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These viral photos of a dad and stepdad are co-parenting #goals

David and Dylan made choices to cooperate instead of competing. To see each other not as the enemy, but as allies fighting for Willow's happiness. And those choices eventually made them friends and then family.

These viral photos of a dad and stepdad are co-parenting #goals

When we think about divorce and coparenting our minds don't always paint happy pictures. Some of us draw on our childhood memories, formed in an era when joint custody arrangements were often tense and confusing for kids. For those without personal experience, the mind's eye may replay the acrimonious custody hand-overs we've seen on reality TV.

But this week, a new, beautiful picture of co-parenting (and masculinity) is taking root in America's cultural consciousness.

Photographer and mama Sarah Mengon captured a series of now viral photos of her daughter Willow and her two dads, David Lewis and Dylan Lenox, taken moments before David and Willow headed into her Daddy-Daughter dance. Dressed in her princess best, 5-year-old Willow is framed by two men who have put away old-school ideas about how to be a man in order to be great co-parents.

Some would label these two as Willow's biological father and step-father, respectively, but the two guys tell Motherly they don't really like labels like co-parent or step-parent. They're just Willow's parents.

This is the story behind those beautiful viral photos you're seeing everywhere.

The first time David Lewis met the man who would become his daughter's other dad, he admits it wasn't easy. "We shook hands, talked for maybe 2 or 3 minutes and I was on my way," David recalls in a phone interview with Motherly.

Willow was about 18 months old at the time, and David and Sarah had been through a lot in those 18 months. Twelve days after Willow was born, David (who was in the Army at the time) was in Afghanistan. When David returned from his deployment, he and Sarah divorced. It was as amicable a divorce as possible—there was no infidelity or some big disaster. As David tells it, he just knew Sarah deserved so much more than he was capable of giving back then.

Still, it hurt. Both Sarah and David admit that. "You just have to be strong and put your kid first," says Sarah, who reentered the dating world knowing that anyone who couldn't accept David wouldn't be worth pursuing. She kept David him in the loop as she moved on from their relationship, even when when he was working far away.

"I involved David as much as I could, still do throughout this entire journey," she tells Motherly.

David knew there would be another man in Sarah and Willow's lives one day, but that first meeting with Dylan didn't look like the happy family photos going viral four years later. It looked like heartbreak.

But in that moment and a million more that followed, David and Dylan made choices to cooperate instead of competing. To see each other not as the enemy, but as allies fighting for Willow's happiness. And those choices eventually made them friends and then family.

As David points out, the family's viral moment comes on the heels of the now infamous Gillette commercial and a national conversation about what it means to be masculine, and the response to Sarah's photos proves why that conversation is so important.

While the majority of internet commenters find the portraits to be an inspiring display of successful co-parenting, others have attacked David and Dylan's masculinity. Commenters have suggested that David is weak for allowing another man to "take" his family, or that Dylan's weak for allowing David to stay in his home when visiting Willow. Women have bragged that their own husbands would never allow this. Others have just made homophobic remarks.

David and Dylan get why this is happening. These two dads are what many would describe as "men's men." Dylan's a pipefitter. David did nine years in the Army. They have a deep understanding of what society expects from traditionally masculine men.

"But we also knew that we have a little girl to take care of and it's not a competition between he and I," David explains.

Dylan agrees. "Mine and David's job and Sarah's job is to protect and love Willow and teach her as much about this world as we can. And protect her from all the negativity that's possible."

Dylan has a son from a previous relationship, and he shares a 2-year-old daughter with Sarah.

"This whole situation has presented its own challenges but I think we've handled it the best we could with grace and dignity, and for the love of our kids. What's helped us out is since day one there's always been respect. I don't think I've done anything to disrespect David and his wishes and his role as a knowledgeable father."

This relationship didn't happen overnight. It happened because two tough guys decided to make tough choices every day. They may not be a traditional family, but they are Willow's family and they're redefining the traditional masculinity ideology for her generation.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Meri Meri: Decor and gifts that bring the wonder of childhood to life

We could not be more excited to bring the magic of Meri Meri to the Motherly Shop. For over 30 years, their playful line of party products, decorations, children's toys and stationery have brought magic to celebrations and spaces all over the world. Staring as a kitchen table endeavor with some scissors, pens and glitter in Los Angeles in 1985, Meri Meri (founder Meredithe Stuart-Smith's childhood nickname) has evolved from a little network of mamas working from home to a team of 200 dreaming up beautiful, well-crafted products that make any day feel special.

We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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