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All day my daughter, who is seven, was excited – thrilled to begin a new rock-climbing class I had signed her up for. She had tried it once before with my sister who climbs actual mountains, and took to it well. I had been amazed the way she darted up it without giving a thought to falling.


When it was my turn, I clutched the pegs so hard my forearms were sore for a week. I wouldn’t be scaling the wall again anytime soon, but when I offered the class to her, my daughter quickly agreed.

 

 

We arrived early. Soon, other children filtered in around us. My daughter’s chatter started to grow softer, then quiet. After a kiss and a hug, she walked uneasily into class. Even from behind I could tell, with every step that grew slower than the last, that her confidence was already fading.

The instructors were warm and inviting as they welcomed the children. Still, I sat by and watched tears pour down my child’s cheeks for no discernible reason. A few minutes later she folded into herself in a ball on the floor. She became as small as she could be, trembling while the rest of her classmates introduced themselves.

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The other children turned and stared. Finally, the female instructor walked my daughter over to me where she collapsed into my lap. It wasn’t the rock wall she was afraid of. This new group dynamic had been too much for her. In the past year, lots of things had been too much for her.

I took her to the bathroom, dried her tears, and asked her to try again. She agreed, but demanded I didn’t leave to go run on the treadmill down the hall as I’d been hoping to. I’d already handed off my toddler son to the women who work at the gym Stay n’ Play without so much as a, “See ya later.” Instead of exercising, I would look after my daughter who was five years older than him and somehow still needed me desperately.

Sitting on the floor, I watched her wipe tear after tear with the mounting feeling that my heart was growing arms, trying to reach through the roped off area to wrap her in every bit of love and bravery I carried. I watched her send me pained expressions and felt other parent’s eyes on me, while their children smiled and climbed. I dared not look their way. Instead, I kept my focus straight ahead, and sent out smiles and thumbs ups to my daughter. I tried not to care how ridiculous I looked to people whose children didn’t have this struggle.  

My child was once eager to try new things, too. Yet lately, her grueling pace has become slower, more cautious. It’s almost as if she began to notice that the world didn’t accept her for exactly who she is: sensitive, artistic, often lost in her thoughts, but boisterous, even hyperactive, when comfortable. She is charming and witty and full of life, but now she’s careful and intentional with whom she shows that to.

For years, I suspected my daughter might not be exactly like other kids. When she was in preschool she flitted from one task to the next, never resting for a moment. As I watched other children begin to draw forms: houses, trees, each other, I wondered when her attention span would grow long enough to draw a picture, or finish listening to a story before gazing out the window.

She sang to herself all day long, which her teacher said was, “very dear.” She played dress-up, baked bread, and got to feel safe and warm for a while. Her sensitive nature, curiosity, and inability to stay within the carefully plotted lines, was viewed as, “age-appropriate,” but that acceptance didn’t translate to the start of elementary school.

At five she was expected to sit still, walk in lines, raise her hand. She got called down for chewing her hair. For asking to use the bathroom. She wasn’t reading as quickly as the schedule demanded. She had nightly homework, only twenty minutes of recess, and testing.

Soon, the safe cocoon built of choices, of going at her own pace, of not being critiqued, began to dry up and fall away. Conform, conform, conform was the constant, deafening message. Differences were no longer appreciated, and I knew enough to know my daughter might not thrive.

She started to push back. Hard. She kicked and screamed when it was time for school. In the first month, I watched her tear up school work in frustration. She told me often, through flowing tears, that she hated school and would do anything not to go. Halfway through the year she stood clutching me in the hallway while classmates walked by calling out, “Hi, Piper!” But she didn’t hear them. She was too busy begging me not to leave her.

At kindergarten’s end, I made the only choice I felt I had. I pushed my work to nights and weekends so I could stay home with my daughter and toddler son. She was thrilled to be homeschooled and instead of sitting at a desk all day, we joined co-ops and went on adventures and made new friends.

She took a handful of classes, but mostly, we spent the year rebuilding her broken confidence that had been shattered all too quickly. I grieved the time I’d lost for my own work, but no longer did our days start and end with angry tears and defeat. When people told me that homeschool was a mistake, it was easy to let roll off my back.

For months I’ve watched her confidence come back in bits and pieces. I’ve watched her uncover new fascinations and feel passionate about what she’s learning. She’s shown interest in starting at a new, less traditional school next year, too, but when her moments of uncertainty come, they come hard. Each time, it devastates me. I try to embrace her with compassion, rather than frustration, even though I feel both.

Still, it is not my job to tell my daughter who to be. She already feels the world speaking to her, telling her that her sensitivity is undesirable. I feel it, too, telling me we shouldn’t coddle our children even when they’re in pain. Instead we should push them, so they are ready for a big tough world. Perhaps, though, it is the ones who refuse to play the game who can rewrite the rules. Perhaps it is the ones who don’t keep up with the rhythm who can make the most beautiful music.

My daughter’s intense sensitivity puts her in touch with her own feelings, and the feelings of those around her. She asks to give money to the homeless. She sobs at sad movies. She performs from her heart in ballet shows twice a year that I never have to urge her to prepare for.

She worries about big things, like death and illness. To be in tune with your emotions is a feat at any age. Yet sometimes, it is all too much. It is why most of us grow to numb our pain rather than feel it. To feel it we could handle. To let the world see us feeling it is the real burden, even though it makes us who we are.

Whether my child is a writer, a dancer, a doctor, a mother, I hope one day she will know that having deep, cavernous emotions isn’t always such a terrible fate. Because, baring your soul, rather than giving the world just what it demands, is the real act of bravery.

The next week, we head back to the gym with the rock-wall for the second class. My daughter is as excited as she was the week before, as if the tears and the trembling and the self-doubt never happened. So I try to hide my own nerves. We’ve talked about taking a few deep breaths, and focusing on what’s happening around us, rather than our own scary thoughts. I remind her of this as we pull up to the gym, and I try to do the same.

The instructor calls the kids in and without prompting, my daughter lets go of my hand. I watch her climb to the top of the wall and repel down, then do it again. When she gets to the bottom, she calls me over. “I’m okay,” she whispers. Smiling, nudging, waving me away.

 

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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

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

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Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

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News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

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The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

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