Our favorite recipes that take less than 35 minutes to cook

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We know you already do so much, mama. From errands to laundry and answering emails from your boss—or just answering to that tiny boss in your house—preparing home-cooked meals can be hard to fit into an already packed schedule. (Not to mention finding healthy choices that your toddler won't throw across the kitchen!) But getting a nutritious, tasty home-cooked meal, snack, or dessert on the table shouldn't be such a chore.

That's why we've rounded up some of our favorite, easy-to-whip-together meal ideas—and they all take less than 35 minutes to make.

Even better, they're guaranteed to please even the choosiest family member.

​Garlic Roasted Tomato, Corn + Spinach Flatbread

By Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN

Serves: 5

Time to cook: 20 mins

Ingredients

Sauce

Pizza

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 500-degrees. If using a store-bought crust preheat oven to suggested temperature on package directions.
  2. Make the sauce: In a medium bowl, stir to combine the tomato sauce, olive oil and salt. Set aside.
  3. Make the pizza: Using the back of your hands, stretch the dough into a 10 x 14-inch rectangle and transfer to a large parchment lined baking sheet. If using a store-bought crust, place on parchment paper.
  4. Spread the sauce evenly across the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Scatter the corn, cherry tomatoes, sliced garlic, and remaining red onion slices. Arrange chicken slices over top, if desired, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes until the rim is golden brown and the bottom of the pizza is crisp.
  5. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board, top with baby spinach, remaining slices of red onion, crumbled feta, and drizzle with olive oil. Cut into 10 square slices and enjoy.

Pro tip: Flatbread can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Chocolate, Banana, Raspberry Quinoa Bowl

By Andrea Marcellus

Serves: 1 Serving, One-Hand Portion

Time to cook: 10 mins

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup quinoa (cooked)
  • 1/2 cup banana (sliced)
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon almonds (sliced)
  • 2 tablespoon dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoon milk (or milk alternative)
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

    1. Place cooked quinoa in pot and add milk, chocolate, vanilla, maple syrup and salt. Heat over medium-low heat until everything is combined and quinoa is thick, about 5 minutes.
    2. Place in bowl and top with bananas, raspberries, almonds... let your imagination go bananas!

    Lemon Garlic Chicken Zoodles

    By Andrea Marcellus

    Serves: 1 Serving, Two-Hand Portion

    Time to cook: 12 mins

    Ingredients

    • 1 zucchini (spiralized or julienned)
    • 1 chicken breast (cubed)
    • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
    • 1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 pinch salt and pepper
    • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

    Instructions:

    1. In a skillet over medium heat add olive oil and garlic. Once garlic is fragrant, add cubed chicken.
    2. Once chicken is mostly cooked, add cherry tomatoes and allow those to cook until they blister, about 5 minutes.
    3. Next, add the zoodles, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and mix together.
    4. Eat while contemplating the word "zoodles."

    Mixed Veggie Fritter

    By Andrea Marcellus

    Serves: 4 Servings, One-Hand Portion

    Time to cook: 10 mins

    Ingredients

    • 3 tablespoon zucchini (shredded)
    • 3 tablespoon cauliflower (finely chopped)
    • 3 tablespoon butternut squash (shredded)
    • 3 tablespoon broccoli (finely chopped)
    • 3 tablespoon carrot (shredded)
    • 3 tablespoon spinach (shredded)
    • 1 egg
    • 1 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 3 tablespoon almond flour
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon yogurt (whole milk or plant-based // Optional)
    • 1 Pinch salt and pepper

    Instructions:

    1. In a large bowl, combine the veggies—and any other veggies you want to add—with egg, flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.
    2. In a skillet over medium heat add olive oil. Form patties with hands and add to skillet.
    3. Allow fritters to brown about 3 minutes each side. Remove from pan and top with Greek yogurt (if using).
    4. Divide any fritters you're not enjoying right now into a serving container for later in the week.

    Creamy Tomato Soup

    By KidStir

    Serves: 4

    Time to cook: 25 mins

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
    • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cream
    • Small bunch fresh basil, chopped
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 cup cheddar cheese cubes, optional

    Instructions:

    1. A grown-up should heat the olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Once hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Turn off the heat.
    2. Blend the whole tomatoes and all the juices in a blender. Add the cooked onion and garlic, and blend until smooth.
    3. Carefully pour the pureed tomatoes into the soup pot. Turn the heat to medium-high.
    4. Stir in the cream and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and extra cream, if you'd like.
    5. Ladle the soup into bowls. Stir in cubes of cheese, if you'd like. Top with chopped fresh basil and pass the salt and pepper!

    Orange Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate + Tangy Turmeric Dressing

    By Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN

    Serves: 8

    Time to cook: 30 mins

    Ingredients

    Dressing

    • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed juice, from 2 mandarin oranges
    • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
    • 1 clove garlic, smashed
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    Salad

    • 2 cups dry Sun Harvest Organic Whole Grain Red and White Quinoa*
    • 1, 15-ounce can Sun Harvest Organic Garbanzo Beans*, drained and rinsed
    • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
    • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • 3 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
    • 1 cup pomegranate arils
    • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
    • 8 mandarin oranges, peeled and sliced
    • *Available at Smart & Final grocery stores

    Instructions:

    1. Make the dressing: Combine all ingredients for dressing in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside and discard the smashed garlic clove before serving.
    2. Cook the quinoa: Place the quinoa in a large saucepan with 5 cups water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and drop down to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and cook until tender. There will be some water leftover. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
    3. Make the salad: To the mixing bowl, add the chickpeas, chopped green onions, parsley, cilantro, dates and half of the pomegranate arils and pistachios. Pour over the dressing and toss to coat. Transfer to a large serving plate and top with the sliced oranges. Top with the remaining pomegranate arils and pistachios and enjoy immediately.

    Pro tip: Salad will keep well covered in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

    Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Slaw + Spicy Mayo

    By Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN

    Serves: 4

    Time to cook: 30 mins

    Spicy Mayo + Slaw

    • 1/4 cup First Street Premium Real Mayonnaise
    • 1/4 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
    • 4 teaspoons cayenne pepper style hot sauce
    • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 1/4 teaspoon First Street Garlic Powder
    • 5 cups Sun Harvest Coleslaw
    • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced

    Grilled Chicken and Assembly

    • 2, 8-ounce Sun Harvest skinless, boneless chicken breasts
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon Sun Harvest Avocado Oil, for grilling
    • 4 seeded buns or ciabatta rolls
    • 1/4 cup First Street Sliced Hamburger Dill Pickle Chips
    • 1 jalepeño, thinly sliced

    Instructions:

      1. Make the Slaw: In a small bowl, whisk the mayo, yogurt, hot sauce, lemon juice, and garlic powder until combined. Add the coleslaw and red onions to a large bowl and pour over half of the spicy mayo mixture, reserving the other half of the mayo for serving. Toss the slaw until coated and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
      2. Grill the Chicken: Prepare a grill. Place the chicken breasts in a plastic bag and lightly pound out until ¾-inch thick in size. Slice each breast in half, pat to dry, brush with oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Grill the chicken over moderate heat, turning once, until just cooked through, about 14 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, halve the sandwich rolls, add to the grill, and heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
      3. Assemble the Sandwiches: Spread the reserved spicy mayo evenly over the cut-sides of each roll. Layer the bottom half of each roll with a piece of grilled chicken and top with slaw. Place a few pickle chips and jalapeño slices over the slaw and top each with the remaining half of roll. Enjoy!

      Pro tip: The best part about these sandwiches is that you want to keep piling on more slaw to top your sandwich, so make extra and keep crunching!

      Marshmallow Stars

      By KidStir

      Serves: 1 pan of marshmallows

      Time to cook: 30 mins

      Ingredients

      • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
      • 1/3 cup cold water
      • 1 1/2 cups sugar
      • 1/4 cup water
      • 1/4 cup corn syrup
      • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • Cooking spray
      • Confectioners' sugar

      Instructions:

      1. Put 1/3 cup of water into the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water.
      2. Whisk the sugar, 1/4 cup of water, and corn syrup in the saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, stop whisking and heat the mixture until it boils. Place a candy thermometer into the saucepan and turn off the stove when the mixture reaches 240 degrees. This is a job for grown-ups only because the liquid gets very hot.
      3. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the gelatin. Beat on high speed for 10 to 12 minutes or until nice and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.
      4. Lightly spray the baking pan with cooking spray. Then use a rubber spatula to transfer the gooey marshmallow mixture into the pan.
      5. Allow the marshmallows to set overnight on the countertop. This can take 12 to 15 hours.
      6. Lift the marshmallow block out of the pan with a spatula and place on a cutting board dusted with confectioners' sugar. Then use a star cookie cutter to cut out the marshmallow stars.

      Cajun Shrimp

      By Andrea Marcellus

      Serves: 1 Serving, Two-Hand Portion

      Time to cook: 25 mins

      Ingredients

      • 1/2 cup shrimp (peeled and deveined)
      • 1/4 red bell pepper (chopped)
      • 1/4 zucchini (chopped)
      • 1/4 cup corn (frozen)
      • 2 basil leafs (julienned)
      • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
      • 1 tablespoon parsley
      • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
      • 1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
      • 1 pinch salt and pepper

      Instructions:

        1. In a medium bowl combine together shrimp, Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper
        2. Place veggies on one half of a foil sheet and add shrimp on top. Sprinkle parsley and basil leaves over top.
        3. Add olive oil, white wine, salt and pepper. Fold other half of foil over and fold in sides to seal packet. Place in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through.
        4. It's like camping food, but way cooler, and no bears.

        Speed Crepe with Nut Butter, Berries + Coconut

        By Andrea Marcellus

        Serves: 6-8 servings, One-Hand Portion

        Time to cook: 5 mins

        Ingredients

        • 2 tablespoon coconut flour (Can sub or combine with oat, almond, whole wheat, or other favorite flour!)
        • 1 tablespoon nut butter
        • 1/4 cup mixed berries
        • 1 tablespoon shredded coconut (unsweetened)
        • 3 eggs
        • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
        • 1 pinch salt

        Instructions:

          1. Beat eggs with a fork and then blend in the rest of the ingredients. (You can also use a blender or food processor if you don't mind the cleanup.)
          2. Place a piece of parchment paper in the microwave and a TBSP of the mixture in the center of the paper. Spread the mixture with the back of the spoon until fairly thin.
          3. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Continue in increments of 30-seconds until crepe is fully cooked. Time will depend on your microwave.
          4. Remove parchment paper from microwave and allow crepe to cool.
          5. Repeat until all the batter is gone. Save remaining crepes for later in the week.
          6. Once crepe is cooled to touch add berries and shredded coconut to crepe.

          Tiny Pies

          By KidStir

          Serves: 12 mini pies

          Time to cook: 35 mins

          Ingredients

          • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
          • 2 tablespoons sugar
          • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
          • 2 teaspoons orange juice
          • 1 tablespoon butter
          • 1 pie crust (we used a store-bought organic pie crust)
          • Milk and egg (for brushing on pie tops)

          Instructions:

          1. Mix the chopped apples, sugar, cinnamon, and orange juice in a bowl. Set it aside to get nice and juicy.
          2. Unroll the pie crust and place it on a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap on your countertop. Cut out twelve 2 1/2 inch circles with a round cookie cutter or rim of a glass. Press each one into a muffin cup.
          3. Gather the dough scraps and roll them out. Use tiny cookie cutters to make decorative shapes or cut thin strips for lattice toppings.
          4. Add 1 rounded tablespoon of filling to each cup. Dot with a tiny piece of butter. Add a top crust with slits, a pie crust star, or a lattice top. Pinch the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.
          5. Brush the mini pies with a beaten egg mixed with a little milk. Bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 15 to 17 minutes or until the filling bubbles and the crusts turn golden brown. Let the pies cool for just a few minutes in the pan, then carefully remove each one by running a sharp knife around the edges and popping it out of the pan.

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          When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


          While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

          Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

          When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

          $69.95

          Gap Cigarette Jeans

          These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

          $79.95

          Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

          Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

          $135.00

          Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

          This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

          $79.95

          Gap Flannel Pajama Set

          For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

          $69.95

          Spafinder Gift Card

          You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

          $50.00

          Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

          This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

          $29.95

          Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

          Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

          $9.95

          Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

          Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

          $99.95

          Gap Flannel Shirt

          Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

          $59.95

          Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

          Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

          $98.00

          Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

          Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

          $39.95

          Nixplay Seed Frame

          This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

          $165.00

          Gap Crewneck Sweater

          Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

          $59.95

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

          Our Partners

          Almost all parents agree that reading is one of the most important skills to encourage in young children, but did you know that reading to your child can directly impact their brain development? Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, but there are also many other quite simple literacy activities that not only help kids learn to read, but show them that it's fun and encourage a lifelong reading habit.

          Winter is the perfect time to get cozy and spend some extra time reading. Try one of these literacy activities next time you're in need of some indoor fun this winter.

          1. Create a listening station

          In Montessori classrooms for young children, the classroom environment is considered critical to learning. Part of a successful classroom environment that meets preschool-aged children's needs is including cozy spaces.

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          Especially in a group setting, but even at home, children need quiet little nooks where they can escape and feel safe and enclosed. A listening station makes for a perfect quiet space.

          Provide a selection of a few different audio books for your child to choose from. If you don't have any at home, public libraries often offer many great choices. If you feel like splurging, there are other child-specific listening devices perfect for a listening station as well. The Chameleon Reader takes this a step further and lets you turn any book your child loves into an audio book. This offers such a great alternative to screen time, especially during tricky times like long days of airplane or car travel.

          2. Make a story bag

          A story bag has a collection of small objects with which a child can recreate a story. You can make or buy story bags for any book your child enjoys.

          Choose a book they are familiar with and love. Show them the story bag and model how to recreate the story with the objects. Then let them take the lead. Don't worry about it if they get creative with the plot, that's all part of the learning!

          3. Introduce sequence cards

          Similarly, try providing your child with a series of images from a beloved book and inviting them to put them in order. It's fine if they use the book to help them, it's not a test!

          This is super easy to do yourself. You can just take photos of the illustrations with your phone and print them, or order the photos from a site like Shutterfly if you don't have a printer. Laminating will of course make them last longer.

          4. Act it out

          Many children learn best when they are moving and physically engaged, so try putting your child's favorite story into action, pretending alongside your child as you move through the plot.

          Stories with lots of action, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt or Where the Wild Things Are, are a good place to start, but you can really act out almost any children's book with your child.

          5. Do an author study

          Next time you read a book your child really likes, ask if they'd like to hear about the person who wrote it. Read them the little author's bio at the end of the book and say something like, "Hmm, I wonder if they've written anything else we might like."

          Go to the library and search together for more books by the author you've chosen. If it's a less well known author, you may want to reserve some books from the library ahead of time as well.

          6. Use a story-telling inspiration basket

          This is super simple and easily tailored to whatever your particular child is interested in. Choose a small box or basket and fill it with a few little items to inspire a story. For example, for winter, you may include a toy snowman, scarf, sled and cookie. Show your child you can use these objects to make up your own story.

          When you model the activity, you can write down the story you create, but if your child just wants to tell you the story, that's great too. Write it down for them and invite them to illustrate it if they're interested.

          7. Share oral stories

          Oral storytelling is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it plays a valuable role in helping young children develop rich vocabulary and a true love for storytelling and reading.

          Try doing this as an after dinner activity, turning off all of the lights and lighting a candle to make it special. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself creative, children are sucked in by oral storytelling even if you tell them the simplest story about your day.

          In time, you can invite them to join in on the storytelling fun as well.

          8. Write the words for their pictures.

          Long before children learn to write, they tell stories through their artwork. Invite your child to tell you the story behind a picture they've made and write it down for them.

          Not only does this make your child feel super special and valued, it helps them make the connection between written words and stories, which is a key literacy skill.

          9. Play reading games

          There are so many easy reading games you can play with young children. One of my favorites which we use a lot in Montessori is "I Spy". I love this game because it can be done anywhere, and because children love it!

          This is a great one to play if you're stuck waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic. Simply say, "I spy something that starts with 'c'" using the phonetic letter sound. Take turns finding things around you that start with that sounds. For older children, you can play "I Spy" with rhymes instead, saying "I spy something that rhymes with bat".

          To play at home, you can also use a basket of objects starting with various sounds.

          10. Letter boxes

          This is directly based on one of the key Montessori language materials.

          In the classroom, children use "sandpaper letters," which are exactly what they sound like, letters made of sandpaper so that the child can really feel the shape of the letter as they trace it. A child is given a box of 3-5 letters which they have been practicing and a box of small objects. The child matches the object to its beginning sound. So if there is a little cat, the child will place it by "c".

          In Montessori, children learn the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the letter names, so this comes fairly naturally. There is no need to buy sandpaper letters for your home, but if you have been working on the phonetic letter sounds with your child, it can be fun to play a similar matching game with objects. You can simply write the letters on card stock and find little objects around your house, or in the dollhouse section of a craft store. Young children love tiny objects and are often very drawn to this work.

          Nothing will ever replace reading aloud to your child, but these literacy activities can be really fun ways to incorporate additional language practice into your home and to encourage a true love of reading.

          Learn + Play

          "I'm Dave, Olli's dad."

          This is the way I introduce myself to people I meet now. It's different from the way I used to introduce myself. "I'm Dave," used to be followed by, "I'm a designer." Or, "I work in startups." And, "I work for X." For the last 15 years my career was a large part of who I was, a peg I hung my hat on. After my son was born, that identity stayed intact for a while. I usually mentioned, "I'm a dad" secondarily, after some casual conversation.

          Then, when my son turned about a year-and-a-half old, my wife and I switched places. She went back to work full-time and I became the primary caregiver. I was now a stay-at-home dad.

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          I was excited to spend more time with my son because I felt like I was missing big moments in his life while I was at work. Up until that point, weekday time together was relegated to an hour or so before bed. Most of our time spent together was on the weekends and I'd notice the difference in his affection towards me after extended time together.

          For the first few months of full-time dad-ing, the sudden influx of quality time felt like a novelty. After a while, things started to feel normal in this new role and we found our groove together. This intensive routine of being with him almost non-stop developed into a relationship that was closer and more complex than before. I became more intertwined with his rhythms, and my parental instincts grew with it.

          While I'm happy with the way my relationship has blossomed with my son, this life change has shaken up my identity in ways I never expected.

          I still do design work, now on a freelance basis, but "designer" is no longer the linchpin of my identity. In fact, it's shifted a lot of my interests to a second tier, which leaves me struggling to say exactly who I am at the moment.

          I know I'm not alone in this reevaluation of self because I overhear bits and pieces of these conversations about identity, worth, and self-perception discussed by groups of moms at playgrounds, parks, and indoor play spaces.

          These groups of people form along lines of likeness — moms gravitate towards each other, nannies tend to cluster in groups. Mostly my conversations in these places are brief encounters that hover in the safe zone of children's milestones, small talk like: How old? Potty trained? Preschool? Daycare?

          I've yet to come across a dad cohort.

          I recognize the difference between my conversations and those that start to veer towards breastfeeding issues or the pains of childbirth. But it can feel alienating.

          I don't have it any harder than any other stay-at-home mom, I just don't seem to have the same support network they do.

          And when I talk to fathers who work full-time, I sometimes encounter an unrealistic portrayal of what it means to be with a child every day. Like I'm scamming the system and making out like a bandit.

          The other day a friend commented that "it must be so nice to be off for the summer." He quickly clarified that he made this statement in reference to not having to go into an office every day. It was an honest slip of the tongue, but it's not an uncommon sentiment.

          Looking after a child is hard work, and watching after them full-time invades every part of your focus, brain, and time. A summer day doesn't dissolve the monotony that can accompany watching a child for hours or the anxiety caused by tantrums.

          When I was working full-time, I had a solid sense of who I was, who I should be and where I should be. As a stay-at-home dad, I live on uncertain ground. Somewhere between the moms in the park and the working dads I know.

          I'm happier now than I was before, but decisions aren't so cut and dry, and the direction doesn't seem as sure. There's not a well-defined path ahead of me.

          While the relationships I had have grown more distant with my new focus, the relationship I have with my son is way more fulfilling than I imagined it could be. He's gone from a standard love to an extension of my heart outside my body.

          I beam when he's happy and I hurt when he hurts. The goods are tethered to the bads but the bads create opportunities to learn and grow, and that growth means a more developed and engaged human. That is much more satisfying than the work I used to do.

          Yes, being a full-time caregiver is hard. And yes, I'm still figuring out what it means to be "Olli's Dad" and a stay-at-home dad in a sea of stay-at-home-moms. But the reward is so much greater than the wins I used to score when I was simply "Dave, a designer."

          This story originally appeared on Apparently.

          Life

          For at least the past month (well, probably longer, but who's keeping track when there's no such thing as a good night's sleep between an almost two-year-old and a 3-month-old), every morning starts with the familiar refrain of my son's tiny voice repeating the same phrase relentlessly like only a toddler can, "Time to wake up mama! Wake up! Time to wake up!" And while I'm sure tomorrow morning will start off no different, I'll close my eyes tonight and know that everything will change. Because tomorrow morning, we'll wake up and he'll be a two-year-old.

          Two years since all 8lbs, 7oz of him entered the world after 16 miserable hours of labor. Two years since we met our handsome boy with his full head of hair, fell head over heels in love and decided our lives 'pre-baby' weren't so great after all. Two whole years since I became a mama.

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          And what a wild ride it's been. At two, he's a running, jumping, talking, tantrum-throwing, truck-loving, perfectly chaotic mess of a kid—a far cry from the helpless newborn we cluelessly brought home just two short years ago.

          I'm sure sometime in the next week (okay, maybe more like the next year), I'll be madly scribbling down all the things I don't want to forget about him at this age in his baby book, but perhaps one of the things I want to remember most is what he's taught me in the last two years. Being the personal assistant to a demanding toddler (and now his little brother) is the hardest job I've ever had, but thankfully he's also the best teacher I never thought I'd have.

          Strangely, the longer I'm a mother, the less I seem to know, but I'm certain the last two years have taught me five valuable lessons that I'll keep with me long after my babies are grown:

          1. It's okay to say no. I was a people-pleaser before I became a mom, but becoming a mom kicked my people-pleasing tendencies into overdrive. Thanks to my over-confident toddler who says "no" more times than I can count on any given morning, I've truly learned the power of this simple, two-letter word. Now, when an over-eager relative asks to hold my 3-month-old when I want to be the one to hold him? You guessed it: N-O.
          2. Always ask for what you want. My toddler does it all day and he makes no apologies for it either. If I've learned anything since becoming a mother, it's that I can't do everything on my own and do it well. But I can't expect my husband (or anyone else, for that matter) to read my mind and offer to take things off my plate if I don't ask for it. There's absolutely no shame in asking for help—or for that extra glass of wine—because mom-ing is freakin' hard.
          3. It's okay to make mistakes. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. I'm convinced that one of the best things I can teach my children is not to fear failure but to learn from it, get up and try again. As a people-pleaser (see point #1), the pressure to get things right all the time and to make sure everyone is taken care of is REAL. But as a work-at-home mom of two, things slip through the cracks more often than not and the fact that my toddler STILL can't drink from an open cup without spilling half of it all over himself reminds that it's okay to not get things right the first, fifth, or even thirty-sixth time.
          4. Love and forgive with your whole heart. There's nothing purer than a toddler's love. Trucks, snacks, Paw Patrol, making messes, me. I can't count how many times I've snapped and lost my cool with my 2-year-old only to have him look up at me with his big, brown eyes still filled with complete forgiveness, adoration and love. And each time I'm humbled and reminded of the grace I should give myself whenever I feel like I'm failing (and trust me, it's a lot).
          5. These are the days. Really, they are. The 3-month-old no-sleep nights and 8-month-old separation anxiety "only mom will do" moments? Those were the days. The 2-year-old tantrum after tantrum filled mornings and never-ending messes? These are the days. The 13-year-old "don't embarrass me mom" phase and the 17-year-old too cool for school (literally) period of time? Those will be the days. Yes, right now a walk to the grocery store that's five blocks away easily takes half an hour, usually more, but how else would we pick every flower, notice every spider or feed every squirrel if it didn't? I definitely don't do this with patience 100% of the time but perfect or not, these are our moments and our days. They are a part of our story and will become our memories.

          So, on the eve of my 2-year-old's birthday, my mama heart is full. Full of lessons learned, full of memories past, and full of anticipation for the moments to come in year three and beyond. And as I look forward to celebrating my sweet baby tomorrow, there's one more thing that I know is true: Mamas, no matter what age or stage you're at (I see you, sleep-deprived mamas with newborns), hang on to every precious moment a little longer than you think you should because I promise that the minute you blink, you'll miss them.

          Life

          While I was pregnant I remember declaring (oh-so righteously) that I would never "lose myself" in motherhood. I would never forget about me because I had been me for the past 30-odd years. The idea that the addition of one little life to this vast world would change who I was didn't make sense to me. It didn't make sense in the way that motherhood doesn't make sense to someone who's never been a mother.

          We just can't know.

          What I did know was that I had been "me" for so long that I wasn't just going to let that go. I couldn't let that go. But whenever anyone starts walking in a brand new direction with no map or guidebook it's inevitable that we will somehow get lost.

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          In my early days of motherhood, I remember writing, I've never felt more unlike myself than ever before. Translation: I don't know what I'm doing. This is really hard. How did this become my life?

          I thought becoming a "mom" meant that you automatically gained access to information you didn't have access to before. Moms have all the answers. They fix the boo-boos. They help the world spin more smoothly. They know what they're doing, and in that knowing, they know — and feel comfortable with — who they are.

          Yes and no.

          I think that's why it feels like such a loss. You lose how things were before. How easy and straightforward it was before. How free you were before. How alone you were before.

          Once you become a mom, you will never be alone again. It's no longer possible to make choices for you and you alone. Because any choice you make from here on out reverberates to your children — to their lives, and their futures.

          In creating life, we alter our own forever. Losing actually means gaining. Becoming intertwined with a life that will be with you until you're no longer.

          And the way the rest of the world sees us becomes forever altered as well.

          As much as mothers are still adjusting to our new skin and figuring out our new identities, society has already decided who we are. We are mothers. And for some reason, once we're filed away as "mom", that one label changes the expectations and assumptions people make — wrong or right. And it's added to everything we do — working mother, mompreneur, mommy blogger.

          Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I work as a full-time employee. But why must I be labeled a "working mother"? Why is that distinction so important to make to the wider world?

          There has never been a "working father" in all of history, even though many fathers are also full-time employees. They enjoy the singular label of "CEO," "VP of Human Resources," "dentist" or "math teacher."

          And beyond just slapping the "mother" label on all of our other titles, we are generally expected to pick one side of the motherhood spectrum or the other.

          Motherhood is largely defined as an either/or proposition.

          You are either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.

          You are either a breastfeeding mom or a formula mom.

          You are either a cry-it-out mom or a no-cry sleep-training mom.

          Society determines your value, your worthiness, through these choices and the labels that come with them. But this reductive way of thinking creates a binary that doesn't exist in reality. The black-and-white picture reality paints is actually large swaths of gray — with shades so light they look white and shades so dark they look black.

          I, for instance, was an exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, formula supplementing mom.

          When my son was an infant, I was a stay-at-home mom who was a freelance employee and consultant who sometimes worked full-time in an office.

          I was a gentle-sleep-training cry-it out-mom, who believed in room sharing and letting my son sleep in his own crib, but would bed-share when I just needed sleep.

          These choices don't define me as a mother, just as being a mother doesn't fully define me as a person.

          I am wholly myself and wholly a mother but I am neither just a mom nor just myself any longer.

          I didn't lose myself in motherhood, after all. I found a new version of me. A hybrid mom/wife/sister/best friend self — who is clumsy-footed, type-A, empathetic, assertive, kind-hearted, and honest in both my superpowers and weaknesses.

          No one human can be boiled down to one label, mothers least of all.

          We are some of the most complex, intricate, contradictory personalities that exist. We hold multiple roles simultaneously, context-switching quickly from boo-boo-soothing to boardroom presentations to date night to acts of self-care.

          We are the and.

          We are women and mothers and daughters and lovers and teachers and friends and CEOs and toddler-wranglers and and and and…

          So, no, there's no such thing as being just a mom.

          This story originally appeared on Apparently.

          Life
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