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No matter how stable your family is, there will probably come a time when you need to have a tough conversation with your kid. An Aunt is diagnosed with cancer. A beloved pet dies. As parents, we struggle with how much to explain and whether or not to bring it up at all. We wonder if our kids will understand.


I have one friend whose son had cancer. She and her husband chose to be honest with their other children. Another friend has a husband who is HIV+ and whose viral load is approaching full-blown AIDS. They still haven’t told their pre-teen daughter. Personally, I think they’re making a mistake.

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I’ve had my share of difficult talks with my five-year-old, from telling him about my divorce to explaining that he doesn’t have a grandmother on my side because my mother died. But by far the most difficult talks have been those related to his father’s disease.

My ex-husband has primary-progressive multiple sclerosis. As his disease has worsened, so has his ability to walk. At kindergarten orientation, he trailed his hand along the lockers, the school walls, and the backs of chairs for balance. He leaned against bookcases for support. I noticed that the tips of his shoes were scuffed and worn bare from falling.

Due to a combination of pride, toxic masculinity, and denial, he refuses to use any of the canes multiple doctors have given him. In fact, he left them behind when he moved out of our house. He still won’t install hand controls in his car and instead uses his legs to manipulate the pedals, even though his legs frequently spasm. Ask anyone who knows him well and they’ll tell you his disease is worsening. Yet not according to him. That dynamic plays out in his relationship to our son.

During the first week of kindergarten, my son’s teacher sent me an email requesting that I come in and talk to her about some concerns she had about C. I groaned. Whose kid gets in trouble the very first week of school? I couldn’t wait two days to find out what she wanted to talk about, so I emailed her back and asked her to explain. She told me that he’d been telling kids that his daddy was going to die soon.

At five years old, my son can see that his father is different from other dads. I’ve trained him from a young age not to grab our legs walking up stairs, or run too far ahead on the sidewalk, or pull on us because his daddy might fall over. While he can see the differences, he can’t make sense of them quite yet.

When my ex-husband falls on the ice or has to hold onto things for support, C interprets his father’s claims that nothing is wrong in the worst possible manner: Obviously, he’s hiding something awful from C and must be dying.

When deciding how to handle difficult conversations with children, I now come down on the side of being honest and upfront. If not told the whole truth, some kids – like mine – fill in the worst possible interpretation. Recently, I watched this play out again.

After two days stuck inside due to snow, I’d loaded my son into the car and taken him to Como Conservatory. This sprawling iron building houses plants from the rainforest and other tropical climes in rooms muggy with heat – the perfect antidote to a cold Minnesota winter. Running from one room to the next, C passed a man sitting at a table with a frog in a terrarium and a frog’s skeleton on display.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the skeleton.

“It’s a frog’s skeleton. See how long their bones are?” The volunteer pointed out the jointed limbs.

C tilted his head. “Did someone kill the frog to get its skeleton?”

“No, no, no,” the man shook his head. “It was already dead.”

“Oh, okay.” He looked up at me with the same big blue eyes that stole my heart the first time I held him in my arms. Then he said, “Mommy, I want Daddy to die in the next five days.”

It had been a few months since hed made comments about his father dying, and Id thought we were over this phase. I forced a weak smile for the shocked volunteer and hustled C onto the next exhibit.

If something big, like cancer or MS, exists in your childs life, expect to have the death conversation more than once. They might ask the same questions several times, and over a period of time. Part of childhood is making sense of the world around them, and while you may wish it wasn’t the case, death, too, is part of their world.

Later that day, in the conservatory, I sat down on a bench and pulled C into my arms. “You know that your daddy has a disease, right?” I asked him.

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, that’s why we park in handicapped.”

“Uh-huh. It’s hard for him to walk very far. Do you remember what disease he has?”

He shook his head no, and I explained multiple sclerosis to him again. “But he’s not going to die from it, honey. It just makes life a little harder.”

“Okay.”

I don’t know how much C understood, and I’ll probably have to go over it all with him again. My ex doesn’t like to talk about it and shrugs off or avoids questions. I try to walk a delicate line between being honest with my son and not ticking him off.

Ultimately, I value creating an open environment for discussion in favor of my ex’s possible anger. In cases of divorce, therapist Kathleen Matthews, LICSW, recommends parents communicate openly and tell each other these sorts of discussions have taken place. She also advises, “I would want to let the child know that I was going to be sharing what they said (if they are over eight years old usually) so they don’t feel betrayed.”

Children are sensitive souls, who pick up and notice more than one might assume. If not allowed to ask questions and express their emotions honestly, the stories they tell themselves to make sense of the world may grow to epic and awful proportions. If you explain a situation simply and in an age appropriate manner, they’re capable of grasping a great deal.

My son knows the term ‘synapse,’ and I’ve used sugar packets and creamers at a restaurant to explain nerve endings and pathways. A little creativity may be necessary, but most parents have plenty of that.

Truly, honesty is the best policy.

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

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

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The holiday season always makes me a bit sentimental. I especially think of my mother-in-law, who left us way too early and way too fast, because she loved the holidays. She passed away when I was only three months pregnant with our first child two years ago and I always had this gut feeling that she was at peace because she knew her two boys were taken care of and on their way to creating their own families. But that doesn't mean I don't selfishly wish she were here to see the amazing dad her son has become.

I knew from the beginning my husband was good with kids. Way before we even planned a life together and while casually dating in New York City, I knew. He cares a lot, he listens a lot and he remembers everything. Those three things make him the most thoughtful and loving person I've ever met. Add to the mix that he has an insane imagination and a great sense of humor and he is legit the center of attention whenever there are children around. The first time I saw him hold our friend's newborn, my ovaries twinkled and I knew he would be the father of my children.

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I found out I was pregnant with our son because of my mother-in-law. We were on our honeymoon and I dreamt that she was in the hospital and I told her, "I have a little secret to share, you're going to be a grandma again!" I woke up sobbing and didn't have the guts to tell my husband about my dream because I was mortified about having dreamt about her in a hospital, but also so sad because I thought I would never be able to say those words out loud to her.

We flew back home and as soon as we landed my husband got the call that she was in the hospital. My heart skipped a beat. Off he went to see her and the second he stepped outside of the house, I peed on a stick—it was positive.

Shortly after finding out I went to visit her in hospice and at barely 6 weeks pregnant I shared the good news. At some point she told all the nurses there and whenever I came to visit they would let me nap on the bed next to her. She spent the rest of her days coming up with name suggestions for us.

My husband always said that me being pregnant during the hardest time of his life made him see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was losing the woman who gave him life while I was growing the life we created together.

After her passing and my delivery, we found ourselves talking about how we never knew how hard it is to really be a parent. We made sure to tell our three other parents how grateful we are that they changed diapers, cleaned bottles and stayed up at night while we were tiny. I so wish I could tell her that, but I can't.

We talk about my mother-in-law to my son all the time, just like we do about his other grandparents. We share what she used to like—cooking apple pie, being in nature, playing with her dog. But we also slowly introduce the concept of her not being physically with us. Every time my son sees the photo we have framed of her after hiking Mount Katahdin in her 70s—something I can't even imagine doing now in my mid-30s—he squeals her name in excitement letting us know he recognizes her, despite never having met her.

And my heart breaks because I wish she could be here to teach him about nature and go bird watching together in Maine, something they are both weirdly into despite the generational gap they have.

Today, while our now 2-year-old napped and I loafed with my very pregnant belly, my husband decided it would be a great idea to make a house out of a cardboard box for our son to play with. Hours later we, as a family, were having the times of our lives playing with the house and I couldn't help but sob quietly as my two dudes passed a basketball through the window, wishing that she could see this with her own eyes.

I truly would not be able to do this whole being a parent thing without my husband.

When I stress, he calms me down.

When I'm out of ideas for entertainment, he invents a new game for all of us to play.

When I can't change a diaper because my current pregnancy has me constantly gagging, he makes a new rule that he will change all poopy diapers until the new babies come.

He's the love of my life, he's my son's hero, and I know a big part of that is because of who raised him.

I see my mother-in-law in my husband. I see her in my son. And I hope to see her in our two little girls.

I just wish I could see her seeing them because I know she'd be so proud.


Life

Let it be noted that my love language is not gift-giving. If you are the gift-giver extraordinaire and/or like nothing more than to receive the perfect something, then this tradition might not be for you. But it saved our Christmas and our bank account and for us, it's the gift that really keeps on giving.

For years we operated under the standard gift-giving and gift-receiving protocol. I paid much less attention to this before I was married of course, giving little to no thought on presents, because when you are young, say before 25, you are the present. Your mere presence is a treat enough, or so you think. My gifts in those years looked suspiciously like things you would buy in airport gift shops—hoodies and paperback bestsellers and fudge of every flavor.

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But marriage changed the rules on holidays. Suddenly, I was one-half of a couple and had received china and a roasting pan and hand-blown glass vases for my wedding. Per decorum, I should know what good gift-giving looks like.

And of course there were two Christmases now, one with my family and one with the in-laws, and I wanted to get it right. So, over the years, I developed this debilitating pattern: In the moleskin journal I keep in my purse for grocery lists, I had a second list of the names of immediate family. This was a running list that lasted all year.

If say, my mom mentioned that Pandora opened up a store in the nearest mall and then jangled her charm bracelet at me, I surreptitiously noted it in the book. If my brother's kids switched schools, I wrote down the new colors of allegiance and kept an eye out for this color scheme in all athletic and academic apparel.

I got good at gifts, great even, over the years. But … it was breaking the bank and sucking the life out of the holidays. Come November a fog of anxiety drifted into our house and didn't leave until New Year's.

This is not a way to live. And I must not have been the only one sinking under the pressure, because not too long ago my sister-in-law looked at me over a bowl of pad thai during my birthday dinner in the first week of December and said, "why don't we just do Secret Santa for the adults?"

I could have kissed her.

You do it for work parties all the time, so why not family? It would turn gifts into a kind of game and who doesn't like games? It was genius.

We set the ground rules:

  1. Everyone draws a name out of a hat.
  2. If you get your spouse, you draw again.
  3. There's a maximum spending limit so not one outdoes anyone else.
  4. No one leaks the name of who they got. (This last one never stands. I have managed to figure out every single person every single year.)

Christmas day has turned magical again.

It begins with a brunch that lasts all day until someone in early evening looks at the hardening cinnamon rolls and pigs-in-a-blanket and decides we need to order pizza. And we drink mimosas and toast each other and one-by-one step forward bearing the single gift we have brought. It's a single moment that doesn't get swallowed in the chaos of the day.

While the kids tear through reams of paper until all the adults are yelling "slow down!" so we don't actually lose the gifts under the debris, we have our one gift to hold on to and enjoy.

It has saved our Christmas so we can pay attention to the things that matter: the happy kids hopped up on sugar cookies and monkey bread, the family all together in one place for a day, Elvis singing his "Blue Christmas" in the background. We have ever so slowly taken back the day and focused it on the people, not the things.

If you or your family are on the fence about giving up the gift extravaganza, take in through the four psychological checkpoints (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health) and see if the Secret Santa trade-off doesn't make you feel better.

Life

There are less just two weeks left until the end of the month—and the decade. We're in shock here at Motherly and we're sure you are too. It feels like it just snuck up on us this year!

Well we're with you on the endless to-do list that usually pops up at this time of year (or, let's be honest—any time of year when you're a parent). It's a lot, but trust us when we say you've got this, mama.

If you've been missing the news this week while you run around trying to get everything done don't worry...we're keeping an eye on all the headlines you need to see.

Take a moment for yourself today and check out the headlines that are making us smile this week:

This mama edited her deployed husband into her Christmas card 

Danielle Cobo is a mama to twin boys and a proud military spouse. Her husband is currently serving overseas on a year-long deployment. He wasn't home for this year's Christmas card photo shoot, so Cobo's photographer, Shannon Sturgeon, did some photoshop magic to get the whole family in frame and the resulting picture is going viral.

"I am extremely proud of him and grateful for what he's doing because I think there's a purpose greater than our own," Cobo told Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA. "This year's deployment has been the toughest. By the time he returns, my husband will have missed half of our twins' lives. With that said, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm so proud of him."

When the card went viral, Cobo started getting messages from all over the United States from people who could relate to how she is feeling this holiday season. "I love the holidays," Cobo told WTVT. "I love Christmas cards. I save Christmas cards. It's just a way of showing people that though we are apart, we are a family."

Baby girl goes viral for adorable 'mean-mugging' photos 

Newborn photos are supposed to be adorable but this baby is looking adorably angry in hers. Baby Luna is taking over the internet thanks to the hilarious expression captured during her professional photoshoot.

"She's been mean-mugging since day one," Luna's dad Christian Musa told Good Morning America. "She's either mean-mugging non-stop, or just unimpressed."

Photographer Justine Tuhy says that while Luna (who was born November 15) was totally content during their photo session, "She just gave me the stare down the entire time as well."

This mom went viral for loving Christmas (and Wawa) too much

Mary Katherine Backstrom is the mom and writer behind MomBabble's website and social media accounts, and this week she went viral for the most hilarious reason.

Going live from her car in the parking lot of a Wawa gas station, Backstrom cry-laughed into her phone's camera as she explained how embarrassingly carried away with the holiday spirit she'd become. She was in the Wawa and saw the woman in line next to her only had a ginger ale, so she offered to pay for it to pay the Christmas spirit forward. Then, she came out of the gas station and saw a man washing her car's windshield.

"'This is my favorite part of humanity! I love Christmas so much, thank you for doing this,'" Backstrom recalls saying to the guy. "And I gave him a hug."

The problem? It wasn't her car. It was that dude's car. She just hugged and thanked him for cleaning his own car. 😂

She was so embarrassed that she just walked to her own car and pretended like nothing happened, then recorded her video and now the whole world knows about it.

Keep spreading the holiday magic Mary Katherine! You're hilarious.

Viral PSA reminds us to be kind to retail workers this time of year 

Whitney Fleming is the mom and writer behind "Playdates on Friday" and this week she's going viral for reminding the world to be nice to retail workers this time of year.

In a post that has been shared over 10,000 times, Fleming recalls a recent trip to Target. While chatting with her cashier she learned he'd had a pretty rough shift, as some moms who were stressed out during their Christmas shopping had taken it out on him.

"As the young man handed me my receipt, I handed over the gift card. 'Have a frappuccino on me. It's for dealing with all of us crazy, stressed-out moms.'

'Oh, no, ma'am. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything,' he stammered. You could see he was nervous about getting in trouble.

'No, I'm sorry, I told him. 'Have a great holiday.'"

Thanks for the reminder, Whitney.

News

There was a time when giving birth in a hospital meant little chance for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Decades ago, babies were whisked away to nurseries and given formula (and moms were often given samples of formula to take home). If you wanted to breastfeed your baby, these hospital policies and routines could make it difficult.

That's why in the early 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund began championing the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), "a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding." In recent years more and more hospitals in the United States have adopted the principles of BFHI in order to increase breastfeeding rates.

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The goal was laudable, but 30 years in, new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, and some argue it is having a negative impact on new moms. Specifically, "Statewide breastfeeding initiation rates were positively associated with targeted breastfeeding outcomes. Similar associations were not found for Baby-Friendly hospital designation penetrance."

A core tenant of BFHI is "rooming in"—babies and mothers are supposed to be kept together 24 hours a day. In theory, this is supposed to increase breastfeeding rates and bonding, but some moms and doctors say leaving infants solely in the care of exhausted people can be dangerous. Mothers can end up falling asleep while caring for the baby.

Dr. Colleen Hughes Driscoll of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore was the lead author of a study published earlier this year that examined the number of infant falls at a hospital that was implementing practices to encourage breastfeeding in order to receive the baby-friendly designation.

"We found that as we improved our ability to support mothers with successful breastfeeding there was a surge in newborn falls," Driscoll told Reuters. "This suggests that we may be adding to the burden of maternal fatigue, and increasing the risk of newborn falls."

According to Driscoll, the old school practice of taking babies to the nursery were a barrier to successful breastfeeding, but also provided time for mothers to rest and recover. And it isn't just exhaustion, but also the intense pressure to breastfeed that has some advocates worried that baby-friendly hospitals aren't very mother-friendly.

Sarah Christopherson is the Policy Advocacy Director for the National Women's Health Network and had her own experience with BFHI. A mom multiple times over, Christopherson had previous experience with birth and infant feeding by the time she had a C-section in a baby-friendly hospital. With her previous babies she'd successfully supplemented her breastmilk with formula in the hospital, but this time, when she asked for a bottle she was met with criticism from hospital staff, she writes.

"The nurse was stern and disapproving," Christopherson writes, noting that the nurse implied that giving formula would be "giv[ing] up" on breastfeeding and that she would have to sign a waiver "acknowledging all of the risks associated with my terrible choice."

She continues: "'Reasons for supplementation' listed on the form include "'mothers who are critically ill,' have 'intolerable pain during feeding unrelieved by interventions,' or have 'breast pathology.' For mothers who simply choose to supplement, the form makes clear: 'The American Academy of Pediatrics says that routine supplements of formula for breastfed newborns should not be used.'"

Christopherson says the form made her doubt herself, and she tried to exclusively breastfeed. In the end, her daughter ended up dehydrated and jaundiced and was fed the formula that her mother had wanted in the first place.

Christopherson and others suggest that the problem with BFHI is that it is removing mothers' needs and voices from the equation.

The new research published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests BFHI isn't having a positive impact on breastfeeding rates, but Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. (BFUSA) disputes the research. BFUSA, the "accrediting body and national authority for the BFHI in the United States...responsible for coordinating and conducting all activities necessary to confer the prestigious Baby-Friendly® designation and to ensure the widespread adoption of the BFHI in the United States," says the research was flawed and came to "damaging conclusions from incomplete data."

Critics of BFHI and BFUSA disagree on methodology but agree that mothers should be respected and have the information they need when making their own decisions about infant feeding.

That is, after all, why BHFI came about. Perhaps it is time for hospitals to worry less about adhering to strict policies and more about listening to mothers.

News
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