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I have ducked out of the pediatrician’s office, ashamed, after discovering the co-pay is due at that moment, not when a bill arrives. I’ve used a credit card to buy three days of groceries at the end of the month and felt like a failure.

I’ve been short on money, but never poor in that hopeless way of not having somewhere to turn. That is a whole other kind of poverty, where there isn’t a light ahead that things will get better. I’ve never wanted to ask for help but have always had someone to ask – my parents – when the bank lost the paycheck I deposited.

Middle class Americans often have little experience with those at the bottom of the economic ladder. We live around people with similar earnings, generally. Same goes for social groupings, school, and co-workers. Even if you have used government programs like WIC or SNAP, you likely had some kind of income coming into your household.

I quit my full-time job before my first child was born. On paper, we would be fine on one salary  in a perfect month where nothing went wrong. That kid is 10 now and I don’t think we’ve ever had such a month. Before the kid was a year old, I had to cash out my retirement savings account just to get us through.

I felt like a failure, like I couldn’t talk to anyone about the stress since it was my own fault and like I couldn’t breathe when I’d try to pay the bills.

I’ve used the internet at the public library to avoid the expense of connecting at home. We already had no cable, no cell phone, no latte habit. I’d already given up spending money on my favorite frivolous items, shoes and books, when I stopped bringing in the bacon.

Though it was a stressful time, I never worried about losing my home. There was always enough to eat, though maybe not the fresh fish I craved. I knew the situation was temporary – I was highly employable and wasn’t stuck in this pit of poor forever.

My friend Mary lives in Eastern Canada. When I asked her about how financial struggles had impacted how she views money, she had a ready answer and clearly had thought about the question before.

“The first year after Bob started the business, we were in dire financial straits. I’ve always been really good with money and done lots of saving and was and still am very frugal, but last spring we were at the bottom of our business line of credit and had to use our personal line of credit to pay for car repairs. I was turning down play dates if they cost any money (to go to the pool, etc.), I switched to glasses instead of contacts because they’re cheaper, and we just didn’t spend anything extra at all if possible.

“It brought me to two realizations: the very clichéd thought that we still had everything – healthy kids, a home, and a loving extended family, etc. and the more revelatory thought that maybe I had been a bit of a miser previously. I’m more generous with what we do have now and I’m very aware of how money can affect relationships if it is too important.”

Another friend shares, “I’m a freelance writer and editor, which means that in this crazy economy sometimes I have way too much work and sometimes I have not enough work. When I book a job or two that inevitably means that I have to book more child care and sometimes housecleaning help for the duration of the job. I grew up in extremely tight financial circumstances and my mother never had any help at all, so I’ve internalized the idea that it’s spoiled, even selfish, bordering on immoral, to have help. It feels somehow like boasting to the universe that I have enough money and that I’m waving my hand to have people do my bidding. But there’s the reality that if I book a big job, I can’t do the job without child care and housekeeping help. So I hire the help but feel terrible about it.”

As she speaks, I’m reminded of when an editor questioned an assumption in an essay I wrote, about gaining weight as you age. I didn’t even realize I’d internalized a certain message based on my upbringing, much like how you should not pay someone to watch your children or clean your house.

My friend continues, trying to work through her own thought process. “The boys love their sitter and loves when she comes to ‘play.’ I love, and my husband loves, the clean house that we don’t have to spend the entire Saturday mopping and dusting. The sitter and housekeeper presumably want to work and make money too and are happy about it. Part of the problem, of course, is that domestic workers are routinely underpaid, but I do pay a fair wage, so that isn’t the problem here. It’s more that I internalized, in my childhood, that spending money equals bad. But money isn’t moral or immoral in and of itself. It’s what you do with it that matters.

“It was a huge revelation and relief to realize that spending money can be a neutral-to-positive thing rather than a negative. We should aim to spend our money in a way that does good in the world.”

Money, like so many things, is fraught with baggage and emotion. I try to emphasize to my own children that working hard, not what you get for it, is what is important. On the other hand, my husband very much wants them to know you can make choices about your field and can choose something that will pay the bills. That’s from his background of a big family with very little money.

Here’s how my views on money have changed, thanks to years of plenty and years of empty. Money is a way to put your priorities in action. For me, that means a 10 percent tithe, plus other charitable giving to organizations in my community that I care about: schools, food bank, or the women’s shelter.

It also means talking about money choices with my kids, something my parents never did. When we planned ahead for a big trip, I was a bit of a broken record about renting a DVD instead of going to the theater. I won’t scrimp on cheap toilet paper, but I’ve got no problem eating a tremendous amount of rice and shopping for groceries only on sale.

When the elementary school does fundraisers for the animal shelter, I explain to my sons why I don’t contribute: with finite funds, my money goes to people rather than animals. They don’t entirely understand (or agree) but I keep trying. They have too much, something I’m frequently torn about. I’m working to be more open about what I earn for various types of work and what that money is used for. All I can hope is that they understand the power of the dollar, not like Batman’s millions, but in choices and responsibilities.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44


7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)


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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