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Confession time: I'm a yeller, a trait that seems to be virtually imprinted in my DNA. My mom was a yeller, her dad was a yeller. It's just how we react. Don't get me wrong—I'm not a monster. It's just that when I'm provoked, or really stressed, or my daughter has fought me for the last 20 minutes about doing her homework, finally, I yell.


It's not something I want to pass on to my daughters. And I know it isn't good for them in the short-term, either—as registered play therapist Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S confirms. "Yelling affects children in several ways by creating high levels of stress, shame and fear," she tells Motherly. "This in turn can significantly negatively impact a child's self-esteem, particularly if the yelling also includes insults and shaming statements."

In other words: Whatever you're yelling at your child becomes their inner voice. Ouch.

I know there isn't a great excuse for it, but I'm sure that my stress doesn't help the cause. With everything on my plate as someone who works from home 40 hours a week, runs a business on the side, takes care of two kids and an aging mother, I can see where this stress comes from. But I still don't think it's okay to take it out on my family.

So how do I undo generations' worth of bad habits and the stress that amplifies them? The answer is: slowly, painfully and imperfectly. I created a process as imperfect as my behavior, but it seems to be gradually working. Mellenthin reassures me that even though progress may not be as quick or linear as I would like, it's worthwhile.

"We have to be willing to change the things within us that we want changed in our children, because most of the time, we are their model of how to respond to the world around them."

Here's what I've learned:

1. Observe yourself

To solve a problem, first you have to know there's a problem. I became the observer in my life, watching my children's faces when I yelled, paying attention to how they react to each other. (I am their example.) I paid attention to my anxiety and my workload and my stress. I listened to the tone of voice I used to talk to them.

It wasn't easy. It made me sad. But it gave me a reason to change.

2. Treat the source

I discovered that a leading source of my yelling was anxiety. Studies show a huge link between anxiety and anger and it was definitely true in my case. So, what reduces my anxiety? For me, it was exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep (the link between stress and sleep is also huge) and prayer or meditation. For some, medication is necessary. Until my anxiety was under control, I had little hope for my yelling to get better.

"Many parents feel hopeless, helpless, scared and discouraged when they are unable to stop or 'parent away' unwanted behaviors or emotional difficulties. When we feel these vulnerable emotions, the easiest way to respond is in anger," Mellenthin says. And an untreated anxiety disorder is a recipe for disaster if you want to parent in a calm, peaceful way.

3. Hold yourself accountable

I decided I would keep track of my yelling. I would make a tally mark on the calendar each time I yelled in a day. Awareness was necessary. I began each day with a meditation: "Please let me be kind, wise and gentle today."

I focused on the moments like unnecessary accidents (such as breaking something they weren't careful with), fighting among the sisters and rude behavior—and then I watched my reaction and made an effort to breathe. Sometimes I just had to walk away. I didn't want to shame myself for slipping, but I wanted to be aware of my behavior, which Mellenthin recommends.

"We have to catch ourselves being good just as much as we need to do this for our children," she says. "When we can raise our insight and awareness into how we feel, we can make changes in how we react."

4. Celebrate your accomplishments

"It is so important to reward ourselves as parents—and one of the ways we can do this is by engaging in self-care as well as verbally telling yourself 'I am proud of me today,'" says Mellenthin.

There was an intrinsic reward to yelling less, of course. I saw my children relax more, I saw them enjoy their time with me more. I saw their faces light up when I responded with kindness and patience when they fought. (Side note: Whispering to your kids when they are in a yelling match is very effective.)

I told them that if I didn't yell for a solid week that I would take the whole family out to dinner. Now, I need to be honest here, six days has so far been my personal record. But six days without raising my voice once is huge. And a great start.

I've only been at this for six months, but so far, I'm a happier parent and my kids are happier around me.

So, whatever stage you are at in this process, be gentle and be hopeful. Being a wiser, kinder, more peaceful parent is within your grasp. And with that, everyone wins.

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A man stood by the side of the road, thin and ragged, holding a battered cardboard sign. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel, willing the light to turn green. He was close enough that if my car window had been rolled down, I could have reached out and touched him. But the windows were shut, a solid barrier between us.

"Mommy, what is that guy doing? What does his sign say?" my daughter asked from the backseat. She was in kindergarten, just beginning to read.

I cast a side-eyed glance at him. "His sign says 'Homeless and Hungry'," I told her. "He's asking for money."

"Well, aren't you going to help him?" she asked. "He's hungry!"

I rarely carry cash, so it wasn't a lie when I mumbled, "I don't actually have any dollar bills with me right now." I felt a pang of guilt, though. To my daughter, it was obvious that we should come to the aid of a hungry man who needed help. Had I lost sight of my own humanity, zooming past this man without a second glance?

Next time, I resolved, I would stop and give something.

The following day I stashed a few one dollar bills in the console of my car and designated it "the homeless fund."

About a week later, on the way home from school, we came upon another man panhandling. Homeless Vet, his sign said. I gave him a couple of dollars through my car window. He was gracious, and the interaction only lasted a moment.

As I drove on, I realized I was feeling something I hadn't expected: happiness. I remembered then what I had learned in my early twenties as an Americorps volunteer, that giving makes you feel good.

This continued for a few months. My daughter would announce "There's someone with a sign!" and I would scrounge for loose change or bills. But I wondered if we could do more. The people we gave to were often stationed near the interstate exit closest to our house, close to a McDonald's. What about gift cards instead of cash?

My daughter and I talked about other small things someone who lives on the street might like. "A bottle of water," she suggested. "A snack."

I went online for ideas and found several ideas for care kits. We went shopping and packed a few large Ziploc bags with chapstick, tissues, bottled water, granola bars, $5 McDonald's gift cards, and pairs of socks. I stashed them in my glove compartment to have on hand, and my daughter and I began putting together a handful of bags each month.

Since then we have given away many of these care packages. The recipients have been men and women, young and old. Some are disheveled and some are well-groomed. The messages on their signs vary: "Far From Home," "Hungry," "Anything Helps," "Vietnam Vet," "God Bless." Every time we give a bag away, though, we are met with thanks.

Then recently, it was my turn to do the thanking. My daughter and I were at the local nature center and I had forgotten to pack sandwiches for lunch. A small hot dog stand was our only option, so I started to order. Then I noticed the "cash only" sign.

"Oh...wait. You don't take credit or debit cards?" I asked.

"We only take cash," the man running the stand replied.

"Never mind," I said, embarrassed and flustered. "I don't actually have any cash with me."

Immediately my daughter began whining. "Mooommmmy, what are we going to eat? I'm starving!"

The vendor looked at her and then at me. "Wait here," he said and began preparing two hot dogs.

"But I don't have any way to pay you," I protested.

"It's okay," he replied, "I'm giving them to you. I want to do this. Let me do one nice thing today."

My voice caught as I thanked him, humbled to experience this level of kindness from a stranger. I felt a combination of discomfort with my situation combined with gratitude. For a moment, I realized what it must feel like to be on the other end of our care package project.

I'll never know the impact of our project. But so what? I'm not a Catholic, but I am a fan of Pope Francis. "Give without worry," he said in an interview last year about giving to the homeless. Because giving to someone in need is always right."

It's been three years since my daughter and I began giving away our care packages. If she hadn't shamed me into trying to help a hungry man, I would still be avoiding eye contact with people on the street who ask for assistance. Instead, I remember how I felt that day at the hot dog stand. I also think about the vendor's words: Let me do one nice thing today.

The care packages are a simple project. But in a way, they're anything but simple. The project has given me the chance to model kindness and compassion to my child. It's created an opportunity for us to work together. And it's allowed us to experience the joy that comes from doing something good.

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We've seen the tired old trope in articles, commercials and television shows so many times: working moms just have too much to do. They're chauffeuring kids around to evening practices, making lunches after said kids go to bed and staying up till the wee hours of the morning catching up on their relentless and stressful jobs. The message is clear: working moms are tired and burnt out. They don't get enough time for themselves because they're so busy giving it all to their families and their jobs. But does this really line up with the working mothers you know?

Here's a secret many working mothers have figured out: less really is more. The minimalist movement—simplifying your life and stuff to gain more time—has revolutionized life as a working mother. The minimalist mom gets a full night of sleep, has time with her kids and, importantly, has time for herself. Here's how:

1. She says no.

A minimalist mom knows her limits, her interests and what the tipping point is for herself and her family. So, she limits volunteering to what interests her and what she can reasonably fit into her life. She guards her Wednesday nights—the night she always takes off from family duties to hit a yoga class or do something for herself—fiercely. She also says no to her kids: it's one out-of-school activity at a time and Sunday mornings are always for family. She's also mastered saying this at work: No, I can't take your work on. No, I won't be staying late to finish your last-minute request.

2. She knows where to spend her money for increased quality of life.

She would rather hire a bi-weekly cleaner than buy a pair of designer jeans. Weeknight meals are easy and from the slow cooker or just a simple spread of crackers, cheese and fruit. Fast food and takeout is expensive, and she'd rather spend that money on a babysitter and three courses at that new trattoria for date night. She is happy to buy the expensive snow boots for her oldest so they last through all three kids—saving not only money, but also time shopping. The kitchen renovation can wait until the youngest is out of daycare. Until then, she'd rather use fun money to buy an extra week of vacation and road trip as a family. Her spending aligns with one of her biggest values: having time for the things and people she loves.

3. She doesn't care what other people think.

Her workwear is five outfits for each season and no more. It's professional, flattering and easy. No one notices if you've worn the same outfit for seven Tuesdays in a row. She doesn't care what grandiose delicacies are brought for the school bake sale: She brings the same delicious butter cookies (the ones that they can freeze a quadruple batch of dough for) to every event requiring a cookie or baked good. Keeping up with the Joneses—who are stressed out and broke—isn't her thing.

4. Her kids do some things, not everything.

The family lives by a shared Google calendar and there are set rules around weekend playdates and kids' activities. Their kids have a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play time. She is a person first; chauffeur, playdate arranger and sideline soccer mom second.

5. She delegates like the boss that she is.

She hasn't done kid laundry since her oldest could reach the stacked washer dryer on his own. Her husband alternates meal planning and grocery shopping with her every week and makes all the kids' dentist appointments (she does the doctor appointments). She only takes the dog for a walk when she wants to; otherwise the kids do it. When an older kid forgets his or her lunch at home, they know that they have to figure it out for themselves: raiding their stash of granola bars in their locker or borrowing money from a friend for lunch. She understands she can't do it all, but rather, she and her family can do the basics together.

6. She knows what she and her family need (and want).

Her non-negotiables are her running group that has met every Saturday at 7 A.M. for a decade, a long weekend away with her spouse every fall and bedtime stories with the kids at least three nights a week. She knows what people and things fuel her—this makes it easy to say no to things that don't. She has a rule for friends that invite her to those kitchen gadget/jewelry/leggings parties: if she knows the salesperson well, she'll buy one item but won't attend the party. Every other invitation is a no.

7. She has hard and fast rules around taking work home with her.

Her team knows that if they have something urgent after 6 P.M. they better call her. She doesn't check email once she has left the office until 6 A.M. the next morning. When she gets home from a week of work travel, she takes a four-day weekend. Her schedule is blocked out from 4 P.M. onwards. so she isn't scheduled into end-of-day meetings that could run long. She meditates for 10 minutes at the end of her shift so she can leave the work stress at work. She guards her personal time and mental space fiercely.

8. She views work as a break from family time and family time as a break from work.

Being mentally present and engaged at work and at home means no guilt over enjoying her balance of work and family life. She cheerfully enjoys that there's no diapers to change for nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and when she's home she revels in being out of her office and untethered from her phone and laptop. Learning to quickly switch gears from work, family and personal time is a skill she has mastered to simplify her life.

The minimalist working mother doesn't do it all: she does the things that are important to her and to her family. Her list is unique to her and no one else. How she spends her time and her money directly aligns with what she values. This ethos of living her values makes it clear, fast and easy to make decisions. She knows that time is her most valuable resource and she spends it wisely at home and at work.

Originally posted on Working Mother.

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When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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