A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

It was the the summer of 2010 when we first moved to Florida with our baby twin girls. I became a stay-at-home mom after having worked full-time my entire adult life. I lost my friends, my family, and my support system.

I lost my identity and the ability to work outside of the home. I lost the life path I had been on. I had nothing left but my immediate family and my online world, which was sparse at best.

I freaked out.

It was LiveJournal that saved me – an old, out-of-date social media site. I wrote there quite often about my new life and role. I made more and more mother friends from across the globe. Attachment parenting moms, helicopter moms, free-range moms, woo moms, religious moms, working moms: you name it, we had it.

Under the guise of our chosen screen names, we told each other about our mistakes and foibles, our successes and failures. We told each other about our anger and sadness, our joy and our boredom. Nothing was too great or small to post about, and as such, we got to know each other extremely well. We were all friends, all in it together, supporting each other and helping each other through each day. Until we went anonymous.

Mommy wars is a term that seems almost facetious, but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s truly serious. Whether to breastfeed or bottle feed can bring women to online blows. My girls were premature, and I struggled for months to exclusively breastfeed. Of course, I wanted the best health for my babies, but I’d be lying if I told you the internet mothers didn’t help feed my fervor.

I couldn’t let them down. I couldn’t be “one of those formula moms.” Nearly three months in, with little ones inching ever closer to the dreaded “failure to thrive” moniker, my own mother shook me out of it. I was so tired I could barely walk from the living room to the kitchen, pumping exclusively all day, every day. I’d try to feed them by breast even though they had come so early they couldn’t latch. My husband would joke, “which one is going to be starving today?” meaning, which one was I going to torture with my full-of-milk breast for 20 minutes while the other got a bottle of pumped milk.

I made my family miserable because I was sure if I only tried hard enough, I could make breastfeeding work for us. The pro-breastfeeding communities are very supportive. They give you recipes for cookies you are too exhausted to make. They encourage the use of flax seed, which you can never find in the grocery store. They have miracle anecdotes, and you become convinced you can do it too. Until you just can’t.

Thankfully, I learned (after collapsing and beginning to supplement with formula) that there’s an equally strong contingent of formula feeding mothers, who fight back as hard as they are fought against. I became a formula feeding warrior, always with a helpful defense of a mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed.

One day a friend of mine whom I had met on LiveJournal asked me if I would help her moderate an anonymous community there for mothers; for, essentially, our group of friends. It was to be a place where women could leave their names behind and talk about things they felt they’d be judged for under their moniker, or things they needed to unburden without fear of retribution of any kind.

If a mom got frustrated and spanked her child although she was typically a loud proponent of hands-free discipline, this would be the place for her to talk about it and how she was coping with her own break of character. If someone found her sister high and didn’t know if she should call Child Protective Services to help the children involved, she could go there to ask without having anyone know who it was. That’s what the place was supposed to be.

Instead, the judgment was tenfold. People gathered within the community not to unburden themselves but to skewer their fellow moms — their friends – in the light of day. Almost immediately, the place became a resting spot for malicious gossip about other members, hearsay and rumors, and outright lies.

“Anons” came out of the woodwork to call so-and-so’s child ugly, to ask if this person’s baby had mental disabilities or if her parents simply neglected her. They called people’s houses filthy and were merciless to those who looked or acted any different from their particular brand of normal. They threatened to call bosses, to call CPS, to call the police on any and all users they disagreed with, sleuthing as hard as they could to find “proof” for their claims. Or they’d simply go around calling their friends bad mothers, laughing at tragedies in their lives. Anything that could possibly hurt another person was fair game.

And unlike the more public trolling we have all witnessed on social media channels, in this community, we all knew secrets about each other. The anons had more to go on than just a sentence or one opinion. They had troves of personal information from hundreds of women they called their friends. They put pieces together like so many internet detectives, figuring out which vegan ate a hamburger. Or worse, going off a false heroin rumor, trying to place the issue on someone they knew.

Other people’s drama, real or pretend, helped them escape their own lives. 

My volunteer moderator duties included wading through the muddy waters of vicious, cutting deceit and ad hominem attacks and screening them, all day long. All of this showmanship, I soon learned, was not directed at the victim, but at the community. Its purpose was not to stop individual behavior through ridicule, but to use that behavior as a jumping board for gravitas.

In real life and on the internet, stay-at-home moms are pitied and judged. Working moms are pitied and judged. Moms who spank are judged. Moms who use positive discipline are judged. Cry it out? Judged. Co-sleepers? Judged. Women, in general, are pitied and judged.

This narrative is so ingrained within us, that when our autonomy is further infringed upon by a tiny being, we take that narrative and try to wield it ourselves. It seems as if convincing the nameless masses that we are better than her, or her, or her over there, will somehow mean we’re good enough.

What we’re searching for is someone who can simply tell us it will be okay; that we are okay. But no one does. So we settle for someone else being worse off. This goes on day in and day out in countless internet threads. It’s bad enough with full Facebook names. Try adding anonymity.

In between loads of laundry, a woman with three small kids at her feet would attack her fellow online members in an elaborate game full of speculation, gossip, and strategic moves and comments to shred another’s credibility. Punch after blow after kick. They were careless words typed frantically in between feeding babies or cleaning bathrooms.

We kept that community running for more than two years, each day combing through the confessionals and complaints to scrub the forum free of malicious gossip and hearsay. Once, when we didn’t act fast enough, a member did find the personal information of another member who’d been talked about and called that person’s workplace to complain, resulting in her firing.

I was indirectly responsible for someone losing her job, her ability to feed and house her kids. I had made a huge mistake in my life. I achieved the opposite of my aim in agreeing to be part of that community.

Eventually, our strict rules against talking about others and our continual deletion of comments not conforming to that rule wore on the anons. They left our forum and made their own community, one where they could get as nasty and specific as they wanted without fear of being “censored.”

We thought it would fail. We believed the best in our members; that they weren’t really looking to wreak havoc on their friends and other mothers, but that just a few bad apples were ruining it for everyone. We were wrong.

We soon realized we didn’t even like running an anonymous community. It was hard, soul-sucking work for no payoff. We stopped posting. The anonymous community I once ran with hundreds of daily comments sits in a dark corner of the Internet, dusty and forgotten. No one has been there since 2012. But that woman still lost her job. Countless tears were still cried. Dozens of mothers questioned their abilities and strength. And for what? For the jolly of trolling?

Research suggests otherwise. Women may be more sensitive to social exclusion, and they experience it more than men throughout their lives. This phenomenon happens within the framework of competition, something sitting at the core of the Mommy Wars. In order for some not to feel excluded, they move aggressively to exclude others by pointing out weaknesses or differences, essentially ostracizing individuals or entire groups.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of mean comments, or even actions, do not engage. A troll’s words aren’t intended for the person to whom they are directed. Instead, they are intended for the others in the community. Trolls are showing off for each other. It’s a game where getting a response from whomever the troll targets in only half of the reward. Ultimately, this mean-spirited exchange is just a twisted and sad way for an unhappy person to be recognized for her mental acuity and ability to twist words to fit her own end.

We waste so much time shouting into the abyss that it almost doesn’t matter what we are saying. All we are really saying is “HEAR ME. I EXIST. I REALLY EXIST.” The irony, of course, is that we forget others exist, too – and that our words can wound them.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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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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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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