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A month or so ago, it was my turn to put my older son to bed. When we got to the end of the routine, the part where I would tell his brain what kind of dreams it would have and then sing a song with him, he furrowed his brow and feigned tears, demanding his dad do it instead.


When I asked why, he took a breath, then delivered the punch: “Because…Daddy is the best. And you’re not.”

If there is anything I have learned in almost four years of taking care of a small human, it is that parenting can both inflate the ego and then, often seconds later, squash it like a blueberry underfoot.

Because I am a human, albeit a supposedly large and mature one, I bit back tears. Yes, I know he shouldn’t be punished for his feelings or his preferences or the standard issue manipulations associated with this particular developmental leap, however devastating to me all that was. I know my nearly four-year-old kid shouldn’t have to tiptoe around me and my emotions. I know he loves me and thinks I’m the best sometimes, too. (He does, I swear he does.)

But. I couldn’t hide the shock. And I couldn’t hide that I felt like he was actually onto something, that he’d found out what I’d suspected long before I became a parent – that I’m not, in fact, the best.

Since Daddy was putting my son’s brother to bed, I forged onward with a phlegmy and therefore poignant version of “Monday, Monday” – the song he asked for and sung none of with me – then slunk off to take an inventory of exactly why I sucked. (I was running on about five hours of sleep that week, so my brain will appalled me with its resourcefulness.)

To begin, I wasn’t fun with him, was I? I was always reminding my son about all the annoying things, like wearing his hat and cleaning up his toys and eating at least one bite of his breakfast and being gentle with his baby brother, while I whisper-screeched, “THAT’S HIS HEAD CAN YOU OKAY YEAH NO STOP OKAY THAT’S GOOD THANK YOU YOU’RE GREAT WAIT YOU’RE HURTING HIM!”

Come to think of it, I was often with said brother, nursing him, camped out on the couch, talking sweetly to him and not reminding him to do anything. No wonder my older son hated me! I’d been myopic and distracted and thoughtless!

No wonder children in general didn’t gravitate toward me! No wonder I’d been caught looking morose and despondent in family photos for years! No wonder school dances were always a nightmare! My entire life had been an exercise in masking my own melancholy.

I wasn’t fun! I wasn’t the best at all! I was actually maybe THE WORST.

As I questioned all 34 years of my life so far, spiraling with worry like a human fidget spinner, it occurred to me that maybe I was really only good for babies, a decent feeder with reasonably strong arms. In the first couple years of my son’s life, I gave him everything he needed – food, company, goofy storytelling voices, a sympathetic ear, shoulder, back, and hand.

“Isn’t Daddy the best?” I’d tell him. I’d tell him how great his grandparents were, too, his aunts and uncles, encouraging the diffusion of his love while blithely receiving the bulk of it.

Now, thanks to all that cheerleading, I watch from a distance that feels oceanic as my husband entertains him with fart jokes and pratfalls, as his grandparents and aunts and uncles bequeath him all the toys and trinkets he wants, are liberal with the treats, and he, in turn, basks in their adoration.

That night, it felt like there were only so many parts in the play of my son’s life. I’d somehow realized that, for months now, I’d been playing the bad guy (listed in program as: SNAPPY NAG). It felt like there was no space for me to be anything but.

So the next day I called my mom. And my mom told me to, of all things, just enjoy it. He’s giving you an excuse to relax, she said to me. It’s not your job to be his best friend, she reminded me.

My mom didn’t tell me that my son didn’t really mean what he’d said, because she wasn’t worried about that. She told me, instead, that this would pass. She told me to chill. She told me that someday – maybe that very night or the next week or the next year or…well, sometime – he would appreciate who I was. He would love who I was.

Just be you, she said. You’re very lovable, she said.

Listening to my mom tell me these things, listening to her not freak out, listening to her tell me it was fine and I was fine, I saw that she was doing exactly what I needed to do with my son. When had I called her last? Had it been a week, maybe? More? But there she was, when I needed her, calmly assuring me that I was doing a good job.

I could wait it out, too. I could agree with my son, that yeah, his dad is the best, especially at bedtime when I’ve got nothing left. I could do what I’ve done forever and be funny about my pain, groaning about how I am the worst, I’m a real monster, a MOMMY MONSTER, and crack him up.

I could, when he asks for his dad, make a cartoon exit, flinging myself out the door like Road Runner, cracking myself up. I could go snuggle up with my new son and try to live inside of time as it passes stealthily through the moments we spend bathing ourselves in regret.

I could re-cast myself. I could be fun again, my own kind of fun, my own kind of best.

A couple weeks ago, when I wasn’t thinking about it, my husband reported that, as they embarked for school that morning, our son told him he wished I was taking him. When my husband asked why, he said, as if it was obvious, “Because I like her.”

I like her, too.

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Toxic masculinity is having a cultural moment. Or rather, the idea that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic is having one.

For parents who are trying to raise kind boys who will grow into compassionate men, the American Psychological Association's recent assertion that "traditional masculinity ideology" is bad for boys' well-being is concerning because our kids are exposed to that ideology every day when they walk out of then house or turn on the TV or the iPad.

That's why a new viral ad campaign from Gillette is so inspiring—it proves society already recognizes the problems the APA pointed out, and change is possible.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) youtu.be

Gillette's new ad campaign references the "Me Too" movement as a narrator explains that "something finally changed, and there will be no going back."

If may seem like something as commercial as a marketing campaign for toiletries can't make a difference in changing the way society pressures influence kids, but it's been more than a decade since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while the campaign isn't without criticism, it was successful in elevating some of the body-image pressure on girls but ushering in an era of body-positive, inclusive marketing.

Dove's campaign captured a mainstream audience at a time when the APA's "Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women" were warning psychologists about how "unrealistic media images of girls and women" were negatively impacting the self-esteem of the next generation.

Similarly, the Gillette campaign addresses some of the issues the APA raises in its newly released "Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men."

According to the APA, "Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health."

The report's authors define that ideology as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The APA worries that society is rewarding men who adhere to "sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men's ability to function adaptively."

That basically sounds like the recipe for Me Too, which is of course its own cultural movement.

Savvy marketers at Gillette may be trying to harness the power of that movement, but that's not entirely a bad thing. On its website, Gillette states that it created the campaign (called "The Best a Man Can Be," a play on the old Gillette tagline "The Best a Man Can Get") because it "acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."

Gillette's not wrong. We know that advertising has a huge impact on our kids. The average kid in America sees anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 commercials on TV each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, and that's not even counting YouTube ads, the posters at the bus stop and everything else.

That's why Gillette's take makes sense from a marketing perspective and a social one. "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man," the company states.

What does that mean?

It means taking a stance against homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment and that harmful, catch-all-phrase that gives too many young men a pass to engage in behavior that hurts others and themselves: "Boys will be boys."

Gillette states that "by holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come."

Of course, it's not enough for razor marketers to do this. Boys need support from parents, teachers, coaches and peers to be resilient to the pressures of toxic masculinity.

When this happens, when boys are taught that strength doesn't mean overpowering others and that they can be successful while still being compassionate, the APA says we will "reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide."

This is a conversation worth having and 2019 is the year to do it.

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Teaching a young child good behavior seems like it should be easy and intuitive when, in reality, it can be a major challenge. When put to the test, it's not as easy as you might think to dole out effective discipline, especially if you have a strong-willed child.

As young children develop independence and learn more about themselves in relation to others and their environment, they can easily grow frustrated when they don't always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally.

It's crucial that parents recognize these limitations and also set up rules to protect your child and those they encounter. These rules, including a parent's or caregiver's follow-up actions, allow your child to learn and develop a better understanding of what is (and what is not) appropriate behavior.

Here are a few key ways to correct negative behavior in an efficient way:

1. Use positive reinforcement.

Whenever possible, look to deliver specific and positive praise when a child engages in good behavior or if you catch them in an act of kindness. Always focus on the positive things they are doing so that they are more apt to recreate those behaviors. This will help them start to learn the difference between good and poor behavior.

2. Be simple and direct.

Though this seems like a no-brainer, focus your child using constructive feedback versus what not to do or where they went wrong. Give reasons and explanations for rules, as best as you can for their age group.

For example, if you're teaching them to be gentle with your pet, demonstrate the correct motions and tell your child, "We're gentle when we pet the cat like this so that we don't hurt them," versus, "Don't pull on her tail!"

3. Re-think the "time out."

Many classrooms are starting to have cozy nooks where children are encouraged to have alone time when they may feel out of control. In lieu of punishment, sending a child to a "feel-good" area removes them from a situation that's causing distress. This provides much-needed comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own.

4. Use 'no' sparingly.

When a word is repeated over and over, it begins to lose meaning. There are better ways to discipline your child than saying "no." Think about replaying the message in a different way to increase the chances of your child taking note. Rather than shouting, "No, stop that!" when your toddler is flinging food at dinnertime, it's more productive to use encouraging words that prompt better behavior, such as, "Food is for eating, what are we supposed to do when we're sitting at the dinner table?" This encourages them to consider their behavior.

The above methods help create teachable moments by providing opportunities for development while making sure the child feels safe and cared for. It is important to mirror these discipline techniques at home and communicate often with your child care providers so that you're always on the same page.

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To the mamas awake in the middle of the night,

If you are one of the many moms with a little darling who doesn't sleep through the night, I feel your pain. I really do.

Having been blessed with two wonderful sleepers (aka my first and second babies), my third baby has been a shock to my system. He hasn't slept through the night since he was born and he's now 16 months. I do everything "right." I put him down sleepy but awake so he can settle himself to sleep. I keep the room dark and quiet.

But one simple fact remains: When my son wakes up in the night, he wants me. And he'll scream the house down if he doesn't get me.

Last night my 1-year-old woke at 3:30 am. He was stirring a bit at first, then started to really let it rip, so I got him up out of his crib and brought him into bed with me. We cuddled for a while. Then suddenly, he wanted to get off the bed and I said no. Then he started to scream and throw himself around on the bed before eventually being sick everywhere.

It was now 4:30 am. I dutifully changed the sheets, changed my son, changed myself, and then we climbed back into bed, the smell of vomit still lingering.

I tried to put him back in his crib around 5 am but he woke right up. I brought him back into bed with me, but quickly realized this wasn't what he wanted either. He was thrashing around again, trying to figure out a way off of the bed.

Finally, close to 6 am he decided he wanted to go to sleep. After about 10 minutes of watching him sleep, I felt brave enough to try to put him back in his room. I gently lifted him up, placed him in his crib and quietly crept back into my bed.

This left me with just enough time to fall back into a deep sleep, which meant I felt exhausted when my alarm went off just after 7 am.

Sadly, last night wasn't a one-off. This is a fairly frequent occurrence for me (although dealing with vomit is luckily quite rare!). Which means that when I say I understand what it's like to have a baby who doesn't sleep, I really mean it.

So here's what I want you to know, mama.

If you are awake in the night because your baby needs you then you are not alone. Despite what you might read, it's common for babies to wake up through the night. So if you're sitting in bed feeling like you're the only mother in the world awake, trust me, you're far from it.

There are mamas like us all over the world. Sitting there in the dark. Cuddling babies or soothing them to sleep again. Some, like me, might be changing sheets or abandoning any hope of getting sleep that night at all. Others might be up and down like a yo-yo every few hours. The rest might just be up once and then will be able to go back to sleep.

There will, however, also be mamas who are sound asleep. Mamas who have older children who no longer wake in the night. And they would want you to know that it will be okay. It won't be forever. One day, you'll realize that your baby no longer needs or wants you in the night.

And while you'll be so glad for your sleep you'll probably also be a little sad that there are no more night time cuddles.

It's hard to cope with a baby who doesn't sleep well at night. Really hard sometimes. You may feel like you can't deal with it anymore or you may be wishing that this phase would just stop already so you can get some rest.

Exhaustion often means that you struggle to get through the day. It can mean that you find it hard to drag yourself out of bed. Or if you're anything like me, you might be irritable and snap at the people you love. Or maybe it means relying on caffeine, sugar and Netflix to get you and your kiddos through the day.

But here's the amazing thing about mothers—no matter what has gone down during the night, we get up as usual. We go about our day just like everyone else. We care for and love our children, without giving them a hard time for disrupting our sleep. We don't moan, we don't complain. We just get on with it.

And when night comes, we go to bed knowing that there's every chance we'll be awake in the middle of the night again...

We get up without fail when our babies need us and we do what we need to do for them. Because we are the nighttime warriors. We are mamas.

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No one decides to be a stay-at-home mom for the paycheck—but if we were to earn one, it would put us in league with some CEOs. Although it doesn't do much for the bank account, a survey that calculated what the average salary would be for a stay-at-home mom is mighty validating. (Remember this next time anyone asks what you do all day.)

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