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The first few years of parenting, our marriage felt broken—but it wasn’t

There is a scene in the movie Bridesmaids when one of the characters (Becca) gushes over her new husband. She predictably annoys the single and bitter main character (Annie) who couldn't have been less interested. I think Annie's character is relatable in this scene because for many couples, married or not, this sort of fairy tale love isn't realistic.


Luckily for me, fairy tale love isn't a prerequisite for a happy marriage, but it took my husband and I a while to uncover what is.

I don't remember gushing over my husband when we were dating or during the "honeymoon phase" of our marriage. Our relationship grew out of friendship. It was easy, without the college drama that I was used to. We were together for almost four years before getting married and we never doubted our ability to stay together through the hard times.

But at some point in those first few years of marriage, something changed. We found ourselves laughing less and bickering more. We became expert score-keepers, held grudges and let small disagreements turn into big battles. We were so wrapped up in our own perspectives, feelings and needs that we neglected each other. We were in denial that we were equally responsible for our pointless arguments and fights. We were not the same couple that we were in the beginning.

Without realizing it, I was making things worse. The way I dealt with conflict set my husband up for failure and caused further disconnect between us. I held on to his faults and the things I took offense to, waiting for him to make up for all of the ways he let me down. I unloaded my feelings, demanded empathy and then shut down or walked away when he didn't respond in the way I wanted.

I convinced myself that he was the problem—he wasn't sensitive enough, romantic enough, or available enough. I blamed him for the change in our relationship. I blamed him each time we traded a goodnight kiss for the silent treatment and a cold space between us in bed.

During the height of a memorable argument in our second year of marriage, the word divorce broke through the silence. The word was more like a plea and a threat, but also a question. We were both consumed with anger and hurt—feelings that eventually faded into confusion and defeat from yet another misunderstanding. But the idea of a life without each other was the wake-up call we needed. We decided our relationship was worth the struggle.

Our marriage felt broken, but it wasn't.

We had become so focused on ourselves and everything we thought we were supposed to be doing that we left our marriage alone to fend for itself. We thought the hard work of choosing the "right" person had already been done—as if we could cross it off our to-do lists. Instead of growing together, we began to grow apart. We acted more like roommates than husband and wife—two people who spent more time loving on their dog than each other.

We needed to change the way we thought about marriage.

It took us a while to figure out where we went wrong and how we could repair some of the damage to our relationship, but admitting that we were lost was the first step.

At first we looked at other couples—the ones who seemed happy—and we wondered what they were doing differently than us. We wondered how they made it look so easy. Maybe we just needed to go on more vacations, have more sex, or exchange more gifts?

Ultimately, there wasn't a quick-fix for our problems. It wasn't until we put our focus back on each other that we uncovered some habits and behaviors that needed to change.

The first (and hardest) step was to let our egos take a back seat and own up to the reasons why we were so defensive and quick to blame each other.

The second was to stop avoiding hard conversations and hiding from our problems.

And the third step was to stop comparing our relationship to other couples (real or fictional), which inevitably left us feeling inadequate.

We had to adjust our priorities so that we could work on repairing our relationship. We had to set an intention to create the kind of relationship we wanted—a relationship in which we truly appreciate each other, support each other and feel safe sharing our hopes and dreams and fears.

We realized that taking a walk or sitting in the backyard was far more rewarding than zoning out in front of the TV.

We realized that ignoring each other until Friday night wasn't exactly the best way to start the weekend or inspire any type of intimacy.

We realized that the only way to move beyond our struggles was to make time for the uncomfortable, vulnerable and sometimes painful conversations that we so often avoided.

We realized that making our marriage a priority meant that we had to be willing to admit our mistakes and trust each other to move beyond them.

Once we became parents, we had to relearn the importance (necessity) of making time for each other. It has been tempting to ignore our needs in an effort to give our boys what they want (aka all of the attention we can give them), but what they really need are two parents who love each other, trust each other and fight for each other more than they fight with each other.

They need parents who are less concerned with how they look on Facebook and more concerned with how they look to each other.

We can see now that we don't need a fairy tale marriage to be happy or even to be good parents. We just need to love each other for who we are, forgive each other for what we lack and celebrate the marriage we have. If we can do that, our happily ever after should take care of itself.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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This summer I welcomed my amazing son into the world. Like many soon-to-be parents, my husband and I signed up for our local prenatal class series, confident that I'd leave the course feeling prepared. And I was, in a way.

We learned about the stages of labor, pain relief methods, and emergency C-sections. But almost no time was dedicated to the postpartum period, or the blurry, foggy, overall confusing newborn stage.

In the 8.5 months that I've been a mom, I've by no means become an expert, but I have learned some lessons that have served me well as I navigate this new world. Things that, honestly, I wish someone would have given me the head's up on.

Here they are:

1. Simple doesn’t mean easy.

Feed, change, cuddle, repeat. Bathe occasionally. Clothe. Simple, right?

Caring for a newborn may be simple in theory, but make no mistake— there's nothing easy about it. In fact, it's shocking how difficult it can be. Lack of sleep played a huge role for me in how difficult things often felt, as did my physical recovery, and well, the huge adjustment to being a mother.

2. You’ll recover at your own pace.

After a beautiful, calm labor—the labor I had dreamed of—I was utterly disappointed in myself for recovering so slowly. I knew people who were out and about, jogging with their newborns in their strollers just a few days postpartum.

Me? The journey from the car to our condo unit felt like a marathon. It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. I was bleeding. I was leaking milk. Taking a shower was terrifying.

In fairness, my delivery was complicated—the umbilical cord was wrapped around my son's shoulder and his heart rate was dropping, so I needed a massive episiotomy and the help of a vacuum to get him out ASAP. But I couldn't believe how long it took me to feel like myself again. I wasn't close to healed by the 6-week timeline—it was more like three months.

I remember thinking, forget about getting my pre-baby body back—I just want a body that functions! But beating myself up wasn't going to speed up the recovery process. It only made me feel worse.

Be kind to yourself. It took nine months (give or take) for your body to grow and birth your baby, and it'll take time for things to fall back into place.

3. Your baby might have recovery time too.

After delivery, my baby had a swollen head from the vacuum extraction and was jaundiced. He didn't exactly look like the sweet, chubby baby I was expecting.

When he cried and was fussy, I had to remind myself that he was healing just like I was. We were in this together, and neither of us was feeling our best.

4. You’ll want someone at your appointments.

Between the sleep deprivation, hormones, and total newness of it all, doctor's appointments can seem like a hazy blur. Recruit your partner, your mom, your sister, or a close friend to come with you. They'll listen, ask questions, and help you remember things after the fact.

I don't know how many times my husband said to me, "Don't worry, the doctor said that's normal," and I thought When the heck did he say that? That's normal, mama. Your body may be working overtime but your mind might feel like it is moving in slow motion.

5. Unexpected people will reach out.

One of the most amazing experiences during my pregnancy and postpartum period was the people who reached out to offer love and support—not just congratulatory wishes but an invitation to talk about how things are really going.

Because those who have gone through it recently know how trying those first few days, weeks, and months can be. If you don't have lots of close friends or family members who are having babies at the same time as you, you can feel extremely alone.

I had a former co-worker who now lives halfway across the country reach out in the most touching way, and she still stays in touch.

When someone holds their hand out, take it—it can be such a wonderful experience. Plus, you may be able to pass it on one day too.

6. Little victories are worth celebrating.

One of the most powerful, important things you can do is celebrate small victories, and be thankful for little joys.

At the very beginning, I tried to do one simple thing every day— cut and file my nails, write a thank you card for a gift I received, drink a hot cup of tea.

Later on, my victories got slightly bigger—meet my sister for lunch, go for a walk with the baby to the grocery store. On more than one occasion, I looked down at my baby when I got home from being out with him and said, "Look at us—look at what we can do!"

When you're a new mom, it's perfectly acceptable to be proud of yourself for getting dinner on the table or running an errand. In fact, you should be beaming with pride. You did it!

7. There’s no shame in asking for help.

When it comes to professionals, there's a wealth of knowledge out there to turn to: breastfeeding specialists, sleep consultants, pelvic floor physiotherapists, postpartum doulas, and so on. But asking for help can also mean asking your mom to come over and hold the baby so you can nap. Or asking your friend to bring a pack of diapers. And of course, seeking support for postpartum anxiety or depression is crucial and can make a world of difference.

8. It gets easier, and it gets better.

I've heard people say, "It doesn't get easier, it just gets different," and I'll let you know—that's not true. It does get easier. Sleep improves, breastfeeding (if you're doing so) gets easier, colic goes away, and newborns turn into adorable, smiley, cuddly little babies. If you don't love the newborn stage, you're not alone, and that's okay!

New motherhood can seem like a long, hazy tunnel, but you'll find your way through it, and at the other side, you'll discover yourself again, along with the sweetest little baby in the world.

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Before I gave birth to my son, I couldn't fathom how some mothers struggled to take time to care for themselves, whether that was working out regularly or making it to a routine dentist appointment. Admitting this makes me cringe, but it's what I honestly thought.

Now, after 18 months of changing diapers, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation—I know self-care as a mother is anything but easy.

A people-pleaser at heart, my first instinct as a new mom was to care for my son, dog, husband and home before taking care of myself. I quickly learned, however, that putting myself last was the path to burnout.

I never really thought much about self-care before becoming a mom, but now I fight to prioritize it. Here's what I've learned.

1. I learned that in order to care for others, I must care for myself

It took coming down with a fever after several sleepless nights with my son, who was also sick, for me to realize this. The day sickness struck I felt so dizzy I could barely stand and ended up in urgent care.

My nurse scolded me for ignoring my health: "You have to start getting more rest," she said, "so you can be healthy for your son." That really clicked, and stayed with me.

From that moment on, I started taking better care of myself.

Now whenever I'm tempted to stay up late and skimp on sleep, put off making a doctor's appointment or skip my workout, I think about the consequences of ignoring my health.

Knowing my son depends on me to be healthy offers me the accountability I need to put myself first and make smart choices when it comes to self-care.

There are days when prioritizing self-care is easier, and days when it seems as though I cannot possibly do one thing for myself. But I've realized that if I allow my role as 'mother' to eclipse the need to care for myself, eventually I become exhausted and ineffective.

Inspired by my nurse, this is my motherhood mantra: To care for others, I must care for myself.

2. I stopped being afraid to ask for help

My own mother raised me to be independent, which has influenced the way I tackle problems in adulthood. One of my earliest lessons of motherhood, however, was that neither I, nor my husband, could tackle the task of raising our son on our own.

A couple weeks after he was born, dirty dishes and clothes were piling up at home and food was getting scarce. I knew we needed help, but I felt a little embarrassed by the mess we'd made while focusing solely on caring for our newborn. Finally, I called my mom, who came and stayed with us a few days.

At last we had an extra set of hands to snuggle the baby and clean and cook. I even got my first taste of alone time—which I used to sleep!—and I resolved that I wouldn't be afraid to ask for help again so I could carve out space for me.

3. I defined self-care for myself

One of my mom friends, Brooke, loves to treat herself to a weekend pedicure on occasion, just to get out of the house for an hour. She says she always comes home feeling refreshed and energized to spend time with her son, and she never regrets it.

I love this idea, but when I have a free hour, I prefer to use it to take a hot yoga class or head to a local Starbucks and do some journaling.

Becoming a mom forced me to create my unique definition of self-care. I only have so much time to myself, so when I am alone, I want to make it really count. I learned through trial and error that some activities I thought I loved (running, baking) didn't bring me as much joy as they once did. In fact, I found that when I did them, I ended up feeling as though I wasted the precious time I had alone.

Now I make sure I do the things I love (yoga, writing) so that I can return to my parental duties feeling recharged.

4. I re-thought my day

When a new baby enters your world, your schedule is forever changed. Then a few months later it changes again… and again… and again (and so on). As someone who uses her planner like a security blanket, this epiphany was more than a bit discouraging.

The only way I was able to regularly incorporate self-care in my life was to rethink my day. For example, I used to religiously complete morning workouts, but with my son's sleep issues, I soon realized they'd be off the table for a while. (Actually, they still are.)

When I took a look at my daily schedule, I realized that if I could allow myself some flexibility, I could switch my workouts to late in the evening, or even squeeze in the occasional yoga session over the lunch hour.

Now I try and make it a point to find at least one free moment each day, whether it's an hour or 10 minutes, to do something just for me.

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It seems like age-old wisdom saying "Eat your vegetables," but what do you when your child really doesn't like eating vegetables? If veggies feel like a source of conflict at the dinner table or you're worried about your child's health, you're not alone, mama.

Most importantly, you are not failing as a mama if your child isn't eating their vegetables.

Kids and vegetables can be a tricky combination. As mothers, we inherently believe that our children will be better off and healthier if we can just get them to eat their veggies. However, they can be really difficult for kids to eat and enjoy.

Why vegetables can be hard for kids to eat

Many kids may be reluctant to eat vegetables, no matter how they are probed, pushed or bribed. Eating veggies can feel like a chore for your child, and getting your kid to try "just one bite" of any veggies on their plate can feel like a nightmare for you.

It may be helpful to know that we are born with preferences for sweeter tastes. If you think about it, a baby's first food is breast milk, which has naturally occurring sugars, including lactose.

Vegetables can be more difficult for children to get accustomed to, as they tend to have more bitter, sour and complex flavors. Children are learning to eat different foods and getting familiar with eating vegetables is no different than developing a new skill, like riding a bike. It takes practice in a low-pressure environment, patience and nurturing.

Do kids really need veggies to be healthy?

So what is the big deal with vegetables anyway? Why the overemphasis on getting a child to eat vegetables? This is something that is commonly lectured by healthcare professionals to well-meaning family members, but the truth is your child can get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive without hyper-focusing on vegetables alone.

Vegetables and fruits have similar nutrient profiles so your child is more likely to get the nutrition they need by having access to a variety of different foods.

The bottom line: A child's health is not singularly defined by how many servings of veggies they eat.

There are many other components that influence their health status, including:

  • Access to a variety of foods
  • Adequate healthcare
  • Regular time to play
  • Emotional nurturing, and more

While vegetables can provide important nutrients to a growing child, stressing about whether your child's food intake is adequate or not will only make eating harder for you both.

The good news is that you can you help your child actually enjoy them. (And It doesn't involve any forcing, bribing, tricking or figuring out how to sneak in veggies into your child's food).

7 tips for helping kids enjoy veggies

1. Make them taste delicious

Vegetables don't have to be boring or flavorless. If your child is struggling with eating them, take a different approach to how you serve and prepare them.

Don't be afraid to add seasonings, herbs and spices. Sautee with real butter or cook them with bacon or pancetta.

Make a yummy salad with some added toppings, like dried fruit and nuts. Serve your child something that tastes good to you and that you would also enjoy.

2. Pair with familiar foods

Serving veggies alongside foods that your child is familiar and comfortable with will make them more likely to try them. Having too many foods that are new or unfamiliar can be intimidating for a child.

When planning out meals for your family, keep this in mind: a neutral food component along with something that might be a little harder to eat, like a vegetable, can make it easier for your child.

3. Keep the pressure low

The more a child is pushed to do something, the less likely they will want to do it. This is where you have full permission to stop bribing, coercing or negotiating with your child when it comes to eating.

Remember: Parents provide, child decides. It's your job to determine what food is served. It's your child's job to decide whether or not they want to eat what you have served and how much.

If eating vegetables is a non-issue, your child will feel more relaxed to try different foods that are served. Pressuring a child to eat certain foods can actually cause them to dislike those foods.

4. Don’t give positive or negative reinforcement

Many parents feel obligated to reward or punish a child based on their vegetable intake, but this can be counterproductive. For example, telling a child:

  • "You won't get any dessert tonight if you don't take a least one bite of your broccoli." (Negative reinforcement)
  • "Good job eating all your vegetables! Now you can have dessert." (Positive reinforcement)

These feeding strategies can actually teach a child that they cannot trust their own bodies to guide their food decisions or that certain foods have to be earned. This makes food more chaotic for a child and sets the stage for problematic eating behaviors down the road.

5. Keep trying and reintroducing

We've all heard the saying, "If at first, you don't succeed, try, try, try again." This absolutely applies to kids and vegetables. As parents, it's easy to give up all hopes of our child trying and liking a certain food when we see them reject it time and time again. So we give up and we stop trying. However, it may take a child repeated exposure to that food to promote food acceptance.

Research has shown that a child needs as many as 8-15 exposures to a particular food before they might gain acceptance of that food, but many parents are likely to give up trying at the earliest signs of rejection.

Bottom line: Keep trying to introduce new foods, like vegetables, in a low-pressure environment to help increase acceptance and consumption.

6. Involve your kids in the kitchen

Research has also found that hands-on approaches, such as cooking and gardening, may encourage greater vegetable consumption in children. When a child is allowed to be part of the planning and the preparation and can see how a food is grown and/or prepared, this may positively support their own eating behaviors. Give your child the opportunity to help prepare veggies and let them play a part in the kitchen.

7. Lead by example

Ultimately, children learn by example, and in order to raise a child to eat well, you may have to work on your own eating habits. In a compassionate and gentle way, take an honest look at how you eat and your own relationship with food.

Do you enjoy a variety of foods? Do you trust yourself when it comes to your own health and your body? If you're feeling stuck with your own approach to food and health, it is critical to get the help you need for yourself first.

Don't let vegetables become a battleground. If you need help raising a healthy eater, connect with the support you need. You've got this mama, and you don't have to do this alone.

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Mama,

I'm going to tell you something. If you don't already know this, it might come as a shock.

There will be times in parenting your sweet child when you will want to scream.

When the demands in front of you or the hardships you're facing or the exhaustion that's unrelenting becomes so overwhelming that the only response that feels appropriate is to yell and scream and otherwise freak out.

This feeling? It will happen. I was warned as a first time pregnant mama that it would happen, and though at the time I kind of laughed it off—it happened, and sooner than I ever through possible.

But mama? Here's my little secret for you: When you want to scream, breathe.

You're not a bad mama for wanting to scream.

You're a person experiencing a very intense time—often without any support.

Mama, sometimes we scream because we don't feel heard.

Sometimes we scream because the stress inside feels like it has to come out.

Sometimes we scream because the physical demands of motherhood are so heavy that we have to moan and find a way to give voice to the struggle.

And while occasionally screaming into my pillow might feel right, screaming at another person never does—not in the short or long term.

So when the pain of childbirth becomes so strong that you want to scream: breathe. Studies show that controlling the breath and remaining calm can actual reduce pain during birth. Breathe.

When the exhaustion of new motherhood is so intense and you have been up with baby all night and you're completely out of ideas for how to get baby to sleep: breathe. Put your little one in a safe place and just lay down and take deep breaths. Breathe.

When the messiness of motherhood—the laundry, the constant picking up, the spilled drinks and upside down sippy cups and strewn toys and crumb-filled car gets you so frustrated that feel like you can't take it anymore—breathe. You're doing your best in a messy season of life. Try laughing at it. Laughter truly helps. Breathe.

When the demands of balancing work and to-do lists and grocery shopping and scheduling and your kid threw up at school on the same day your prescription ran out and your partner has to stay late at work and nothing is working out the way you planned—breathe. You are one person and all you can do is be present to the next person or task in front of you. You are doing the best that you can today. Breathe.

When you're so worried about how to pay the bills that your mind won't let you go to sleep—breathe. You are alive. You are safe. You will figure it out with a rational plan that will guide you to the next right step. Breathe.

When a family member makes a critical remark about something you've done as a parent even though you know you're doing the best you know—breathe. These remarks often say so much more about the person then they say about you. Try to pause before responding and know they often come from a place of personal pain, or from an attempt to share some well-intentioned advice. When they mean well but you wish they didn't say it at all, slow down. Breathe.

When your kids are fighting and yelling at each other and you just want them to stop for one blessed minute and you feel like screaming—breathe. Because you've learned that shouting "STOP SCREAMING!" at your kids only teaches them to shout, and models the exact behavior you want to them avoid. Try redirecting them in a calm, firm voice. Or inviting them to a new activity in an upbeat, fun voice. But first: breathe.


Breathing can help alter the PH of your blood, immediately, and lowers stress hormones like Cortisol.

Breathing can help mitigate the fear-tension-pain cycle in childbirth.

Breathing can give you time to choose a better, more rational response.

Breathing can remind you of what is real: you are here now. You are showing up. You're doing the best you can.

Deep breaths mama. You've got this.

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