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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.

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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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

BUY

3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

BUY

4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

BUY

5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

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6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

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7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

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8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

BUY

9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

BUY

10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

BUY

11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

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12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

BUY

13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

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14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

BUY

15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

BUY

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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