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Debate Club: Does It Actually Get Better?


Don’t Tell Me It Gets Better, Because I Don’t Want It

by Kate Steilen

The moment you take an infant outside, two things happen: people give you unsolicited advice at an alarming rate and, destabilized by the noise – which says “you are going to fail” – you seek advice from everyone. You become a newly-anointed failure. You wear anxiety like a winter coat. You perform ridiculous Google searches.

You lose yourself. Years may pass.

And then one day some chirpy parent, maybe older than you, at least out of your stage – maybe one who has rediscovered her/his confidence – places a hand on your arm and says, “It gets better, honey.”

“It Gets Better” (IGB) is the ultimate in non-compliments one can receive while parenting kids.  It’s like the “This too shall pass” doled out in the first year for each wild thing your offspring does or doesn’t do (e.g., sleeping), except applied to the public drama of toddlerhood and the preschool years. Year three is the heyday of “It Gets Better.” To the shocked parent of a child who has loudly entered year three, It Gets Better has some weary appeal. It fosters solidarity.

But three is also an experience that can last for many years beyond three. Temperament is forever. When you have young children discovering their power, or maybe you are raising a spirited child, every day is a shot at failure.

Perhaps the one thing I’ve learned in six years of “mothering” is that every mother thinks she’s doing something wrong. Nearly every mother feels like a terrible parent – that is, a terrible person.

I’m over it, and I want to know who to blame.

Blaming the “it” of It Gets Better leads nowhere. All that generic advice strangers offer does nothing to help when kids face larger challenges. The truth is, “it” does not get better. You do.

The life of a parent is committed. These days, it is insanely committed. You don’t check out; you don’t ever wash your hands of your children. You may gain sleep for a few years before your baby faces big kid issues. But those issues are out there, amplified by the lives children live online.

I know that when my girls are teenagers, driving cars, exploring intimacy, and becoming independent persons, their conflicts will loom larger and more terrifying to me. As children grow, so do the activities and emotions – exponentially.

If you’re bothered by the fact that a five-year-old’s hockey schedule runs three days a week, wait until they’re really into it, traveling or playing varsity in high school, when kid athletes have to drop other activities because one sport’s schedule won’t allow dabbling.

Your bigger kid may not throw tantrums anymore, but that doesn’t make their emotional growth easy. Your own desire to see them succeed may frighten you. If you feel rage toward the tot on the playground that shoves your child, imagine how you’ll feel when your teenager is treated badly by a teacher or boyfriend.

In an age where I’m supposed to focus parental energy on “resiliency,” as if my child is a permeable failure of engineering, as if projectile poison missiles are daily hurled at her body, I just…don’t know anymore. Robust, nope. Adaptable, no, not very. She’s six. Her instinctive response to badgering is to scream. It usually works.

Maybe I should take a page from her book and ignore whatever she doesn’t understand or have time for at that moment. I don’t need it to get better because my child is not a product. Whatever you are selling me in the parenting aisle, from “Pick your Battles” to “Failure makes Grit,” I no longer want. Whatever my child requires to survive in the American contemporary, I reject.

We are middling humans trying to retain a shred of originality. We were born with intellect and imagination. It’s a gift I gave to her! I don’t need a farm to cultivate my child. I don’t need a wild garden. I don’t need the unschooling adventure road trip. I don’t need a special school for her, and I don’t need a coach. I don’t need your book, FB group, meditation program, or any version of the pre-professional applied to my six-year-old’s life. I don’t want to tinker, I don’t want to STEM. Or STEAM.

As a parent, I get to be all of those things – wise – simply by being hers. I teach her by being around, and I think parents can stoke their kids’ imaginations and knowledge stores without living in a bus for a year or resorting to packaged, expensive adopted methodologies.

Instead of lamenting what is a brief moment in my day with kids, I would like people to observe that my child is human. You know, a person? I’d like people to remember they were once human children, the best of humanity. I want people to see children’s squishable hugginess and their ability to absorb the emotion of what you are telling them.

When you say, “It Gets Better,” you are saying children are temporary and inconvenient. You are saying we live in different worlds. You are admitting the now is forgettable. Regrettable, even. Tense, yes. Embarrassing to me, often. But it’s normal, not hell.

I want people to remember their own squishable, fleshy bodies and say, “Hi, what’s up?” Don’t tell me I’m doing a great job, or that they’re a handful. And don’t tell me IT GETS BETTER.

My kid likes to taste her boogers. In the next six years, she may be offered a prescription to help her cope or a friendly 10-step solution. She is not a future professional. Nor is she a windfall, a free, organic angel of the earth. She is 100 percent kid. Please make room for that species – the kid and aspiring dog-owner who spends her energy perfecting scooter tricks, eating cheerios every single day, fighting unfairness, and protesting adult overlords, taking in her world one day at a time.

It doesn’t get better. I get better. You get better. And kids grow faster than any strategy when your life has been belittled and insulted by the American obsession with ROI. I’m going to take all the credit I possibly can for this state of affairs, thank you, and no thanks to anyone who wants to think “it” is more consequential than you and me and the space we make for our children.

Please help me see my children, and children everywhere, for who they are. They’re only getting bigger.

It Gets Better

by Kathryn Trudeau

The night I brought my oldest son home from the hospital was one I’ll never forget. Not because I was in love with him and was basking in the glow of an oxytocin-induced euphoria. Nope. In a word, our first night home was miserable. 

Between my total and utter lack of experience combined with a baby who wanted nothing to do with sleeping anywhere but on me, I slept a grand total of two hours, got pooped on, and was sore everywhere. By the time the sun began to peek over the horizon, my tears were in full force. I thought, “How in the ever loving world am I going to survive?”

Fast-forward eight hours and my sweet mother was at my door, sprinkling her magic baby dust on my boy and showing me how things were done. She assured me these first few days were tough, but it gets better.

She was right: those early parenting struggles (lack of sleep, 23,423 diaper changes, and the crying) do pass and it does get better. But babies don’t stay babies, and pretty soon, you have a toddler on your hands and then a preschooler and, before you know it, an empty nest.

While each stage of parenting has its own special joys, each stage of parenting also comes with its own unique problems and struggles. As we level up, so do the challenges. In an effort to maintain some (even just a shred) of sanity, we often comfort ourselves by saying “It gets better.”

But does it? Are the struggles and woes of a toddler any better than the sleepless insanity of newbornhood? Are the struggles of the infamous teenage years really better than the unpredictable moods of a threenager? Is it better, or are we just trading problems?

Here’s the short version: it does get better. But not for the reason you might think.

As our children grow up, parenting gets better, but not because our children become saints overnight who learn to listen (the first time), clean up after themselves, use polite words, and never fight another day with their siblings. No, parenting gets better because we get better.

I see the truth in the phrase “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” So why do I still think parenting gets better? Because we have been strength training since day one. The day our child was born, we began strength training. Being a beginner, you had to ease into it. Gradually, you could add more weights until, one day, you were strong enough to compete in the Strongparent Competition.

Think about this: every player in the NFL at some point had never even held a football. He, too, was an inexperienced beginner. See where I’m going? At first, we’re given small problems, but at the time they seem BIG because that’s all we can handle. As we grow in patience and wisdom, we graduate to bigger problems, and we take it all in stride because we’ve been in training.

The little problems at the beginning (tantrums, relentless crying, sleeplessness) were huge, all-encompassing problems. They also built you up, toughened you up, and gave you the experience and wisdom to tackle bigger problems. So in a way, parenting becomes easier – not because the problems shrink – but because you become more experienced.

You also grow in love and understanding of your child. You alone know your child better than anyone else, and a love like that can give you strength you didn’t know you had. 

It’s important to remember that even those NFL players make mistakes and have bad days. It won’t always be butterflies and rainbows, and you won’t have all the answers 100 percent of the time, but chances are your day-to-day life will get easier. At least you won’t always be covered in spit-up!

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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The bottle warmer has long been a point of contention for new mamas. Hotly debated as a must-have or superfluous baby registry choice, standard models generally leave new moms underwhelmed at best.

It was time for something better.

Meet the Algoflame Milk Warmer, a digital warming wand that heats beverages to the perfect temperature―at home and on the go. And like any modern mama's best friend, the Algoflame solves a number of problems you might not have even known you needed solved.

As with so many genius gadgets, this one is designed by two parents who saw a serious need. It's currently a Kickstarter raising money for production next year, but here are 10 unexpected ways this brilliant device lends a hand―and reasons why you should consider supporting its launch.

1. It's portable.

Every seasoned mama knows that mealtime can happen anywhere. And since you're unlikely to carry a clunky traditional milk warmer in your diaper bag, the Algoflame is your answer. The super-light design goes anywhere without weighing down your diaper bag.

2. It's battery operated.

No outlets necessary. Simply charge the built-in battery before heading out, and you're ready for whatever (and wherever) your schedule takes you. (Plus, when you contribute to the Kickstarter you can request an additional backup battery for those days when your errands take all.day.long.)

3. It's compact.

Even at home, traditional bottle warmers can be an eyesore on the countertop. Skip the bulky model for Algoflame's streamlined design. The warmer is about nine inches long and one inch wide, which means you can tuck it in a drawer out of sight when not in use.

4. It's waterproof.

No one likes taking apart bottle warmers to clean all the pieces. Algoflame's waterproof casing can be easily and quickly cleaned with dish soap and water―and then dried just as quickly so you're ready to use it again.

5. It has precise temperature control.

Your wrist is not a thermometer―why are you still using it to test your baby's milk temperature? Algoflame lets you control heating to the optimal temperature for breastmilk or formula to ensure your baby's food is safe.

6. It's fool-proof.

The LED display helps you know when the milk is ready, even in those bleary-eyed early morning hours. When the right temperature is reached, the wand's display glows green. Too hot, and it turns red (with a range of colors in between to help you determine how hot the liquid is). Now that's something even sleep-deprived parents can handle.

7. It's adaptable.

Sized to fit most bottles and cups on the market, you never have to worry about whether or not your bottles will fit into your warmer again.

8. It's multipurpose.

If you're a mom, chances are your cup of coffee is cold somewhere right now. The Algoflame has you covered, mama! Simply pop the wand into your mug to reheat your own beverage no matter where you are.

9. You can operate it with one hand.

From getting the milk warmer out to heating your baby's beverage, the entire wand is easy to activate with one hand―because you know you're holding a fussing baby in the other!

10. It's safe.

Besides being made from materials that comply with the FDA food contact safety standard, Algoflame boasts a double safety system thanks to its specially designed storage case. When put away in the case, the built-in magnetic safe lock turns the milk warmer to power-off protection mode so it won't activate accidentally. Additionally, the warmer's "idle-free design" prevents the heater from being accidentally activated out of the case.

To get involved and help bring the Algoflame Milk Warmer to new mamas everywhere, support the brand's Kickstarter campaign here.

This article is sponsored by Algoflame Milk Warmer. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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

BUY

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

BUY

7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

BUY

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

BUY

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

BUY

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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