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The thought of my kids being given yet more stuff at their birthday parties fills me with dread. It’s one thing to be gifted thoughtful and carefully monitored (read, overbearingly controlled by moi) gifts by family members and like-minded friends, it’s another to be given the inevitable surplus clutter that comes from your little one’s 25 fellow schoolmates, no matter how well intended it is. What if there was another way? Turns out, there IS! And what’s more, it’s an important, educative and quite brilliant way of showing our children how they can make a meaningful difference to the world.

Requesting charitable donations in lieu of gifts is an enduring trend amongst adults that has crossed into the child’s arena at full tilt. It is a valuable means of fostering the idea of giving to those in need, building a social awareness and nurturing kindness and altruism at a time when both consumption and self-absorption seem to be at a depressing peak. Not to mention, you get less crap in your house.

How so, you ask? Some philanthropic pointers, below.

USE THE DAYMAKER PLATFORM.

Daymaker is an innovative online kid-to-kid giving platform designed to help parents “create habits of compassion and generosity in their children.” Partnering with non-profits including The Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools, the website enables children to give to others their own age year-round, with targeted projects. May’s focus is named Summer Swing and provides opportunity to deliver books to low-income children. Come July the Back to School drive will enable young humanitarians to fulfill individual wish lists for the new school year. We love Daymaker’s ability to overcome the limits of seasonal giving and its smart format for children to proactively direct their generosity in a modern and very tangible way.

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BUY A GIFT CARD FOR SOMEONE IN NEED.

With an alarming amount of natural disasters happening on US soil, gift cards are a well-practiced way to help child victims of hurricanes, floods and the like, closer to home. Donated via the usual suspects -- Amazon,Target et al -- your child can then take on the ultimate challenge (and, one hopes, pleasure) of purchasing items not for themselves, but for children in real need. Have goods mailed directly to charities on the ground, including Save the Children and Portlight or contact local community organizations who are living it daily. Alternatively, some groups have registries set up that you can employ; Sheltering Arms NY is just one example, with its registry on Amazon. We’ve encountered this idea often, most recently in support of child hurricane victims in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

NAME YOUR CHARITY.

If a particular charity is close to your family’s heart, request that donations be made in your child’s name. The downside here of course is the lack of physical affirmation, although some organizations will provide a letter of thanks, or similar. Regardless, monetary gifts are not to be sniffed at and the model of generosity still upholds. Choose something meaningful to your child (like Art Start or Free Arts for your creatives, or a local animal shelter for your pet lover) or simply keep it closer to home - and more relatable - by opting to help a group who’s good work your family can see in action (local food banks, community groups). Good opportunities also arise with those who’s causes are currently in the news and hence top-of-mind, such as UNIDOS or CFVI.

SUPPORT A SCHOOL WITH DONORS CHOOSE.

When a child is particularly privileged or simply lucky enough to attend a well-funded school, here’s a sure way to show them just how fortunate they are. Another monetary led option, this one is much more interactive than a simple donation. Here, your child can use their birthday cash to fulfill specific requests made by teachers – whether it be for basic materials or a specific upcoming project - and later, see exactly how their donations have helped other children in the classroom. Every donor gets a thank-you letter from the teacher, photos from the classroom and a report of how each dollar was spent. Top marks to Donors Choose for simultaneously cultivating an appreciation of just how important our schools are.

RE-GIFT!

It’s an oldie but a goodie -- instead of passing a gift along to someone else on the birthday schedule, take these items to a local homeless shelter or charitable group. Even better, make your intent known to your party attendees beforehand, so that their gifts can be bought with purpose. New York-based charities like Toys for Tots and Room to Grow are excellent resources to help facilitate donation drives. You can take it one step further and give your (older) child a reality check with a trip to the shelter to hand over said gifts in person. In the same vein, I have some California friends whose accidental order of an oversized cake became a lesson in giving when they took it and their children to LA’s Skid Row. Handing out slices of your birthday cake to the homeless, alongside food trucks donating their own surplus, is what you call a stellar teaching moment. Happy birthday, kid!

Fay Cantor-Stephens; a Brit by birth but NY-er at heart, is a former fashion editor and PR gal who now juggles three children, a dog and her old sense of self. There’s a husband in the mix there too and a strange, unrelenting desire to increase her child army tenfold.

Photography via Daymaker.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Carrie Underwood and her husband, hockey player Mike Fisher, just welcomed their second child, little Jacob Bryan Fisher back in January, but as the face of a fitness apparel line, CALIA by Carrie Underwood, this mom of two is feeling a lot of pressure to get back in shape.

But she's recognizing that a lot of the pressure is coming from within herself, and so she's giving herself grace and time in her postpartum fitness journey, as it hasn't been as easy to meet her fitness goals as it was after her first pregnancy.

"As I was working out today, I realized that for the past 11(ish) months, my body has not belonged to me. It was a perfect home for Jacob. And even now it belongs to him every time he drinks his milk," she wrote in a recent Instagram post.

"I promise to stop analyzing every angle and every curve and every pound and every meal. I'm going to keep staying the path because it is a journey and as long as I'm always working towards my goals, one day I'll reach them. I'm going to take it day by day, smile at the girl in the mirror, and work out—because I love this body and all it has done and will continue to do!"

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Her words are inspiring, and so is her track record as a mom who cares about fitness, but cares about connecting with her family even more.

Back in 2018, before Jacob was in the picture, Underwood posted pics of her oldest, then 2-year-old Isaiah on Instagram, trying to work out with mom and dad. He uses a resistance band with his mom and tries push-ups with his dad, hockey player Mike Fisher. "My boys make workouts fun (and a bit less productive, but that's ok)! #staythepath" she wrote in her post.

It's totally okay to want to get back in shape after having a baby, but it's not okay to beat yourself up for being human. Pregnancy and birth transform a woman's body, and we cannot expect ourselves to run as fast as we did before or fit into our old jeans right away.

As Tone It Up co-founder Katrina Scott said on a recent episode The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, "We need to change the conversation with everyone and with ourselves and realize how cool it is that our bodies are different."

It's clear that Underwood is changing the conversation in her brain, and by sharing her thoughts with her 8.4 million Instagram followers she's also changing the way her community thinks about postpartum recovery.

Thanks for your honesty, Carrie.

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No parent wants to imagine their child dying. To think that your little bundle of joy would pass away before they could live a full life is unfathomable. But when a parent does lose a child, it can feel like a shock to the system, and recovering is a life-long process we need to talk about.

In 2018 Catastrophe actor Rob Delaney revealed that his 2-year-old son Henry died after a long battle with brain cancer. This week, speaking at a fundraiser for families with seriously ill children, Delaney spoke candidly about how hard the last 14 months have been, the Evening Standard reports.

"I'm a mess. My child died 14 months ago and I'm basically a bag of wet rubbish. I need a lot of help. It has been very hard. It comes in waves. I've learned to not control how the waves come. Right now I'm sad a lot," he said, explaining that he shares this openly in the hopes that "if a bereaved parent or bereaved sibling reads this, I want them to know that it's okay that they feel terrible, sad, confused and so brutally humbled."

In a previous Facebook post about Henry's death, the 42-year-old comedian shared that Henry had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after his first birthday, and had undergone surgery to remove the tumor, as well as additional treatment. But the cancer returned and he passed away shortly after.

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As a way to cope with his loss, Delaney wrote that he focuses his energy on his family—his two other sons and his wife, Leah. He said in his post, “I am astonished by the love-in-action displayed by Henry's mom and his brothers. They are why I will endeavor to not go mad with grief. I don't want to miss out on their beautiful lives. I'm greedy for more experiences with them."

Delaney's message about grieving is so important, especially for other bereaved parents. In that one statement, Delaney highlights one big, undeniable truth: How a parent decides to mourn the loss of their child is a deeply personal choice.

“Mourning is the outward or public expression of grief, a means of sharing grief with people who also are grieving or who want to support you," writes oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan for the Mayo Clinic. “Religious rituals, cultural traditions and personal beliefs often shape how we mourn.

Whatever form it takes, mourning is a critical process that can help you lessen the intensity of grief and help you adapt to your loss."

For Sandy Peckinpah, a certified grief recovery specialist, mourning the loss of her 16-year-old son meant turning to a journal. In an essay for HuffPost, Peckinpah writes that after her son's death from misdiagnosed bacterial meningitis, she felt as though her pain was “visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline... 'I'm Sandy Peckinpah and I've lost a child.'"

"Then a friend gave me a journal and said, 'Write. Just write,'" Peckinpah continues. On the first page, she could only write one sentence: “My son died and my life will never be the same."

“The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper. And for a little while, I could let my emotions rest," shares Peckinpah.

Whether it's pouring yourself into your family or into a journal, there's one thing for sure: Grief is not a one-way street. Grief is a twisting, never-ending highway with exits and on-ramps and merging lanes and service roads.

Over time, your feelings of grief will subside or, at least, “feel less constant as if it's moved into the background of your emotions," Creagan writes. “But long after a death," he continues, “you may also find yourself caught off guard by a moment of profound grief, for example, on the anniversary of the death, during holidays or on your loved one's birthday."

In other words: You never know when the pain of your loss will hit you—or when you're even ready to move on.

And that's okay, bereaved parents. It's okay if you don't go “mad with grief"—and it's okay if you do. It's okay if you break down in your kitchen—and if you laugh at your friend's bad dad joke. Grief is not uniform.

But just remember: You don't have to walk this journey alone.

[A version of this post was first published February 12, 2018. It has been updated.]

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Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are like the definition of #couplegoals, but they both say this isn't a case of finding "the one", it's a case of finding someone and then working really hard at a relationship.

"We definitely had to work really hard at being a couple because we're both incredibly, painfully stubborn, and we're pretty much opposites," Shepard tells People.

Shepard didn't always believe in marriage, and early in their relationship Bell accepted that she would not be changing his mind on that. But he came to understand that marriage was important to her and did eventually propose for that reason.

"Forget the tradition or history of marriage as a concept, you knowing I was doing something that I didn't want to do because I loved you was a big sign for you," he said in an interview with Bell by his side.

Fast forward a few years and the pair are now raising two daughters, running a new baby care business, Hello Bello, and of course still working on TV shows, movies and podcasts. But more than anything, they work on connecting with each other.

"All these movies from the '80s taught us that it's love at first sight, and it is supposed to be easy and [that] all you have to do is find that person," Bell told People. "It took me a while to realize, 'Oh, that was such a lie,' because things that you work really, really, really hard for always yield the best results."

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Her comments echo her previous thoughts on her marriage and the commitment it takes to make it work.

"This isn't a special fairy tale," Bell recently told Parade.

Shepard agrees. "This is two people who worked really hard and it's attainable for you if you work really hard in your marriage too," he says.

For these two, sometimes working hard means committing to a therapy session instead of a date night, something Bell told Good Housekeeping last year.

"If something pisses you off, you've got to find the balls to bring it up immediately and say it in a way that the other person can hear," she said. "If you're still uncomfortable… you say, 'I need to have a therapy session with you.' There may be something that really hurt your feelings that you're scared to bring up. Go talk about it with a therapist who can mediate. You'll walk out of the room feeling like you're [on the same] team."

If there's one thing that's clear about Bell and Shepard, it's that they are definitely on the same team (and that team is winning).

They might not think they're #couplegoals, but we still do.

[A version of this post was originally published March 8, 2019. It has been updated.]

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The hormones surging through your body. The milk leaking through your shirt. The sleep deprivation. There are so many physiological factors that make postpartum depression (PPD) different than other types of depression, but the treatments are still the same, and unfortunately, they're slow. Traditional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can take weeks to start working, and for new mothers who are being crushed by PPD, that might as well be a century.

But this week the FDA approved a new treatment for PPD, an intravenous treatment that can have mothers feeling better within just 24 hours.

The good news is this drug can give a mother back all the joy and meaning and hope that PPD can steal within 24 hours.

The bad news is it costs $20,000 to $35,000 per treatment and at that price will be out of reach for most mothers who need it.

It's called brexanolone, (although the manufacturer, Sage Therapeutics, plans is marketing the drug under the brand name Zulresso) and it treats PPD by treating hormonal changes, specifically those related to allopregnanolone, a metabolite of progesterone.

Allopregnanolone has been called the “anti-anxiety" hormone, and studies have linked lower levels of allopregnanolone in pregnancy to an increased risk for PPD. Typically, women's allopregnanolone levels are highest in the third trimester, but after you give birth the levels go down quick, and it's believed that crash is what causes some women to sink into depression.

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Brexanolone, which is administered intravenously, is a formulation of allopregnanolone, and trials of the drug were extremely promising.

An initial proof-of-concept study led by perinatal psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody saw four women with severe PPD given an infusion of the drug over 60 hours. They all felt better in fewer than 24 hours.

“The first patient we infused was someone who was extremely depressed, had lost 20 pounds in a short period of time postpartum because she wasn't eating at all, was very sad, didn't want to interact with the baby — didn't want to interact with anyone — and the family was extremely concerned," Meltzer-Brody told The Huffington Post. “Twenty four hours after the infusion, she came out of her room, was smiling, ate her whole lunch, was talking to everyone. It was dramatic."

Larger studies followed the first, and on Tuesday Dr. Tiffany Farchione, the acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, announced the FDA approved the drug as the first treatment for postpartum depression.

"Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening. Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child. Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option," Farchione said in a press release.

As CNN reports, some mothers who have struggled with PPD, like Stephanie Hathaway, found nearly instant relief thanks to brexanolone trials.

"It was a 60-hour infusion and in the first 12 to 18 hours I felt the biggest difference," the mom of two explains. "Those intrusive thoughts that played on repeat in my head, those went away and didn't come back."

It's estimated that 400,000 babies are born to depressed mothers in America every year. This drug could be a game changer for women and their families if the cost is lowered.

Within a few months, the treatment will available through something the FDA calls the Zulresso Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Program, which requires the drug be administered by a health care provider in a certified health care facility, but someday we could see wider use and hopefully, insurance coverage.

[Correction, March 20: An earlier version of this post stated this treatment is currently available through the Zulresso Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Program. The treatment will not be available through that program until June 2019 at the earliest.]

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