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Raising children with kindness—instead of competition—is key to success

The world we grew up in and the one that we are making for today’s kids are very different, and it’s not just technology and housing prices that are changing, it’s the values that parents, well, value.


Today’s parents, themselves born into the success-obsessed 1980s, or pushed to be the best as neon-clad '90s kids, worked hard to win first place medals and succeed in AP classes because adults told us we needed to have a competitive edge if we wanted to succeed in the “real world,” but now that the millennials are all grown up, we’re finding that working so hard as kids doesn’t always pay dividends in adulthood.

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, summed up the modern backlash against competitive childhoods, noting that today’s economic circumstances prove that childhoods spent chasing that perfect GPA really aren’t paying off financially.

Harris (who himself says he’s never worked as hard as he did in high school) notes that between 2000 and 2016, educational attainment rates increased, but wage growth for most people has been stagnant or slow at best.

“This cohort of young Americans hasn’t only put in the classroom work — to say nothing of extracurricular activities and internships. This cohort of young Americans has also taken on incomprehensible amounts of debt in order to do it,” he writes.

Indeed, post-secondary institutions are recognizing that skills like conflict resolution, mediation and listening are as important as academic achievement when it comes to actually getting work after college.

That’s why now some parents and educators are prioritizing things like caring and kindness over competing with peers the way we did as kids.

We would rather see our children be the best version of themselves rather than the best on the field or in the classroom, but how do we teach kids to value cooperation more than competition?

We start by doing the same thing our parents did: Have the kids practice (but in a different way).

Build empathy muscles

Previous generations of parents encouraged kids to practice sports or piano in the hopes of building up the skills that would make them a winner, but according to experts, practice is as important for building cooperative soft skills as it is for becoming a competitor.

Experts at Harvard recommend parents provide kids with daily opportunities to practice kind acts.

Empathic acts build empathy, so if you want your kid to collaborate and cooperate with people in a kind manner it’s important to give them chances to do that, and increase the level of challenge over time. Maybe your child is helping a sibling or friend with their homework today, but can volunteer as a tutor as they build those empathy skills.

Set high (ethical) expectations

According to the folks at Harvard Graduate School of Education, having high expectations of our kids doesn’t have to mean we’re expecting them to bring home first place trophies, but it can mean we’re holding them to ethical standards that cultivate empathy and compassion.

They recommend parents prioritize caring as much as academic and skills and athletic performance, and communicate that to a child’s teachers or coaches.

Kids should know that all the adults in their life expect them to be caring members of their community and are on the same page, even in competitive settings, like sports teams.

Cheer them on

When parents are trying to cultivate caring and kindness, a little praise can go a long way. A generation ago, coming home with an A or scoring a goal may have been a kid’s only path to parental praise, but experts say expanding our recognition circle to include things like welcoming a new student at school, or volunteering to take out the trash teaches kids that mom and dad notice when they help and collaborate, not just when they compete.

We don’t have to do away with sports or throw grades completely out the window to raise compassionate kids, but millennials have learned (some would say the hard way) that being at the top of the class now isn’t a guarantee that a kid will be earning top dollar in adulthood.

“Everyone tells students that the harder they work to develop their job skills — their ‘human capital’ — the better off they will be,” Harris writes. “It’s not true. In fact, the result is the opposite: more and better educated workers, earning less.”

If this generation has learned anything, it’s that some things (like kindness and compassion) are even more valuable than money and can set kids up for a different kind of success.

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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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Alexis Ohanian is Serena Williams' husband, little Olympia's dad, and an outspoken advocate for fathers taking parental leave. In a recent op-ed the venture capitalist said taking parental leave was one of the most important decisions he'd ever made.

Now he's standing with Dove as the company launches The Pledge for Paternity Leave, asking fathers to pledge to actually take their leave if it's available, and asking allies and businesses to advocate for paid parental leave policies. But Dove isn't just collecting signatures. It's also giving $5,000 grants to new fathers.

Dove just launched The Dove Men+Care Paternity Leave Fund, which will see $1 million (in $5,000 increments) doled out to dads who apply to receive a $5,000 grant for parental leave.

These grants could help more dads get to do what Ohanian did. Most fathers aren't offered paid leave through their employers and simply can't afford to take unpaid leave (especially if their partner has already had to take unpaid time).

"No dad should have to sacrifice taking leave, and I've been very public about taking mine in an effort to show other men that you can still be an ambitious businessperson while also taking time for your family," says Ohanian, who notes that parental leave doesn't just benefit dads, but also their babies, families, workplaces and communities.

According to a media release, Dove's Paternity Leave Fund "is available for new or expectant dads who do not currently have access to paid leave through their employer."

So if a new dad in your life doesn't get paid leave at work, maybe they could get it through this grant.

The application is online, and to be eligible dads must be over 18, be legal residents of one the 50 United States (or D.C.) and work for an employer who offers no more than 10 days of paid paternity leave. Dads can be new dads (baby's gotta be under 8 months old) or be expecting a child through birth or adoption. And they have to have taken the Pledge for Paternity Leave as well.

It's unfortunate that more dads can't do what Ohanian did, either because of the stigma against fathers taking leave or a lack of financial support for it. Hopefully, American parents (moms and dads) will have access to paid parental leave by the time this PR campaign ends in 2020, but until then, this is a pretty cool move by the brand.

Dove knows that advertising can do more than just sell body wash—it can start cultural conversations. It's been more than 10 years since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while that campaign has been criticized it has also been credited with starting the trend of more body-positive and inclusive advertising in marketing for women and girls.

It's kind of crazy to look back at some of the advertising from the early 2000s and see one very specific body type represented over and over again. Our generation lived through an era when everyone in the Delia*s catalog was the same size, but our daughters are growing up in a world where they can look at an Aerie campaign and see different sizes and body types represented (and with their stretch marks intact!).

Maybe 10 years from now the lack of paid parental leave for fathers will seem as bizarre as expecting every woman in a catalog to be a size zero. With any hope, we'll be talking about how crazy it was that it took a marketing campaign from a toiletries brand to change the way our culture sees parental leave for fathers.

But in the meantime, go get your money, dads. Dove's got $1 million to spend on this conversation.

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For so many parents, finding and funding childcare is a constant struggle. How would your life change if you didn't have to worry about finding and paying for quality childcare? Would you go back to work? Work more hours? Or just take the four figures you'd save each month and pay off your student loans faster?

These hypothetical scenarios have been playing in the minds of many American parents this week as presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled her plan for free or affordable "high-quality child care and early education for every child in America."

Universal childcare will be a cornerstone of Warren's campaign for 2020. It's a lofty goal, and one many parents can get behind, but is it doable?

Supporters note it's been done in other countries for decades. In Finland, for example, every child has had access to free universal day care since the early 1990s. Sweden, too, has been building its universal childcare system for decades.

Critics of Warren's plan worry about the price tag and potential for ballooning bureaucracy, and some are concerned that subsidizing childcare could actually make it more expensive for those who have a government-funded spot, as it could result in fewer private childcare providers.

But subsidized childcare had lowered prices in other places. In Sweden, parents pay less than $140 USD to send children to preschool. In Finland, the cost per child varies by municipality, household income and family size. A parent on the lower end of the income spectrum might pay as little as the equivalent of $30 USD, and the maximum fee is about $330 a month.

But Finland's population is on par with Minnesota's. Sweden is comparable to Michigan.

So could the Nordic model scale to serve the hundreds of millions of families in America?

As Eeva Penttila, speaking as the head of international relations for Helsinki, Finland's education department once told The Globe and Mail, "you can't take one element out and transfer it to your own country. Education is the result of culture, history and the society of a nation."

Right now America spends less on early childhood education than most other developed countries (only Turkey, Latvia, and Croatia spend less), but that wasn't always the case. This nation does have a history of investing in childcare, if we look back far enough.

Back in World War II, when women needed to step into the workforce as men fought overseas, America invested in a network of childcare to the tune of $1 billion (adjusted to today's money) and served hundreds of thousands of families in almost every state through center-based care. Parents paid between $0.50 and $0.75 per child per day (the equivalent of about $10 in today's money).

So America does have a historical and cultural precedent, not to mention a current model of universal preschool that is working, right now, in the nation's capital. In D.C. In Washington, D.C., 90% of 4-year-olds attend a full-day preschool program for free, according to the Center for American Progress. Seventy percent of 3-year-old are going too, and the program has increased the city's maternal workforce participation rate by more than 10%.

It won't happen overnight

While some American parents might be daydreaming of a life without a four-figure day care bill in 2020, the road to true universal childcare for all children in America would be a long one. Peter Moss, a researcher at the University of London's Institute of Education, previously told The Globe and Mail it took Sweden "many years to get it right."

Indeed, the 1990s saw long wait lists at Swedish day cares, but the growing pains of the '90s paved the way for the enviable system Swedes enjoy today.

According to Moss, governments in other countries look at the Nordic model and "tend to say, 'We can't do that.' But what they really mean is 'We can't suddenly do that.' In other countries, they just don't get to grips with what needs doing and actually plot a course."

Maybe America's starting point is found in its history books, or in the modern day preschools of the nation's capital, or in the conversations happening between now and 2020. It doesn't have to be Warren's plan, but America does need a plan for safer, more affordable childcare.

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It's so unfortunate that in the working world there are still those who believe mothers are more distracted and less productive than people without children.

Research proves that just isn't true—working moms are actually more engaged than working dads and fathers and equally committed—and plenty of working mothers will say that parenthood has actually made them more productive.

Ayesha Curry counts herself among those moms who become more efficient at work after becoming parents. The entrepreneurial mom of three seems unstoppable when it comes to expanding her career, which she launched as a lifestyle blog back when the oldest of her three children was still a baby.

"You don't realize how much you can get done in a day until you become a parent and you're like, 'what was I doing with my time before'?" she recently old Cheddar's Nora Ali.

Now less than seven years later she's built her own empire as a mom, not in spite of being one.


Now a New York Times best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur, Curry has also got her own brand, Homemade, and you can find her products bearing her name in places like Target and JC Penny. She's been promoting a partnership with GoDaddy and she's an ambassador for the Honest Company, too.

Curry says motherhood taught her how to multitask and manage her time.

"I have three children, so I've had to grow four invisible arms," she explains. "I've definitely learned efficiency through being a parent. It's helped me in my business tenfold."

As a celebrity, Curry's life experience is kind of unique, but her experience of becoming better at work because of motherhood isn't, according to experts.

Career coach Eileen Chadnick previously told Motherly that motherhood is an asset in the workplace, in part because it trains women to be both empathetic and assertive at the same time, a combo that makes for great leaders. "There are incredibly nice, compassionate women who are very strong and know how to take a stand," Chadmick said. "And they're trusted and admired by others even if they need to say 'no' to their employees."

That's something Curry agrees with. Because it's her name on that frying pan, cookbook or bedspread, she doesn't shy away from saying 'no' when she doesn't like something. "I'm really good about being forceful and putting my foot down," she explains.

It's easier to put your foot down when you've already grown four invisible arms. That's the balancing act of motherhood, and it's what makes this mama so good at business.

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