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I gaze at my son across the table. His lean face concentrates on the screen in front of him, the lower half of his face covered carefully in just-the-right-length fuzz. He looks up and his blue eyes pierce mine, trusting and innocent in their expectations of our relationship. His tenor voice fills me in on the current difficulty he’s having booking a flight.


My child. My boy. My young man. My son.

I am as awed now as when I first met this person, newly emerged from my body.

My baby

I’m transported back to when I see those huge blue eyes in the round, muck-covered face, the pert nose above the full cherub mouth. The midwife says, “Look at those eyes. He’s been here before!” Indeed, he does look wise and knowing.

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Lying in the country hospital, I turn my head and watch in wonder. My baby is in his transparent crib beside me, his hands waving, wandering, gathering, exploring the newness. His face experiments with life’s expressions – a frown, a growl, at peace with the world, a smile. I am full with a love that can never be described. I am besotted. I adore him.

I watch as my mother lays her grandson on the lambswool mat. Gently, she strokes his baby back and he relaxes into a continued love of massage. He embodies trust and innocence.

I drink in who he is. I am stunned. He is my son.

I ponder my role in his life. I must parent for the long term, for his emotional health, for his full potential. I must parent for our relationship, to ensure it lasts a lifetime.

My toddler

His round pudgy legs propel him down the hallway at full speed. He throws himself at me. “My Mummy!” he yells as I sweep him up into my arms and cover him with kisses. He is a constant source of wonder and laughter and comfort.

I’ve a pad of paper and pen attached to the fridge with a magnet. As my son begins to talk, I record his words and then his sentences. I think they’ll be fun and interesting to read in the future. They are.

When he’s two, he makes observations like “Mummy makes noise into tissue” as I blow my nose, or “Look at the helicopter” as we spot a dragonfly. He asks questions, “Mum, did you talk to the girl in the money box?” while ordering drive-through food. He melts my heart with “You are my sunshine. I love you.”

If I close my eyes, I feel his soft hand, gently resting on my knee, just there, because that’s where it belongs.

I look down, and I marvel at the roundness, the tiny wrinkles, the perfection of those five fingers and tiny fingernails, that chubby wrist.

I inhale his sweet toddler scent. I am moved by his empathy when he sees me upset, gently brushing away my hair from my forehead. “It’ll be alright, Mummy, it’ll be alright.”

My primary school boy

His life is not easy, and it requires him to source a depth of inner strength and resilience that many adults would struggle to find. I equip him to survive as best I can.

I am super-stressed by outside events. I yell at him. I feel terrible. Then we repair. We address my behavior and his behavior, my feelings and his feelings. I listen, and I listen some more. Our relationship deepens and strengthens.

We’re standing in the kitchen. I say to him, “You know how you always wanted a brother or sister? Well, now you are going to have one.”

“Are you pregnant?” he says, disbelieving. “I thought you were getting fatter because you were eating too much of my step-father’s good roast dinners!”

He hoped for a brother, one that he could play with immediately. Four days after his sister is born, his earnest eyes look to me and he says, “Mum, how could I love her so much when I’ve only known her for a few days?”

Daily I marvel at the depth, warmth, and understanding between brother and sister. This is the relationship that must endure beyond me. Observing their loving banter comforts and amuses me beyond words.

My 18-year-old

I hear him striding down the hallway.

“Mum, Mum! Does this say what I think it says?”

He’s won a scholarship to study in another city. He’s worked hard at school and found his “spark,” and now he’s decided to follow his passion into his adult life. We have only three short weeks to find him a place to live, to set him up for living his life by himself, outside the family home.

We remain in touch, although not often enough for me. Then we fall into the habit of texting, rather than talking. We visit each other. We meet his girlfriend.

I fall ill. My son is there, supporting his sister, supporting me. His grandmother develops Alzheimer’s. He visits her in the nursing home, spooning mush into her mouth, telling her stories of his life and her life. His grandfather is not well, and my son is there for him, just as his grandfather was there for my son. He travels to see his sister in her school concerts. We travel to cheer him in his concerts.

My young man

Now my son is on his way to his next adventure. This time, he will be thousands of kilometres away, not only in another city, but another country.

We have the joy of my son staying with us for a week, before he departs Australia. His dry wit and playfulness once again lighten our household. His sister and the dogs delight in his company.

I soak up every minute, every hour I’m with him. We sit next to each other on the couch. I massage his back as I listen to his concerns and his hopes, and I am grateful for this physical method of connection threaded throughout his life.

On a spur-of-the-moment request, my son agrees to be a guest speaker at the parent education group (Parent Effectiveness Training, PET) I am teaching. Although he is not excited to speak, he knows this is important to me. The parents fire question after question.

“How did the PET skills influence the relationship with your Mum?”

“How did this way of parenting affect your teen years?”

“What would your top three tips be for parents raising teenage boys?”

He relaxes openly into the chair, listens, thinks, and answers from his unique perspective.

I am deeply moved by what I hear. Not only by his responses, but by his casual, familiar, easy, and affectionate use of the word “Mum.” In his deep man-voice, my baby boy openly discusses his warm relationship with me, the only person he calls “Mum.”

As my pivotal role in his life fades, I reflect. Where once I was his world, and he was mine, now he builds his own life, his own world. I am there, but to the side. Supporting. Cheering. Deeply connected, but no longer central.

I relish what we built together, based on a foundation of respect, trust, empathy, understanding, and love. We stood together against mutual external difficulties, each of us finding strength within ourselves, and strength together.

I am a mass of conflicting emotions. I worry for him, because I am his mum. I am sad for my daughter, for my father, for me, because I know how much we will miss him. But I am so excited for him, this young man opening his arms, embracing opportunities towards which he has planned and worked.

When he allows me to hug him tight, I hold on with everything I have. I feel his wiry torso, I smell his deodorant, I reach up and stroke his soft beard. I gaze into his blue, blue eyes, under his deep bushy brow, and I draw in my breath to stop the tears. I rest my head into his shoulder.

I drink in who he was, who he is, and who he is becoming.

I am stunned.

He is my son.

This post originally ran on parentskills.com.au

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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This week an investigation by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) made headlines, proclaiming 95% of baby foods the group tested contain at least one toxic chemical, including lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. The results are similar to those The Clean Label Project released in 2017.

These reports suggest many commonly consumed products, including formula, baby food in jars and pouches, and snacks contain contaminants like arsenic and lead, in some cases at levels higher than trace amounts.

These reports were not published in peer-reviewed journals, but the items were tested and reviewed by third-party laboratories. The products were screened for heavy metals and other contaminants, and, in many cases, tested positive for things no parent wants to see in their baby's food.

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It's important to note that all of us are consuming arsenic in some form. According to the FDA, it's naturally found in soil and water and absorbed by plants, so many foods, including grains (especially rice) and fruits and vegetables contain arsenic.

Everyone is exposed to little bits of arsenic, but long-term exposure to high levels is associated with higher rates of some cancers and heart disease. Previous studies have shown that babies who consume infant formulas and rice products already tend to have higher than average levels of arsenic metabolites in their urine (due in part to the natural levels of arsenic found in rice), so additional arsenic in baby goods is certainly not ideal.

“To reduce the amount of arsenic exposure, it is important all children eat a varied diet, including a variety of infant cereals," says Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The AAP encourages parents to speak with their pediatrician about their children's nutrition. Pediatricians can work with parents to ensure they make good choices and informed decisions about their child's diet."

According to the World Health Organization, arsenic exposure is associated with an array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Arsenic was not the only chemical found in the tested products that could potentially pose a danger to the babies consuming them. The new report from HBBF looked at 168 baby foods from 61 brands and found 94% of the products contained lead, 75% contained cadmium and 32% contained mercury.

This is not the first time lead (which can damage a child's brain and nervous system, impact growth and development and cause learning, hearing, speech and behavior problems) has been found in baby food. A previous report released in 2017 by another group, the Environmental Defense Fund, found 20% of 2,164 baby foods tested contained lead.

As the FDA notes, lead is in food because it is in the environment. "It is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food," says Peter Cassell, an FDA spokesperson.

Cassell says the FDA doesn't comment on specific studies but does evaluate them while working to ensure consumer exposure to contaminants is limited to the greatest extent feasible. “Through the Total Diet Study, the FDA tests for approximately 800 contaminants and nutrients in the diet of the average U.S. consumer," Cassel explains.

The FDA works with the food manufacturing industry to limit contaminants as much as possible, especially in foods meant for kids. “We determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to take enforcement action when we find foods that would be considered contaminated," Cassell adds.

The people at HBBF are calling on the FDA "to use their authority more effectively, and much more quickly, to reduce toxic heavy metals in baby foods," says HBBF research director and study author Jane Houlihan.

HBBF is circulating a petition urging the FDA to take action "by setting health-based limits that include the protection of babies' brain development."

Parents who are concerned about heavy metals in baby foods should also consider speaking with their pediatrician.

"Pediatricians can help parents understand this issue and use AAP guidance to build a healthy diet for children and limit exposure to lead from different sources," says Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition.

[A version of this post was originally published on October 26, 2017. It has been updated.]

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News

Over the last few months, I've made a new friend called Grief. She first showed up when the midwife told me, "I'm sorry, I don't see a heartbeat anymore." She quickly barged into my life, inviting herself into every moment of every day. She was an overwhelming, overbearing, suffocating presence. But in time, we learned to set some boundaries. Together, we created space for Grief to live in my life without feeling all-consumed.

Grief is pushy. I have learned that when she knocks on the door, it's best to just let her in. She has things to say and she's going to make you listen. Sometimes, we'll sit together for a while before one of us will say "My, look at the time. I've got things to do." Other times, it's a quick visit, and I can move on with my day.

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I've learned a good bit about my friend Grief through the experience of having a miscarriage. We've spent a lot of time together, and I've gotten to know her well. I hope this helps you get to know her better, too.

1. Grief can become a friend.

Over time, Grief has morphed from feeling like an invader, an attacker, and a bully to feeling more like a friend with a hand resting on my shoulder. She is gently present, palpable and—unexpectedly—comforting. Grief reminds me of the love I felt; that I have something to miss; that my baby was here. Grief comes to visit much less often, now. Some days, she still barges in unexpectedly. Some days, I go calling for her to come over.

2. Grief will teach you.

Grief has taught me that you never really know what others are going through. She has taught me to try to listen better, to be a better friend, to be more empathetic. Grief has emboldened me and demanded space for my feelings when I felt I couldn't. She's forced me to learn how to ask for help, how to advocate for myself and not apologize when I have needs. She has made my worldview richer, my love deeper and my appreciation for life stronger.

3. Grief will make you brave.

I never knew my own strength before I met Grief. Through her, I witnessed myself suffer and persevere with a strength I didn't know I had. I have felt her fully, and I am less scared of her now. I have walked through the fire with her, and she's shown me that I could do it again if I had to. But we both hope I never do.

4. Grief will bring you together, apart.

Grief has shown me some of her many friends, and through her, we have become friends too. Our relationships with Grief are all different. But, Grief unites us in a way that people who don't know Grief could not understand. In my marriage, Grief has made it clear she has a relationship with both of us, differently. She has shown us that we can visit her together, but more often than not, she wants to spend time with us alone. She visits us on different days, at different times, and in different ways. Learning to know Grief together, and apart, was challenging.

5. Grief knows when you need her before you do.

Grief knows me in a way that a friend knows me. She remembers the milestones and helps me remember too. She has the hard dates etched in her calendar and I'm sure she won't forget them. She's quietly with me, her hand on my shoulder when we see a stroller, a butterfly, a new pregnancy announcement. Sometimes she is there waiting for me before I even realize why.

"Welcome to your third trimester!" my email greeted me this morning. I thought I had unsubscribed from them all, but this one snuck through. An unpleasant reminder of what I already knew: Today should have been a milestone.

I took a moment to let it sink in when I felt her hand on my shoulder. Once you get to know her, Grief can be a really good friend.

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Life

I check my phone. It's 3 am. I wrench myself from bed and zombie-walk into my screaming son's room. Please just let him go back to sleep quickly. I'm so exhausted. I see my 9-month-old son crying and reaching out for me. I immediately pick him up and plop down in the rocking chair feeling discouraged and depleted.

I stare exhaustedly at the wall, contemplating what I should be doing right now.

Should I let him cry it out? Should I give him his stuffed bunny so that he can comfort himself? He should know how to self soothe, right?

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I definitely should not be picking him up out of his crib.

I definitely should not be nursing him back to sleep. That is definitely NOT what I am supposed to be doing. (*I know this because I've read about 8,000 articles and a dozen or so books saying just that).

But it's what he wants, and I'm tired. It's what my heart wants, regardless of what the "experts" say I should do. I feel like a failure for giving in. The books say to be firm—he's fine; he's just crying; he's being lazy because he knows I'll swoop in and comfort him back to sleep.

I should be able to treat him like an appliance—follow the instructions without input from my heart. Right? Maybe I can redeem myself by putting him back "drowsy but awake." Yeah, right.

I'll just have to start this whole process over again when he goes from "drowsy but awake" to "wide-eyed and screeching."

In the midst of the mental ping-pong between my head and my heart, a thought suddenly and forcefully rushes in—you're missing it.

I look down into the face of my infant son. His big teary eyes are locked on mine. He smiles, letting a little dribble of milk out of the corner of his smirk. This is what I'm missing. These moments—loving and being loved despite the crippling exhaustion of nursing throughout the night for the last nine months, these moments of real connection, of being a mother.

I'm missing the joy in motherhood under a dark cloud of shoulds. I can't see the good because I'm so focused on the bad.

And just as I am reveling in this epiphany, a chubby little hand reaches up. I watch his hand coming and think, This can't get any better! This sweet child is going to lovingly stroke my cheek! But, it turns out to be so much better than that. He literally slaps me in the face and giggles, delivering humor and lightness as only a child can.

Life is not as serious as I make it out to be most of the time. I've learned this from my children. I prayed that night that my child would go back to bed. I prayed that he would do what he was supposed to, or that I could do what I was supposed to (according to whichever expert I was abiding that week). But all I'm really supposed to do is show up and trust my heart without trying to fix it all, ALL the time.

Life isn't perfect. Otherwise, we wouldn't have moments like these at 3 am that crack us open and lay bare what really matters.

My mantra now is radical acceptance.

It's radical because, for me, it means defiantly and unequivocally accepting what my anxious mind tells me is unacceptable—the messy, the imperfect, the difficult.

It is a radical act of rebellion against the mind and its need to control and fix.

It is choosing to trust my heart and seeing through that lens rather than the broken lens of my mind.

It is seeing the good, the joy, the love, the humor, rather than what is broken and what is wrong.

It is radical for me to look at my life in all its messy splendor and not try to fix, change, or be perfect.

That is a radical act, I assure you, and my mind coils up in a panic every time.

But the moment I overcome that initial coiling and clinching and embrace simple acceptance, the fear and doubt are vacuumed up, and the joy inevitably rushes in. Little miracles, every time. Radical acceptance.

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Life

Positive parenting has become quite the buzz word these days, but what does it really mean? And more importantly, does it work?

At first glance, positive parenting sounds like parenting without consequences for bad behavior. Contrary to what many may think, positive parenting doesn't mean you respond with "I love you" when your 3-year-old hits you.

Positive parenting is not a vague concept of being nice to our children when they don't deserve it. It's a parenting philosophy and strategic method based on the idea that our relationship with our children is the most important thing, and that we can help children develop self-discipline.

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To be clear, positive parenting is not permissive parenting, which is parenting with high responsiveness and low demandingness. With positive parenting, there is a focus on discipline, and the goal is to raise a person who follows the rules and respects others, not because of fear, but because it's the right thing to do.

Here are some ways to help your child develop discipline, while being a positive parent:

1. Set boundaries

Having boundaries in our relationship with our children is key to being successful in positive parenting. Having, and enforcing, boundaries allows us to remain patient and calm because we feel respected and that our needs in the relationship are being met.

A good way to know when you need to establish a new boundary is when you are feeling exasperated, impatient or angry by a recurring behavior or situation.

Do you dread dinner time because your child insists on sitting on your lap and you can't eat? If so, establish a rule that everyone sits in their own chair for meals. You can snuggle after dinner.

Do you feel resentful because your child begs you to play dolls first thing in the morning every day when your eyes aren't even open yet?

Establish a rule that you get to sit and drink coffee for 10 minutes before you're available to play. Will your child complain? Probably. But they will also begin to learn that you have needs too.

You will be a better parent if your own needs are being met and your child will see a wonderful example of how to advocate for their own needs in a relationship.

2. Build connection to gain cooperation

Do you remember having a substitute teacher as a kid? Did anyone listen to them? Probably not. Children need to feel a connection to an adult to listen to them. This is a good thing—you don't want your child listening to any random stranger who tells them to do something.

But it also means your child is more likely to listen to you when they feel connected to you. This is the problem with punishment. It puts you at odds with your child, diminishing your connection and making it less likely your child will do what you ask.

If your child is going through a rough patch with behavior, try to build in a little extra one on one time to connect. This does not need to be a long stretch of time, but it does need to be frequent and focused. Even 15 minutes a day of dedicated, phone-free, time with your child can make your connection stronger than ever.

3. Be firm, but loving

So much of positive parenting is in the tone. You can be firm and hold your children to high expectations, while still being loving.

Decide what rules are important to you, clearly communicate them to your child, and be consistent with enforcing those rules. Being a positive parent does not mean letting your child walk all over you. It does mean trying to maintain a calm, loving tone when your child needs reminders about the rules.

4. Avoid shaming

"You're 6 years old, don't act like a baby!"

"Your room is disgusting, go clean it up."

"Why can't you ever listen? It's not that hard!"

Have you said those words? These phrases all have a shaming effect, making children feel bad about themselves. This naturally has a negative impact on a child's self-esteem, but it is also not effective because it reinforces a child's identity as someone who behaves a certain way.

If your child is always told they're acting like a baby, they will absorb this and behave that way even more. If you refer to them as a bully, they will think of themselves that way and act accordingly. Try to comment on your child's behavior, letting them know when it's inappropriate, without inducing feelings of shame.

5. Try natural consequences

Punishing your child makes you the enemy and can often be confusing if the punishment is unrelated to the offense. Instead of punishment, try allowing the natural consequences of their actions to unfold.

For example, if you ask your toddler to put on their rain boots and they refuse, the natural consequence is that their feet will get wet outside. They will be far more likely to acquiesce next time it's time to put on boots than if you respond with a time out when they say, "no!" to rain boots.

6. Use logical consequences

While natural consequences are ideal because they don't put you in opposition with your child, there is not always a convenient, short-term natural consequence.

For example, it might be important to you that your child puts all of their Legos away every day so that you don't step on them (ouch!).

The eventual long-term natural consequence would be that some Legos might get lost if they're not put away every day. This could take weeks or months to occur and your feet might not be able to take that.

In this type of situation, try to think of a related consequence that makes sense, and execute it without anger. The consequence might be that if you step on a Lego, you're going to put it away in the garage instead of back in your child's Lego bin.

7. Use positive reinforcement

Did your child remember to put their shoes away all by themselves? Did they help their sister when she was frustrated with her homework? Let them know that you noticed!

It's easy to comment on bad behavior, but just smile to yourself when your child does something beautiful. Make sure they get more attention for good behavior than for bad.

This doesn't mean you need a lavish reward system—just tell them what you saw. Say something like, "I noticed you put your shoes away all by yourself. That shows real responsibility!" Or, "I saw you help your sister. You really care about other people."

In addition to letting them know you noticed, this kind of praise helps your child maintain a positive self-identity that they will want to live up to.

8. Model respect

Children copy what we do. If we want them to be respectful to others, we have to be respectful toward them.

If you want your child to say "please," say "please" to them.

If you want them to wait until you're available instead of interrupting you, wait until they get to a stopping point in their play before asking them to do something.

If you want them to be kind and gentle with their siblings, be kind and gentle with them.

It can be hard to put into practice in our busy, frazzled lives, but children absorb everything around them, and this definitely includes how we treat them.

9. Strive for empathy

It can often seem like our children are misbehaving just to make our lives harder. Why can't they just follow the rules at the park so you can all have a nice time?

There is always a reason for misbehavior though, whether it's as simple as a hungry or tired child, or more complicated like difficulties at school.

If you can understand the reason behind the misbehavior, it will be so much easier to find empathy for your child and respond with kindness. If you can't figure out the reason, just know that there is one. Your child loves you more than anything and wants to please you, so there is a reason if they are acting out.

10. Use time-in, not time-out

The goal of positive parenting is to build and maintain your relationship with your child, while also raising a person who will do good in the world.

Time-out sends the message that we can't deal with our child's behavior, that we don't want to see the part of them that is loud and angry and messy. It pushes you apart.

Time-in, or spending time being present with your child, brings you closer together. It recognizes that what all children need is to feel loved and accepted by their parents, no matter what their behavior looks like that day.

Time-in is not always a pleasant thing. It's not all hugs and painting rainbows together.

It may look like your child crying or throwing a tantrum next to you because you're holding the line on a boundary. It may look like you explaining the importance of the safety rules you have in place and why you had to leave the park early.

Time-in doesn't mean that everyone is always smiling and happy, but it does mean that everyone feels loved, that your child gets the message that you will always be there and can handle anything they throw your way.

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