A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Ah, another night, another midnight bedtime, I think to myself (again) as my head hits the pillow.

I have always been a night owl, and you'd think since becoming a parent I would have switched from night owl to early bird...but...I haven't.

I mean, I still have to get up early with my children. But, I also still go to bed late—for a variety of reasons. The desire to get time to myself almost always beats out getting a great night's sleep.

But, why?

Why, when Arianna Huffington has proclaimed sleep to be the key to success? If sleep is her superpower, mine must be surviving daily on 6 hours of sleep and lots and lots of coffee. (I mean, isn't that why there are so many coffee/mom memes out there?)

Why, when the Public Library of Science Journal tells us that people who sleep around 6 hours a night have a waistline that's 1.2 inches larger than those getting around 9 hours? (So, if I sleep more does that mean I don't have to exercise then? Because maybe I can get down with that...)

Why, when we are told that our sleep schedules are just as important as our children's?

Why, when we KNOW we are working around 98 hour weeks and absolutely could use any extra rest we can get?

Why, when the mental load of motherhood is exhausting and I know that but yet I continue to push 'rest' down to the bottom of my to-do list?

Well, let me tell you...

I stay up late because the allure of peace and quiet—while everyone else sleeps—is too appealing to miss out on.

I stay up late because the desire to have time to myself—to do whatever I want, without answering to anyone else—is too precious to pass up.

I stay up late because I want time to zone out and binge watch Parenthood without feeling like I need to be doing anything else.

I stay up late because my passion for my work runs deep, and sometimes I just can't seem to switch it off.

I stay up late because I want to finally start that book I bought a month ago.

I stay up late because I want to do a face mask and sit in the tub without feeling rushed.

I stay up late because I want a sliver of time to feel like "human-adult-me." Not "mom-wife-me." Just me.

I stay up late because I want time to let my brain think and process—without distractions and noise.

I stay up late because at 11:00 p.m. toddlers aren't asking to go to the park or to make waffles. (Usually.)

I stay up late because I am mildly addicted to technology and often find myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram to catch up on what's going on in the world before I give in to sleep.

I stay up late because I can't seem to be okay with the fact that I don't get any time to myself during the day. Does time while sleeping count as "time to myself?"

(I don't think I can survive on my "me time" also being my sleep time...)

I stay up late because I always have. And my life as a mother has changed enough for me. I want to keep this part of my past non-mom life in tact. (I'm stubborn like that.)

I stay up late because even the "you need to go to bed earlier!" talks I get from my husband don't make me feel bad enough to stop this addiction.

I stay up late because no matter how many times I go to bed late, then wake up and swear "I'm going to bed at 9:30 tonight no matter what!"—I literally never do.

These late night hours are my time to be selfish. To think of me—and me only. In this world of motherhood, we don't often get time or space to put our needs first. Because throughout the day, the needs of others must be filled. But late at night, my people are all safely, peacefully sleeping, and I can focus on whatever is calling to me in the moment.

It's my time to be choosey in a life that consists mostly on making choices for and on behalf of other people.

Every time these free, peaceful hours are calling to me, I try to tell them I need sleep. That sleep is good for my brain and my body and my soul. But they always counter argue with the fact that staying up late and fitting "me time" in is even better for me. And they usually win.

Mostly, I stay up late because it is one way I stay sane in this very intense life of mothering young children. This quiet, uninterrupted time to myself fuels me in a way sleep can't right now. (And yes—I'm sure sleep experts out there would argue otherwise!)

So maybe when my kids are a little older, I'll get more sleep...maybe not.

Either way—for now—you can find me wide awake at that alluring, quiet midnight hour happily doing, well...whatever I want!

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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To my firstborn baby,
We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant with your brother. We were so excited to give you a sibling to play with; someone to love and grow up with. Someone who will be your buddy for life.

But our excitement quickly turned to worry as we thought about how this would affect you. You were the only grandchild, on both sides. The only nephew, on both sides. Basically, the king of the castle. And you relished in that title.

We took special care to wait as long as possible to tell you. We waited until 20 weeks when we knew you were going to be getting a brother. We felt it would be easier for you to wrap your head around and also shorter for you to wait for his arrival.

I still watch the video of you cutting into the gender reveal cake. You were SO excited to see blue—because that meant you were getting a brother. You were overjoyed with telling everyone the news because you were the first to know.

From there your love for him grew every day. YOU too had a baby in your belly. I was carrying YOUR baby. You told everyone who would listen that you were going to be a big brother. We wondered if your love for him would quickly fade when he was actually here. When you realized that you would have to share time and attention...

But we were wrong. Your heart grew a million times bigger the day your brother arrived.

You came to visit me in the hospital wearing your doctor uniform, to check on both of us. You made friends with the nurses. You wanted to make sure I was okay. You wanted to take care of me and were so proud to wear your "Big Brother" shirt your aunt made you.

You were such a trooper during his two-week stay in the NICU. You were too young to go in to visit him. So, for you, it meant you had this mysterious brother you could only see in pictures and videos.

You drew him cards and colored pictures for his isolette (which you so playfully called his aquarium). You told everyone at school you had a new brother and that he would be home soon—even though you didn't know when exactly. Your heart ached as much as ours did. You wanted him home as much, if not more, than we did. You wanted your new family of four.

Sometimes I feel like you are wise beyond your years. A little old man trapped in a pint-sized body.

You were the best helper for Mom and Dad in those first days and months of welcoming your baby brother into our family. You would tell everyone to use hand sanitizer, and check to see if anyone was sick before they walked through the door to our house.

You would tell everyone how to hold your baby. And then them the proper way. You would tell everyone to line up their shoes at the door. You just wanted to keep your brother healthy and safe, ever the protector.

I worried the honeymoon period would wear off, that you would wonder how long he was staying here.

But, I was wrong. It's almost a year later and you are still so in love with your brother. Truly in love. On your obligatory "first day of school sign" you listed your favorite things as: Star Wars, basketball and my brother.

You tell everyone that you love him more than anyone. The way you both laugh hysterically together during peek-a-boo in the back seat of the car literally makes my heart explode into a million pieces, in the best way possible. It is a joy and an admiration I never knew possible as I watch my two precious boys interact and love each other.

My wish is that you will always be best friends. That you always look out for each other. Continue to be each other's biggest fans. Root each other on, even when it's hard, or you don't want to. Because, my sweet, sweet boy, I want you to remember—your brother looks up to you. You are his role model for life. And I thank you for taking that role so seriously.

Love,
Your Mommy

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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If there's anyone who needs a nice spa day, it's parents. But booking a day at the spa isn't so easy when you also have to find and pay a babysitter.

A business owner in Los Angeles came up with a solution: Trina Renea, the founder of Spa Lé La, added free childcare (by a CPR-certified nanny) to her spa's menu, offering the service to any parent who needs a massage or a facial, or any of the spa's other stress-busting services.

If you've got more than one child at home, the first child is free, and each one after is just $6 for the whole duration of mom or dad's spa visit, HuffPo reports.

Renea recognized that for a lot of parents, a quick 15 or 30 minute appointment for a wax or a manicure just wouldn't be worth all the effort it would take to get the kids ready and then into and out of the car, so she added 30 minutes of "lounge time" that parents can take before or after their appointment, so mama can just chill for a bit.

If lounge time isn't relaxing enough for you, you can also spend an extra $40 for another 25 minutes in a totally comfortable nap room.

This kind of parent paradise could only have been thought up by a fellow parent. Renea is a mother herself, and she understands that a lot of parents feel guilty about prioritizing their own self-care. That's why she added cool classes to the childcare component: Kids can participate in art, music or yoga sessions while mom or dad is away. There's nothing to feel guilty about at all. "If they feel like their child is getting a class, then it makes them feel more comfortable," she told HuffPo.

The spa also offers services for expecting parents, like prenatal massage, belly facials, and even labor stimulating massage for those 40-week mamas-to-be who are understandably over being pregnant and just want to meet their little one.

Whether you have a child on the way or a couple of them keeping you up at night, this spa's menu sounds like the perfect way for mama to enjoy some me time.

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While scrolling through Pinterest the other night, I paused on a picture of a wine glass with a decal that said: “this is my me time." I'm not typically a fan of the gear that seems to accompany wine mom culture. But, at that moment, after a long, imperfect day of my own, there was something in that message I could appreciate: At least it was acknowledging moms need time for themselves.

I realized that, for better or worse, joking about being a wine mom is a palatable code for saying “this is hard." That feeling is one just about every parent experiences, often on a daily basis—but it can still be hard to admit, lest we be accused of not appreciating motherhood enough.

This silence does a disservice to us all, especially now that moms "work" an average 98 hours per week (regardless of whether you go to an office) and often don't reach out when they need more help.

The problem comes when the “solution" to the challenges of motherhood is distilled into the simple symbol of a wine glass. And along the way, the culture seems to have become a parody of itself, complete with bottle-sized stem glasses and t-shirts that say things like “they whine, I wine."

Therein lies both the strength and weakness of wine mom culture: It offers an important counter to the societal expectation that moms should be able to do it all, all the time, with a smile on their faces—despite the very real emotional, financial and sociological challenges that come with parenthood. But while wine mom posts may be the vehicle for saying this, wine itself is not the silver bullet to our self-care needs.

The rise of the #winemom

As anyone who watched Betty Draper stir her nightly cocktail on Mad Men knows, alcohol brands have been keen on moms for decades. Now wine seems to be cornering the mommy market: A 2016 survey from Wine Spectator showed that millennials drank 42% of the wine enjoyed in America—with women accounting for two-thirds of high-frequency wine drinkers (meaning those who drank wine weekly) under 30 years old.

"Highly involved female wine drinkers are mostly millennials, are more often urban educated professionals and more ethnically diverse than the typical female wine drinker," said the Wine Market Council in a press release on the findings.

With the average American mom getting less than one hour of alone time per day, every moment of self-care precious. And when those opportunities present themselves, let's be honest, it can feel hard to get motivated to do anything elaborate. Enter: The simple act of uncorking a wine bottle and sitting down on the couch.

But unlike Betty Draper drinking alone, millennials can now broadcast it: That 2016 survey found 50% of millennial wine drinkers shared pictures or posts of their pours on social media, which furthers the sense that frequent drinks are just the norm.

This has also given rise to the wine mom social media community, with a handful of pages related to parenting and wine racking up hundreds of thousands of fans. Among these groups and posts, the common theme isn't just vino, but also venting about parenthood in general—something that still feels very taboo to discuss offline.

"There are still so many topics that seem off-limits because of social media and the backlash you could receive from it," says Angela Principe, who started the Instagram page Mommy's Wine Time in 2016 and now has more than 30,000 followers. "Some days are so crazy that you think, 'I really couldn't make this up.' I like to highlight those days. Those are the days that moms can actually relate to and be thankful that they aren't the only ones going through it."

Moms need more self-care—and support

When Michele Neskey is done with her workday as a physician's assistant, finishes the consultations she does with clients as a health coach and puts her daughter to bed, she doesn't feel an ounce of guilt about pouring a glass of red wine.

She also doesn't have any shame in publicizing her evening drink on social media—even if others have been taken aback. "I've had people comment or message me and say, 'Here you are telling people to live a healthy lifestyle, and you're posting your mojito on Facebook?'"

Surprising as it may be to see a health coach post about drinking on Instagram or her blog, Neskey tells Motherly that being a self-proclaimed "wine mom" is really just about letting others know it's okay to admit when motherhood is challenging.

"It's not really so much about the wine itself, although I do enjoy drinking wine," says Neskey. "It's a moment I can take for myself and say it's been a great day or it's been a horrible day, or I just need a minute to relax."

Having people with whom you can feel able to share your full range of emotions is also essential, Erin Barbossa, a licensed master social worker, tells Motherly.

"Being comfortable about talking about the struggle of motherhood without judgment is all about building relationships built on trust and authenticity," Barbossa says. "Sometimes we discredit or invalidate someone else's struggle by bringing up the joys or unconditional love that comes with motherhood."

For many people, the wine mom community seems to offer this safe space where you can vent without fear of someone saying, "But it's all so worth it!" The problem arises when the digital community or nightly glass of wine is seen as a replacement for personal relationships or substantive self-care alternatives.

"It's interesting that 'wine time' is more socially acceptable than healthy forms of self-care like yoga, massages and therapy," Barbossa says. "Being in community with other women and moms can feel restorative, but checking in with yourself about 'is this nurturing and restorative? Or am I numbing?' is a good place to start."

Registered psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali is also less convinced of the merits of wine mom social media posts in particular. "Using humor to connect with others and foster a sense of belonging or group membership can be beneficial," Badali says. "However, doing it in a way that promotes risky use of alcohol is not helpful."

According to current guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as an average of one drink or less per day for women. But with oversized wine glasses adorned with "mommy's sippy cup" and memes that say things like "the most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink," it may seem like drinking moderately doesn't grant you admittance to the wine mom club.

Remember that wine isn't the 'solution'

Jody Allard, a mother of seven, tells Motherly she isn't necessarily opposed to others drinking in moderation. But the experience of being in a relationship with an alcoholic led her to cut drinking from her own life and become more mindful of how she unwinds.

"I decided to try to stop worrying about other people's problems and to start really focusing on myself. That led me to therapy, where I began to work through some of my own issues and establish healthier methods of dealing with stress," Allard says. "I was committed to being healthy and setting a good example for my kids, and part of that included functional ways of coping with stress and modeling self-compassion."

To Allard, the biggest problem with wine mom culture is that it may hold people back from seeking the emotional support they really need. She adds, "What concerns me about this approach is that it's specifically setting out alcohol as a solution to your problems and a method of self-care."

In Badali's view, there should be more emphasis on the healthy middle ground "somewhere between super moms and wine moms." She says, "We need to be creating a culture where you can ask for help and take breaks without feeling guilty rather than one that promotes alcohol use as a source of identity, belongingness and reward."

For that reason, it's worthwhile to see the good represented in wine mom culture: It presents a chance for people to connect. It's a way for us to give ourselves a break. And it's an acknowledgment of the fact that some days are harder than others.

But perhaps the best takeaway from the popularity of wine mom culture it is that we should all do a better job of validating each other's experiences with motherhood—whether over a glass of wine, a cup or coffee or no drink at all.

[Originally published on April 4, 2018]

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