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I married into a family that cares for and appreciates stuff. Coming from a family that not only isn't so into stuff, but, in fact, fears and is deeply unsettled by stuff, it has been a major adjustment, especially around the holidays.

My husband's family cherishes and saves things in a way my own family does not. For example, my mother-in-law has one box from every school year of my husband's life. My own mother has one box from all the school years of my life. One box. And I'm not even sure how big that box is—it might not fit more than a loaf of bread. It might even be more of a bag.

Obviously, my mother's saved items have nothing to do with how much she loves me. I've always known that. But this is where I'm coming from.

So, now that I have a wonderful mother-in-law who, like many people, loves to buy A LOT of stuff during the holidays for her grandson, I'm working on opening my own nervous and organized heart to all the things she so lovingly and generously offers.

As the holidays approach, here's how an obsessive minimalist like me copes with the onset of an avalanche.

1. Suggest donations instead of gifts

It's worth a shot. Your idea will likely be met with a ripple of laughter followed by, "Nice try, babe, but we've already made our donations. Lots of them! And we made them while simultaneously purchasing 750 gifts for your son. AND WE'RE JUST GETTING STARTED."

You've married into a good family. They want EVERYONE to have stuff.

At least you tried. Good job for trying.

2. Buy storage bins

Since your minimalist fate was sealed the day your parents casually recycled your first inconsequential school art project, the only way to handle the inevitable onslaught of holiday gifts is to go to the mattresses. And by mattresses, I mean bins.

For me, seeing new toys spread out all over the living room floor is akin to being trapped behind a pile of live rats. So after everyone's gone to bed, I tiptoe into the living room and neatly place 75% of those rats inside plastic bins and shove those bins deep in a closet somewhere. I then return to bed and dream, peacefully, of empty rat-free rooms.

Until your kid learns to use the stepladder and finds a way to not let you hide toys in bins ever again, this works PERFECTLY.

3. Preemptively give away some toys

I've got a one-for-one philosophy: For every new thing, an old thing must be retired. The thing can either be taken down to the basement for future children or mold experiments, or the thing can be given to a child in need NOW.

Head to your local homeless shelter or Salvation Army with used toys. Then ride that high on over to CommuniGift, where you can buy something off the wish list of a kiddo who isn't getting as many as yours.

4. Say thank you—and mean it

The hour is nigh, the gift mountain is high, and you're going to have to get it together and behave like a kind person. Otherwise it will seem like you are an ungrateful stuff-hating ogre-scrooge, who cannot find the fun in unwrapping countless items purchased lovingly for you and your tiny human.

Even if that IS what you are (and proud of it), you've got to model some gratitude. And anyway, smile therapy is no joke! I find the more conviction with which I say thank you, the more thankful I actually am.

5. Remember you all have the same goal

You've now got a rug made of wrapping paper bits and Scotch tape and the toddler crash is imminent, but for the next four to seven minutes, you may simply recess into the folds of your couch and let relief wash over you. It's done.

Your over-stimulated child is currently filled to the gills with joy as he paddles his way through The Sea of Four Thousand Toys. And your in-laws? They're even more thrilled, seeing him like that.

Yeah, you might not have given your son the same things, or the same amount of things, but you all want the same thing, right? You want this tiny crazed creature to know he's loved.

And he is. And he does.

And you're probably going to need at least seven more bins.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


Our Partners

I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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According to attachment theory, when you respond to the needs of your child, a strong bond is formed and woven into their personality, serving as a basis for all future emotional ties. So your kids love and depend on you. And they can feel anxious when involuntarily separated from you, like when you are asleep.

Child psychologist Esther Cohen suggests that it is fairly universal that infants and toddlers try to open the eyes of their sleeping parents. Her theory is that when you are present, but with your eyes shut, you are not responsive, and on some level this causes your child a form of "emotional distress." So the best and easiest way for them to feel better is to wake you up.

Cohen believes that reestablishing eye contact bridges the gap between your physical presence and your emotional presence, making the situation feel normal again. Your kids are relieved that you are alert and there to interact with them—and that you are available to protect them.

Kids are hardwired to seek our attention all the time.

At birth, your brain is only about 25% of its adult volume. Born particularly vulnerable, you depend on years of loving care. This prolonged helplessness has resulted in the evolution of certain behaviors—like baby coos, smiles and crying—that increase your odds of survival within your family.

By the toddler age, they've developed a sense of who you are and what you can do in relation to people, and realize when they are separate from their parents. Toddlers also have what's called object permanence—they can understand who or what is, or is not, present. That means they'll search for objects and people. (And wake you up when they find you.)

Bottom line: When you sneak off for a nap and your toddler looks for you, know that this is a natural instinct for them, and they will grow out of it. But for now, when you are asleep, you are not there, so your kids must. wake. you. up.

And for an extra fun fact: Research indicates that this also could be why it's so hard for you to ignore your partner when working from home. They are there, but technically not available, so you

continually find reasons to interact with them—just like waking them up from a nap. 😉
Life

Navigating family dynamics during or after a divorce is already a tremendous challenge. Throw a highly transmittable virus and a global pandemic into the mix, and many parents will be left with more questions than answers. Matters of custody, financial stability and mental and emotional health take on new significance—and new challenges—under these circumstances. But you can do it, mama.

As a divorce attorney, I've worked with numerous families during these past weeks, in various stages of the divorce process, all of whom are learning to navigate and negotiate unfamiliar dynamics created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are my tips for co-parenting in the context of COVID-19.

1. Show children that you are calm.

Parents know better than anyone how perceptive children are. Even so, we often forget how our moods and anxieties can unintentionally affect our children. To keep the calm in the household, let children see things are under control: Ensure that potential disagreements with your co-parent are kept in conversations between the two of you (not in front of the kids), and give yourself time and space to manage your own stress and anxiety. Stressed children mean stressed parents—and the principle applies in reverse as well.

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2. Be transparent with your co-parent.

Communicate as openly and honestly as possible with your co-parent about yourself and your children. Keep your co-parent updated about you and your children's location, home education and health (physical and emotional). It is critical that, in the case of an emergency and in everyday life, both parents be fully aware and in sync regarding children's whereabouts and welfare. Transparency breeds trust; secrets breed mistrust and animosity.

3. Keep your rules.

Because this moment feels so uncertain and some of our regular norms have fallen by the wayside, there can be a tendency to let other household rules start to slide. Make sure everyone remembers their responsibilities within the family.

School might be at the kitchen table now, but having children make their beds, get dressed and brush their teeth in the morning helps maintain a sense of normalcy that can be helpful for children when things seem tumultuous. Maintain chore schedules, eat dinner together and continue to follow rituals and rules that remind children (and parents) of the responsibilities we have.

4. Consult your health care provider when disagreements arise.

If you disagree on social distancing measures, I usually advise both parents to telephone their child's pediatrician or health care provider and agree ahead of time to follow their advice. Parents can also consult the CDC measures and agree to follow those protocols. Educating your co-parent can be the most helpful thing to do now.

If you are divorced and work with a parenting coordinator, they may also be a helpful resource. If not, a third party, like a mutually trusted friend or relative can serve as an impartial mediator to help you come to a reasonable agreement.

5. Maintain boundaries.

For parents and children in this time, it is important to maintain a degree of personal space. Many of us have been directed to self-quarantine, and isolation is not easy. The nationwide efforts to keep us apart in order to contain the virus have put many of us in closer contact with those around us than we may be accustomed to.

Constant shared space and time can certainly introduce new stress into an already tense environment. While these small measures may not seem significant, taking time to yourself to be alone—even just in a separate room—can be healthy and good for group morale. Take a walk, do some yoga, whatever it looks like, take care of yourself as a parent right now.

Be flexible with your co-parent.

Flexibility, transparency and reasonableness need to be at the forefront of all decisions. Remember that this is an unprecedented situation, and it calls for flexibility, especially in scheduling.

Both sides need to be reasonable if someone becomes ill, of course. If your co-parent can't travel due to illness, then you need to be understanding about this issue and work with them to provide makeup time for the future. But the situation also calls for transparency by the parent who is sick. That parent should provide the information necessary to make the co-parent feel comfortable that they have appropriate resources and are taking proper precautions to keep children and adults safe and healthy.

Plan ahead.

While immediate concerns may be taking center stage right now, planning for the future has never been more crucial. Make time to sit down with your current or ex-spouse and take stock of your respective finances, your job security and your co-parenting schedule management as soon as possible, and create a plan (and a backup plan) for going forward. Though it may not be comfortable, transparency with your current or ex-spouse is essential.

Be smart, plan ahead and above all, stay safe.

Love + Village

As a mom of three and former social worker working for many years in the fields of adoption, Sara Ester of Sara Liz Photography knows firsthand the importance of family time. When she learned that families all over the country are self-isolating due to the coronavirus outbreak, she knew it was the perfect time to capitalize on moments of connections. Her mission was simple: promote family time to ease stress and promote happiness.

Liz reached out to dozens of families on social media asking if they would like to be photographed on their porch for a "Front Porch Session" and the responses were huge.

FEATURED VIDEO

Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

"Amid all the COVID-19 stuff going on I asked if families would be interested in a quick five-minute session on their front porches to document what a crazy experience it has been to be quarantined at home," Ester told Popsugar. "The people participating ran with it! So many families made funny or encouraging signs, showed up in their pajamas or yoga pants, and just really embraced the whole 'quarantine chic' idea. It was really reaffirming to see how everyone is in the same boat. We're all just trying to do the best we can with a crappy situation!"


Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

We're living in perilous times and it's nice to see families using the lockdown as an opportunity to bond. After all, it doesn't matter how big or small your house is, it's the love inside that counts.

Photo by: Sara Liz Photography


"Photography, specifically documentary photography is a big part of how I see and function in the world a lot of the time," Ester shared in an Instagram post. With everything being so overwhelming the last week or so, it has helped me to also keep in mind that what we are dealing with is historical."

News

Do you want to get cardio in with a spin class? Are you dying to tighten your core in a boxing class? Or are you ready to get rid of unwanted stress and frustration in a yoga class? Unfortunately, coronavirus social distancing regulations won't allow you to attend a public fitness class, but many brands are offering free workout sessions at a time when staying home is more important than ever.

Whatever your fitness goals are—there are apps to help you get there. Think of it as a free personal trainer at your fingertips while you wait out the pandemic.

Whether you're just getting started on your fitness journey or you're a proud workout pro, these free fitness apps and livestream workouts will help you burn calories throughout the day:

1. Barry’s

Looking for a high-intensity class that will give you the results you've been looking for? Try Barry's IGTV at-home workouts for the ultimate workout. They are offered twice everyday. No equipment necessary.

2. YMCA

If you miss the energy from your local YMCA classes, you're in luck. Download YMCA 360 for free on-demand fitness videos for you and your family. Now you can get in shape—and stay active—with the classes your most familiar with.

3. 24 Hour Fitness

Download the 24GO fitness app for over 1,500 digital and audio-coached workouts that will make you sweat a ton. Simply tell it what equipment you have (even if you don't have any) and it'll give you heart-pumping exercises with instructional videos, reps and sets.

4. Peloton

Interested in the Peloton brand but not quite ready to drop cash on the bike? We hear ya, mama. Peloton also offers an on-demand app with thousands of workouts like yoga, cardio, strength that don't require a Peloton-branded bike or treadmill. Try a 90-day free trial via your iPhone, iPad, or play on your TV via AirPlay or Chromecast.

5. Lululemon

The uber-popular athletic clothing brand's retail stores may be closed, but you can head to their Instagram stories for daily at-home yoga workouts and meditations from their beloved ambassadors for quick lessons.

6. Blink Fitness

If you're feeling like you need a good workout before the kids wake up, check out Blink's live-streaming workout videos on Facebook at 8 am EST Monday through Friday. Plus, fitness junkies will love the tips to help you stay motivated and answer your burning workout questions.

7. Nike Training Club

To help support athletes around the world, Nike Training Club is offering 185 free workouts on its app (ranging from 15 to 45 minutes) to help everyone stay active and positive during these trying times. Be sure to tune in every Saturday for NTC community workouts with Nike master trainers on YouTube Live. And, of course, you must spend some time browsing the store on the app to pick up some super chic gear.

8. Class Pass

Get ready to feel the burn from any room in your home. Stream thousands of live or on-demand workouts—from yoga to strength training to HIIT—from Class Pass studios around the country. Download the free app on the App Store or Google Play for core-burning workouts that'll feel like your kicking it with a friend.

9. Rumble

Boxing devotees will appreciate Rumble's daily Instagram Live shadowboxing and HIIT workouts. To be fair, this isn't your typical 10-round, 45-minute boxing class from a Rumble studio filled with flashing lights and a DJ, but if you're planning to sweat it out, you've come to the right place.

10. Fitbit

Fitbit, makers of the fitness smartwatch, extended its premium trial period to 90 days. Download it to your watch and you'll enjoy guided programs, advanced sleep tools and of course, thousands of workouts.

11. Tone It Up

If your pregnant and feeling like you can't get in on the at-home workouts, think again. Tone It Up app is offering free fitness classes, nutrition plans and recipes and is even including special courses for pregnant mamas. New users will get 30 days for free, and if you decide to continue the service it's $14.99 a month.

Lifestyle
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