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The 20 lessons I’ve learned in 20 months of motherhood

9. Just like how I had to learn to ask for help, I had to learn to say no to people.

The 20 lessons I’ve learned in 20 months of motherhood

A few weeks ago, my daughter turned 20 months old, exactly a year and 8 months. So I thought I would list the 20 things I've learned since I became a mother on that cold typically British, rainy afternoon in January of what seems to be eons ago but was only last year.


Now some of those things are tips and tricks I've adopted for basic survival, some "accepted" truths were forced on me which I had to chuck aside and replace with my own realizations, others I'm still in the process of learning.

So here goes:

1. Sleep is no longer my God-given right

It is a luxury that I would gladly give my right arm and leg for. And if you are lucky enough to get it, congratulations! You are officially part of the 1% of the 1%.

The first few months of motherhood taught me that and I will never be able to unlearn it. Ever. But I’ve discovered a couple of loopholes.

One is sleeping when the baby sleeps. This is one piece of advice I carelessly tossed aside and suffered greatly for it. But when I decided to follow my baby's lead and made nap time my favorite time of the day, my body and mind thanked me for it.

The other loophole is co-sleeping. Nothing has helped me and my baby more than sharing a room and, more often than not, a bed. It’s not right for everyone—but it was for me. (P.S. learn how to more safely co-sleep here.)

Breastfeeding while in the horizontal position has been another Godsend. I don’t regret it.

2. Breastfeeding is the journey of a lifetime

While we're on the subject of breastfeeding, I won't pretend to speak for every mother out there, but my decision to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding turned into an intense journey. However, while initially excruciating, the highs were definitely worth it. I wonder sometimes if the bond that I painstakingly forged with my baby would have been as strong if I hadn't breastfed, given my PPD. Or perhaps it would have taken longer to emerge.

3. Depression is real

Nothing else about motherhood broke me like depression. So I read about it, closely monitored my moods for tell-tale symptoms and talked to my doctor. But aside from getting the required treatment (homeopathic, pharmaceutical or therapy), little things helped like opening up to loved ones about how I was feeling, getting help with housework and making some time in my day for me.

Ultimately, I had to learn to reach out for help, cry out for it if I had to. There's no shame in it. I just wish I wasn’t silent for so long thinking that I could go it alone. Turns out, I can’t. No one can. (For help with depression, go here.)

4. There were times when it felt like there was no "me" anymore

People addressed me as the mother of so-and-so, or bitter old women shamelessly told me point blank that I simply didn't exist beyond my one mission in life of keeping my husband happy and my baby alive. People are ruthless.

This is one of the hardest truths I've had to learn. So I had to lose the wide-eyed naiveté, develop a thicker skin and learn to simply tune out the noise. What do they know anyways? They're not ME.

5. I should’ve talked to my spouse about parenting styles, BEFORE we became parents

I can't stress this enough. My husband and I never really discussed anything beyond having the baby in the UK. I guess we just thought we'd figure it out along the way. And we did, the hard way.

After much going back and forth, arguments, and counterarguments, we've found a tentative middle ground. We've found what worked for our little family.

So if there is one piece of advice I can give to new mothers and their partners is to talk to each other, A LOT. It will save you a lot of time, energy and frustration. (P.S., Motherly offers a class helping couples become parents.)

6. Just be present in the moment

I've personally struggled with this a lot. Sometimes I still do. I experienced motherhood for the first time in a new country. Add to that my PPD, plus my initial problems with breastfeeding, plus having hardly any help, plus a Pandora's box of other little annoyances and issues and it’s no wonder that I found myself under water so many times.

I forgot how to enjoy those all too fleeting moments with my daughter. But after a while, I learned to stop the inner chatter, and breathe. It's just me and my baby. No one in the world will love me like she does. I am grateful for that love. I have found nothing else calms my soul like my daughter's smile.

7. Follow my instincts above all else

I learned to trust myself, rather than some parenting book written by some snooty doctor who has no idea about my child's complexities, or people who had babies before the age of cell phones. In fact, I had to get rid of them.

Nine times out of 10, when I went with my gut, I was proven right and was able to act in the best interests of my child, rather than follow someone else's advice and then end up doing damage control and engaging in a vicious cycle of self-blame and self-doubt.

8. About guilt: Been there, done that.

So don't go there. Just don't. I know it's easier said than done. It seems the one universal trait shared among all mothers is guilt.

There's no rhyme or reason to it. We do the best we can, with whatever resources we have, expending all our energy and giving up chunks of our lives for the well-being of our children. So where exactly does the guilt fit in?

If I let it in, I open my psyche to a whole host of other monsters: low self-esteem, self-doubt, and misery all around.

We do this to ourselves. Baby doesn't care about the unwashed dishes in the sink, the laundry I didn't get to, or even that I didn't change her diaper exactly on the 2-hour mark. Babies are surprisingly forgiving, (they will forgive you even when you lose your mind and you can't seem to forgive yourself). So I took a page out of their books.

9. Just like how I had to learn to ask for help, I had to learn to say no to people

Most importantly, to my inner critic. I don't have to make it to every social engagement. I certainly don't have to have a gourmet dinner on the table every night. Take out and Netflix turned out to be my best friends.

10. The little things matter

For the first few months of motherhood, I looked like a hot mess. But when things settled down and I established something approaching a normal routine, especially when I was working from home, I made it a point to wear makeup every day.

I'm not talking about full-on glam makeup. Just a little concealer, some mascara and lipstick did wonders. It made me look and feel more put together, more human, more like a woman than a zombie from the Walking Dead.

11. Meditate, meditate, meditate.

I'm still working on this one. When I'm all over the place and I feel the onset of a panic attack because I decided to torture myself with questions like, OMG, what if we never leave Egypt? What if I can't get my career back on track? What if my daughter never weans? What if she inherits her father's hair? I simply take a few deep breaths and detach myself from the feeling of being overwhelmed.

If I have to listen to a YouTube meditation session then so be it. I observe those questions, the feeling of anxiety they produce and simply watch them go by without attaching myself to them.

I simply tell myself, I am not that anxiety. I researched mindfulness and practiced it. It helped me get through the rough spots without medication.

12. I involve my baby in the things I love to do

For example, I take my baby out to the garden and we look at the plants together. I point out certain flowers. Sometimes I bring her into the kitchen with me when I'm making dinner and I turn on the radio.

She loves it when I pretend I'm on stage, holding a mic, singing along to the songs and dancing all over the place. It's great fun. Of course, the kitchen floor that I have to clean up afterwards because she pulled every conceivable food item from the pantry drawers is not so much fun.

13. I reach out to other mothers WITHOUT comparing myself to them

Each of us is on our own personal journeys, and each of us has to deal with our own challenges in our own unique ways. So it helped to share war stories, learn from other mothers without comparison or competition.

I used to look at other mothers with mild envy and wonder how they look so put together. But then I realized that they must be going through their own struggles. I'm just not privy to it.

I realized that this is not a race, a sprint or a marathon and I won’t get a prize at the end of it. I just had to do the best I could. Who’s to say that other mothers weren’t looking at me and wondering how I do it all? After all, it’s all about perspective.

14. It’s okay to make some baby-free time for myself

I got into the habit of waking up extra early in the mornings, making myself a cup of coffee and spending a few quiet moments in my patio garden.

Sometimes I write in my journal, sometimes I flip through Pinterest for inspiration for a project I want to start working on (although I try to keep this time as technology-free as possible), sometimes I just sit and sort through my thoughts.

I try to go out with friends, or have a spa day (admittedly this happens once a year), or go for a manicure/pedicure. I’ve noticed that I always come back missing and loving my baby more, once I've had some "me" time.

15. I’m exploring things I never thought I could do

This has been one of those joyful, hopeful and completely unexpected side effects of motherhood. Becoming a mother suddenly triggered passions and ambitions I never knew I had.

Once I became a mother and my time was no longer my own I suddenly wanted to do everything. Or at least try. So I did, slowly and randomly here and there.

I stopped regretting all the time I wasted in my youth and started better utilizing the time I still have. I started writing more, I even started drawing and exploring my creative side. I’ve learned there is always something you can do, so do it.

16. I’ve decided that my dreams still matter and I won’t let go of them

I struggled a lot with this in the beginning. I used to think: I'll never have time to do anything else in my life. This is it. I peaked. It's all downhill from here. I got caught in that quagmire. I let people tell me that I have to put aside my dreams, if only temporarily.

So what did I do, eventually?

I started dreaming again and striving and aspiring for things. I’m not delusional, though. It will be harder, no doubt, with kids, but still possible. My baby will turn two soon, go to nursery school and sleep through the night. And just like that, I will have more time.

I will use it wisely. There's still a lot I want to achieve. It may not happen right now, or ever, but I have no regrets about dreams. Even if I never achieve some of them, I'm glad I had them.

What I will regret is allowing people to make the decision for me or convincing myself to stop trying.

17. My husband is in this, too

Bless their souls, even when they fumble, our husbands have the best of intentions. So I made time for my marriage. Once I factored my husband into the equation, I started feeling like we were a family, a unit onto ourselves, rather than survivors trying to make it through a war. I appreciated him more as a husband and a father and felt grateful for him. He became my rock once again.

18. I’m no longer sweating the small stuff

If I was a perfectionist before I became a mother, well let me tell you, motherhood was one rude awakening. Motherhood taught me that I won't get everything right all the time. So I decided to stop trying and enjoy the chaos. It saved my sanity.

19. Turn off the TV, and let my baby entertain herself

I witnessed the miracle of my daughter’s mind developing before my eyes. But somewhere along the way, I started keeping the TV on almost all day, until a child psychologist told me nothing could be more detrimental to my baby's development. As soon as I turned of the screen, I did notice a marked difference in her behavior. She started exploring things around the house, touching objects to get a feel for their texture. It was actually quite entertaining to watch—much more so than mindless TV.

20. Having more kids is my decision—alone

No one, no matter how close they may be to me, no one has the right to weigh in or try to manipulate what should be a very personal decision. I’ve realized that the people who are telling me that it's time I was working on baby number two are the ones who will conveniently disappear when I need their help and support the most.

This is my life, my body, my family. No one knows better than me or my husband our circumstances or the plans we have.

And there it is. I've learned a lot more than this, but those were the top 20 things I've pondered for the past couple of years or so. They're specific to my experience as a mother, but hopefully they will serve as words of encouragement and support to other mothers out there.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

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

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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