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11 helpful tips on how to balance working from home + #momlife

You're living the dream—you've asked your boss if you can work from home, or you landed that flexible position, or maybe you decided to strike out on your own as a consultant. Now comes a new challenge: How do you make your home into a workplace when it's already home to your (sometimes rather loud) family?

Through clever scheduling, a few ground rules and some hard core #momhacks, mamas have figured out how to share their workspace with little ones.

If you dream of being a working mom and a stay-at-home mom, take some tips from these mothers who've made the most of flexible work options (and a whole lot of inner drive).

1. Be honest with your clients

If you're working from home, be transparent about that from the get go. That way, if a child does bust into your office or the dog starts barking while you're taking a call, you can just keep going without having to explain away the background noise.

Sarah Hamaker is a mother of four between the ages of 10 and 15, and she also works as a certified parenting coach. She says she always starts phone conversations by telling her clients that she works from home—and they may hear a child in the background. "Most people were very understanding," Hamaker explains.

The mute button on her headset helped, too. Whenever she wasn't speaking, she'd hit the mute button so the conversation appeared to be a little quieter.

2. Get a gym membership

Sometimes, a work call is just too important to risk an interruption. If you don't require everyday child care, but do need a quiet call every once in awhile a gym membership can be a lifesaver.

A gym with on-site childcare is essentially an on-call babysitter, says Traci Kantowski, communications director with Trust Transparency Center. "I regularly take advantage of gym childcare when I need to be able to focus, or have an important call because I know my kids are cared for," Kantowski says.

Bonus: You can also actually just hit the gym.

3. Designate an area of your home for work

Kantowski's children know they need to knock before entering her office, but not every family can devote an entire room to mom's workspace. If all your bedrooms are full, you can still carve out a designated area just for your work, even in small spaces. Closets can make great compact work spaces, thanks to DIY ideas and products like this closet-to-office conversion kit from the Container Store.

If your office or desk is in a high traffic part of your home, a pair of noise-cancelling earphones can help you focus while your kids play with their other parent, grandma, the babysitter or each other.

4. Get a hotspot plan

For many, the point of working from home is to spend more time at, well, home. But for many mamas, working from home is appealing because it also allows us to be away from our desks. Ballet practice, carpool duty, library time—these are all things you can make time for when you're not commuting, but you might have to squeeze in some work while chauffeuring the kids around.

Make sure your cell phone plan includes hotspot access, so you'll be able to sneak in work time from the carpool line, the pool and the indoor playspace, Kantowski says.

5. Use electronics in case of emergency

Screen time guidelines suggest parents keep video time to a minimum, but, one work-at-home mom, Julianne Robicheau says sometimes a little screen time goes a long way to helping mama get her work done. Robicheau started her skin care company, Robi Luxury Skin Care, when her child was a year old, and says that, in a pinch, Ryder and his team of pups have come to save the day.

"Of course, I don't feel like mother of the year when I do this, but sometimes, work needs to get done and I have to rely on babysitter Paw Patrol," she says

​6. Let them help

Robicheau often lets her 4-year-old help her when it comes to photoshoots and putting together shipments. "I'm raising them to just roll with it," she says, explaining that she even brings her kids to most business meetings. "I shot a marketing video with a videographer from home with both kids around," Robicheau says.

Bonus: this method teaches kids about work ethic, and there are plenty of long-term benefits for kids who see mom working.

7. Reserve special toys for key work moments

When her children outgrew napping, Stephanie Woodson, who writes sewing and craft tutorials for her web site, Swoodson Says, transitioned them to quiet time with audio books and puzzles in their room so she still had a chunk of the day to herself. "Reserving special toys or crafts for busy days is key: A sensory bin or magazine collage activity can keep them happy for a long time," she says.

8. Share childcare with other work-from-home parents

If you know of other work-at-home-parents, you can swap children with them, giving each parent a day to work while the other parent watches everyone's kids, says Swoodson, who did this many times.

9. Wake up early

Allison Carter, creator of Confetti Party Plans, wakes up an hour earlier than her children to set her daily goals, check her email and plan her social media so that when her children wake up, she gets to focus on breakfast knowing that she already accomplished something before she actually started her day.

10. It doesn't matter *where* you're working from

Sonja Thompkins is a homeschooling mother of a 5 1/2 -year-old and an online business coach for brick and mortar boutique owners. She says she uses her gym, the library, fast food restaurants or even the car to work—as long as her child is entertained, and even takes video calls. "Clients truly don't care about your perfectly curated office backdrop," she says. "I used to think they did."

11. Batch work when you can

Thompkins' husband is an army reservist and a firefighter who works in 48-hour shifts. But when he's home, he takes over so she can crank out as much work as possible. "I use a project management app to keep me focused on the tasks I need to accomplish, which is great for my productivity," she explains.

If you're just starting out as a work-at-home parent, you'll soon figure out that you'll need to adjust your expectations, your technique and your methods as your family grows.

What works for a toddler (race to the computer to get two hours of solid work time while he naps!) will change drastically when he's a preschooler (schedule a playdate and practice some hands-off parenting so you can snag a few sneaky hours).

In the end, it's all about flexibility. And isn't that what working from home is all about?

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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If you've got hamburger in your freezer you might want to check it before making dinner.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef products for possible Escherichia coli O26 (aka E.coli).

The beef was sold at various retailers, including Target, Meijer, Safeway and Sam's Club, as well as Save Mart in California. This comes after a previous recall involving ground beef sold at Publix.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service notes the recalls are the result of an investigation into 17 illnesses and one death in recent months, and that children under 5, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for a type of kidney failure common in people with E.coli infections.

"It is marked by easy bruising, pallor and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately," the agency notes.


Cargill has issued a statement on its website that reads, in part: "We were distressed to learn a fatality may be related to an E.coli contamination of one of our products. Our hearts go out to the families and individuals affected by this issue."

The recalled beef products were produced and packaged on June 21, 2018. They have a use or freeze by date of July 11.


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If there's anyone who needs a nice spa day, it's parents. But booking a day at the spa isn't so easy when you also have to find and pay a babysitter.

A business owner in Los Angeles came up with a solution: Trina Renea, the founder of Spa Lé La, added free childcare (by a CPR-certified nanny) to her spa's menu, offering the service to any parent who needs a massage or a facial, or any of the spa's other stress-busting services.

If you've got more than one child at home, the first child is free, and each one after is just $6 for the whole duration of mom or dad's spa visit, HuffPo reports.

Renea recognized that for a lot of parents, a quick 15 or 30 minute appointment for a wax or a manicure just wouldn't be worth all the effort it would take to get the kids ready and then into and out of the car, so she added 30 minutes of "lounge time" that parents can take before or after their appointment, so mama can just chill for a bit.

If lounge time isn't relaxing enough for you, you can also spend an extra $40 for another 25 minutes in a totally comfortable nap room.

This kind of parent paradise could only have been thought up by a fellow parent. Renea is a mother herself, and she understands that a lot of parents feel guilty about prioritizing their own self-care. That's why she added cool classes to the childcare component: Kids can participate in art, music or yoga sessions while mom or dad is away. There's nothing to feel guilty about at all. "If they feel like their child is getting a class, then it makes them feel more comfortable," she told HuffPo.

The spa also offers services for expecting parents, like prenatal massage, belly facials, and even labor stimulating massage for those 40-week mamas-to-be who are understandably over being pregnant and just want to meet their little one.

Whether you have a child on the way or a couple of them keeping you up at night, this spa's menu sounds like the perfect way for mama to enjoy some me time.

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While scrolling through Pinterest the other night, I paused on a picture of a wine glass with a decal that said: “this is my me time." I'm not typically a fan of the gear that seems to accompany wine mom culture. But, at that moment, after a long, imperfect day of my own, there was something in that message I could appreciate: At least it was acknowledging moms need time for themselves.

I realized that, for better or worse, joking about being a wine mom is a palatable code for saying “this is hard." That feeling is one just about every parent experiences, often on a daily basis—but it can still be hard to admit, lest we be accused of not appreciating motherhood enough.

This silence does a disservice to us all, especially now that moms "work" an average 98 hours per week (regardless of whether you go to an office) and often don't reach out when they need more help.

The problem comes when the “solution" to the challenges of motherhood is distilled into the simple symbol of a wine glass. And along the way, the culture seems to have become a parody of itself, complete with bottle-sized stem glasses and t-shirts that say things like “they whine, I wine."

Therein lies both the strength and weakness of wine mom culture: It offers an important counter to the societal expectation that moms should be able to do it all, all the time, with a smile on their faces—despite the very real emotional, financial and sociological challenges that come with parenthood. But while wine mom posts may be the vehicle for saying this, wine itself is not the silver bullet to our self-care needs.

The rise of the #winemom

As anyone who watched Betty Draper stir her nightly cocktail on Mad Men knows, alcohol brands have been keen on moms for decades. Now wine seems to be cornering the mommy market: A 2016 survey from Wine Spectator showed that millennials drank 42% of the wine enjoyed in America—with women accounting for two-thirds of high-frequency wine drinkers (meaning those who drank wine weekly) under 30 years old.

"Highly involved female wine drinkers are mostly millennials, are more often urban educated professionals and more ethnically diverse than the typical female wine drinker," said the Wine Market Council in a press release on the findings.

With the average American mom getting less than one hour of alone time per day, every moment of self-care precious. And when those opportunities present themselves, let's be honest, it can feel hard to get motivated to do anything elaborate. Enter: The simple act of uncorking a wine bottle and sitting down on the couch.

But unlike Betty Draper drinking alone, millennials can now broadcast it: That 2016 survey found 50% of millennial wine drinkers shared pictures or posts of their pours on social media, which furthers the sense that frequent drinks are just the norm.

This has also given rise to the wine mom social media community, with a handful of pages related to parenting and wine racking up hundreds of thousands of fans. Among these groups and posts, the common theme isn't just vino, but also venting about parenthood in general—something that still feels very taboo to discuss offline.

"There are still so many topics that seem off-limits because of social media and the backlash you could receive from it," says Angela Principe, who started the Instagram page Mommy's Wine Time in 2016 and now has more than 30,000 followers. "Some days are so crazy that you think, 'I really couldn't make this up.' I like to highlight those days. Those are the days that moms can actually relate to and be thankful that they aren't the only ones going through it."

Moms need more self-care—and support

When Michele Neskey is done with her workday as a physician's assistant, finishes the consultations she does with clients as a health coach and puts her daughter to bed, she doesn't feel an ounce of guilt about pouring a glass of red wine.

She also doesn't have any shame in publicizing her evening drink on social media—even if others have been taken aback. "I've had people comment or message me and say, 'Here you are telling people to live a healthy lifestyle, and you're posting your mojito on Facebook?'"

Surprising as it may be to see a health coach post about drinking on Instagram or her blog, Neskey tells Motherly that being a self-proclaimed "wine mom" is really just about letting others know it's okay to admit when motherhood is challenging.

"It's not really so much about the wine itself, although I do enjoy drinking wine," says Neskey. "It's a moment I can take for myself and say it's been a great day or it's been a horrible day, or I just need a minute to relax."

Having people with whom you can feel able to share your full range of emotions is also essential, Erin Barbossa, a licensed master social worker, tells Motherly.

"Being comfortable about talking about the struggle of motherhood without judgment is all about building relationships built on trust and authenticity," Barbossa says. "Sometimes we discredit or invalidate someone else's struggle by bringing up the joys or unconditional love that comes with motherhood."

For many people, the wine mom community seems to offer this safe space where you can vent without fear of someone saying, "But it's all so worth it!" The problem arises when the digital community or nightly glass of wine is seen as a replacement for personal relationships or substantive self-care alternatives.

"It's interesting that 'wine time' is more socially acceptable than healthy forms of self-care like yoga, massages and therapy," Barbossa says. "Being in community with other women and moms can feel restorative, but checking in with yourself about 'is this nurturing and restorative? Or am I numbing?' is a good place to start."

Registered psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali is also less convinced of the merits of wine mom social media posts in particular. "Using humor to connect with others and foster a sense of belonging or group membership can be beneficial," Badali says. "However, doing it in a way that promotes risky use of alcohol is not helpful."

According to current guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as an average of one drink or less per day for women. But with oversized wine glasses adorned with "mommy's sippy cup" and memes that say things like "the most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink," it may seem like drinking moderately doesn't grant you admittance to the wine mom club.

Remember that wine isn't the 'solution'

Jody Allard, a mother of seven, tells Motherly she isn't necessarily opposed to others drinking in moderation. But the experience of being in a relationship with an alcoholic led her to cut drinking from her own life and become more mindful of how she unwinds.

"I decided to try to stop worrying about other people's problems and to start really focusing on myself. That led me to therapy, where I began to work through some of my own issues and establish healthier methods of dealing with stress," Allard says. "I was committed to being healthy and setting a good example for my kids, and part of that included functional ways of coping with stress and modeling self-compassion."

To Allard, the biggest problem with wine mom culture is that it may hold people back from seeking the emotional support they really need. She adds, "What concerns me about this approach is that it's specifically setting out alcohol as a solution to your problems and a method of self-care."

In Badali's view, there should be more emphasis on the healthy middle ground "somewhere between super moms and wine moms." She says, "We need to be creating a culture where you can ask for help and take breaks without feeling guilty rather than one that promotes alcohol use as a source of identity, belongingness and reward."

For that reason, it's worthwhile to see the good represented in wine mom culture: It presents a chance for people to connect. It's a way for us to give ourselves a break. And it's an acknowledgment of the fact that some days are harder than others.

But perhaps the best takeaway from the popularity of wine mom culture it is that we should all do a better job of validating each other's experiences with motherhood—whether over a glass of wine, a cup or coffee or no drink at all.

[Originally published on April 4, 2018]

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We're supposed to be the ones comforting them, but sometimes, our children are the ones comforting us. If you've ever had a bad day at work and found your stress melting away when you got to sit down with your little one, you have something in common with Serena Williams.

In a new interview with Mamamia, Williams explains that after losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open, it was her 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, who kissed her better.

"I got in the car, and Olympia was in the car. It was so weird, and she started giving me kisses, she never gives me kisses. She doesn't even know to give kisses, and she just grabbed me, and I was like this little baby is so smart. It's just hard to be too down when you have a little one… when you have someone to take care of," Williams told Mia Freedman for an upcoming episode of the podcast, No Filter.

"Like I have to take care of this person, and I have to do this type of stuff, it puts everything in perspective," Williams explains.

This isn't the first time Williams has talked about how motherhood has changed her perspective. Before she had Olympia her career was first. But now that she's a mom, Williams is trying to take care of all of Olympia's needs, but also recognizes that she can't ignore her own.

"I'm working on it," she told TIME. "I never understood women before, when they put themselves in second or third place. And it's so easy to do. It's so easy to do."

It is easy to do. According to a recent survey by REDBOOK and HealthyWomen (a non-profit dedicated to providing women with health information), 45% of women over 30 do not make time for their own health, and a recent study revealed that when women have time off from work, we're often spending it watching our kids or doing chores around the house.

In short, we're always making sure our children's needs are met. We're good at that. But sometimes, when they make sure our needs are met (like Olympia did with those kisses) they remind us of what really matters.

When you're a parent, your worth isn't defined by how clean your laundry is, how many promotions you get at work, or (at least in William's case) Grand Slams. Sometimes, it's found in kisses from a toddler.

Your baby loves you, mama. So you should love yourself, too.


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