60% of parents lose sleep over the back-to-school season—here are 5 ways to avoid that

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This was an unpleasant revelation I had just before my son entered Pre-K: August is now when I get to relive all of the back-to-school anxiety I had as a kid, compounded by already prevalent mom anxiety. Wow, that's fun! And, according to a new survey, this worried feeling is something that most parents feel at summer's end.

A survey by OnePoll, reported in the New York Post, found that 60% of parents are so stressed about back-to-school season they lose sleep. Of the 2,000 parents of kids ages 5-18, 57% said it is the most stressful time of the year for them.

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The top worries of most parents are: Whether their child will have good teachers (50%), whether their child eats healthy foods at school (44%), the cost of buying school supplies (42%), their child's safety at school (40%), and whether their child will make friends at school (40%).

Before worry, and worrying about the worry, gets you down, here are a few ways to combat each of the above back-to-school concerns before the season hits:

1. Wait and see about those teachers.

At most schools, you can't do a whole lot about which teachers your kid gets. But the good news is that whatever rumors you may hear from other parents about which teachers are too strict and which ones don't care about education, that may not necessarily be the case with your child.

Some kids really bond with teachers that other kids don't like. Give the teachers the benefit of the doubt at first, and then ask your child specific questions about their day. Even with "bad" teachers, you have the opportunity to help your kid learn how to deal with different personalities. If things are really not working a few weeks into the school year, you can escalate matters with parent-teacher meetings and the school's administration. There's no sense stressing about this one before a problem arises, though.

2. Talk about good nutrition together, and make sure they eat well at home.

If you're not packing a lunch for your kid every day—and even if you are—you're going to have to trust them about what they eat. Make sure they understand why certain foods are better than others, and try to make sure they get the stuff they really need at breakfast and dinner.

3. Do your back-to-school shopping gradually.

You know the basics of what your child will need before the teachers hand out those lists—pencils, pens, notebooks, backpacks—so you can pick them up bit by bit throughout the summer when there are good sales (check if your state has a sales-tax-free holiday!). You can also turn back-to-school shopping into a fun ritual you have as a family to get excited for the school year by selecting just a couple of items you'll buy together—a character lunchbox, a first-day-of school shirt, new hair accessories. Then save the rest for buying online, at thrift stores, or even after the school year starts when discounts might be even bigger.

4. Learn about the school's safety and emergency procedures.

There is a lot you can't control in this area, but you can be informed. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recommended to Scholastic.com that parents review alternate travel routes to and from school, familiarize themselves with security measures, and talk to kids about what to do when they don't feel safe (including telling a teacher and knowing how to reach you at home).

5. Model good social skills, but don't force them.

Let those little sponges see how you talk to friends and neighbors, because they'll mirror you eventually. Enrolling them in after-school and weekend activities may also help them gain confidence when meeting new people, but only if they enjoy what they're doing. Also, remember that your kid might have different social needs than you do, so don't stress if they seem happier with one close friend than with a big group (or the other way around).

Now, if anyone can help me stop having those dreams where I show up late to my high school in my underwear having not studied for a chemistry test, please let me know.

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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Mamas expecting babies this month are a special bunch—and not just because it's statistically unique to have a birthday during the shortest month of the year.

Science shows babies born in February already have advantages with everything from physical growth to creativity to even presidential elections. (It's no coincidence that President's Day is this month!)

Here are six reasons why February birthdays are so special:

1. They may be bound for the NBA

According to a 2006 study from Harvard researchers that examined data from 21,000 children around the world (including the southern hemisphere), those born in February were taller and weighed more at the age of 7 than their friends who were born during other times of the year. (Further proof: Michael Jordan celebrates his birthday on February 17.)

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2. Or on their way to a doctorate

The same study also showed winter-born babies performed best in a series of intelligence tests. As the researchers concluded, “The overall pattern of findings is that winter/spring babies are both 'bigger' on the anthropometric variables and 'smarter' on the selected neurocognitive variables."

3. They also have artsy sides

February babies are either born under the Aquarius or Pisces star signs—which are linked to the traits of originality and creativity. But even if you aren't one for astrology, a study complied from the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics found that people born in February are more likely to be artists.

4. Which may set them up for stardom

Speaking of the zodiac, one study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found a disproportionate number of celebrities claim the Aquarius star sign. That includes everyone from Bob Marley to Jennifer Aniston to Shakira. It's also one of the most popular star signs for American presidents—including Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Ronald Reagan (February 6).

5. Or, at least, satisfying careers

But don't feel bad for babies born in the latter half of the month: A survey from CareerBuilder.com found Pisces adults were among the “most satisfied" with their jobs. (They also have legs up on the competition if they ever find their way into a presidential election.)

6. They may have the rarest birthday of all

Babies on their way this year are out of luck. But, come 2020, a special group of newborns will have the distinction of being born on Leap Day, February 29. Sure, they won't get to mark their birthday for another four years, but they do get a prime pick of perks when that day does roll back around!

Snuggle up with that newborn while you can, mama. Once your February baby gets going, they'll be hard to stop.

[Originally published February 2, 2018]

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As the world continues to mourn father of four Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, many are remembering Bryant for his role not only as a basketball great but also as a #girldad.

That is how SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan remembers him. On ESPN this week she recalled meeting Bryant back in 2018 when she was 8 months pregnant.

She says Bryant asked her "How are you? How close are you? What are you having?" and when she told him she was expecting a girl he gave her a high five and said, "Girls are the best."

Instagram post by SportsCenter • Jan 28, 2020 at 4:59am UTC

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The two talked about raising girls, with Duncan asking Bryant for parenting advice. She also asked him if he and his wife Vanessa were going to have any more kids.

"He said that his wife Vanessa really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. I was like, 'Four girls, are you joking? What would you think, how would you feel?'" Duncan recalls

She continues: "Without hesitation, he said, 'I would have five more girls if I could. I'm a girl dad."

As Duncan noted on Instagram, she couldn't have known that Bryant, then a father of three, would welcome another baby girl, little Capri Kobe, in 2019. All she knew was that she was impressed by this man who loved his girls so much.

"I'm glad to have had that brief time with him. I'm so sorry that 4th girl won't know her dad," Duncan writes.

During his 2018 conversation with Duncan, Bryant remarked on the athletic abilities of his middle daughter, Gianna, telling Duncan she was better than he'd been at her age.

Tragically, Bryant and Gianna died en route to a basketball game where she would have played and he would have coached.

"When I reflect on this tragedy," Duncan said on ESPN, "I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad. Being a girl dad."

Our hearts are with the Bryant family this week, and all the families of the victims of the helicopter crash.

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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

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A study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

[This post was first published December 18, 2018.]


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