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I remember the day my daughter came home with a cherry tomato plant she had potted while spending the morning with our former nanny, now a good family friend.

"Mom, maybe Ms. Karen can teach me how to grow other plants too," she gushed. "Maybe we can grow them together!"

I could feel her excitement rising at the same time my own defenses were going up. Didn't my daughter want to grow plants with me… together? Why hadn't I thought to have her pot a tomato plant? Was I being replaced?

But then I came back to reality. Who was I kidding? My daughter knows me. She knows I've killed every plant I've ever tried to love, despite my best intentions. If my daughter wanted to pursue gardening, I would rightly be the last person she should call on for help.

The truth is, I can't be everything my daughter needs. As much as it stings to say it, I know it is true. As much as I want her to look at me and say I am the embodiment of emotional strength, the perfect teacher of cooking, the best math homework helper, the greatest fashion consultant, and the best friendship advice giver, I know I am not.

To believe that I am is only to set myself up for failure.

I do believe I am uniquely qualified to be her mother. I am the primary female role model in her life. There are things I provide her that no other person in the world can. That was especially true when she was an infant. It's still true now that she's a grade schooler, although to a progressively lesser degree.

As she grows and becomes an opinionated high schooler, she will need my guidance, but she'll also have more needs that I won't be able to fulfill. She's her own person, and her personal interests will reflect her, not me.

And the truth is, I'm terrible at math. I don't garden. My body shape will certainly be different than hers. She's long and lean like her dad; I'm short and curvy.

Holding the budding cherry tomato plant in my hand, I thought back to my own childhood. When I was a child and a teenager, I needed my mom's best friend Kris in my life. She showed me that other moms do things differently—she did cartwheels when she was pregnant and made delicious enchilada casserole for dinner. She gave me a big hug and let me cry on her shoulder when I didn't make the cheerleading squad in 9th grade.

My mom got married at 18 and never lived in a college dorm. She couldn't understand why I would haul my laundry eight hours in a car just to use the washing machine at home. Kris lived two hours away from where I went to college—she told me to save my quarters and bring my laundry to her house when I needed a retreat from school.

Does Kris' role in my life make me think less of my mom? Absolutely not. My mom is a constant in my life. She knows me. My mom gave me the paper to write my first "book" when I was seven, and she was the one who encouraged me to apply for that college internship that led to my first real job.

Through each of my dad's deployments, my mom showed me what it means to be a strong, independent woman. I don't call Kris multiple times a week on my commute home from work. I call my mom. But Kris's impact in my life while I was a child has marked me—and, in some small way, it has helped make me into the person I am today.

Researchers have noted for years the importance of role models in young people's lives. When my daughter was a baby, I read somewhere that children need at least five non-parental trustworthy adults in their lives to stay grounded and confident. These could be teachers, coaches, aunts, grandfathers, or family friends.

My husband and I adopted this guideline for our own children. I am a person who prays, and one of the prayers I have prayed for my children is that we would be able to look back at every stage of their lives and count five trustworthy adult influencers.

Five people who can offer wisdom. Five people who know their dreams and struggles. Five people they can talk with openly.

Even today, we see that prayer being fulfilled in abundance. I am so grateful for our friends, our children's school teachers and our family members who love our children. Already they are filling gaps that we don't even see.

My daughter needs the interminable patience—like one of those magic baby bottles that always refills when you tilt it up. She needs the expertise of her elementary school art teacher who can nurture her love of art. Already, I see how she admires the way my friend Erica grows tomatoes, sunflowers, zucchini and herbs on the patio of her Washington, D.C. rowhouse.

She looks forward to the hugs she receives from my friend Stacey, a stay-at-home mom, who is one of the first people she sees after school every day. My daughter is learning all kinds of ways to make people feel welcomed and valued from my friend Jessica who is an incredible hostess. In the future, she will need the tenacity of a coach or instructor who pushes her. She doesn't know it now, but they are a part of her five today.

Through it all, I will be there. Her biggest fan. Having conversations about friendship on our walks to school. Singing to her as I tuck her in at night. Reading aloud with her. Keeping open communication with her. Doing my best to teach her and guide her. Putting a huge amount of effort into learning about her and her interests so I can help her become her own person.

But I can't be everything she needs. And I'm okay with that, because she'll be a much better person for it.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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