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As a new mom, I fell into the trap of constantly buying new toys that I hoped would stimulate my son's mind—or, at least, keep him occupied while I made dinner. But it seemed the more toys I got, the less interested he was in any of them.


It turns out he isn't alone: According to a new study, toddlers play longer and more happily when there are fewer toys to choose from. Better yet, the researchers say fewer toys mean more opportunities for creativity, imagination and skill development.

For the study, to be published in an upcoming edition of Infant Behavior and Development, researchers at the University of Toledo set up children younger than 3 years old in rooms with either four or 16 toys. As the researchers observed the play habits, they noted the toddlers with four toys engaged “in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively."

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Even if you've already taken one too many trips down the toy aisle at the store, the researchers say it could help to just put the options on rotation. This, they say, provides “opportunities for novelty without creating the distraction posed by having too many toys available."

With yet another baby in my home, I cracked down on the number of toys a few months back—with much the same results as the researchers. Now, instead of a cluttered living room with baskets of long-neglected playthings, my 2-year-old has his pick of a few books and toys. When I see one goes untouched for a while, I swap it out for something new.

My son's happier. My wallet's happier. My stomach's even happier now that I have time to cook dinner while he plays.

It may have taken me a bit of time to learn this lesson, but it seems to be one many others were quicker to embrace. This year, many parents are electing to have a no-toy Christmas and are encouraging others in their lives to give gifts based on experiences instead of those that clutter the living room.

When you start to realize the magic in cutting back on toys, the logical next step is applying it to other areas of your life. If toddlers are happier with four options during play time, don't you think you'd feel the same when getting dressed? Or when deciding what to make for dinner?

As the amazing Allie Casazza said in her essay “ How getting rid of stuff saved their childhood," both parents and kids prosper when they aren't weighed down by things:

“When I took away most of my children's toys, I gave them the gift of imagination. When I let go of all the extra sets of dishes, I gave my kids the gift of an extra hour with them at the end of the day that would otherwise be spent rinsing plates. When I simplified their wardrobes, I gave them back the focus of a mother no longer drowning in laundry cycles. When I cleaned out our family room and turned off the TV, I gave them time to connect with me and one another. All the choices I made, everything I removed from our space, it all gave my children more minutes with their mama."

Now science proves it: Kids are happier with fewer toys. And you probably will be, too.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

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It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole year since Gabrielle Union announced the birth of her baby girl. Since then, we've all had the pleasure of watching adorable baby Kaavia James grow, as well as seeing Union and husband Dwyane Wade raise her. This year hasn't always been easy for Union, however, as she shared in a beautifully honest post on her daughter's birthday.

"Scared to hold you," Union wrote in her post on Thursday afternoon. "Scared to burp you. Scared to reveal I have no clue what I'm doing. Scared to go to work. Scared to stay home. Scared when you sleep. Scared when you wake up. Scared I'm not living up to some impossible standard of motherhood. Scared I'd lose myself. Scared I'd be exposed as a failure, as less than, not as good as, not as comfortable as, not as... anything."

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Yes, even gorgeous, successful Gabrielle Union experiences the same doubts about motherhood as so many of us. Because it really is hard.

"Now I understand why sometimes you'll see moms at the airport or in Target just in tears," she told People earlier this year. "You try to do what you can in the hours that you can. I may not be hitting it out of the park at work, at home, with her or with my husband, but that's okay."

For this birthday post Union shared a slideshow video of Kaavia's first year, set to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day." She had also posted the lyrics of that song with her birth announcement post last year. We've seen most of those images before, but they're somehow more moving in montage form.

Union went on to write about how her daughter helped her gain confidence in herself, too.

"But there you were, everyday, looking up at me, like 'gurl, you got this!' " Union wrote. "When I let go of my fears of judgment and just did my best and recognized that my best would and could change from day to day and life would magically go on... Man, I finally allowed myself to just enjoy you @kaaviajames and relax into the peace of imperfection."

We certainly couldn't have described that first year of parenting better ourselves.

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Whether or not you're trying to come up with a name for a baby on the way, you can't deny that baby name conversations are always fascinating. Why are all of your friends named Emily and Sarah? How many boys named Miles are in your kid's school right now? And of course, which baby name will be on every mama's lips next year?

Nameberry may know, as it has released its predictions for 2020's top baby names. The site analyzed its traffic to calculate which names had the biggest increases in interest this year.

"These include newly minted names, rediscovered antiques, plus names imported from around the world," Nameberry cofounder Pamela Redmond writes.

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If you are in fact pondering names for your own child, this could either be a good place to start or a list of names to avoid, depending on how you feel about being one of many or the outlier in a group.

Here are Nameberry's predictions for the top baby names in 2020.

Girls' names

1. Adah

2. Reese

3. Mika

4. Paisley

5. Amina

6. Teagan

7. Nova

8. Aura

9. Pearl

10. Billie

Boys' names

1. Austin

2. Alva

3. Acacius

4. Tate

5. Diego

6. Easton

7. Lucius

8. Cash

9. Ash

10. Luca

There's quite a mix of rationale for choosing each of these names. Some, like Reese, Mika, and Billie, are likely inspired by the famous women with those names (Witherspoon, Brzezinski, and Eilish, respectively). Some are continuations of current trends. The biblical name Adah extends the trend for "Ad" girl names, and Lucius is likely to follow the popularity of Lucy, Lucia, and Lucian, Nameberry says.

We're surprised by a couple of the names on this list. Alva is the number two boys' name, for instance. "Every American schoolchild knows this as the middle name of the great inventor Thomas Edison, whose surname has also become popular," Redmond writes. "With Alma and Alba now stylish for girls, Alva could gain visibility for boys."

They're also going out on a limb with the girls' number eight, Aura, which was used only 120 times in 2018. The rationale here is that it's similar to current fave Aria/Arya. We'd also add that all things witchy and supernatural are trendy again.

We won't know if this list is right until the Social Security list for 2020 comes out in May 2021, but as soon as the data comes in we'll let you know which names really topped 2020. Only time will tell if Adah and Austin are the next Liam and Emma.

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Shawn Johnson East and her husband Andrew recently welcomed their little girl into the world. It's a dream come true for the couple who had previously suffered a pregnancy loss, but Shawn says she didn't get the birth of her dreams.

"22 hours of labor to end in a c section," she wrote on Instagram. "I went in with such a stubborn mindset of thinking the only way I could bring our baby into the world was naturally. No meds no intervention. At 14 hours when I chose to get an epidural I felt guilty. At 22 hours when we were told I had to get a c section I felt like I had failed."

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We get how hard it is when your birth plan doesn't go as planned. What Shawn feels is actually pretty common, say mental health experts. The combination of unexpected surgery and feelings of loss of power and guilt when a birth doesn't go as plan, can be traumatic.

An emergency C-section is not a personal failure. It's a medical emergency and it's common.

"The emergency nature of C-sections leads [some mothers] to feel out of control, as well as fear that there will be harm to the baby or themselves," Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago psychologist and director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

In Shawn's case, everything went well, and that changed how she was feeling. "But after holding our sweet girl in my arms and being told everything went well and she had made it to us safely I could have cared less [about the C-section]."

Shawn no longer feels guilty and we are so glad she doesn't.

It is important for pregnant people to know that there is no wrong way to give birth, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections are very common, representing about 32% of all births in the United States.

Shawn did not fail, and neither did you, mama. C-section mamas are strong + brave.

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