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What I wish we discussed about co-parenting before having kids

My husband and I talked about a lot of things before becoming parents—our values, what kinds of parents our parents had been, and how that informed the kinds of parents we wanted to be. Those were good and important conversations and helped us get on the same page about some overarching themes of parenting.

But you know what we did not discuss? Which parent would be in charge of pediatrician visits. Who would handle researching the best way to introduce solid foods. And, down the road, which parent would take the lead on communicating with teachers. And oh so much more! If there is one thing I would love to go back and redo, it is being very specific about how parenting duties were going to be shared. Let my mistake be a boon to you.

Here's what I wish I knew.

Think about what you each need to feel comfortable heading into parenting

My brother was born when I was 10 years old, so, I had a fairly innate level of comfort with babies. My husband, not so much. When we looked over the possible classes we could take before delivery—breastfeeding, childbirth, and so on—he was very interested in a class called Newborn 101. I thought it was a waste of time, but I agreed to go because it seemed to matter so much to him.

All I remember learning from the class is that newborns look weird when they come out (gray and slimy as opposed to pink and shiny), and you don't need to bathe them very often. Afterward, I told my husband it had been a waste of time, because we didn't learn much.

"I know!" he said happily. "I feel so relieved." For him, learning that being around a baby is way less complicated than he thought it was going to be was a major stress reliever. I didn't realize until that moment that he had concerns about parenthood that were totally different from mine.

Work as a team from the start

When there's a pregnancy involved, the birth parent is intimately involved with parenthood from the start by carrying the baby, but if the non-birth parent can take on some responsibilities during pregnancy it sets the stage for co-parenting equity down the road.

When Sheehan David Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, works with new parents and parents-to-be, he recommends that the non-birth parent stay engaged throughout pregnancy by attending all the prenatal visits, reading books about child development, understanding the changes a developing fetus is going through, spending time around (and holding!) babies, and looking for dads' or parents' meetings to start attending in pregnancy. "The more engagement during pregnancy, the better the involvement outcomes in the postpartum," says Fisher.

Look at the big picture of co-parenting

"I think people can be great dads, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are great co-parents," says Jill Krause, creator of the popular blog Baby Rabies. Krause tells parents to "talk with your partner about what it is to be a co-parent versus what it is to be a mom or dad." And set up the expectation early that you will share not only the practical responsibilities of raising a tiny human (like who handles the inputs—food—and who handles the outputs—diapers) but the big decisions that come with being a parent.

"We talked about a birth plan, how we were going to diaper them, and where they were going to sleep." But Krause recommends thinking even bigger than that and talking about other issues you will eventually face in parenting, like managing social media, asking about firearms in the home before sending a child on a playdate, getting help if your kid needs it with school. Not that you have to answer those questions now, but by talking now, you are setting up your "team game plan" for sharing the small and the large aspects of parenting. "Talk about all the issues together so that it doesn't feel like one person is the boss and the other is the employee."

Break it down—in detail

Fisher meets with parents before delivery to sort out who is going to do what in the days and weeks after birth. Making those kinds of decisions in the moment—when you're feeling overwhelmed and sleep deprived—is much harder. Fisher has folks come up with a plan of who will handle some of the early tasks, including making sure there are groceries and diapers in the home, bathing the baby, and putting him or her down to sleep. If one parent is breastfeeding, then the other can commit to picking the baby up when she starts to cry and bringing her to the breastfeeding parent along with a glass of water and a snack, for instance

When sleep specialist Kathryn Lee, RN, was researching how to help new parents get better sleep, she actually had them sign a contract listing out which responsibilities they would each take on.

Whether or not you go the contract-writing route, putting to paper a brainstorm of all you will need to do and assigning responsibilities will make it so much easier to share the work when the time comes and also be a great reference when the inevitable arguments about who's working harder begin. And, of course, it will be a living document that changes as you learn more about what parenting actually entails.

I really wish my husband and I had done that so that he could have had ownership over certain aspects of parenting from the get-go. We have a general belief in equity, but I retained so much control over the logistics of parenting that I was usually asking for "help" and then having to turn over reams of information in order for him to follow through. But writing this section of my book has helped me begin to change that dynamic—ten years later. It's never too late, but starting early is way better!

In a piece in The Huffington Post a few years ago, the blogger M. Blazoned coined a term for this kind of the kind of parenting setup my husband and I inadvertently started off with: "The Default Parent."

"Default parents know the names of their kids' teachers, all of them. They fill out endless forms, including the 20-page legal document necessary to play a sport at school, requiring a blood oath not to sue when your kids [get] concussions, because they are going to get concussions. They listen to long, boring, intricate stories about gym games that make no sense. They spell words, constantly. They know how much wrapping paper there is in the house. The default parent doesn't have her own calendar, but one with everyone's events on it that makes her head hurt when she looks at it. They know a notary. They buy poster board in 10-packs. They've worked tirelessly to form a bond with the school receptionists. They know their kids' sizes, including shoes."

It's exhausting just to read that paragraph, let alone live it. Which is why I suggest taking some time now to consciously set up a real division of labor. Of course, it will change over time, as you each develop different interests and competencies in parenting and as the hours of your paying jobs ebb and flow. But by starting parenthood with a plan to truly share the tasks in those early weeks and months, you will be laying the groundwork for meaningful co-parenting down the road.

Let the other parent make decisions and mistakes

Fisher encourages couples to work against the "default parent" set up by making sure both parents have a chance to carve their own path for taking care of the baby without micromanaging each other.

"If somebody feels incompetent or is criticized, they stop trying," says Fisher. "If every time the baby is crying, a dad hands off the baby, it sets up the expectation that mom is the one always solving problems," says Fisher. "I encourage couples to avoid that."

Krause puts a finer point on it: "It does nobody any good for a mom to take on a martyr role or play into stereotypes. You have to give the non-birth parent more credit, show that you trust them and believe they can do this. Allow them to make mistakes, because you're going to make them too, and the last thing you need to do is be at each other's throats when you do."

Been there, done that: Moms talk about what they did to prepare for co-parenting

"We talked a lot about wanting it to be equal. I was up front about wanting to have the baby because I was pretty sure it was the only way our kid would like me—kids just always love my wife. We took turns getting up at night and still do. We take turns letting the other person sleep in on weekend mornings. We split the evening time so that one of us does pajamas and teeth brushing while the other does books and bed, and whoever puts her to bed gets her up in the morning."

—Amanda, Decatur, Georgia

"In the first few weeks, my husband was great about letting me sleep (bottle-feeding helped with that). We shared many of the responsibilities that come with a newborn. Once he went back to work and I was still on leave, things shifted more to me, which made sense, but the tension grew. My suggestion for new parents is figure out your agreement ahead of time. Are you going to take turns throughout the night? Do you get up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and he takes Tuesday and Thursday? Does he get up with you? I feel like if we had done that, we would have saved a lot of energy."

—Amber, Indianapolis, Indiana

"Next time, I would devise a plan with my husband and delegate who was doing what. I would insist that he be in charge of some of the research and decisions. You look into how we should start solid foods. You decide how we introduce the dogs to the baby. You make a meal plan and cook for the week."

—Jamie, Atlanta, Georgia

Excerpt from STRONG AS A MOTHER: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood.

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Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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With the many blessings of multiple kids, comes the challenge of needing even more gear—gear that's guaranteed to go the extra mile. With storage space already at a premium, you can probably get away with some new baby clothes. But multiplying the number of strollers in the garage? That's not going to fly.

But with the new Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, "less is more" is truly the answer to your problems.

1. It has every seat arrangement you could need

Strollers can be complex enough when you only need one seat. Add in another baby and shopping for a perfect fit can feel like enough to make you spend the next few years at home. But, with the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, you don't have to know exactly how your kids will want to sit for the rest of time. It offers 23 modes, making for clever convertibility, for whichever way your family may grow. Simply add to DEMI grow as you need.

2. You’re spared the stroller wrestling match

When you're toting around two kids, the last thing you need is an uncooperative stroller. With the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you can do a remarkable number of things with just a touch (or less than that if you're really creative). From a one-hand adjustable calf support, to one-touch brake to easy folding it up, you don't need to call backup just to get back into the car from your outing.

Bonus: The no-rethread harness on the compatible Nuna PIPA™ series car seats enables you to easily raise or lower the straps without the headache of unhooking and rerouting them each time your baby goes through a growth spurt.

3. It ensures comfort—no matter who is sitting where

Not only are there 23 different modes, but each seat is made to feel like the "best" one. With options to recline, kick up their feet and keep the sun out of their eyes with UPF 50+ canopies, you won't have to referee the "but I want to sit there" battle. (Moms of toddlers, you'll know why this is such an important detail.)

4. It’s designed for year-round adventures

For any mama who has been struck with fear from the sight of a bumpy sidewalk, worry no more. With ultra-tough, foam-filled tires and custom dual suspension, the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller is designed to tackle just about any terrain all while keeping your little ones comfy in their seats. The seats themselves were also designed for maximum comfort, no matter the temperature: With an all-season seat, the padded exterior can easily be removed to expose the breathable mesh lining when you're out and about on hot days.

5. You don’t have to predict the future of your family

When researching and buying a new stroller, it can feel like you need to have exact plans for the future of your family mapped out.

But with the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you don't need to worry about all those plans right now. Whether you just need one seat, two seats, bassinet or car seats, this single stroller has you covered and grows as you need it.

That way, you can worry less about predicting your family's future—and enjoy exactly where it is today even more.

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

Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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