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To the mama who is surviving not thriving—it won't be like this forever

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Everything felt “off" and I didn't know why.

The way we woke up—instantly crabby, hungry, already feeling done with a day that was just getting started. The way we moved throughout the day—frantically keeping schedules, juggling needs and appointments. The way we went to sleep—no rhythm, no rhyme to the evening, just everyone go to bed so I can have some PEACE.

This is called being in survival mode and the worst thing about it is that you usually don't know when you're in it. At least I didn't.

I like being an intentional person. An intentional mother, partner, friend. But trying to find intentionality while in survival mode feels impossible—you are just going from fire to fire, putting them out as best you can before something else crops up. And when you're busy in the chaos, things like planning, routine and rhythm don't happen.

This post is for you if you've ever felt like you were drowning in the day-to-day craziness of life.

This post is for you if you feel like you're doing it “wrong" or can't put your finger on why you feel overwhelmed.

This post is especially for you if you feel like this way of living—from moment to moment—makes you a bad mom, at least sometimes.

I'm in this season right now—with three kids who need very different things from me, a schedule packed too tight to give anything its proper due, and a million tiny fires all begging to be put out first.

Once I recognized survival mode for what it was, I was able to take some action to make survival mode…well, survivable.

We're not out of the woods yet, but these small moves have helped me shift my mindset and navigate the rockiness of life:

1. It's okay to cut corners when you need to.

I am a believer in food as medicine—that whole foods are best for our bodies and our minds. But when delivering a whole foods meal three times a day, seven days a week becomes a burden due to time, money or other resources—mama, something's gotta give.

My kids are doing fine with cereal, eggs, ramen, burritos and the occasional apple or carrot stick right now. Eventually we will again have green smoothies, home cooked dinners and leafy greens again but not because I sacrificed my sanity to make them work.

2. 'Balance' looks different in different seasons.

My kids have way more time on screens right now than I'd ideally like. I really only worry about screen time as a replacer for doing other things like going outside, playing together or reading a book. It's not that screens themselves are harmful but a balance is important, most of the time. Sometimes that balance is year to year instead of day to day. This is only a season of your life, there will be plenty of time off of screens later.

3. What's good for you is good for your kids.

If you're an introvert then staying in and planning less out of the house activities (like grocery shopping, ha!) is good for you and your kids are not going to miss anything with less playdates or fewer (or no) sports. If you're an extravert then your kids benefit when you get out of the house each day and fill up your social interaction tank. Doing things that are just for you are a must, not a luxury.

4. Prioritize.

Get up in the morning and think only of the things you must do—forget about things that ultimately will not matter. Your kids do not need a bath every day but you do have to feed them. You have to pay the bills. Don't worry about reading to your kids every night—they will still learn to love reading. Learn to cut out the things you don't need to do right now. It's like minimalism for your brain.

5. Try to move your body to help clear your mind.

You don't have to be perfect about exercise but your brain will thank you for the endorphins and increased oxygen supply. Just light stretching and a walk around the block can be as good as a gym membership when you're in survival mode. Taking time (5-10 minutes) for a practice of meditation, journaling or other mindful activity can bring you back to center when you're on the brink.

6. Practice kindness.

Start with yourself. Kindly tell yourself some of the information from above (the kids will be fine with extra screen time and fewer activities. Your needs matter. You don't have to hold the whole world up today.). Then extend your kindness. Your family is living in a pressure cooker right now and all it takes to diffuse a lot of tense situations is a kind word or much needed show of affection.

7. Create space.

I don't know what the scientific brain mechanism is at play here but somehow when I get rid of stuff, I feel better. There's more white space for my tired eyes and less to trip over and curse at. I have fewer things to keep track of. And. I. Have. Less. To. Clean.

When you're dealing with survival mode, start purging. I like to focus on one room so that I have at least one place to go where THINGS aren't calling to me and reaching out to me. One place to rest and unwind. One spot in the house that is easy to keep clean. One spot that makes me feel like I'm winning at life.

8. Get the easy things done.

Pick one, tiny thing to do everyday that will make you feel like you've accomplished something. Could be doing your make up, knitting a couple of rows, filling the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, or clearing a spot for your glass of water by your bed. Choose one super small something that is easy to get done. As you start to come out of survival mode it will be easy to gradual add more substantive things to this list.

9. Stick with the basics.

If you have to eat and you have to feed your kids, make planning and cooking dinner a no-brainer. My go-to meals when I'm just surviving include cheese quesadillas, chili, grilled cheese sandwiches, taco bar, etc. Basically things that can be thrown in a pot or put together easily. Or things that my older kids can make. That is winning.

Don't start a new routine, just scale back on your basics. Right now, I'm not pushing my 4-year-old to fall asleep on her own—too stressful. So she falls asleep in my arms every night and then I put her in bed. The key here? If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

10. Know that survival mode doesn't last forever.

And anticipate that you will go through several of these seasons in your lifetime. Everyone struggles. We're constantly being asked to integrate new things (babies, pets, illnesses, loss) and, of course, there's usually a learning curve. Also know that other people go through survival mode too. Their social media accounts may not show it (yours probably doesn't either) but everyone has their own season to grapple with too much everything.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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Learn + Play

After a long day of doing seemingly everything, when our partners get home it kind of becomes a habit to ask, "How was your day?" In between prepping dinner, handing off the kids, finishing your own work, we don't exactly get much value from this question. Sure, it may open up the opportunity to complain about that awful thing that happened or excitedly share that presentation you killed at work—but it usually stops there.

I could do a better job of really talking in my relationship. After 12 years and two kids, sometimes all we can come up with post bedtime routine is, "You good? I'm good. Fire up the Netflix."

Here are 21 questions to dig deeper into your marriage after a long day—see where they take you!

  1. Did you listen to anything interesting today?
  2. If you could do any part of today over again, what would it be?
  3. How much coffee did you drink today?
  4. Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now? Five years?
  5. Did you take any photos today? What did you photograph?
  6. What app did you open most today?
  7. How can I make your day easier in five minutes?
  8. If we were leaving for vacation tonight, where do you wish we would be heading?
  9. If you won $500 and had to spend it on yourself today, what would you buy?
  10. If your day was turned into a movie, who would you cast?
  11. What did you say today that you could have never expected to come out of your mouth?
  12. What did you do to take care of yourself today?
  13. When did you feel appreciated today?
  14. If you could guarantee one thing for tomorrow what would it be?
  15. If we traded places tomorrow what advice would you give me for the day?
  16. What made you laugh today?
  17. Imagine committing the next year to learning one thing in your spare time. What would it be?
  18. Did you give anyone side-eye today? Why?
  19. What do you wish you did more of today?
  20. What do you wish you did less of today?
  21. Are you even listening to me right now?

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Love + Village

Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit's company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian writes in an op-ed for New York Times Parenting.

He continues: "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn't walk."

The experience changed the way Ohanian viewed paternity leave. It was no longer something that just sounded like a good thing, it was a necessary thing for his family. It was crucial that he take it and now he is advocating for more fathers to be able to. In his piece for the NYT Ohanian points out something that Motherly has previously reported on: It is hard for fathers to take paternity leave even when their government or employer offers it.

A report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Dads need paid leave, but even when they have it social pressures and unrealistic cultural expectations keep them from taking it and they choose not to take all the time they can. Ohanian wants lawmakers and business leaders to make sure that dads can take leave and he wants to help fathers choose to actually take it.

"I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he wrote for Glamour.

In his NYT piece, Ohanian goes further: "I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it's continued to pay dividends for me two years later. It should be no surprise that I also encourage all of our employees to take their full leave at Initialized Capital, where I am managing partner; we recently had three dads on paid paternity leave at the same time."

The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time. Research supports paid leave for all parents. It benefits the baby and the parents and that benefits society.

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."

"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

[A version of this post was originally published February 19, 2019. It has been updated.]

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