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Most parents feel like they're failing during first year of parenthood

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We need a generation that can take over after our own, and we need to make sure we're working to leave them with something. In order for our society to function we need parents and we need workers. But our culture sure doesn't make it easy to be both at the same time.

And if you feel like you are failing at the balancing act, know this: You're not. You're doing the best you can do, and that is enough. It's not you that's failing, mama. It's the system. And it's time to change it because way too many parents are internalizing blame they don't deserve.

According to a recent survey commissioned by WaterWipes, 6 out of 10 parents feel like they were failing during their baby's first year. More than 13,000 parents from around the world were polled and said their sleepless nights and hard days are just so different from the way parenthood is portrayed in popular media.

"The global research speaks for itself – at times parents are left feeling like they are failing, especially when they are surrounded by false images of perfect parenting, says Cathy Kidd, global VP of marketing at WaterWipes.

This follows another recent survey which found two-thirds of working parents in America feel like they are failing in parenthood because of pressures at work. That's 66% of working parents who are waking up each day feeling like they can't win, and that's not okay.

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Teresa Hopke is the CEO of Talking Talent, the firm behind the survey of 1,036 working American parents. "According to our study, a majority of parents feel like they are failing," she tells Motherly, noting that the impact of these feelings of failure often isn't apparent to employers because many working parents get really good at covering or masking their feelings of failure.

"But digging below the surface, we see the impact showing up in the form of increased stress, a rise in mental health claims, reduced productivity, decreased engagement, and overall impact on well-being," Hopke says.

She explains that in some cases, this results in employees deciding to opt out of their careers, or move from company to company "in hopes of finding someplace where it feels more possible to do it all." In other cases, she says, the desire for control can "translate into an undesirable leadership style."

These issues disproportionately impact mothers, (today's moms are not only devoting more hours to paid work than previous generations, but simultaneously devoting more hours to childcare, according to Pew), but dads are also suffering under the burden of their perceived failure to balance work and home.

This needs to stop. It's time to examine why so many parents are unhappy at work, and what we can do about it.

Why workers aren't using parental leave even when they have it

These days more and more companies are officially adopting parent-friendly policies like paid leave—a welcome first step—but the Talking Talent survey reveals that while these policies look great on paper, workplace culture often prevents parents from feeling like they can actually use them.

The parents surveyed reported taking less parental leave than was available to them: Women used only about 52% of the time they could have, and the men surveyed reported using just 32% of the time available to them.

According to Hopke, this points to a real problem with current parental leave policies—the policies are celebrated, but are not embraced as a practice in our culture. This means that parents are afraid to take the time they need, for fear of being penalized or seen as being uncommitted.

The survey found 64% of parents say they would have been more likely to take a longer leave if their colleagues had.

When it comes to fathers in particular, this phenomenon can be seen even in countries where parental leave isn't an HR policy, but a national one. The UK's shared parental leave scheme allows parents to split up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between partners (parents can take leave one at a time or be at home together with their child for up to six months) but according to the BBC, few fathers (like as low as 2%) take part.

In Canada too, fathers have been reluctant to take the leave available to them, something the government hopes to change with the introduction of a "use-it-or-lose-it" leave policy for fathers and other non-birthing parents. Starting in March 2019, couples will be eligible for five weeks of extra leave, meaning a family can get 40 weeks instead of 35, but only if the second parent uses at least five weeks of that time, CBC reports.

Parents need employers and lawmakers to implement parental leave policies, but we also need our peers to embrace and encourage their use. In 2017 the government in Finland (the country The Economist ranks among the best in which to be a working mother and the only country in the world where fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers do) encouraged fathers to make the most of the country's generous parental leave policy by literally launching a PR campaign to get dads to take their "Daddy Time."

American workers might want to take a page from the Finnish government when it comes to encouraging everyone to use their parental leave. According to Hopke, grassroots campaigns within offices could change workplace culture stateside. She says parents should talk about why they are taking their leave in an effort to normalize it.

"Be vocal and transparent about being a working parent. When working parents try to cover in an effort to appear committed to the organization, they not only make it challenging for themselves, they also perpetuate a culture that doesn't value the whole person. We can't ever solve for the problem if the problem isn't brought to the surface," she tells Motherly, adding that while it's great for workers to be vocal, companies need to do more than talk the talk.

"Paid leave policies are a great start, but in order to truly support employees and give them 'permission' to take the time they've been given, organizations need to create a culture of support," she explains. "Raising the visibility of parental leave by providing a robust package of support for both employees and leaders will help everyone feel more comfortable with new parents taking the time away—without guilt."

The childcare problem

Parental leave is a huge factor in the unhappiness of working parents, but childcare is another issue that contributes to moms and dads feeling like failures (when they are so not).

CNN reports American couples spend 25.6% of their income on childcare and single parents spend a whopping 52.7% on having their children watched while they work. As Motherly has previously reported, day care in America can cost as much as rent, or more than college in an era when many families find getting by on a single income impossible.

Childcare is expensive, but those who have it (even when it drains the bank account) consider themselves lucky, because many working American parents struggle just to find quality childcare.

Research shows high-quality day care programs are good for kids' emotional and prosocial development, but when parents can't find that kind of child care (due to long wait lists, a lack of choices in their area or prohibitive prices) and have to go with their second or third choice of childcare, they may spend the work day feeling guilty about leaving their child with a babysitter they don't trust.

In the search for solutions, we might again look to Finland, where The Guardian reports "the state provides universal daycare." The biggest bill parents could expect for day care in Finland is the equivalent of about $330 a month (the national average in the U.S. is about $800, according to Care.com, and can get closer to $2,000 in some cities). And in Finland, finding high-quality childcare doesn't mean doing endless preschool tours, internet searches, interviews and waitlists. According to one parent The Guardian spoke with

"I guess the big difference is it is not stressful at all," father Tuomas Aspiala told The Guardian. "Someone else organizes everything."

According to Aspiala, when his children were waitlisted for day care due to a lack of available spots,the city of Helsinki organized a nanny share to look after them until spots opened up at the childcare center.

"The situation at the day care centre is really fantastic. It's really close, the people who look after the children are wonderful," Aspiala told The Guardian. "We really don't feel guilty about leaving them there at all."

If American parents could go to work without feeling guilty about where they are leaving their children, would 66% be feeling like failures? Probably not.

Finland's childcare solution sounds like a dream come true, but let's be real, no one is holding their breath waiting for the adoption of a similar system stateside.

In the absence of a national childcare solution, what can be done to help working parents who are bearing the emotional burden of a system that works against them?

Parents shouldn't cover for the system's failures, and should speak up

According to Hopke, individuals can challenge the system by being more understanding of all who are working within it. "[One] thing employees can do is challenge themselves to be more inclusive of all people and needs. The more we create a culture that values diversity and inclusion, the more likely people within an organization are to ask about and support the needs of everyone, including working parents."

When this happens, change can move up in a company, and again, Hopke says parents need to be vocal about what we need and know that we are assets to our employers because of our dual role, not despite it.

"Organizing with others from a grassroots level to advocate for change is also something I advise. Many organizations we work with implement policies and programs as a result of efforts that came from a group of employees rather than an idea from HR or benefits," Hopke explains.

Maybe you have an idea for implementing or optimizing parental leave, on-site day care, childcare subsidies, or flexible work arrangements that could be the catalyst for removing the burden of perceived failure from your fellow employees' shoulders.

"Ask leaders tough questions about why they don't support parents in the way that you are looking for and let them know that you know why it is important to the organization to value parents more," Hopke suggests. "And in the end if you don't get the answers you want, then do your research to find an organization that provides a culture you are looking for. They are out there and the more we push the envelope within our current organizations, the more there will be over time."

Unfortunately, change does take time, but if you are feeling like a failure as a working parent, don't.

You are doing what you need to do right now for your family and there is nothing wrong with that. But remember that you can use your voice (and your vote come election time—ask your reps about childcare and paid leave!) to change the culture that is making individual parents shoulder the pressure for an entire work culture.

[A version of this post was published January 8, 2019. It has been updated.]

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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In many homes, especially those where both men and women are present, the battle for control over the thermostat is very, very real. If you find you're often the one cranking up the heat or turning down the air conditioning, there's a reason for that, mama.

According to a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, women think better in warmer temperatures, while men get sharper when the air conditioning kicks in.

Researchers recruited hundreds of college students, both men and women, and put them in rooms where the temperatures ranged from 61 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the students took tests. Their math, verbal and local skills were evaluated. It was pretty simple stuff, like doing addition without pulling up the calculator on your phone or making as many words as you can from a bunch of letters within a set time limit.

For every 1.8 degrees that the temperature went up, women performed better on the math problems by nearly 1.8%! Basically, when the room got warmer, the women could think clearer. As for the men, when the temperature went up by 1.8 degrees their math performance suffered by about 0.63%. They were not as impacted as women, but still clearly did better when the rooms were colder.

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The researchers were thinking about offices when they set out to do this study, and suggest that many air-conditioned office spaces are too cold for women and should be less chilly. But the research also makes sense within the context of many homes where disagreements over temperature are a common occurrence.

The study proves that those of us who are shuffling around the house in slippers and sweaters in May while our partners are walking around in basketball shorts and t-shirts may have a point. As Paul C. Rosenblatt, a Professor Emeritus of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota wrote for HuffPost, "in heterosexual couples the woman was three times more likely than the man to be the colder one," and "that for couples with real differences in temperature preference, there is problem solving to do."

Part of that problem solving may involve compromise or different temperature settings in different rooms when possible. "There are couples who battle for years about thermostat settings — thermostat wars in which each sneaks to the thermostat to set it up or down when the partner isn't paying attention," Rosenblatt writes.

That's not ideal, but neither is having brain freeze all time or wearing three pairs of socks in the house. A 1998 study out of the University of Utah found women usually do have colder hands and feet than men, by about 3 degrees Celsius.

Maybe it's time for everyone to comprise. If the house is just a couple degrees warmer we might all be happier.

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