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Real motherhood is messy, chaotic and beautiful. Let’s show all those sides.

What if we ALL moved toward opening ourselves up and sharing our vulnerabilities, imperfections and the tiny, humble beauties of daily life?

Real motherhood is messy, chaotic and beautiful. Let’s show all those sides.

Like many of us, I had been chasing the illusion of “perfect” motherhood. I thought that success in mothering looked like a wrinkle-free shirt, a still-hot cup of coffee and a backyard with no toys scattered about like a tornado just left town. The children of good moms always have their hair combed, I figured, and never harbor traces of this morning’s yogurt in their ears and on their backs. They put their pants on before their shoes, they don’t dissolve into a puddle when their mama gently asks them to please go potty, and they never stop to do a lengthy downward dog in the grass when their parents are in a hurry to get in the car.

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And the photos of them online reflect this–right? Their outfits are coordinated. Mom’s makeup is just so. The kitchen—in which they’re baking healthy blueberry muffins, smiling—miraculously has no spills of flour or milk on the floor. Or maybe they’re walking, hand-in-hand, in a golden field at sunset. Nobody’s having a meltdown or wearing that too-small, ratty, monster-truck shirt that has become the daily uniform.

And then it occurred to me. That’s not real life. It’s just the image we project to the outside world. This is the life I wish for you to believe I have. This is the life I wish for. And the more we see this fantasy perpetuated, the more we all feel like we want that—we need that—too. To keep up. You know we all do it.

But here’s the thing.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In perpetuating this concept of “perfect” motherhood, might we be selling ourselves short? Could we be letting ourselves gloss right over what’s touching, authentic, and downright hysterical about real family life?

Let me explain: I have bounced in and out of the field of lifestyle family photography for the better part of the past 10 years. Last fall, I shot a session with a delightful couple and their two adorable toddler daughters. Wanting to do it “right” and to make a beautiful photo for their Christmas card, we met at a local greenbelt just before sunset. My idea, of course. The session went fine, and the family was happy with the results.

And yet, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that we had all been pretending. The photographs we took reflect a happy, well-connected family who hangs out in beautiful fields at golden hour. And don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with wanting gorgeous, honey-lit photos of your family looking their best. And I know many photographers who absolutely shine at this particular artform.

But in my specific case, the situation was—and felt—staged to produce a result that looks sweet in photos, rather than reflecting anything about who this family is and what their life is like. And what’s missing from the photos is the messy and memorable reality about that day: the gale-force winds. The quiet, limp way the older girl cuddled with her mama because she was recovering from pneumonia. The pink plastic animal the little one insisted on carrying instead of holding her dad’s hand.

In reality the photos held clues of both versions, but why did I choose the one on the left instead of the one on the right, to share with them?

Two weeks later, I used my tripod to make the photo below. My every morning reality at the time involved my daughter urgently needing me to help her with her shirt in the morning, usually at exactly the moment that I went into the bathroom to pee. So I set up the scene one day, knowing what was going to happen. And it did. At first, I thought of this image as kind of a joke. The glamours of momming. Ha. But the more it sat with me, the more I loved it.

But… Why?

Here’s the best I can explain it. The season of life all of us baby/toddler/preschooler moms are in is defined, to an extent, by a total lack of autonomy. Those kids want physical connectedness all the time. It’s exhausting. But isn’t it sweet too, in a way? So I started reflecting on what experiences are defining this point in my own motherhood journey. Not just the lovely, picture-perfect ones, but the less glamorous ones, too. Can I find the poignant, the touching, the funny in the daily slog?

When I went down this path, I discovered that the answer is a resounding YES.

In my life (and I suspect in many of yours), an insightful photo of today’s truth is more valuable than one of us dressed up and pretending. I needed to show myself the beauty in the everyday. And so evolved my personal motherhood self-portraits project, Babies and Bourbon. What began as a sort of joke has become a cathartic and therapeutic way to strengthen the voice in me that wants to yell real life is perfect enough from the treetops.

I now shoot client sessions through this lens, too. I really believe that the messy, beautiful truth is what we want to remember–and what we want our children to remember, too.

In showing the emotion, connection and tenderness in a family’s real life, I hope to help them better appreciate what is already before them. The beautiful ordinary.

A dream of mine is for mothers to feel a sense of satisfaction and pride in the raw, imperfect nature of mothering. But this is hard to do in isolation. What if we ALL moved toward opening ourselves up and sharing our vulnerabilities, imperfections and the tiny, humble beauties of daily life? Could this someday become a stronger common thread of motherhood than the quest for the picture-perfect?

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These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

Our Partners

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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