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A bright teenager wrote to tell me she found my blog using the following search words: "how to remind my mother I am a human being with feelings.” The young lady explained, “I could do a million things right, but my mom could still find the flaws, and that ruins the whole day.”


At that sight of those words, my eyes became wet. I cried for this young woman. I cried for her mother. I cried for my own little girl who used to pick her lip in the back of the car after our stressful departures. I cried for the woman who sat behind the wheel aching with regret for expecting so much of a 6-year-old child.

For years, I justified my overly critical behavior by telling myself I was doing it to help her—help her become more responsible, capable, efficient, and prepare for the real world.

I told myself I was building her up.

But in reality, I was tearing her down.

I vividly remember the day my mother was visiting from out-of-town. My two daughters were playing alone in the basement. My younger daughter began crying hysterically. I ran downstairs fearing she was seriously hurt.

The first question out of my mouth was directed at my older daughter. “What did you do?” I asked angrily.

My child didn’t bother to explain that her little sister had slipped on the library book that was sitting on the bottom step. There really was no point. My beautiful child with humongous brown eyes that once held so much optimism looked defeated. Silent tears of a broken spirit slid down her face. My daughter knew it didn’t matter what she said, she’d still be wrong; it would still be her fault.

And there was my mother standing beside her, a silent witness to the whole ugly scene.

As my older daughter ran off to the sanctity of her bedroom, an unexpected question came out of my mouth. “You think I am too hard on her, don’t you?” I snapped.

My mom, who’d experienced her own difficult parenting moments and struggles, held no judgment in her eyes, only sadness. Her simple response of “yes” only confirmed what I knew in my heart.

I mustered up the courage to find the words that needed to be said. Apologizing didn’t come easily for someone who strived to make everything look perfect all the time, but I knew what needed to be said.

I found my child crumpled up like a dejected rag doll on top of her bed—her face puffy and red from crying.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.

My daughter didn’t move.

I sat down on the edge of her bed and began saying things I’d never said to another human being—not even myself.

“I feel mad inside a lot. I often speak badly about myself in my head. I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy and then I treat others badly—especially you. It is not right, and I am going to stop. I am not sure how, but I will stop. I am so very sorry,” I vowed trying not to cry.

My daughter looked unsure as to what to do with this confession, this unusual offering from her mother who rarely admitted any wrongdoing. I didn’t blame her for the skeptical look she gave me. I understood why she didn’t say anything back, but somewhere in those eyes I saw hope—hope that things could be different.

I knew I had to silence my inner bully: The voice that was prone to criticize my children and myself. The one who set unrealistically high standards. The one who could never be pleased. The one who blocked grace from entering our home.

I realized that my inner bully was a destructive force that prevented me from living and loving fully. Not only would it destroy my chance at true fulfillment and joy, it would also rob my child of hers.

During prayer time one morning, I heard three powerful words: ONLY LOVE TODAY. ❤️

Those three words stirred a hope and an optimism in me I hadn’t felt in years. Maybe it wasn’t too late to create new, positive patterns in my heart and home. I desperately wanted to believe.

Within the hour, I had a chance to try it. The first critical thought that popped into my head arose as I was preparing to leave the house. I looked at my reflection and thought, “You look fat. You can’t go out looking like that.”

“Stop!” I assertively thought to myself, shutting down any further criticisms. Then I quickly turned away from the mirror and recited these words: “Only love today. Only love today.”

I used the same strategy when interacting with my child a few minutes later. Before any harsh words came out of my mouth about the way she was sloppily packing her bag of things, I cut off my inner critic by saying, “Stop. Only love today.” Then I swallowed the hurtful words and relaxed my disapproving face.

Within mere days of using the “stop” technique, I noticed a change. With a more positive thought process, it was easier to let go of the need to control, dictate and criticize. In response, my daughter began taking more chances and began revealing her true passions. She started movie making and website design on the computer. She made doll furniture and clothing to sell in the neighborhood. She began baking new recipes without any help. Nothing she did was perfect—nor was it mess-free or mistake-free.

But the moment I said something positive, I saw her blossom a little more. That is when I began to clearly see beyond the mistakes and messes to what was truly important.

I began noticing my child’s inner beauty rather than looking for perfection on the outside.

I began paying more attention to the person she was rather than the successes she achieved.

I began letting her be who she was meant to be instead of some idealistic version of her in my head.

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For the first time in a long time, grace was present. It was mine for the taking. It was mine for the offering. And over time, grace became a peaceful and permanent inhabitant of our home. And as a result, a loving bond was established between my child and me.

My daughter recently entered middle school. We talk in the sanctity of her room at night. She asks me which outfits look best. She paints my nails whenever I have something special to attend. She tells me her hopes for the future. She tells me her worries. She tells me things she doesn’t tell anyone else. Each morning she likes me to walk with her to the bus stop. And each time she does, I send up a prayer of gratitude for this sacred invitation. I came painfully close to missing such invitations.

As my child leans in for a brief side hug before walking up to the bus stop, I think of the bright young lady who found my blog through a Google search. I think of her mother, and hope the following message will someday reach her:

If you think criticizing, belittling or critiquing yourself will make you smarter, fitter or more valuable, please reconsider.

If you think badgering, bullying, or constantly correcting your child will make him or her more likable, more confident, or more successful, please reconsider.

Because the truth is this:

It’s hard to love yourself with a bully breathing down your neck.

It’s hard to love yourself when the one person who’s supposed love you unconditionally doesn’t.

It’s hard to become the person you’re supposed to be when you aren’t allowed to fall down and get back up.

If we want our children to become who they’re meant to be, let’s ease up ourselves. “Mistakes mean we’re learning” can be healing and empowering words when said to oneself or to another human being.

Let’s stop the ridicule. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s stop the impossible pursuit of perfection.

Today stands in front of us open to change, open to second chances, open to grace.

Only love today, dear one. Only love today.

Because love is a good place to start a new beginning.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I was at my midwife appointment two weeks before my due date. After hearing my daughter's heartbeat and answering some questions, the midwife asked if I was planning to breastfeed.

Mentally scanning my perfectly outlined first-time-mom birth plan—complete with bullet points and bolded phrases which I had carefully picked—I realized that I hadn't even considered this notion until half a second ago. I was so preoccupied with the details surrounding how I was going to get this baby out of me that I hadn't contemplated how I would actually keep her alive once she was disconnected from my placenta.

I shrugged and replied, "Sure, I guess I will if I can." So I added my breastfeeding bullet point to my birth plan.

I woke up to my buzzing phone on the morning of March 29th. "Due Date" popped up as a notification on my calendar, as if the birth of my child could be scheduled in the same way you would an oil change.

I had everything planned. I would first labor quietly, un-medicated, wearing makeup and using my hypnobirthing techniques I been studying. Then, when I was ready to push, my baby would be delivered in a very reasonable amount of time with minimal tearing.

She would be placed on my chest where together we would soak in the hormonal love cocktail that I had read so much about. Afterward, I would unpack my laptop to check work emails during the downtime that I had assured myself would be bountiful during our hospital stay.

Growing more impatient as the time lingered since my due date notification, the hours turned to days. My water finally broke three long days later. My actual labor started quickly after I began bragging to my visitors about how manageable the contractions were.

I sweated my makeup off soon after. The calm and meditative laboring state I had prepared myself for was more akin to the calmness one would have upon placing the palms of their hands onto the burners of a searing hot stove.

The intervals between my contractions vanished as I eventually ripped my clothes off, hoping I could somehow crawl out of my skin. I gasped for breath between sobs when my midwife assured me that I was two whole centimeters dilated.

As fate would have it, 48 hours later, I would deliver my bruised and exhausted baby laying on my back, crying and shaking on an ice cold operating table.

As it turns out, enjoying approximately 35 seconds of sleep in a span of days doesn't do much for one's patience levels. Sore and freshly bound around the abdomen, I couldn't possibly be expected to employ my motherly duties yet, could I?

Whoever was supposed to serve me the hormonal love cocktail I was promised, apparently skipped my hospital room. My emails went unanswered as I ineptly tended to my shrieking newborn.

"The Universe laughs when you have a plan," I once read. The Universe must have taken one look at me and rejoiced: Boy was I in for a lesson.

Once settled in at home, I realized that breastfeeding wasn't going to work for us after all. Then I experienced a heavy period of postpartum depression.

Just weeks prior, I had everything planned so precisely. Things that pertained not just to the infancy stage I was so freshly experiencing now, but things that I had no right to plan, as I wouldn't truly understand them for months and some even years.

I had sworn to myself that I would always treat my child with kindness and patience...and look good while doing so. I told myself that I would reserve time for me to enjoy my hobbies and never "lose sight of myself." But suddenly, intellectually stimulating toys, perfectly situated hair bows, and frankly, brushed teeth meant much less to me.

Through the birth of my second daughter, I learned that a healthy baby is enough, no matter how they get here. This time, using medication, I graciously welcomed her into the world. Promptly after enjoying the love cocktail I had waited so patiently for, I let the nurses whisk her off to care for her in the nursery as I took a well-deserved nap.

Life with two small children required adjustments and another shift in expectations, but this time around I laughed my way through it. (And I learned to appreciate the texture of my unwashed hair, too.)

It wasn't until I finally let go of who I thought I should be that I finally felt satisfied by who I am. I am often frazzled, over-stressed and disheveled. I don't always feel very interesting and I am no longer the perfectly curated woman I once was.

I'm chronically late and not unlike my oldest daughter, I often burst in exhausted, bruised and five days late. Deadlines and appointments sometimes slip by and surprisingly, my heart continues to beat.

But most importantly, I'm an extremely good mother. Pay no attention to the non-organic popsicle stains running down my children's mismatched clothing or the bird nests of hair sitting atop their heads: because we are happy. And that is what is important.

Despite my earlier expectations that I have fallen quite short of, my children are well. They are not perfect, nor am I. Neither were any of the women who have come before or will come after me. I only make plans now with the caveat that they must be subject to change. The Universe can now laugh with me, not at me.

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You might be feeling duped at this point. The doctors, blogs and baby books were all very clear—this pregnancy business lasts 40 weeks.

And yet, here you are, a week (or more) over this hard and fast deadline, with no end in sight, your belly still painfully swollen as your baby continues to stretch and arch without any seeming interest in ever moving out.

You are most likely very, very over it.

If you're like me, you fluctuate (sometimes by the hour) between tears and laughter. Your Google search history alternates exclusively between "natural ways to induce labor" and "earliest signs of labor," the latter tapped out on your keyboard with the hesitant hope that maybe that extra heartburn you had this afternoon is a good sign? Maybe those weird (and extremely uncomfortable) pushes on your cervix are actually early labor? (Spoiler alert: Probably not.)

Because you're still pregnant.

I see you, desperately ticking off every suggestion in that "natural ways to induce labor" list, living off a diet of spicy food and pineapple washed down with raspberry leaf tea. You walk and walk and walk despite sciatica or run-of-the-mill nerve twinges every time your baby bears down.

You have sex (whether or not you're feeling particularly sexy) and break out your breast pump because your sister's co-worker's wife swears that's what sent her into labor in the end. You listen to (and attempt) every off-hand suggestion friends, relatives, and perfect strangers offer.

And you're still pregnant.

In short, you try everything. And nothing works. You wonder if, in fact, you are a medical marvel and pause on googling the risks of castor oil to look up the longest pregnancy on record. (375 days—a whopping three months longer than normal—but the details are a little fishy.)

Sometimes you're able to laugh at yourself, quoting the gestation of an elephant (a year and a half, but you already knew that re: the aforementioned Googling) and answering every inquiry into your well-being with, "Well, I'm still pregnant! So…!"

Other times, you're borderline inconsolable. Late night doubts keep you up despite your doctor or midwife's recommendations to take advantage of the opportunity for more sleep. You worry you're doing something wrong, as the "what is going on in there" questions continue to build in your mind. You worry something is wrong with your baby, the "what-ifs" and "what will be's" rolling through your brain like the world's worst broken record. You worry that you're broken.

And you're still pregnant.

Every contraction becomes a taunt, a tease of something as you start to tentatively track or lie down at night certain that tonight will be the real thing...only to wake the next morning, all signs of labor having dissipated in the night. Leaving you still uncertain. Still anxious. Still pregnant.

Maybe you feel yourself start to stop trusting your body, or at least question whether it really knows what to do or when things are ready. Even if this isn't your first baby rodeo, you wonder, "Do I even know what labor feels like?"

You begin to forget the time before you were pregnant.

Maybe you start to lose sense of the space-time continuum as everyone and their dog seems to be bringing home their babies around you. Even friends with later due dates than you. Even celebrities that you swore announced their pregnancies months after you did. Like when the YouTube star whose prenatal workouts you follow announces that she only has 30 days left to go, you find yourself shouting, "IN THEORY, KATRINA!" at your tiny phone screen.

You may have gone a little pregnancy stir-crazy.

I see you, mama, because I've felt those overdue pains, those overdue stretches, and that overdue stress. I've read and reread the same articles and sent my midwife panicked texts and stared at my belly, tears in my eyes, and wondered what am I doing wrong.

And while I waited, I tried to remember:

Odds are, everything is totally and completely fine. Most of the time babies are born when they are ready to be born—even if it's way past when we're ready. Due dates are necessary, but they're also estimations. Setting our hearts on them is a quick way to set ourselves up for disappointment.

This is actually way more common than you think. Only about 5% of babies are born on their actual due dates. The more people you tell you are overdue, the more the stories of overdue babies start to pour out. So many of my friends were overdue babies, and even more have had overdue newborns of their own. As isolating as it feels, you're actually joining a very big club of very strong women.

There's still so much to appreciate about this time. When it feels like you're rivaling that elephant in gestation time, it can be hard to remember what a fleeting time this is. But please remember how short pregnancy really is in the grand scheme of things. And if this is your last pregnancy, do your best to still feel a bit of wonder at the magic of your baby moving in your belly. Marvel in the miracle happening in your body right now. And, at the very least, do your best to take advantage of these last few days when you can sleep through the night and don't always have your hands full.

There's not a wrong way to bring a healthy baby into the world. You are not broken, mama. You are not failing because your body isn't cooperating with your self-inflicted expectations. Every day of your overdue pregnancy will one day be part of your baby's story—and yours. Let go of your expectations or the idea of a "perfect" pregnancy. Because, trust me, your baby will be perfect either way.

One day (so soon!), this will all just be part of your baby's story.

Think of it as the perfect fodder to guilt your kid when he's a teenager! (Kidding!) (Kind of!) When you're waiting for an overdue baby, it feels like your whole life is on hold until you can break through into the next phase. But once it happens, every extra day of pregnancy suddenly fades away. All you remember is how much you wanted this tiny baby who is now in your arms, and everything you had to do to get there was just part of the journey—and feels so, SO worth it.

And they will come out—promise.

[Editor's note: Justine works here at Motherly, and we are very pleased to say that she did, in fact, welcome a beautiful, healthy baby into the world. (Congrats, Justine!) So hold on, mama! You've got this.]

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Bathing frequency

There is no scientific or biological answer to how often you should bathe your child. During pre-modern times, parents hardly ever bathed their children. The modern era made it a societal norm to bathe your child daily.

Many babies and toddlers, especially those who aren't walking yet, don't need to be washed with soap every day. If a child has dry, sensitive skin, parents should wash their child with a mild soap once a week.

On other nights, the child may simply soak or rinse off in a lukewarm, plain water bath if they are staying fairly clean. Additionally, parents can soak their children in a water bath without soap most nights or as needed as part of a routine.

Cause of skin sensitivity

Many problems with sensitive, irritated skin are made worse by bathing habits that unintentionally dry out the skin too much. Soaking in a hot bath for long periods of time and scrubbing will lead to dry skin. Additionally, many existing skin conditions will worsen if you over-scrub your child or use drying, perfumed soaps.

Some skin conditions, like childhood eczema (atopic dermatitis), are not caused by dirt or lack of hygiene. Therefore, parents do not need to scrub the inflamed areas. Scrubbing will cause dry, sensitive skin to become even more dry.

Tips for bath time

Some best practices for bath time for kids who have dry, itchy, sensitive skin or eczema include.

  • The proper temperature for a bath is lukewarm
  • Baths should be brief (5-10 minutes long)
  • To avoid drying out your child's skin, use mild, fragrance-free soaps (or non-soap cleansers)
  • Use small amounts of soap and wash the child with your hands, rather than scrubbing with a soapy washcloth.
  • Do not let your child sit and play in the tub or basin if the water is all soapy.
  • Use the soap at the end of the bath, not the beginning.
  • When finishing the bath, rinse your child with warm fresh water to remove the soap from their body. Let the child "dance" or "wiggle" for a few seconds to shake off some of the water, and then apply moisturizing ointments, creams, or lotions while their skin is still wet.
  • Simple store-brand petroleum jelly is a wonderful moisturizer, especially if applied right when the child leaves the tub while the skin is still wet.
  • Avoid creams with fragrances, coloring agents, preservatives, and other chemicals. Simple, white, or colorless products are often better for children's skin.
  • Do not use alcohol-based products.

Originally posted on Children's National Health System's Rise and Shine.

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Instead of spending hours searching for the perfect gift, trust the experts—mamas and kids! We sifted through Target's toy section to find the highest rated products.

Here are some of our favorites:

Cookie Play Food Set

Colorful wooden play food is a foundation for independent play. Featuring 12 sliceable cookies, various toppings and a knife, spatula, kitchen mitt and cookie sheet, you child will have everything they need to bake.

Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set, Target, $16.99

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WubbaNub

With nearly 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating, this pacifier is a favorite. It's made to position easily for baby and with medical grade materials—it's even distributed to hospitals across the nation. Plus, it's machine-washable. 🙌

WubbaNub Giraffe Pacifier, Target, $13.99

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SkeeBall

Old school gifts are back this year and we're obsessed with this miniature skee-ball game. It's foldable so you can transport it with ease and includes five balls and four scoring hoops. Ideal for your little to play on their own or with the entire family.

SkeeBall The Classic Arcade Game, Target, $29.99

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Car Seat Activity Toy

This attaches to the car seat or stroller handle, providing endless entertainment for baby. With a variety of colors, textures, shapes and a teether, rattle and mirror, it'll be the only item you need on the go.

Infantino GaGa Spiral Car Seat Activity Toy, Target, $14.99

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Baby Alive

For the little who wants to play mama too, this baby doll teaches kids how to make food, change diapers and give them a bottle. Perfect for your sidekick!

Baby Alive Sweet Spoonfuls Baby Doll, Target, $19.89

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Teepee

Instead of making a fort out of pillows and blankets, set up this teepee for your child's adventures. The flap rolls back so they can climb in and out and there's a circle cut out that makes a secret entrance. 🤫

Kids Teepee—Pillowfort, Target, $34.99

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Squirrel Game

The entire family will enjoy playing this game. Spin the spinner and use the squeezer to pick up matching acorns. It's perfect for teaching your littles matching and sorting skills. Note: It does have small parts so it's recommended for kids 3+.

The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game! Target, $10.55

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Cleaning Set

Teach your child chores in a fun way with this beautiful set. They'll help you around the house and play on their own with the cleaning items.

Melissa & Doug Let's Play House! Dust, Sweep and Mop Set, Target, $24.99

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Ice Cream Cart

Create your own ice cream shop, complete with a magic (hint: magnetic) scooper. We love the music it plays, helping kids develop sensory skills, and the push capabilities.

LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart, Target, $34.99

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Fire Truck

Children who love imaginative play will adore this fire truck. It assembles easily, has its own steering wheel, plus cutouts that allow littles to pop in and out of. What more could we want?

Antsy Pants Vehicle Kit, Fire Truck, Target $49.99

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Alarm Clock + Nightlight

If you're ready to help teach your child a positive nighttime and morning routine, this clock features everything you need. A screen shows animations and the time, a nap timer can be set separately from the regular alarm, and the glow of the screen will let you little know when it's okay to wake up. Pro tip: Teach them that if the light isn't glowing green, they can't jump out of bed just yet.

OK to Wake! Alarm Clock and Night-Light, Target, $29.99

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Magna-Tiles

The 3D magnetic building set teaches kids STEM skills as they work to build their own creation. They'll stay busy for hours imagining endless possibilities.

MAGNA-TILES House 28pc, Target, $49.99

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STEM Robot Mouse

For the coder, we love this activity set. Kids get to create their own maze grid by using the coding cards and then let Colby (the mouse) race to find the cheese. 🧀

Learning Resources STEM Robot Mouse Coding Activity Set, Target, $34.49

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HatchiBabies

Kids will need to 'love' their HatchiBaby with rubs and hugs until it's ready to hatch, then wait to see if you have a boy or girl! Once they've hatched, children can feed, burp and snuggle the HatchiBaby, getting life-like responses back.

Hatchimals HatchiBabies CheeTree, Target, $48.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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