I’ve been a mother for 11 years now, and I’m convinced that childhood is too short.

It’s simply not enough time to hold, cherish, protect, and teach these amazing souls that I’ve been entrusted with.

There is not enough time with soft, new cheeks and hair that smells of baby shampoo.

Not enough days with toddler hands in mine and a tiny voice sweetly saying “mommy.”

Not enough time to carry them on my hip or hold them on my lap.

Not enough years of bedtime cuddles.

The days that my home is filled with scattered toys, fingerprinted mirrors, and the laughter of children are numbered.


There is so much I want to teach them, but one thing stands out among all the rest.

I have spent so much time trying to teach proper behavior, responsibility, manners, etc. because that’s what parents do. It’s our job, right? And that’s great as long as we don’t do it at the sacrifice of the one big, crucial lesson, as I did many years ago which is what prompted me to shift my parenting paradigm and eventually write this book.

My previous approach to parenting could be described as “behavior patrol,” but I was failing to teach the biggest and most important lesson of all. What I learned is that, when this biggest lesson is sacrificed in order to teach the smaller lessons, those smaller lessons become harder and harder to teach.

I ended up fighting against the very thing I created—a child who thought he wasn’t good enough because he was so often in time-out or losing on his behavior chart.

Of all the things I want to teach my children, the most important is this: you belong.

You are good, and you belong. Until our children fully feel and grasp that knowledge, they cannot move on to learn all of those lessons about behavior, manners, and responsibility.

Being good starts with feeling good. Belonging creates the emotional security needed to grow, learn, and thrive. Without it, people become stuck.

Leading research professor Dr. Brene Brown says this, A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

We can create a sense of belonging in our children by practicing unconditional love: accepting them for who they are, at the stage they’re in, just as they are.

We accept their imperfections and immaturity because honestly, they’re going to be imperfect and immature anyway because they are human children.

If we can allow our children to show up just as they are without having to jump through hoops to earn our approval, if we can show the same amount of love in proud moments and hard moments, perhaps we can raise a generation who isn’t constantly struggling for self-acceptance.

I know we are afraid that if we show acceptance and love when our children behave badly, we fear that it will reinforce bad behavior. I was too, at first.

We fear extending belonging to a wayward child will enable him to stay wayward, but time and time again, I’ve found that providing acceptance and belonging improves behavior because it helps my children find their way back to their good, true selves.

It isn’t that I let bad behavior slide because I never do. It’s just that, within that correction is a clear message—you are still good and you still belong. It’s unconditional love, personified. It’s freeing and grounding for parents and children alike.

And yes, I think this is the most empowering lesson we can teach our children.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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