
  • Burned meals were a staple Pinterest recipe at our dinner table.
  • Tackling landmines of endless laundry was my new go-to “me time” activity.
  • Showering? What's that?

Then one day, I had a heart to heart with one of my picture-perfect friends. I quickly learned her life was not as sterile as I once thought. At the time she was dealing with postpartum depression, drowning in endless chores, and had little motivation to socialize or be active. In this moment I was reminded of what perfectionism keeps us from...connection.

When my friend opened up about her struggles, I was able to see her humanity. I connected with her feelings, and together, we were able to offer each other support. This moment of connection allowed us to be real about how we were coping with this reality of motherhood.

I’ve learned that expectations and perfectionism prevent connection with others and disable us from allowing our authentic selves to shine through. They take us out of the present moment and away from valuable time with our loved ones. And where motherhood can be stressful enough on its own, they create additional (and unnecessary!) distress.

Instead of focusing on all the household chores not done, I prioritize my time with my son. Playtime, endless hugs and kisses, curiosity, and laughter is our top priority.

What I have learned the most is, my son doesn't see my flaws. He doesn't care if I've washed my hair that day or that he sometimes wears clothes too small for him. He wants to share his toys with me and loves to listen to me read his favorite book. He wants hugs to feel me close. He wants help when he is stuck. He wants to share laughs with me.

What he cares most about is my presence and letting go of high expectations and perfectionism allows me to be more present with my son.

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

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

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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