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Editor's note: This is the third post in a four-part series about teens, sex, and social media. Read the entire series here.


I made a somewhat shocking discovery in our storage room a few weeks ago.

I was looking through a pile of old photographs when – mixed in among the usual family holidays and memorable birthday parties – I found a set of six shots of me posing seductively in a series of sexy outfits. Me in a bikini. Me in a silky top. Me in a tight black skirt and vest with no bra.

I stared at these images with my jaw dropped, feeling as if I'd stumbled across a collection of photos taken without my knowledge. But no, I remember this… We were in my friend's basement bedroom. Her parents were out. We were 14 years old.

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In every one of the photos, I'm wearing a wooden cross necklace, clearly aware of the irony.

Fortunately for me, the internet wasn't a thing in 1991 and we were taking pictures with a disposable camera, not a smart phone. Maybe I would have sent those photos to a boy I liked. I don't know. But the fact remains that I had the inclination and curiosity to pose for them.

Take a moment, right now if you can, to recall what it was like to be a teenager discovering your own sexuality. Remember the questions you had, and the various methods you and your friends came up with for answering them. Think about how natural it is to wonder what your body looks like to other people. Isn't a photograph the best way to find out?

Discovering these photos changed the way I approached this piece. I was filled with compassion for teen girls, and filled with gratitude for my parents, who somehow guided teenage me to a place of relative confidence and fierceness.

Which reminded me – that's what it's all about. I was getting distracted as I researched the current technological landscape and how it affects the way our kids experience adolescence. There are some unique considerations because of the state of technology, but what's more important than preparing your daughter to be a good digital citizen is preparing your daughter to be a woman in this world.

As I discussed in my post on talking to boys about sex, love, and relationships, having the “one big sex talk" doesn't work. Your daughter won't experience her sexuality in one fell swoop. It's a process that begins way before puberty.

Help your daughter build a strong, confident foundation from which to navigate her budding sexuality by modeling these four behaviors.

1 | Positive body image

Studies have shown (over and over again) that a mother has an incredible amount of influence on her daughter's body image.

One study at the University of Notre Dame found that “direct maternal encouragement of daughters to lose weight is linked to daughters' development of bulimic symptoms." To which you might say, “Obviously." But the study's abstract also states that “daughters whose mothers merely talk about dieting and body dissatisfaction are more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder."

I would never presume to tell you that you need to be 100% happy with your body (I mean, that would be ideal, but I understand self-acceptance is an ever-evolving process). The point is, it's on us to deal with our shit in private. Do not talk about calorie counting, dieting, or losing weight in front of, or with, your daughter. Period.

Instead, talk to your daughter about healthy eating choices and introduce her to a range of physical activities that might interest her. If you think that ship has sailed, it's never too late to talk about loving yourself. Teach her what an amazing feat of science and magic her body is – that we are made of the same raw material as the stars.

You may laugh or tell me that I'm barking up the wrong new age tree, but I want to offer this thought anyway: teach your daughter that she is a goddess. Not a queen or a diva, but a beautiful, sensual goddess whose body is to be celebrated. While you're at it, remind yourself that you're a goddess, too.

There is equal onus on fathers to consciously avoid using language that objectifies women in front of your daughters (or how about all the time?), and to maintain a closeness with her, even as her body changes through puberty.

Laura Choate, author of “Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture," says that, “if you have always been affectionate, this is not the time to stop hugging your daughter or to push her off your lap just because she has grown a little (or a lot)." That kind of rejection – no matter how unintentional – can leave a lasting imprint.



2 | Strong, supportive female friendships

I was a mean girl in junior high. Heavily influenced by the movie “Heathers," two friends and I called ourselves the Three Blonde Bitches (3BB for short). We weren't overtly mean, but we certainly thought we were better than other girls and knew how to influence almost any social situation. At the time, it seemed like the best way to be a “strong girl."

Illustration: Katrina Weigand

I wish I had done it all differently. I wish my notion of a strong girl involved lifting other girls up, making friends feel good about themselves, and showing boys that I didn't rely on their feedback to bolster my self-esteem.

Cattiness – the cornerstone of any mean girl squad – can be described as an evolutionary byproduct of the competition for sexual partners. In modern day terms, it's just competition. Women and girls are uncomfortable with competition because it's not something that we're encouraged to feel or benefit from the way boys typically are. But we experience it anyway, and don't really know what to do with it. So we snipe. We betray. We lie.

…Until we learn that there is a much better way to deal with our feelings of inadequacy. Once girls and women experience the brilliant force of female support, they will choose it over cattiness every time.

Female friends provide an outlet and a soundboard for those feelings that would otherwise manifest as passive aggression. Even better than that, the support of a close girlfriend has the ability to change the way we see ourselves. Your daughter will see the difference in you – before and after you spend time with your ladies – and understand on a profound level that girls are good for each other.

3 | Respect

How many times have you heard the phrase (dripping with judgment as it is), “No self-respecting girl would ever…"

I loathe the sentiment for all the ways that it's been used to victim-blame and slut-shame. I also believe there's a kernel of truth in there.

Modeling self-respect for your daughter is like teaching her about consent, integrity, and strength all at once. She will learn that she has value, that her words matter. Since the understanding that all people are born with inherent worth is a natural outgrowth of self-respect, your daughter will respect other people, too.

Be respectful of your partner, respectful of your own needs, and for the love of God, be respectful of your daughter. This includes respecting her privacy.

Amy Adele Hasinoff, Assistant Professor in the department of communication at the University of Colorado, Denver and author of “Sexting Panic," explains that digital privacy is also an important consideration.

“Covert monitoring (of your daughter's texts and social media) sets a really bad example that says, 'You have no right to privacy. I don't care about your personal space,'" she says. This is the opposite of respect.

And there's a larger message coming through. Says Hasinoff, “You're sending a very dangerous message that there is no privacy in digital information. I think we want to be modeling to kids that, just because something is digital and Facebook's telling you to share it and Twitter's telling you to share it, doesn't mean you should. There's still an ethical obligation to respect people's privacy."

In any area where your daughter may have a reasonable expectation of privacy – her phone, her email, even her bedroom at times – it's incumbent upon you to provide that privacy.

4 | Advocacy

Advocacy can be an intimidating word. It sounds like something one does for a cause or a struggle; we advocate for things we believe in.

Well, I have no doubt that you believe in your daughter. You believe that she deserves respect just like her male counterparts. She should have the freedom to be herself without ridicule or bullying. She is your cause.

As much as I wish it wasn't so, we still live in a misogynist culture – particularly when it comes to female sexuality. Girls are routinely given the message that they should be chaste and humble, but not too chaste and humble; that they can be one of two things – a prude or a slut.

If your teenage daughter is caught sexting, do not punish her. Have a conversation about it. Ask her why she did it and explain why it's not a good idea. Help her find safe, healthy ways to explore her sexuality. That's advocacy.

If your daughter is being slut-shamed for that sext, or for the way she dresses, something she said, or something that someone else invented about her – MAKE IT STOP! Her school may not intervene, her friends may do nothing, and – saddest of all – your daughter may feel powerless to fight it. It is up to you.

Furthermore, if your daughter is contributing to the slut-shaming of another girl, you need to become an advocate for that girl. There are too many examples (because even one is too many) of girls being relentlessly harassed by other girls – sometimes, tragically, to the point of committing suicide.

Hasinoff says, “It's very easy for parents to think of their teenage girls as potential victims. They feel like their kids are vulnerable… I think the best thing parents could do is think of it as their job to make sure that their kids don't perpetrate these horrible violations – that they don't slut-shame their classmates."

She goes on to say, “That's the moral and ethical training that I think parents should be giving their kids, rather than, 'Don't sext.'… If all you tell them is 'don't sext,' you're setting them up for a lot of problems and you're not solving any of the issues."

There is a lot of messed up shit that happens when it comes to girls and sexuality. Tune your radar into this realm and be prepared to fight when you see the double standard in play. By advocating for your daughter now, you're teaching her how to do it herself for the rest of her life.

You can change the world for your daughter

Dr. Christiane Northrup, a world-renowned OB/GYN and author of “Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom," has said that, “every daughter contains her mother and all the women who came before her."

I just love this powerful visual of my daughter embodying the grit, humor, sadness, and fear of every woman. To think that we have it all somewhere inside our cells and can access whatever emotion or experience we need to inform our reaction to any situation we find ourselves in – it feels good to me.

It's also daunting as hell, isn't it? Speaking as a mother who tends to get caught up in the details (Shit – did I remember to put her tap shoes in her backpack? What will we do if we don't have her tap shoes? I'm the worst!), thinking about writing this piece has caused me to take several giant steps back and consider the whole picture.

When I judge myself, I judge my daughter. When I look at my belly, no longer the defined mid-section of a 25-year-old yoga instructor, and think, “Gross," I lay that feeling at my daughter's feet. When my sweet, wonderful mother calls herself stupid for forgetting to pack her toothbrush, my daughter feels the weight of those words.

It's not fair. She didn't do anything wrong. But you see, neither did I. All of this judgment and criticism is learned behavior. When I was a kid going to Catholic mass, I would keep my lips closed during the part of the service when the congregation speaks the phrase, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

But WHY am I not worthy?, seven-year-old me thought. What did I do wrong?

Nothing, sweetheart. You've done nothing wrong. It's just a phrase from a book written by men who were trying to control a whole lot of people. People are easier to control when you convince them that they lack worth.

And that's what our culture has done to generations of women. The words change slightly, we gain a little ground now and then, but the underlying (heteronormative) belief that women exist primarily to be tools for male sexual pleasure, and to reproduce and care for their offspring, persists.

But you can make a promise right now that it ends with you.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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Can you believe it's already time to start decorating for the holidays? And this year, Target is making it easier than ever to create inviting holiday spaces that are still neat, organized and clutter-free. Whether your style is whimsical, traditional or rustic, there are plenty of neutral creams, frosty whites and touches of evergreen that will take you through the holidays and well into the new year with style.

This holiday also marks the 3-year anniversary of the launch of Joanna Gaines' Hearth & Hand with Magnolia line. The collection features nearly 300 new pieces from gifting and décor to entertaining. Oh, and this season they have faux Christmas trees!

Ready to create your own modern winter wonderland at home? Grab our favorite minimalist piece:

Joy wire Christmas wreath

Joy wire Christmas wreath

The word "Joy" isn't a holiday classic for nothing—it's sure to bring lots of smiles and laughs to any home. And when it's atop the garland in this festive wreath, it's an instant pick-me-up. Plus, for an extra twist: This comes pre-strung with white LED bulbs for a little light to brighten dark spaces.

$45

Mini cable-knit stocking

Mini cable-knit stocking

This stocking brings simplistic holiday cheer to just about any living space. This mini size is perfect for little ones or if you just want stockings that don't take up too much space.

$4

Faux white pine garland

Faux white pine garland

Bring the outdoors indoors with a garland that can be framed around your door. Or add holiday spirit to your table runner with a garland centerpiece. We love how realistic this one looks for such an affordable price.

$24.99

Whitewash advent calendar

Whitewash advent calendar

Let's be honest, advent calendars are nice, but some have gone a bit overboard in how complicated they are. But not this one. The cutout shape of a tree features rows of numbers, while a roaming wreath moves the countdown along. Simple, yet chic.

$20

Round tree skirt

Round tree skirt

No tree is complete without a beautiful tree skirt. This striped one is a must-have for a farmhouse-inspired atmosphere. Even better if you want a splash of rustic charm that matches your other holiday décor.

$39.99

Mini marquee star wall sign

Mini marquee star wall sign

Brighten up your living room with this attention-grabbing statement piece. Hang the star sign on your entryway wall to help welcome guests, or place it on your mantel, shelf or end table alongside other accents to add touches of holiday cheer in a minimalist way.

$8

Ceramic house decorative figurine

Ceramic house decorative figurine

This tiny house with windows, door and a chimney lends realistic, whimsical appeal, but the solid ceramic design allows it to be used from season to season. Place a small light inside to light up your mantle when standard candles won't suffice.

$8

Wood garland

Wood garland

Sometimes less is more! Upgrade your staircase or tree with this simplistic wooded garland. Pair with fresh cedar and grapevine twigs to create a striking focal point on your home.

$12.99

Joy wall decor

Joy wall decor

Create holiday cheer in a small way by adding holiday wall art that sparks a bit of joy.

For a refined look, the decor offers a hardwood frame and the sawtooth back allows for easy display on tiny spaces that need a touch of holiday spirit.

$9.99

Stocking holder

Stocking holder

Minimalists will rejoice for this multi-tasking stocking holder—acting as both festive signage and a holder for multiple stockings. It's simple, charming and will look great on your mantle for years to come.

$29.99
Holiday Shopping Guides

Madison Vining, mama of six, recently posted an honest message that went viral on Instagram. In it she described how we can't really have the full picture of someone's life just by what they post on social media. It's little fragments of their life, which probably leave out the really good moments when people decide to put the phone down to be present, and also the really bad moments they don't want documented.

The post, which has almost 12,000 likes and hundreds of comments, received a lot of praise from other parents thanking her for hitting the nail on the head.

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The post reads:

"Instagram stories. Let's talk.

If someone uses the maximum amount of stories allowed in a day (all the teeny tiny dots) guess what? All together, it totals less than an hour of their 24-hour day. Does that surprise you? It's true. It's a peek of 1/24th of their day. Furthermore, it's probably the calmest parts. After all, when was the last time you got into a fight with your husband and thought "Hang on, let me insta-story this!" or had your hands full of screaming babies and thought "Hang on... let me try and hold a phone, too!"

I really want to challenge you.

Before you look at her life and become jealous: you likely did not see her raise her voice as she struggled through schoolwork with her kids, or her picking up trash after the dog ripped it up and dragged it all over the driveway, or her doctor give her a terrifying diagnosis, or her son's preschool teacher call and say he's been a problem... Again. Or her crying because she hates her body and hasn't felt like herself in so long. Or her going to bed each day feeling guilty and like she didn't do enough for everyone. Or her husband being out of work. Or her dad who walked out on her as a kid and it still hurts. Or her burning dinner and yelling a swear word in front of her kids.

Yeah, you don't see all the bad.

But you know what? Before you look at her life and become critical, know that you didn't see her singing worship music and taking extra time as she changed her baby's diaper. You didn't see her driving all the way to recycle center when the trash would have been easier. You didn't see her close her laptop, close her eyes, and stop to pray for someone she doesn't know. You didn't see her tell her daughter, "Just keep killing them with kindness, baby" as she sobbed in her arms about a bully. You didn't see her give up "me time" to prioritize date night with her husband. You didn't see her take her oldest to lunch. You didn't see her anonymous donation.

You don't see a lot of the beautiful things that happen in her life and in her heart, because they're sacred and the first thought that pops into her mind isn't, "I should grab my phone right now."

You don't see it all. Be kind to one another."

Thank you for saying what many think, mama.

Life

Do you feel it?

That little spark ✨ in the air that only comes around this time of year is starting to buzz and pop around us. There's nothing quite like the joy and excitement that comes with counting down to the holidays—especially with your kids who think last Christmas was forever ago.

And what better way to count down to Christmas than with an Advent calendar? We've rounded up our favorites that you can use year after year, mama.

House advent calendar

It's perfectly neutral to go with any type of holiday decor, but is made to bring a spark of magic and fun as your kids rush each morning to find out what's inside the tiny drawers.

$55.30

Advent calendar wreath

This has to be the most unique advent calendar we've ever seen. We love everything about it: The simple metal hoop, the greenery and the 24 kraft boxes that can be filled with goodies for both adults and kids. It's so pretty, we might even leave it up past Christmas!

$35

Countdown to Christmas advent calendar

We love that you can fill this one with your own treats that can change as your kids grow. And it doesn't have to be sweets. It can be filled with stickers, little toys, handmade goodies and more.

$38

Modern farmhouse Christmas countdown

No treats required for this simple, beautiful sign.

$34.95

Metal advent calendar

This sleek metal sign comes with 25 small muslin bags and 30 cards you can tuck into each one. The cards have an activity or kind gesture you and your kids can do to celebrate the season.

$40

Ernie and Irene llama advent calendar

Add a touch of whimsy and coziness with this sweet calendar featuring a knit llama.

$128

DIY advent calendar kit

For the crafty mamas in the group, this sweet kit has everything you and your family need to create your advent calendar together. Once you've assembled all the houses, you can fill it with whatever treats your family will love.

$36

Customizable advent calendar

This sweet and modern fabric calendar can be customized with your family name or cherished holiday phrase. It also comes with a set of 24 activity cards you can pop into each pocket.

$107

Clever Creations traditional wooden Christmas advent calendar

Clever Creations Traditional Wooden Christmas Advent Calendar

This beautiful calendar is a showpiece. It lights up to create a cozy and festive scene.

$43

Light-up stacking house glitter advent calendar

Enjoy a tower of pre-lit cottages that will light up your home each day leading up to Christmas.

$149

My Kindness advent calendar

My Kindness Advent Calendar

The holidays are all about giving—and that doesn't stop with just material items. We can give in the form of kindness every single day, and this calendar helps us do just that.

$75

Blue and gray Christmas socks advent calendar garland

We love the twist on a traditional calendar with this sweet garland of 24 stockings.

$29.69

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Even though I'm almost halfway through my pregnancy, I still don't trust that I'm pregnant. Some people might feel this way in the beginning of theirs (at least for a little while); shocked into disbelief that some very specific cells in our bodies can become babies. But I have a hard time believing because of my bump. Or rather, because I don't appear to have one at all.

I thought the bump would be a big part of my pregnancy and I'm bummed it's not. I assumed it would knight me into the world of impending motherhood, where you hold a funeral for all the clothes you will never fit into again; where the other people in your yoga class think you're being lazy but they don't realize you have to modify the poses so you don't squish the baby; and where you believe (unreasonably) that your dog will calm down on walks because he senses you're suddenly much more afraid of falling.

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Even without it, I do get a lot of reminders that I'm pregnant: My nipples itch constantly. I need to use the bathroom every 30 minutes (sometimes 20!). I just started getting heartburn, which I've never had before. My hobbies are picking fights with my husband, going to sleep at 8pm and not knowing what to eat for lunch because nothing is appetizing. Today I did, however, put salt on a half sour pickle.

But I'm still skeptical because my body hasn't changed. If you saw me on the street today, you would not be able to tell I'm expecting a boy in April.

I've coveted the baby bump ever since I experienced a miscarriage earlier this year. With that pregnancy, I had no symptoms at all (no nausea, no stomach twinges, no breast pain, no nothing), which I thought was a little weird, but I assumed everything would be fine. Then after the doctor confirmed I miscarried at six weeks, it made sense why I didn't feel anything.

When I found out I was pregnant this time, I was obsessed with what and how I felt and I interpreted every tiny disruption from the norm as an assurance the baby was still in there and okay. This helped ease my anxiety for a while.

A second failed pregnancy felt imminent when friends and acquaintances began remarking that I was "not showing" or "hardly showing." It seemed that while I had accumulated many pieces of pregnancy that I didn't have before, I was still missing the most universally accepted indicator I was doing a good job supporting the growth of a healthy baby: The bump.

But since I don't have it, it feels like I'm already a bad mother. It feels like my body is gaslighting me. Am I even really pregnant if there's no bump to indicate I am? It's easy to explain the symptoms away without one, as if they are caused by other factors like the weather or doing too much physical activity or just being in my 30s. It's feels like my body is betraying me. After all I've been through, my body can't (or won't) do the biggest thing that would reassure me this pregnancy is going to work out? What other mischief is it capable of?

The longed baby bump arrives at different times during pregnancy for different people and I know there are no benefits to comparing my pregnancy to anyone else's. The best thing for my health (and therefore the health of the baby) is to try and remain as calm as possible. There's no evidence to suggest anything's wrong with the baby. All my blood tests come back normal, as do all the routine screens for things like spina bifida and trisomies.

But once you doubt your body for the first time, it's very easy to do it again. From there, it's not long until you're doubting each individual piece of yourself. In addition to struggling with the fact that I don't have a bump, I also worry about my motherly intuition—that special sauce that will get me through the toughest parts of having a newborn. It would be nice if I could simply acquire it before the birth, like the baby bottles or the baby bathtub or any of the other numerous items on our baby shower registry.

Friends and family say it doesn't happen that way—it shows up after birth. This doesn't seem right! It feels like I need to have these instincts before the baby arrives. They all say, "It's hard to believe, but you'll be fine. Once the baby is here, that's when your instincts kick in. It's almost like you wake up one morning and you know enough to get through the coming days." This may be acceptable to other people, but I find it hard to believe because I have only ever been uncomfortable around infants.

I don't want my child to doubt himself the way I doubt myself. I would like him to be confident in his skills, his knowledge, in who he is as a person. I also know that in order for him to be this way, I have to show him how.

So for the next five months, I'm going to practice trusting myself. I'm going to trust my body -- that it will do what I expect it to do, which is help my baby develop and grow until he can be born. Even if it doesn't look like the bodies of any other pregnant people I see, I will believe it is working in my favor. Even if it is not as obvious that I am pregnant as I think it should be.

I'm also not going to worry I don't know enough to have a baby. I'm sure someone will say to me soon, no one knows enough to have a baby before they have a baby. Until they say it, I'm going to say it to myself. I will say it to myself when I am in the shower and when I am loading the dishwasher and when I am looking for something to watch on Netflix and when I am reading a book that I am not sure if I'm enjoying. And I will say it to pregnant women when they see I have a baby and ask for advice.

I will trust that I am going to be a good mother, for him.

Life
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