A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood
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As a family therapist for over 25 years, I have had the absolute privilege of walking side by side with thousands of families – families suffering from addictions, life changing mental health diagnosis, families with complex medical needs, children without families, and families who have suffered devastating losses of children.  


In graduate school, we were taught many ways to support each family. But the single greatest approach, in my opinion, is the Strengths Based Theory. This theory holds that every single person and every single family has strengths. The answer to positive change and greater happiness lies in those unique strengths.

You might be wondering why one would need a Masters Degree for that skill, and I would agree. We should all be looking for the strengths in ourselves, in each other, and in every person we meet, regardless of our background.  

Finding those strengths can be hard though, especially when one of our kids is driving us crazy. It often requires taking a deep breath, thinking, looking, feeling, and asking the right questions to find our own strengths, let alone our child’s. But there is magic in this way of viewing the world. Once we begin to look for strengths, we start finding them in the most amazing places and are able to see more and more of them in the people we love most.

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Each person can deal with the tough stuff life has to offer. Each person, in fact, already has the tools to do that. Sometimes our kids just need to know the tools are within their reach and get a little practice using them.

Isn’t this what we all want our kids to know? Tough stuff is going to happen, but you can handle it!

Here are 10 things we can do to raise extraordinary human beings, who recognize their own strengths and know how to use them:

Wrap everything you do in unconditional love

Love your children with crazy, unshakable love. Be sure they know that no matter what they say, what they do, or who they become, that you will love them. Always. Tell them, show them, and live unconditional love.

That doesn’t mean love everything they do. Hold them to your expectations. That’s part of unconditional love. They need and want limits. Loving limits.

The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

Believe that each child is unique and special

Not special as in better than any other child in the world. Special as in there is only one you in the world. See and praise the strengths of each child. Stop comparing children to siblings or to other kids you know. Allow each child to be themselves.

Leave enough room to know that your child is growing and changing emotionally every day. They will not always be that strong-willed, stubborn child. They may mature into a highly passionate, caring young person. Give them room to become who they are supposed to be.

It takes courage to grow up to be who you really are. – e.e. Cummings

View challenges as things to conquer

Challenges are not something to be avoided. Life will bring challenges from the day we begin to the day we end. Raise your children to view challenges as reality and something you can overcome together.

Speak of challenges in terms of “How can we tackle this? What do we need? What is working? How can we do more of that?” And if the challenge is your child’s alone, ask him the questions, and let him find his own answers.

Life is not a challenge to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. – Soren Kierkegaard

Use positive language

Research shows us the power of positive thoughts to actually create and shape positive behavior. Use “can” instead of “could or should.” Use “get to” instead of “have to.” Shift your words to shift their thinking.

If we believe we can raise an extraordinary child, then we will. If we doubt our parenting every step of the way, perhaps our children will doubt their steps along the way, too.

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning. – Mahatma Gandhi

Accept change

Every day, every developmental milestone, represents a change. Believe that change is exciting, and be ready for whatever comes next. Every day is part of the journey. There is never an end to parenting or being a kid. Rather than miss the old days or long for the next stage, enjoy the stage you are in. Live in the moment and enjoy those moments.

Your kids will never be this age again. But also, they will never have this same parent again. You are growing and changing, too. Give them the best you have today. Yesterday is done, and tomorrow is not yet here.

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life. – Eckhart Tolle

Build on interests

Let your kids try as many interests as they can imagine. Give them paper and a brush, build tree houses, play a sport in the back yard, listen to music, explore possible passions. Expose your kids to as many different places and people as possible. Travel if you are able, or have a pen pal from some faraway place.

Show them their role in the world, whatever that may be. What is yours? Tell them about what you do, or what you dream of doing someday. Show them how to find their passion.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. – Mark Twain

Develop competence

Let your children fail. Let them struggle. Allow them to master tasks on their own after trying really hard.

Children who believe they can handle it, can handle it. Children who believe something like cooking is dangerous or hard, will lose years or even a lifetime of not mastering that skill.

It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings. – Ann Landers

Communicate effectively

Just like we need to teach our children how to brush their teeth or how to fold a dress shirt, they need to be taught communication. Keep them talking.

Likewise, show them how to listen. Ask each other questions and, most importantly, speak kindly. Check out Apologies Made Easy or What is Your Communication Style?

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new. – Dalai Lama

Look for opportunities to give back

Doing for others teaches kindness, empathy, and tolerance. Give your kids opportunities to give back. Maybe that’s within her own family, at school, in her town or within the world in general.

Help her organize a drive at school or participate in the ones offered. If there is a fun run, have her participate. As a family, gather things you don’t use anymore or food and donate to the local shelter. Have her donate items that have value – not just the junk she doesn’t want anymore. Connecting kids to others and their community allows them to learn compassion and gratitude.

Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others? – Martin Luther King Jr.

Build a community

Find your people, and build a life within those people. Build family friendships and hold tight to every bit of the ups and downs of those friendships. See the strengths and positives in your relatives, in your neighbors, and in your children’s friends. See the strengths so they, too, can build on those strengths. Then your whole community is strong and powerful.

Give more than you get. Say yes to babysit your friend’s kids. Say yes to family holidays together. Say yes to making a meal or giving a ride. When your children’s strengths are seen by others, they believe them more deeply. When your children see strengths in others, they are developing strength finding skills without even knowing it.

Use your tribe to help and be helped.

It takes a village to raise a child. – African Proverb

Extraordinary children are grown by extraordinary communities. Find your community and find your place in it. Challenge yourself to find the strengths in every person in your lives, and the transformation will be remarkable.

You will feel happier and more positive and your children will have built resiliency. They will have developed the knowledge that they can handle anything life throws their way.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


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


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Learn + Play

As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I'm from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying “It's in the water" wasn't just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices.

I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my 12-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.

My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn't happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone.

It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, “We got pregnant on our first try."

These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.

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One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor's office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve—a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs I had left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn't impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.

The biggest toll of infertility is the silence

I couldn't talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn't logical.

I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn't even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn't ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.

Infertility is not only silent, it's physically draining

Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basal thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus).

I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.

I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn't anything I wasn't willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn't stop.

Infertility is also expensive

Most insurance policies don't cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast.

Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was $15,000. The cost didn't even include medication, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. On average the procedure is $20,000 to $30,000.

The worst part is that there's no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20% success rate. Flip that around and that's an 80% chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth.

I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.

Infertility causes you to lose spirit

I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn't matter or wasn't worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn't move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes.

I would think why couldn't I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.

A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.

But something stopped me.

I stumbled across the book, Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph Over Despair and Statistics by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.

I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn't deserve a baby.

I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.

I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn't work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.

I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn't bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.

Then, he smiled.

I was pregnant. I couldn't believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.

Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, “Relax, it will happen." Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.

What I didn't say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can't be measured.

But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that's what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don't give up.

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Life

We're not only at the beginning of a new year, but the start of a new life for those due in 2019. If you're expecting a baby this year you've got plenty of celebrity company, mama.

Here are some fellow parents-to-be expecting in 2019:

Jenna Bush Hager is pregnant with baby no. 3! 🎉

There's going to be a lot of new parent talk happening backstage at the Today show this year! A week ago Today co-host Hoda Kotb announced she's just adopted her second child, and now, Kotb's co-host Jenna Bush Hager has announced her third pregnancy!

On Easter Monday, Bush Hager told co-host Craig Melvin (and America) while chatting about what her family got up to over Easter. Apparently, once her girls (6-year-old Mila and 3-year-old Poppy) found out there was no more keeping it a secret.

"Yes, I'm pregnant!" Jenna said. "And I'm only telling because Mila and Poppy found out yesterday in their Easter baskets. (Then) they told the man behind me on the airplane; they told the people at church. So ..."

Congrats to Jenna (and to Poppy and Mila, we're sure they'll be great big sisters)! 🎉

[A version of this post was originally published October 21, 2018. It has been updated. ]

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News

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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I gave birth to my daughter, Emerson, at age 37 and my son, Liam, at age 38. My children are intentionally only 18 months apart because I didn't want to tempt the hands of time.

I was induced at 37 weeks for both births, impressed that my body could withstand natural childbirth considering that my biggest fear was that I wouldn't be able to push them out on my own. But I did and our healthy babies were here at last.

For me, being of an "advanced maternal age" has its physical limitations. The toddler years were exhausting, the bones in my feet crack when I do something as simple as walk across a room, and if I try anything remotely athletic—like jump on the trampoline with my now 6-and-7-year-old—there's a good chance I'll pee my pants.

Despite the fact that I don't have as much energy as I used to (coffee helps, but let's be honest), I'm so happy I had my kids when I did. Here are the advantages I've found in older motherhood.

1. I don't feel like I'm missing out.

Before I got married, I traveled the world, as far as Greece, Thailand and Japan. I spent summers after college living with friends in a tiny bungalow a few blocks from the beach. I earned my master's degree while working at a publishing house in New York City—those years of my life earmarked by intellectual freedom, spontaneous happy hours and long stretches of time when I could simply wander the city with nowhere in particular to go.

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Now I have a busier schedule and I'm responsible for more humans, but I'm just as happy going to the shore for a week each summer and taking short road trips with our children. And when my friends tell me they're going on a family vacation to the tropics, I'm not envious, but rather relieved that I'll be sitting on my couch binge-watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey while they're flying across the ocean with their kids.

2. I think differently about friendship.

Do I want to be well-liked by the moms at my kids' school? Of course. Do I need to be in the "popular" mom group? No. I don't feel pressure to get invited to every at-home jewelry party or moms' night out and, if it weren't for Facebook, I'd be oblivious to what other moms do on the weekends anyway.

I have amazing girlfriends and spending quality time with these women keeps me feeling like myself. But I'm more invested in my kids' social well-being than my own. Do they have kind friends? Are they happy at school? Are they able to resolve big-kid conflicts fairly quickly? And if my children have a playdate at someone else's house, can I stay?

I'm not lingering at playdates to check out the condition of the playroom or scan the medicine cabinet for questionable prescription labels but because I genuinely want to get to know the parents of my kids' friends. They'll be spending a lot of time together, and as the kids' friendship grows, hopefully, ours will too.

3. I'm not afraid to speak up.

Maybe I'm a bit overzealous about checking for strep throat or ask too many questions during my kids' wellness visits, but our pediatrician and I have come to a mutual understanding. I respect that she's the one with the medical degree (not Google), and she knows I'm vigilant about my kids' health not because I'm too much, but because I'm confident enough to trust my gut.

While my younger self would avoid confrontation AT ALL COSTS, the older me doesn't waste any time if I sense that something is off at school or not quite right with my child. Whether I'm talking to their doctor, coach or teacher, I approach the conversation as if I'm speaking with an equal who also has the best interest of my kids at heart.

4. I see the big picture.

When I was a kid, I put a ton of pressure on myself to get straight A's to the point of hyperventilating when I got a B on a test only to be sent to the nurse's office to breathe into a brown paper bag (true story). No child should be that worried about grades because even though I graduated at the top of my high school class, I don't remember much except for that time my friend Jen made crepes on an electric skillet during French class.

When it comes to my kids' education, less homework is more. Longer recess and more independent play are best. Does my child have an outdoorsy teacher who hatches baby chicks in class? Great! Do they have a nice group of friends to sit with at lunch? Even better!

I'm 100% confident my kids will learn everything they need to in school without having to stress over it, something I might have overlooked when I was still focused on the small details.

5. I've learned to slooow down.

Growing up, my younger sister and I would build forts out of cardboard boxes and ride our bikes until it was time to come inside for dinner. We shared a bedroom until I was 10, wore hand-me-downs and spent most of our childhood outside.

Today I realize that my kids don't need overpacked schedules, fancy vacations or expensive toys to be happy. What they do need is downtime, trips to the library, nature walks, unstructured play, and lazy summers when we swim every day and eat dinner outside every night.

I also take a more laid-back approach to discipline than I would have before. I don't react to their overreactions. We talk, I give them the reasons behind what I say and do, and I'm quick to apologize if I do something wrong. Although this approach isn't fool-proof, it makes them feel safe to express a wide range of emotions in front of me without feeling bad about it.

The older I get, the more appreciative I am of those fleeting childhood moments.

Like when Emerson says "I love you" first.

Or when Liam calls me an "adorable, normal mom" and we both laugh because neither one of us is exactly sure what he means but it's funny anyway.

When Emerson reaches for my hand or Liam needs to be consoled a little longer because it's not only his knee that hurts.

When they dance while brushing their teeth, admiring themselves in a spit-speckled mirror.

When they laugh so hard together I thank God they'll have each other—even long after I'm gone.

I'm aware that my time with them is limited—they will grow up, go to college, move out and start their own families while I watch proudly from the sidelines. But until then, I'll give them all of me and continue to parent from an older—albeit not perfect but hopefully a bit wiser—perspective.

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Life
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