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When I was younger, I never wished that either myself or my situation were different. I accepted who I was, how I looked, and how I acted. I laughed a lot. Most importantly I liked the person I was.


Becoming a mum has changed my view of myself a little. I struggle to switch off and relax, I suppose because as a parent, you rarely get time to yourself. Even a shower or toilet trip usually involves a little person interrupting. The stresses and strains of the various stages of parenthood kick in from day one and affect not just you individually, but your relationship with your partner. There are days I’ve hated the sound of my own voice repeating things or the odd snappy comments as tiredness has taken over.

As a new parent (especially a mum), you can find yourself obsessing over everything, trying to see patterns and creating some form of routine. It can be tricky as things change all the time. As time goes on, different challenges can still crop up: sleep, potty training, and illnesses to name just a few. It’s hard not to let things get to you sometimes and have a good old grumble or a cry.

For me as a parent, the second time around I’m more relaxed about some things. I’ve learned from the first time that you just have to stop obsessing about the things you can’t change and handle the things you can. Even so, I still find things get to me. Having two has been quite tough, particularly in the first few months as lack of sleep builds up and affects my mood, making me feel down and struggling to cope. I’ve hated feeling this way, I just want the fun, happy me back.

I started to compare my situation with other mums’, wishing I could have more sleep or a baby without colic, or wishing I could lose baby weight quickly like other mums had. When I had a miscarriage, I found it really difficult to hear about other friends who were pregnant, especially the ones who were due when I would’ve been.

On that basis, however, I realize that others may look at me or my family and wish for their situation to be more like ours. From the outside looking in, things can seem perfect, but in reality, we all have our ups and downs.

Generally, we tend to try and promote the happy, harmonious, fun side of being a parent (especially on social media) and don’t really admit any struggles. Why would we? You don’t really want people to read about the tough bits. I would never know if a mum-friend was really down unless she told me. I’ve had to openly say in the past, “I feel down” or “I’m struggling,” to get the support I need. I can’t expect others to guess, especially when everything appears to be rosy.

I’ll admit I’ve questioned my ability as a parent in the past. I’m guilty of going for easy food options, for example. I’m guilty of giving them the iPad instead of playing with them. Guilty of bribing to get them out the door (or back in!). Guilty for spending more time with my younger daughter as she needs me more at the moment. Guilty that I wanted to start introducing the bottle to make it easier rather than solely breastfeeding. Guilty of thinking others might be doing it better.

Why should I feel this way? What is making me feel this way? Why am I comparing my situation with others, the media, and other pressures? I’m ultimately doing it to myself. It’s down to me and the way I view things. My kids are wonderful, bright, kind, and full of life. I should be happy and accept I’m doing a good job!

There are so many circumstances I can’t change in life. One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t change the direction of the wind but you can adjust the sails.” We will face tough times, but rather than let them take over, we can adjust things to make it that bit easier. For example, I have to accept that my husband and I can’t go out on many dates anymore, but we are in the house together after the kids go to bed. We need to make the most of that time, switch off from being parents (and our phones), and focus on us for a bit.

I know I’m still the same person with the same views and values, it’s just that my circumstances have changed. They’ll continue to change. I’ll adapt again, try to stop thinking about it so much, and be happy with everything I have.

Behind closed doors, every parent has something they struggle with. Few people admit how tough things can be, but with the rise of bloggers like “Hurrah for Gin” and “Part-Time Working Mummy,” the struggles and strains are out there for mums to identify with.

In reality, every mum has a different birth experience (no two are ever exactly the same), a different child with a different personality and needs, different husband, job, and family circumstances. Why spend precious time trying to compare? The one thing we all have in common is that at some point, every parent (and not just parent but person), will find things tricky or difficult. After all, there are no rules and no manual.

That’s when you need to speak up. Never be afraid to admit what’s going on or how you feel. It doesn’t make you weak or inadequate. It actually takes some balls to do it. People will always assume things are okay until you talk about it. We can help each other.

Remember, every mum has walked where you have and every mum has stepped beyond it.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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A man stood by the side of the road, thin and ragged, holding a battered cardboard sign. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel, willing the light to turn green. He was close enough that if my car window had been rolled down, I could have reached out and touched him. But the windows were shut, a solid barrier between us.

"Mommy, what is that guy doing? What does his sign say?" my daughter asked from the backseat. She was in kindergarten, just beginning to read.

I cast a side-eyed glance at him. "His sign says 'Homeless and Hungry'," I told her. "He's asking for money."

"Well, aren't you going to help him?" she asked. "He's hungry!"

I rarely carry cash, so it wasn't a lie when I mumbled, "I don't actually have any dollar bills with me right now." I felt a pang of guilt, though. To my daughter, it was obvious that we should come to the aid of a hungry man who needed help. Had I lost sight of my own humanity, zooming past this man without a second glance?

Next time, I resolved, I would stop and give something.

The following day I stashed a few one dollar bills in the console of my car and designated it "the homeless fund."

About a week later, on the way home from school, we came upon another man panhandling. Homeless Vet, his sign said. I gave him a couple of dollars through my car window. He was gracious, and the interaction only lasted a moment.

As I drove on, I realized I was feeling something I hadn't expected: happiness. I remembered then what I had learned in my early twenties as an Americorps volunteer, that giving makes you feel good.

This continued for a few months. My daughter would announce "There's someone with a sign!" and I would scrounge for loose change or bills. But I wondered if we could do more. The people we gave to were often stationed near the interstate exit closest to our house, close to a McDonald's. What about gift cards instead of cash?

My daughter and I talked about other small things someone who lives on the street might like. "A bottle of water," she suggested. "A snack."

I went online for ideas and found several ideas for care kits. We went shopping and packed a few large Ziploc bags with chapstick, tissues, bottled water, granola bars, $5 McDonald's gift cards, and pairs of socks. I stashed them in my glove compartment to have on hand, and my daughter and I began putting together a handful of bags each month.

Since then we have given away many of these care packages. The recipients have been men and women, young and old. Some are disheveled and some are well-groomed. The messages on their signs vary: "Far From Home," "Hungry," "Anything Helps," "Vietnam Vet," "God Bless." Every time we give a bag away, though, we are met with thanks.

Then recently, it was my turn to do the thanking. My daughter and I were at the local nature center and I had forgotten to pack sandwiches for lunch. A small hot dog stand was our only option, so I started to order. Then I noticed the "cash only" sign.

"Oh...wait. You don't take credit or debit cards?" I asked.

"We only take cash," the man running the stand replied.

"Never mind," I said, embarrassed and flustered. "I don't actually have any cash with me."

Immediately my daughter began whining. "Mooommmmy, what are we going to eat? I'm starving!"

The vendor looked at her and then at me. "Wait here," he said and began preparing two hot dogs.

"But I don't have any way to pay you," I protested.

"It's okay," he replied, "I'm giving them to you. I want to do this. Let me do one nice thing today."

My voice caught as I thanked him, humbled to experience this level of kindness from a stranger. I felt a combination of discomfort with my situation combined with gratitude. For a moment, I realized what it must feel like to be on the other end of our care package project.

I'll never know the impact of our project. But so what? I'm not a Catholic, but I am a fan of Pope Francis. "Give without worry," he said in an interview last year about giving to the homeless. Because giving to someone in need is always right."

It's been three years since my daughter and I began giving away our care packages. If she hadn't shamed me into trying to help a hungry man, I would still be avoiding eye contact with people on the street who ask for assistance. Instead, I remember how I felt that day at the hot dog stand. I also think about the vendor's words: Let me do one nice thing today.

The care packages are a simple project. But in a way, they're anything but simple. The project has given me the chance to model kindness and compassion to my child. It's created an opportunity for us to work together. And it's allowed us to experience the joy that comes from doing something good.

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We've seen the tired old trope in articles, commercials and television shows so many times: working moms just have too much to do. They're chauffeuring kids around to evening practices, making lunches after said kids go to bed and staying up till the wee hours of the morning catching up on their relentless and stressful jobs. The message is clear: working moms are tired and burnt out. They don't get enough time for themselves because they're so busy giving it all to their families and their jobs. But does this really line up with the working mothers you know?

Here's a secret many working mothers have figured out: less really is more. The minimalist movement—simplifying your life and stuff to gain more time—has revolutionized life as a working mother. The minimalist mom gets a full night of sleep, has time with her kids and, importantly, has time for herself. Here's how:

1. She says no.

A minimalist mom knows her limits, her interests and what the tipping point is for herself and her family. So, she limits volunteering to what interests her and what she can reasonably fit into her life. She guards her Wednesday nights—the night she always takes off from family duties to hit a yoga class or do something for herself—fiercely. She also says no to her kids: it's one out-of-school activity at a time and Sunday mornings are always for family. She's also mastered saying this at work: No, I can't take your work on. No, I won't be staying late to finish your last-minute request.

2. She knows where to spend her money for increased quality of life.

She would rather hire a bi-weekly cleaner than buy a pair of designer jeans. Weeknight meals are easy and from the slow cooker or just a simple spread of crackers, cheese and fruit. Fast food and takeout is expensive, and she'd rather spend that money on a babysitter and three courses at that new trattoria for date night. She is happy to buy the expensive snow boots for her oldest so they last through all three kids—saving not only money, but also time shopping. The kitchen renovation can wait until the youngest is out of daycare. Until then, she'd rather use fun money to buy an extra week of vacation and road trip as a family. Her spending aligns with one of her biggest values: having time for the things and people she loves.

3. She doesn't care what other people think.

Her workwear is five outfits for each season and no more. It's professional, flattering and easy. No one notices if you've worn the same outfit for seven Tuesdays in a row. She doesn't care what grandiose delicacies are brought for the school bake sale: She brings the same delicious butter cookies (the ones that they can freeze a quadruple batch of dough for) to every event requiring a cookie or baked good. Keeping up with the Joneses—who are stressed out and broke—isn't her thing.

4. Her kids do some things, not everything.

The family lives by a shared Google calendar and there are set rules around weekend playdates and kids' activities. Their kids have a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play time. She is a person first; chauffeur, playdate arranger and sideline soccer mom second.

5. She delegates like the boss that she is.

She hasn't done kid laundry since her oldest could reach the stacked washer dryer on his own. Her husband alternates meal planning and grocery shopping with her every week and makes all the kids' dentist appointments (she does the doctor appointments). She only takes the dog for a walk when she wants to; otherwise the kids do it. When an older kid forgets his or her lunch at home, they know that they have to figure it out for themselves: raiding their stash of granola bars in their locker or borrowing money from a friend for lunch. She understands she can't do it all, but rather, she and her family can do the basics together.

6. She knows what she and her family need (and want).

Her non-negotiables are her running group that has met every Saturday at 7 A.M. for a decade, a long weekend away with her spouse every fall and bedtime stories with the kids at least three nights a week. She knows what people and things fuel her—this makes it easy to say no to things that don't. She has a rule for friends that invite her to those kitchen gadget/jewelry/leggings parties: if she knows the salesperson well, she'll buy one item but won't attend the party. Every other invitation is a no.

7. She has hard and fast rules around taking work home with her.

Her team knows that if they have something urgent after 6 P.M. they better call her. She doesn't check email once she has left the office until 6 A.M. the next morning. When she gets home from a week of work travel, she takes a four-day weekend. Her schedule is blocked out from 4 P.M. onwards. so she isn't scheduled into end-of-day meetings that could run long. She meditates for 10 minutes at the end of her shift so she can leave the work stress at work. She guards her personal time and mental space fiercely.

8. She views work as a break from family time and family time as a break from work.

Being mentally present and engaged at work and at home means no guilt over enjoying her balance of work and family life. She cheerfully enjoys that there's no diapers to change for nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and when she's home she revels in being out of her office and untethered from her phone and laptop. Learning to quickly switch gears from work, family and personal time is a skill she has mastered to simplify her life.

The minimalist working mother doesn't do it all: she does the things that are important to her and to her family. Her list is unique to her and no one else. How she spends her time and her money directly aligns with what she values. This ethos of living her values makes it clear, fast and easy to make decisions. She knows that time is her most valuable resource and she spends it wisely at home and at work.

Originally posted on Working Mother.

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When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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