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Yes, it really is harder for families now to get by on a single income

Despite the rising rates of women in the workforce throughout the past century, many millennials grew up in a time where it still seemed like a mother's choice to work or stay at home. But as we start families of our own, the reality can be harsh: It feels nearly impossible to make ends meet on a single income.


So where does that leave women who want to be stay-at-home mothers? In a difficult position, says Erin Odom, a mother of four in North Carolina, who left her job shortly after her first child was born. "We pinched our pennies, I say, until they bled," Odom says of trying to get by on her husband's salary from teaching. The Odoms eventually sought help from a financial advisor, who looked through their income and expenses. "At the end of the day he said, 'Look, you guys don't have a spending problem. But you do have an income problem. You don't have enough money to live.'"

They aren't alone: The fact is the rising cost of living in the United States continues to outpace inflation—which makes it difficult for young adults to build their bank accounts, let alone nest eggs for the future.

And more people are starting out in the hole: According to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center, the likelihood of college students taking out loans grew by 40% between 1993 and 2012. Among that majority of students who did borrow, the standard amount of debt more than doubled during that time period to an average $26,885 for the class of 2011-2012.

While much has also been said about millennials' low rates of homeownership, that's yet another goal that is simply harder to obtain today. As United States Census Bureau data shows, the median home price in America in 1940 was $2,930. Adjusted for inflation, that should have been just over $30,000 by 2000. Instead it was $119,000—which jumped to close to $200,000 by 2017.

The costs of other essentials are escalating, too, from health care ( average annual costs of $10,345 in 2016) to groceries (average weekly cost of $170 in 2017/a> for families with children) to rent (average monthly cost of $910 in 2017). Add to that the common expenses we have today that didn't exist just two decades ago—like cell phones, internet and streaming services—and it's little wonder that we need more money to stay afloat.

How this is driving more parents into the workforce

As expenses have been rising, so have the rates of two-income households. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, 60% of families had dual earners in 2012 versus just 25% in 1960.

For many reasons, this statistic is something to be celebrated: Women today now have more options and more empowerment in the ways they continue their careers after having children. As that same report shows, the more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to continue working after children—suggesting this is largely a decision of her own volition.

But what the statistics don't reflect is how many of those women would prefer to stay at home.

"Staying at home with your child can be an amazing and nurturing experience, but it can come at a financial cost," Jennifer E. Myers, certified financial planner and president of SageVest Wealth Management, tells Motherly.

That's no small consideration. According to a calculator developed by the Center for American Progress, a 30-year-old woman who makes $55,000 each year could expect to lose $539,795 by staying at home with a child for five years—due to the combination of lost wages, lost wage growth and lost retirement assets.

Between the immediate loss of income and that long-term dilution of family earnings for women who step back from the workplace while children are young, Myers says families really need to evaluate their financial priorities before making the decision.

Although she always imagined she would stay home, Kristin Rampton, a mother of one in Kansas, made the decision to continue working full-time as a teacher after her daughter's birth in order to have a job with family healthcare benefits, which weren't offered by her husband's job.

"I always really struggled when people just assumed that it was a choice that I made when really it wasn't like a choice," Rampton tells Motherly. "That doesn't mean that there's not joy in it, in that role. It just means that the reason women work is not necessarily because they want that career kind of lifestyle."

The rise of side-gigs

For the first time in decades, the number of stay-at-home moms is back on the rise, but what this doesn't reflect are how many of those moms are actually earning incomes from home on a part-time basis.

Now among this group is Odom, who details her experience in her new book, You Can Stay Home With Your Kids: 100 Tips, Tricks and Ways to Make it Work on a Budget. But the beginning of her journey wasn't easy.

"Once we got into it we realized, 'Wow, it's going to take more money than we realized. What can we do?'" Odom tells Motherly, explaining the budget felt much thinner once their second, third and then fourth child came along.

The Odoms began by curbing spending as much as possible, such as with cutting cable, shopping at discount grocers and accepting they couldn't take as many vacations. But her husband's salary still didn't seem to go far enough and their meeting with the financial advisor served as a wake-up call.

"Did I go to work full-time outside the home? Did my husband change careers and still support us? Or could I learn how to create an income from home?" Odom says. "That's what I ended up doing to be able to afford to stay at home with my kids."

She now advises other families on ways to earn supplemental income from the home, whether with blogging, creating products for sale, offering lessons or more creative ideas that make use of individual strengths.

Coming to terms with today

For families who want to make it work with fewer work hours, Myers of SageVest Wealth Management says some "serious prioritization" should happen—as well as accounting for unexpected expenses in the budget.

"If saving for things like family vacations, retirement, college funding and more are strong objectives, then you need to set a budget that covers the day-to-day expenses, plus the bigger and longer-term items," Myers says. "This is where most budgets fail. Too often, people only focus on the monthly items, forgetting about new tires, braces, car repairs, home repairs, etc. These items become budget busters and infringe upon longer-term saving objectives."

Often, cutting out lattes or manicures—the "money saving tips" that are commonly suggested on places like Pinterest—only goes so far.

"If you need to cut back on expenses, the first thing to do is understand how much you need to cut required relative to your overall spending," Myers says. "If it's a larger amount, you need to be more aggressive beyond simply changing your cable service."

For parents who are reluctantly sent back into the workforce or are burning the midnight oil to make ends meet, licensed marriage and family therapist Heidi McBain says to think about what you are providing to the family rather than the ways reality is different from your expectations.

"Often people confuse quantity time with quality time. People can spend a lot of time in the same space as their kids, but be on their phone or emotionally tuned out," she tells Motherly. "However, if it's a shorter amount of time but the mom is totally focused on their kids, this makes the kids feel important and cared about, which is really the bigger goal here."

As a working mother with a growing daughter, Rampton also hopes her daughter will take note. "I also have spent a lot of time thinking about the example that I'm modeling for her just by being a teacher and loving on kids and working really hard to achieve goals and all of those things I think she'll see one day and she'll think, 'Oh, my mom works really hard.'"

And, in the short-term, Rampton says she finds peace in knowing this arrangement is best for her marriage as well as her child.

"I think about the situation we're in with our student loans, with healthcare. I had to weigh the costs and the benefits of me working on my marriage," she says. "It just really is the best thing for my child, to be able to provide these things for, and it's the best thing for our marriage."

The reality is that even with the number of two-income families on the rise, working motherhood might not be every mom's first choice—but that doesn't make it the wrong choice or even the forever choice. We're all just trying our best to discover what's right for our families and our futures, and that means finding the best work-life balance is always going to be a work in progress.

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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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As any parent knows, newborns need to eat a lot to keep fuel in those tiny tummies. For breastfeeding mamas, that can translate to nursing sessions anywhere, any time of day—which can make it feel like a full-time job. So, what's a mama to do when she has other things on her to-do list?

Let's take a look at some celebrity mothers who are showing the world that mamas have legendary multitasking skills. 👊

Jessie James Decker is a backseat breastfeeder

By the time her third child was born, Jessie James Decker had a few tricks up her sleeve when it came to breastfeeding on the go—including how to get situated in the backseat of the car to nurse her son while he was strapped into the car seat.

Decker doesn't recommend mamas go without a seatbelt like she did, but sometimes, a bad day out with the baby calls for extreme measures. When little Forrest couldn't stop crying on the way home from his mama's photo shoot, his mama did what she had to do.

"I hopped in the back seat with Forrest and fed him with boob out leaned awkwardly over the car seat to calm him down," Decker says. "On the way home I cried, I got stressed and anxiety, and I was just a mom trying to do my best just like we all are no matter the situation."

Pink takes a hike

When son Jameson was a baby, Pink proved that breastfeeding didn't have to mean sitting at home in a glider. With some assistance from a baby carrier and a perfect position for Jameson, the multitasking mama was able to go about her hike like it was no big deal.

Gisele Bündchen 'grammed her breastfeeding glam session

In 2013, the super model proved she's also a super mama by multitasking a full-on beauty session while breastfeeding. Recognizing what a team effort it was, Bündchen captioned the post, "What would I do without this beauty squad after the 15 hours of flying and only three hours of sleep."

Tess Holliday was inspired by her fellow supermodel mama 

Tess Holliday followed in Gisele's footsteps after her youngest was born, posting this photo to Instagram. It that proves that breastfeeding mamas can not only multitask, but also don't have to conform to certain body ideals to look amazing postpartum. Any size, any shape, any time, anywhere—breastfeeding mothers like Holliday are normalizing breastfeeding and our bodies.

Padma Lakshmi proves you don't need a team

Without a beauty squad on call, Lakshmi took her multitasking to "level 💯" by using a nursing pillow to free up her two hands. It takes a brave woman to attempt mascara while breastfeeding, but the Top Chef host clearly pulls it off.

Whether a mama is trying to feed her baby on the go or while she's getting glam, it isn't always easy. Motherhood is about trying to do your best even when it feels like 100 things are going on at the same time—and yet we manage, like the super mamas we are.

[Update, September 23: This post was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Tess Holliday's Instagram post]

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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