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My 15-year-old son and I are sitting in the car in our driveway. I’ve asked him about his grades, which tripped a live wire.


Simon, the child who’s never had to work to succeed, is struggling mightily this year. A high school sophomore, he’s juggling a load of advanced academic classes and a busy extracurricular schedule, and those spinning plates have begun to crash all around him.

Suddenly the child who once finished his homework at school can’t even start it at home because he didn’t understand the lesson. He’s frustrated and embarrassed. He doesn’t ask for help, thinking he’ll catch up, and falls further and further behind.

His grades are beginning to cost him. When his performance matched his potential, I enthusiastically supported his full social schedule. He enjoyed very loosely regulated use of his phone and other electronics.

As I watched his grades decline, I began to say, “no” to his requests to hang with his friends after school. We lowered his screen-time limits and cut off his phone’s cellular data.

This near-police state is uncomfortable for everyone, and long, angry conversations like the one we’re locked in now have become our new normal.

“Why can’t you accept that this is just who I am now? Maybe I’m not supposed to get good grades anymore! Maybe I’ve reached the point where this is just too hard for me,” he argues.

I’m quiet, and he continues.

“This is the best that I can do, and it’s not good enough. I hate coming home. This is all we talk about. Why can’t we just stop talking about it? I wish I could go to sleep and have it be next year.”

He’s not wrong. We do talk about his grades often, and I’m tired of it too. Unlike when he was four, he doesn’t spend all his time trailing me around the house. We don’t exchange 10,000 words in a day. I can’t work this topic in between long discussions about Pokemon and Star Wars. I seize any opportunity I have with him alone to check in on his progress. I don’t like the dynamic it creates either, but I’m stuck.

“Dad doesn’t talk to me about this stuff. Dad trusts me to manage it,” he rationalizes.

Simon rarely plays his father and me against each other but, as our eldest, he has the most experience plucking those strings, and the blow initially lands just as he intends. I can feel the blood start to flood my face.

I’m already responding in my head. Of course Dad doesn’t talk to you about this stuff, Dad doesn’t check grades. Even when Dad and I were married, years ago, schoolwork was my domain. This isn’t about trusting you, kid, it’s about Dad delegating to me. Don’t flatter yourself and don’t imply that this is about one parent doing their job better than the other.

I steady my focus on the topic at hand. “This isn’t about trust. I trust you. I also think you need help. Your grades matter in ways that are hard to see right now. What’s your plan to improve? How can I help?”

He doesn’t hear me. “Do you know how much I hate that you and Dad talk about this? That you work to have the same consequence? I can’t get away from this pressure anywhere. I hate coming home to both houses.”

He continues, voicing frustration about the two houses he occupies, his large blended family, his stepparents. Outwardly, he is a well-adjusted, happy young man. Tonight I’m hearing a different side of his story. The anger and sadness continue to boil over, each voiced hurt overtaking the last like waves tumbling onto the sand.

I stay quiet. I’m working hard not to let this trigger my own stuff. He needs a calm adult present, not a mom overwhelmed by her own guilt and grief. I breathe deeply, concentrating on dropping the tension out of my shoulders and keeping my hand on top of his. Sidestepping my own triggers is tough and requires nearly my full concentration.

He rages on, but he can’t drown out the voice in my head. That voice wonders if I’m too hard on him, if maybe I’m missing signs of something bigger. She questions his healing, my parenting, and our relationship. She’s loud and demoralizing, and I have to fight to stay present with my son.

He pauses and, in the silence, I look across at him. His head’s dropped and his shoulders slumped. He’s tired from a long day and exhausted by this late-night swirl of emotions. Suddenly I see my little boy in his rumpled six-foot frame and my inner voice goes quiet. I know what he needs. I remember how to be his mama.

“We’re where we’re supposed to be, love,” I say softly. “All of us. You’re supposed to be struggling with grades and school and balance and girls and friends and your parents. That’s what teenagers do. When I was 15, I wasn’t a fan of time at home with my family either. My parents weren’t divorced, but I carried different baggage.

“Sorting out your baggage, figuring out how you carry it and how it shapes you is the work of becoming an adult. Figuring out what to do when things break down is more of that work. Asking for help. Trying something new. All of that is the work of growing up, and it’s supposed to feel scary and overwhelming and uncomfortable. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard.”

I don’t tell him how scary and overwhelming and uncomfortable adult work still is. How much I worry about the impact of decisions I’ve made and the words I say. How, just when I think I have it figured out, everything shifts and I have to start again. How hard it sometimes is to push through the story I’m telling myself and show up for the people who matter most. How, years later, I’m still learning about the baggage I carry. I don’t tell him the truth I’m only just learning: Growing up never really ends.

“You’re doing your job as a teenager. I am doing my job as your mom. We’ll find our way through together.”

I ruffle his too-long hair and get out of the car. The hour in the driveway is enough for the night.

He grabs his backpack and starts into the house. “I love you, Mom,” he says quietly.

I gather his gangly, suddenly grown-up body into an awkward hug. None of him fits where he used to, and he hunches down to put his head on my shoulder. This once-familiar act is uncomfortable for both of us, an achingly obvious metaphor for our interactions of late.

“I love you too, sweetheart,” I tell him, and hold on.

This piece was originally published on the author’s blog.

 

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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

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A new season is fast approaching, and I'm not certain that I'm prepared. Truth be told, I've known this day was coming. I've contemplated it for months, years even. I've dreamed about it. I've spent countless hours trying to wrap my head around the fact that my life is about to take a drastic, inevitable turn.

The narrow road I have traveled over the past eight years is suddenly widening and twisting, dotted with signs, dangerous curves ahead. Once the carefree days of summer are over (replete with endless cries of “I'm bored," multiple interventions, and failed attempts to keep the pantry stocked with snacks), a new chapter begins.

This will be the first year that all three of my kids will be in school full-time. Perhaps this change is heightened by the fact that my youngest two are twins, so I am losing both of my babies at once. Perhaps I'm overestimating the impact this will actually have on my life. Perhaps I've created the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. Or, perhaps the feeling that this is a pivotal turning point in my life as a stay at home mom is, in fact, spot on.

Regardless, with the impending approach of September comes the age-old existential dilemma: Who am I?

Over the past eight years, I have enjoyed the joy (and sometimes hair-pulling craziness) of watching my children grow, being a part of each milestone, of every achievement and failure. My world has silently shrunk down to being wholly centered around my children.

As the kids have gotten older and changed, so have I. Everyone tells you how quickly time passes when you have kids, but no one warns you that time is also passing for you. I am not the same person I was eight years and three kids ago. I am no longer the career-obsessed, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office professional that I once was. I would like to believe that that I have been upgraded to someone softer, more nurturing, more patient, more understanding, and more tolerant.

But with that is also a sense that, somewhere along the way, I've lost a bit of me. When someone asked me what the best event of this past year was, it was difficult to think of something that was my accomplishment, rather than my kids,' My identity has become entwined with theirs.

Prior to having kids, I never imagined that I would be a stay at home mom. I expected that I would work and mother, balancing it all in perfect harmony. But the loss of my own mother and the birth of my daughter a year later changed my perspective. I opted out of my well-paying job, a decision supported by my husband, and one I have never regretted. But now the world is opening up, my small bubble ready to burst. I must face the reality that life is changing, whether I'm ready for it or not.

It's difficult to deny this inevitability with the endlessly repeated question from friends, family, and acquaintances: “What are you going to do with all that free time?"

What indeed.

I give the same pat answers I gave when the twins went to part-time kindergarten (and which are all, in fact, true):

  • “I have dreamed of grocery shopping alone."
  • “I'll enjoy having the house clean for more than five minutes."
  • “I will revel in drinking a cup of coffee, blissfully uninterrupted."
  • “I'll volunteer in my kids' classrooms."

But now it seems as though these answers are not enough. “Are you going back to work?" quickly follows.

Don't presume that I haven't spent hours exploring this very question myself. I miss a lot about working – financial independence, adult interaction, positive reinforcement, accessing now dormant parts of my brain.

There is also the guilt of not working. What will people think? When other parents ask at school drop off what I'm doing for the rest of the day, and I smile and shrug my shoulders, will I be judged? Considered lazy? Will I feel as though I have to justify my existence, my purpose in life? Will I find myself slipping into a depression with all this time alone?

If I do choose to return to work, will I be satisfied in my former career? Have I changed so much that that part of me has become irrelevant? I am also hit with the reality that the school day is three hours shorter than the work day and subsequent calculations of the cost of before and after school care, summer vacation, Christmas break, spring break, sick days, and all those days off in between.

I am approaching a curve in the road, unable to see what lies ahead. So I continue to hold on tight to these last fleeting days of summer, to my life as I know it. I feel an impending sense of loss, but also a tingle of excitement as I look to the future, to exploring the person I want to become—the new version of me—and to writing a new chapter, whatever it may be.

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This piece was originally published on Mamalode.

If you're contemplating the road back to work, our podcast “Where Was I…" provides a roughly-sketched road map for anyone wishing to return to work after taking a career break to care for their young children.

Life

I hate breastfeeding.

But I didn't always hate it. When I found out I was pregnant, it was something I was planning to do. There was no question about it.

I started hating it when I was admitted to the hospital for medical bed rest. When the nurses asked me how I planned to feed my daughter, they would exhale dramatically and smile when I told them I was going to breastfeed. I got the impression that, in their eyes, breastfeeding was the only acceptable answer to that question.

So many nurses asked me about this very personal choice that by the time my doctor asked me, I was a little on edge. Her response was very different.

"Just know that it might not happen for you," she said.

She told me that because I was delivering six weeks early, my body might not be ready to produce milk. Having a baby at 40 weeks and full term, was not only ideal for the baby but also for my body as well.

I never realized that this could be a side effect of having a preemie. I told her that I still wanted to give breastfeeding a try.

Within hours of leaving the operating room, a lactation nurse was knocking at my door. I hadn't even held my daughter for the first time, and already this woman was explaining the pumping equipment she brought with her. After she was done, she asked, "When are you going to start pumping?"

"Maybe tomorrow?" I said, still trying to wiggle my toes from the effects of the spinal tap.

She shook her head and scowled. "No, you need to start now. If you don't, you will never get your body to produce milk."

I watched awkwardly as she rubbed and squeezed her own breasts to demonstrate how to "warm up my body" before I used the pump.

There was nothing sexual about this. The nurse was merely showing me, clinically, how to get my body to start producing, but I was so uncomfortable. That discomfort continued as she stayed to watch my first pumping experience.

She instructed me to pump every two to three hours, even at night.

That was never going to happen.

Some women would relish the opportunity to do this, but not me. I had just been cut open, my daughter was in the NICU, and I had just spent two months in the hospital where nurses were continually waking me up. I felt like I earned a few nights of uninterrupted sleep.

She was not pleased to hear that when she checked in with me the next morning. She was a pleasant woman, but she was acting like I was personally insulting her because I didn't roll myself out of bed after abdominal surgery to pump every couple of hours. The nurses in the NICU were just as intense about my breastfeeding.

People no longer asked me what my decision was, it was expected of me. They would make me pump in front of them and then frown at the amount I was producing. They grilled me on how many times a day I was pumping. The whole thing became so unpleasant that I shut down every time the subject came up.

I was breastfeeding my daughter, and it was going well, but I did not feel like other mothers who describe the whole thing as an incredible bonding experience.

For us, the whole thing was tense, uncomfortable and frustrating. To top it off, my hormones were raging out of control. I was crying all the time and felt like everyone was judging me as a mother. I started getting caught up in how much I was producing and putting pressure on myself to provide more each time.

Maybe it was just my hormones, but I felt so unhappy feeding her and even felt that way during pumping. I felt like a cow that was chained to a post and forced to be milked eight times a day. I found myself making excuses for why I couldn't pump or breastfeed her. Instead, I used the formula the hospital sent us home with.

At the first pediatric appointment, I tested the waters again with this new doctor. I told her that I didn't love breastfeeding, but was doing it for my daughter since she needed it.

"If you don't like it, then stop." She told me. "I can't tell the difference between a breastfed child and a formula child, but I can tell the difference in the kids that have a healthy, happy mom."

Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. It was everything I needed to hear to officially make the switch. That afternoon I started to wean myself off pumping.

Not only am I much happier, but my daughter continues to thrive. At her latest doctor's appointment, she continues to gain weight, and her doctor is amazed at how well she is doing.

Breastfeeding is a very personal choice, and it's one that a lot of mothers and babies love, but I'm one of the mothers who hated it. Whenever I think I've made a mistake and I should have just "sucked it up," I think back to what my doctor said.

Give your kid the greatest gift of all. Be a happy mom.

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Life

Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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News

In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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