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It was nearly 9 p.m. when I got a text from my son who had decided, last minute, to come home from college for the weekend with his friend. A polar vertex had descended on the whole northeast and I was already headed up to bed. I stared at the text with a mixed set of emotions. Sure, it would be nice to see him. But leaving so late at night? That never seemed like a good idea.


At 9:45 p.m. I heard the chime of another text. Their car had broken down in Baltimore. They were in the midst of solving the problem and had pulled off to a side road to call a tow truck. But, in the meantime, he wanted me to know that he was not coming home now. And that it was cold in the car.

“Are you wearing a coat?” I asked.

He was not. I thought back to all those mornings that I sent him to school without nagging him to eat breakfast, wear a jacket, or remember his homework. I believed in letting kids learn through natural consequences. I believed that actually experiencing a little hunger or cold would be a better motivator than any nagging on my end, that my kids had to learn certain lessons themselves so that they would be memorable. I wanted them to learn to depend on themselves.

On some accounts, it failed to take hold. When they were little, some of the consequences were barely noticed. Recess at school was only 20 minutes and often, on frigid days, they didn’t go out at all. If they missed breakfast at home, lunch was at 11 a.m. If they forgot their homework the penalties were minor. Maybe it meant they would get a slightly lower grade or stay in for recess. They could survive without a coat, breakfast or homework.

By 11 p.m. the tow truck had still not come. They were still cold. He admitted to me, on the phone, that he never took it seriously when his grandfather scolded him about his lack of jacket-wearing in winter and asked, “what happens if the car breaks down?”

I sighed on the phone, relieved they were not on the highway when the natural consequences of poor choices finally kicked in. There are some things that are hard to teach as a parent, especially when the goal is to protect. I had never provided the experience of being stranded in a broken-down car, nor did I ever want to.

I faced the dilemma head-on this past spring when we got his brother honeybees for his birthday. He was turning 17 and appreciated things with purpose. However, he also suffered from pollen allergies and sneezed through the entirety of every single spring. For eight weeks each year, he was barely recognizable.

When a bravado appeared in him during a particularly allergic early April, I started to get worried about our decision to get him bees.

“I am going to walk into that hive and just smear myself with the honey when I get those bees,” he said between sneezes. He had long-known about the research that eating local honey can reduce allergies. It appeared that he was planning to take things one step further. I imagined him covered in bees, overcome with multiple stings.

When the day came to pick up the bees and transfer them to the waiting hives, I was apprehensive. The bee suit was still in the packaging and my son was still telling me about how relatively tame these bees were and how he wouldn’t be needing any protection. Where he saw non-threatening bees, I saw a still-developing teenage brain.

He mixed up the sugar water as I chopped potatoes for dinner. I thought about how, in one more year, he would be going to college and facing other decisions and risks. In one short year, I would not be able to intercede.

As he headed out to the wooden hive in the back I decided to follow from a distance and watch him spray them with the sugar water.

“It calms them down,” he said.

I looked a little closer and they were still actively trying to escape. Not a calm bee in sight. He sprayed them some more and tapped the container against the ground.

“They will fall to the bottom,” he said as he inspected closer.

I looked as well. Not too many bees on the bottom.

He followed the protocol one more time. I could tell that he was getting ready to take off the lid and dump them in the hive. I thought longingly of the bee suit in the garage. I struggled to not interfere. I struggled with my own belief in natural consequences and where to draw the line. He knew the risks. He had done the research. But still I was uncomfortable.

My eyes were intently focused on his hand as tried to pull off the lid, my heart pounding as buzzing grew louder. The bees knew something was up. Once the top was off, there would be no turning back. The bees would be everywhere. I spotted a split-second hesitation in his fingers as I held my breath, my own heart pounding. My mother’s instinct took hold more powerfully than I could control. I yelled to him something about the woman who sold the bees: “She said they swarm after trips in the car.” I was lying out of my own desperation to protect.

He stood up. Our primal instincts clashed – my need to parent and his need to be unafraid, to grow up. He let out a sigh, the sigh I knew meant he was about to take pity on my worry.

“Go get the bee suit,” he said with resignation to his younger brother.

His brother and I zipped him in as he muttered about my annoying interference. But, for that moment, I didn’t care. He headed back to the bees and fully released them. I watched as the bees, now freed, covered the white of his suit, swarming around him. I thought of his bare arms and legs under the white cloth. I wondered what would have happened had I not intervened.

Back in the house I resumed making dinner. A few minutes later he came in. A bee had stung him on his eyelid when he took off the bee helmet.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he said.

“Get some ice from the freezer,” I replied, grateful for the honeybee that stung him, the one that proved me right.

A month later I would again be grateful; this time for a set of railroad tracks that knocked off a muffler on my oldest son’s car. He would learn how to secure it with a coat hanger at midnight. My words, “please don’t drive so late at night” would suddenly carry more weight. And I would be reminded again that sometimes life is a more effective teacher than a parent. Even when it is hard to watch.

Even when it stings.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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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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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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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.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

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!

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