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When my daughter was only six months old, I found myself with baskets and baskets full of toys—and things only seemed to get worse as she grew older. I got to the point where I was so totally tired of cleaning up these toys—especially because she barely seemed to play with most of them.

And that's when I decided to get rid of almost all of her toys.

I suddenly found myself more at peace, with less to clean and in little time I saw my daughter begin to finally play with the toys she did have. This saved me so much frustration.

Here's what I learned (and now do) to keep us from getting back to that place of too many toys:

1. Buy toys only on special occasions (or not at all)

It's so easy to see a toy on sale or to give in to the constant whining and buy a toy. But before you give in, try to remind yourself of the number of toys you already have at home and resist the urge. Instead, find another activity or form of reward—a trip to the park, to the ice cream place, to laser tag, etc.

2. Create a wishlist with your child

Instead of buying a toy your child wants, or you think they will like right away, create a wishlist with your child that you can hare with family for birthdays and holidays. I have an Amazon wishlist for both my children with the toys they want (or I want them to have) and I send it out to my family a couple weeks before birthdays and Christmas.

Try as much as you can to limit the amount of toys your child is allowed to have on the list. Go through the list with them and ask them to pick their absolute favorites. Maybe five max? Find the right number that works for you.

3. Get your kids involved in a toy garage sale

If your kids are a bit older, get them involved in a toy garage sale where the money they get from the sale will go to one new toy they can have. This process will teach your kids a little bit about making money and working—and it will incentivize them to get rid of some of their old toys.

You'll be surprised at how easily they can let go when it means they can have something new. If you don't have the space for a garage sale, team up with a mom friend who does and do a joint sale with friends.

4. Ask relatives for experience-based gifts

For my daughter's second Christmas, we asked our family to gift us a registration to a toddler class instead of toys—and my daughter loved it. I took photos at the class and sent them to our family every week to show them the exciting new things she was learning—and so they truly understood that it was a gift that kept on giving.

Express to your family how much your child loves a specific activity and how gifting them a related experience can be a great gift that your child will love.

5. Donate and get rid of the toys that are no longer being used

I totally understand how difficult this one can be to do, depending on how busy we all get. But if you can do a big clean, take a day and then plan for a donation drop-off. If you can only get rid of a few things throughout the year, then that's all you can do, and that's okay. My most helpful strategy is that I clean out our home and donate toys and unnecessary "stuff" before birthdays and holidays.

It may feel like a small step, but it's actually huge—you've made a commitment to start decluttering your home of toys that don't provide your family with a purpose. Plus, if you involve your children in the donation process, they will begin to understand the importance of giving back to the community.

You've got this, mama.

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I love being a mother...and sometimes it swallows me up whole. There is no "but" in my love of motherhood—it is 100% the most incredible thing I've ever done and my most favorite job in the world. And it is the hardest work in the world, the most suffocating at times and it can break me down like no other.

Motherhood is all and, which can make it all the harder.

So when my youngest was 14 months—and we had officially ended our breastfeeding journey—and I was offered a press trip to Steamboat Springs, CO to go on a snowmobiling trip no less, I jumped at the chance.

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It would be my first trip away from both my girls—my first trip away from my youngest ever. It would also be my first time to Steamboat, my first time snowmobiling (or doing any kind of extreme snow activity. It would be a bonafide adventure.

But when I first read the snowmobiling itinerary, a tiny, niggling voice whispered at the back of my brain: I can't do that. I will be too scared.

I ignored the voice as I packed my bags, kissed my babies goodbye and made my way west. I reveled in the simplest things—the single carry-on suitcase, with room left around my clothes that would normally be stuffed to the gills with blankets, tiny rolled socks tucked between miniature pairs of pants and extra diapers. I basked in the decadence of a light handbag, packed with only my own things instead of extra snacks and sippy cups and extra diapers (always extra diapers). I delighted in the breezy way I moved through the airport, the only thing disturbing my peace was the thought that I must be forgetting something. I can't possibly be holding enough things right now.

I love motherhood, and it is a constant weight in my life. Sometimes born lightly, tiring me to a deep satisfaction. But sometimes a heavier burden, threatening to pull me under. In either case, there is always so much to hold and carry.

Ironically, I missed my girls already. Found myself sneaking peeks at photos on my phone, wondering when the next time they would call or send me a Marco Polo. After all, I love being a mother.

But there were also near constant reminders of how much I had needed a break. When my flights were boarded and then delayed, I breathed a sigh of relief that they weren't here, imagining my anxiety levels rising at the thought of entertaining a whiny toddler and a super mobile baby for any extra time in this tiny space. I watched two movies (one of which I had wanted to see for over a year). I read one and a half books. (For context, in the last year since my second daughter was born, I had probably read...zero.) Enjoying these things I rarely had time for anymore felt like catching up with old friends, people who knew me way back when.

Later, after settling into my room (with my own bed! And my own bathroom! And no one asking me to wipe their butt in it!), I met my fellow travelers at the house next door for dinner. I ate appetizers without anyone asking me for a bite. I drank a glass of wine and sat in a chair for 20 minutes before I stood up—of my own volition—to sit at the dinner table. No one commented that the food looked "yucky!" or asked how many bites they had to take to get dessert.

Irony alive and well, it was me who kept bringing my girls back to the table, telling stories of the funny things my 4-year-old says. The way my 1-year-old squishes her face and snorts to look "tough."

I love motherhood, and it is the constant thread of my life. It affects everything, tints everything, changes everything—and I wouldn't change that for the world.

The next morning, I woke before the sun for the excursion, drank a cup of coffee (that I finished before it got cold, thank you very much), and boarded a shuttle to the meeting site. I again had to shake that feeling that I was forgetting something, but there was relief in knowing that anything forgotten was mine alone. I could deal with a forgotten hat (my toddler would throw a tantrum). I could shake off a cold wind on my neck (my baby would scream, and we would have to go home).

The other riders and me shivered slightly in our snowsuits while the guides demonstrated the ignition and the kill switch and the proper way to whap whap whap the gas. They told us we would start on trails and then go off the trail if we were comfortable. The old voice resurrected in my brain and whispered again: I can't do that. I will be too scared.

After our (incredibly short, to me) training, the guides broke us into groups of five and started to lead us out of the lot where we had met onto the trail. Just like that—here's how to turn it on and away we go!

I should have felt more nervous, but strangely, motherhood had prepared me for steep learning curves. Just four years ago, hadn't I been wheeled to the doors of the hospital, tiny baby wrapped in my arms, sent home and told to have at it?

I could handle motherhood—I could handle this.

I was pleasantly surprised to find snowmobiling was much easier than I thought. Flying down the trail, I felt myself relaxing into the ride, able to take in the stunning surroundings and hearing only the roar of my motor and the whistle of the wind under my helmet. I felt brave and strong and exciting—things that maybe I had forgotten I could be. That I already was.

At lunch, perched on the edge of an alcove of trees and overlooking a snow covered meadow, our guides told us we could "play around" as soon as we were done eating. They pointed to the wide open stretch below us, off-trail and unmarked by anything. I stared at the expanse of white and mountain and heard the voice say again (though perhaps a bit quieter): I can't do that. I will be too scared.

I lingered by the fire a few minutes after I finished eating, my eyes not leaving that meadow. I couldn't do it. But then...what if I could? I pushed myself up from the drift, grabbed my helmet and hopped on my sled.

"I can just go?" I asked one of the guides.

He grinned at me. "Just go!"

In seconds, I was flying down the hill, the waist-deep powder cascading behind me. I crested a hill and paused for a second. It was so cold, the mountains were so beautiful and I was so alone. More alone than I had felt in years. I took a long, deep breath, realizing for the first time how much I had really needed this.

Once you are a mother, you are a mother forever. It's as sure as your bones—and as wholly part of you. You can't lose the part of you that is a mother. But you can lose the rest.

I had thrown myself into motherhood willingly, like so many other endeavors in my life, wanting—needing—to give my children my very best. My all. But somewhere along the way, I had forgotten to reserve a little bit for myself. This trip was a reminder: It was okay to prioritize myself now and then. It was necessary.

I missed my babies, but I felt now how much I missed this part of myself.

When you choose to make your first post-baby vacation an adventure, you pay homage to the woman you were before. The one who did things for the first time, who had a world of opportunity before her. But you honor something else too, something perhaps even better: the woman you are now.

Because, truthfully, I never want to go back to who I was before. It would be disingenuous, and it would devalue all the work I had put in since then. The woman I am now is so much more empathetic, so much stronger, so much more confident—she's the woman the old me would go to for advice and counsel and to be built up when she needed it.

By choosing an adventure, it was a permanent reminder to me—and to that tiny, doubting voice—that I have no idea what I can't do. But I knew now that I can do so much more than I ever thought.

As I started to turn back from the meadow to head toward the group, I took a turn too sharply and tipped my sled, wedging it firmly in a deep bank. I was totally fine—the snow was so deep, it was exactly like landing in a fluffy pillow—but I couldn't right the sled myself. I radioed the guides for help, and one of them came speeding up within minutes. In a second, he had the sled dislodged and I climbed back aboard.

"You good?" he asked. And I grinned.

"Never been better."

Life

Like so many women of my generation, I didn't have a built-in village when I became a mom. My folks were 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast. My friends were out of sync with me, either parenting much older kids or child-free. And my husband was at work 10 hours a day, leaving me home alone with a helpless newborn who came with no instruction manual.

When are her real parents coming back to get her? I remember thinking. How could I possibly be solely responsible for the health and well-being of this adorable but terrifying little person?

I had many new-mom questions and precious few answers.

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Was it strange that my baby seemed to get hungry every 45 minutes?

Why couldn't my baby fall asleep unless she was on top of me?

Would I ever feel normal again?

Between baby blues, sleep deprivation and loneliness, normal felt very far away.

Then one day, I bumped into a neighbor—let's call her "Neighbor Mom"—pushing a stroller. She was new to our building, but not new to parenting, ably balancing an 18-month-old toddler and an 8-year-old school kid. She must have sensed my neediness, because she invited me, a fragile stranger, into her apartment. It was cozy and inviting, strewn with kid stuff and safely baby-proofed. I lay my little one on a blanket on the floor and took a deep breath in, relaxing for the first time in ages.

Neighbor Mom and I developed an easy friendship, casual and convenient. We kept our doors open and could drop by any time the other was home. I tagged along on walks to her older daughter's elementary school, just to have someplace to go and someone to talk to. We introduced our husbands and made simple family dinners together, arriving not with wine and flowers but with a highchair wheeled from next door.

As I got more comfortable with my new friend, I confided in her about my mom worries. At the top of my list: my baby wouldn't sleep without being in my arms. If I tried to put her in the crib, she woke hourly, screaming. I was a walking zombie. Everyone from the pediatrician to my college roommate was imploring me to sleep train. I knew they meant well, but I felt pushed around, and I resisted.

Unlike, say, my own mother, this kind, gentle mama next door never criticized me or made me feel like I was doing it wrong. Instead, she talked about what worked for her. She shared her dog-eared copy of Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting book. I didn't become an attachment parenting convert, but I took up baby-wearing and it helped so much.

I also learned a ton just by watching Neighbor Mom in action. She was masterful at setting limits without flying off the handle. If her toddler misbehaved, she crouched down, made eye contact and offered a firm "no" before redirecting to safer activities. It's one thing to read about these techniques in books. Seeing them in action was much more helpful. I swear, my kids owe the fact that I'm not a screamer to Neighbor Mom.

Another important habit Neighbor Mom modeled for me was self-care. Here was a totally hands-on, devoted and present stay-at-home mom, yet I'd see her jogging out the door every morning before her husband left for work, getting her cardio while she could. She did yoga on a mat next to her toddler. She took a night class at the college. I saw that it was not just possible but smart to take care of yourself so that you'll have the energy and enthusiasm needed for your children.

About a year after moving into my building, Neighbor Mom and her family relocated up north. I keep tabs on them through social media and loved seeing their family expand to include a third child. Although I was sad when they moved, I keep Neighbor Mom in my heart. Her example has helped me remember to be patient with the baby mamas I meet—to listen to them, support them and not judge them. New moms have enough busybodies telling them their baby ought to be wearing socks. I try instead to be the cheerleader who says, "All your baby needs is love and you're doing a great job."

Some time after Neighbor Mom left, a very pregnant woman walked past my building and paused so her dog could watch the squirrels. We got to talking and I learned she was expecting her first, and she had lots of questions. It felt good to be the one who had answers, or at least experience, to share. I wound up telling her about the wonderful preschool I'd found for my daughter, and a few years later I bumped into there. We're still friends today.

I can never thank Neighbor Mom enough for all she gave me, but I can pay it forward—every chance I get.

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Love + Village

"Spring forward, lose sleep." That's how parents tend to think about the start of Daylight Saving Time, when the clocks spring forward one hour at midnight, and we all lose an hour of sleep. (Sadly, there are no exemptions for the already-sleep-deprived.)

With the start of this year's Daylight Saving Time around the corner on Sunday, March 8, 2020, most of us are preparing to set our clocks one hour ahead as we “spring forward." Thankfully, this means the days will start to feel longer with more sunlight, but it also means another shift in your child's sleep schedule.

The good news is, there are ways to minimize the effects of the time shift and help make the forward leap into spring a smooth transition for the entire family.

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Try these 5 "spring forward" tips to help kids adjust to Daylight Saving Time without losing sleep.

1. Prepare by going to bed earlier the night before

Truthfully, the concept of shifting bedtimes can feel a bit like rocket science. So, to keep it simple I recommend going to sleep earlier the night before—that way the household still wakes up feeling rested.

Some people recommend doing this for several nights before, moving bedtime earlier and earlier, but honestly I have seen this cause more confusion than good. If you focus on the night before, they still get the same amount of sleep as they normally would on the night the time change happens since our bodies naturally will wake at our normal time.

Much like traveling to a different time zone, it is going to take some time for your internal sleep clocks to adjust regardless of how prepared you are. Going to bed earlier to avoid overtired little ones is a good idea in general.

2. Encourage light during the day and darkness for sleep

Our body's internal sleep cycles (also called our circadian rhythms) are regulated by lightness and darkness, and heavily influenced by our environment. This is why many of us wake up when the sun rises and start to feel sleepy shortly after the sun sets (although many of us go to bed way past sunset).

You can help your child's 24-hour sleep cycle by exposing her to light first thing in the morning and making sure that her room is dark during naps and for bedtime. If your child's bedtime is on the earlier side, it may get harder to put her down as the days get longer, so blackout shades might be a good option in this case.

3. Keep routines consistent

As we enter a new season, schedules and activities can tend to feel a bit chaotic, and your children often experience the impacts of this the most. Even with the time shift, it is still important to stick closely to your current routine, only making minor changes if possible.

4. Try to be patient with your kids

As we all know, the effects of sleep deprivation impact the entire family. Children are just as confused about the time change as we are, and although our bodies will eventually adjust naturally, some have a harder time than others. If you notice meltdowns become a bit more frequent after the time change, try to remember that lack of sleep could be the culprit. I encourage you to set aside more quiet time and maybe even an extra nap while you all try to adjust to this new season.

5. Invest in an Ok-to-Wake! clock or another device that can help keep sleep on track

This is a great option for eager toddlers who are used to getting up and running into your room in the morning. Having a child-friendly alarm clock that turns green to indicate it is time to get up can make a big difference to a child trying to adjust.

The great thing is, if you already have an early morning riser, the time change will actually help to shift those early morning wakings to a more manageable time!

Your children are more resilient than you might think so try not to worry too much about the impact daylight saving time will have. Our bodies know what to do, and sometimes the best thing is to just go with it and hope for the best! You've got this.

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Learn + Play

Have a strong-willed child? You're lucky! Strong willed children can be a challenge when they're young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to “break their will," strong-willed kids often become leaders.

What exactly is a strong-willed child?

Some parents call them “difficult" or “stubborn," but we could also see strong-willed kids as people of integrity who aren't easily swayed from their own viewpoints.

Strong-willed kids are spirited and courageous. They want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over. They want desperately to be “in charge" of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to “be right" above everything else.

When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.

Often, strong-willed kids are prone to power struggles with their parents. However, it takes two to have a power struggle. You don't have to attend every argument to which you're invited! If you can take a deep breath when your buttons get pushed, and remind yourself that you can let your child save face and still get what you want, you can learn to sidestep those power struggles. (Don't let your four year old make you act like a four year old yourself!)

No one likes being told what to do, but strong-willed kids find it unbearable.

Parents can avoid power struggles by helping the child feel understood even as the parent sets limits. Try empathizing, giving choices and understanding that respect goes both ways. Looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise.

Strong-willed kids aren't just being difficult.

They feel their integrity is compromised if they're forced to submit to another person's will. If they're allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I'd ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it's hard. But that doesn't imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because you want to.

Morality is doing what's right, no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told, no matter what's right.—H.L. Mencken

So of course you want your child to do what you say. But not because he's obedient, meaning that he always does what someone bigger tells him to do. No, you want him to do what you say because he trusts YOU, because he's learned that even though you can't always say yes to what he wants, you have his best interests at heart. You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility and is considerate—and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else.

Breaking a child's will leaves him open to the influence of others who often will not serve his highest interests. What's more, it's a betrayal of the spiritual contract we make as parents.

That said, strong-willed kids can be a handful—high energy, challenging, persistent. How do we protect those fabulous qualities and encourage their cooperation?

Here are 11 tips for peaceful parenting your strong-willed, spirited child.

1. Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners.

That means they have to see for themselves if the stove is hot. So unless you're worried about serious injury, it's more effective to let them learn through experience, instead of trying to control them. And you can expect your strong-willed child to test your limits repeatedly—that's how he learns. Once you know that, it's easier to stay calm, which avoids wear and tear on your relationship—and your nerves.

2. Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything.

Let her take charge of as many of her own activities as possible. Don't nag at her to brush her teeth—ask "What else do you need to do before we leave?" If she looks blank, tick off the short list—"Every morning we eat, brush teeth, use the toilet, and pack the backpack. I saw you pack your backpack, that's terrific! Now, what do you still need to do before we leave?"

Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves will have less need to be oppositional. Not to mention, they take responsibility early.

3. Give your strong-willed child choices.

If you give orders, he will almost certainly bristle. If you offer a choice, he feels like the master of his own destiny. Of course, only offer choices you can live with and don't let yourself get resentful by handing away your power. If going to the store is non-negotiable and he wants to keep playing, an appropriate choice is—

"Do you want to leave now or in 10 minutes? Okay, 10 minutes with no fuss? Let's shake on it....And since it could be hard to stop playing in ten minutes, how can I help you then?"

4. Give her authority over her own body.

"I hear that you don't want to wear your jacket today. I think it's cold and I am definitely wearing a jacket. Of course, you are in charge of your own body, as long as you stay safe and healthy, so you get to decide whether to wear a jacket. But I'm afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won't want to come back to the house. How about I put your jacket in the backpack, and then we'll have it if you change your mind?"

She's not going to get pneumonia, unless you push her into it by acting like you've won if she asks for the jacket. And once she won't lose face by wearing her jacket, she'll be begging for it once she gets cold. It's just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she's so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle. She's sure she's right—her own body is telling her soso naturally she resists you. You don't want to undermine that self-confidence, just teach her that there's no shame in letting new information change her mind.

5. Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules.

That way, you aren't the bad guy bossing them around, it's just that "The rule is we use the potty after every meal and snack," or "The schedule is that lights-out is at 8 p.m. If you hurry, we'll have time for two books," or "In our house, we finish homework before screen time."

6. Don't push him into opposing you.

Force always creates "push-back"—with humans of all ages. If you take a hard and fast position, you can easily push your child into defying you, just to prove a point. You'll know when it's a power struggle and you're invested in winning. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what's most important—the relationship.

When in doubt say— "Ok, you can decide this for yourself."

If he can't, then say what part of it he can decide, or find another way for him to meet his need for autonomy without compromising his health or safety.

7. Side-step power struggles by letting your child save face.

You don't have to prove you're right. You can, and should, set reasonable expectations and enforce them. But under no circumstances should you try to break your child's will or force him to acquiesce to your views. He has to do what you want, but he's allowed to have his own opinions and feelings about it.

8. Listen to her.

You, as the adult, might reasonably presume you know best. But your strong-willed child has a strong will partly as a result of her integrity. She has a viewpoint that is making her hold fast to her position, and she is trying to protect something that seems important to her. Only by listening calmly to her and reflecting her words will you come to understand what's making her oppose you.

A non-judgmental—"I hear that you don't want to take a bath. Can you tell me more about why?"

You might elicit the information (as I did with my three year old Alice) that she's afraid she'll go down the drain, like Alice in the song. It may not seem like a good reason to you, but she has a reason. And you won't find it out if you get into a clash and order her into the tub.

9. See it from his point of view.

For instance, he may be angry because you promised to wash his superman cape and then forgot. To you, he is being stubborn. To him, he is justifiably upset, and you are being hypocritical, because he is not allowed to break his promises to you, but you broke yours to him.

How do you clear this up and move on? You apologize sincerely for breaking your promise, you reassure him that you try very hard to keep your promises, and you go, together, to wash the cape. You might even teach him how to wash his own clothes so you're not in this position in the future and he's empowered. Just consider how would you want to be treated, and treat him accordingly.

10. Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment.

Kids don't learn when they're in the middle of a fight. Like all of us, that's when adrenaline is pumping and learning shuts off. Kids behave because they want to please us. The more you fight with and punish your child, the more you undermine her desire to please you.

If she's upset, help her express her hurt, fear or disappointment, so they evaporate. Then she'll be ready to listen to you when you remind her that in your house, everyone speaks kindly to each other. (Of course, you have to model that. Your child won't always do what you say, but she will always, eventually, do what you do.)

11. Offer him respect and empathy.

Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don't need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong—for instance, he wants to wear the superman cape to church and you think that's inappropriateyou can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit.

"You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don't you? But when we go to services we dress up to show respect, so we can't wear the cape. I know you'll miss wearing it. How about we take it with us so you can wear it on our way home?"

Does this sound like Permissive Parenting? It isn't. You set limits. But you set them with understanding of your child's perspective, which makes her more cooperative.


By Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.

This article was originally published on AhaParenting.com

Learn + Play
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