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I have something to tell you and I think it’s going to make you mad.”

My daughter’s voice was small as she stood in the kitchen doorway while I complained that I was tired and still had to make dinner. “What is it?” I wish I could say I was patient. “I promise I won’t be angry. I’m just in a bad mood.”

She glanced down at the floor, clearly ashamed and nervous about what she had to tell me. “I think I want to hurt myself. I don’t feel safe.” Those words changed the course of my day, my week, and probably my life.

That night I spent six harrowing hours in the emergency room with my 19-year-old daughter on suicide watch, going home only when she had been admitted to a local psychiatric hospital. I was worn out beyond belief. How does a mother sit next to one of her children and know that her child’s life had become such a dark place she was willing to end it?

I am grateful she reached out to me that afternoon with her fears of hurting herself. Not many young adults will do that. Why was I a lucky one? What was different that she’d felt safe enough to open up to me even as I groused about how bad my day had been and how tired I was?

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Be a lifeguard, not a helicopter

In 2014, there were almost 43,000 deaths from suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death, but it’s the second leading cause of death for young adults ages 15-24. Why is it that at their darkest hour our youth feel they have no one to turn to for help? What can we do differently to reach out to them and help them feel safe?

There’s a lot of talk about helicopter parents. I like to think of myself as a lifeguard parent instead. A helicopter parent hovers overhead and swoops in to save the day whereas a lifeguard parent stands by, encouraging their child to take risks and only jumps in when the child is in over her head and calling for help.

There are four key choices I made when I decided to be a lifeguard parent; these choices made a huge difference.

1 | Choosing to get in the water

A lifeguard allows us to choose whether we want to be in the water. As a parent, I always encouraged my children to think for themselves. I’d offer my advice if it was appropriate, but I never made the decision for them, even if I took criticism for this from others.

Of course, there were times when I simply had to step in and be the one in charge; we’re parents and that is what we do, but when I could I left it to them. When they were young, I’d coach them through this step, and I still do when they are making a big decision, but I have to do it less often because they are able to think critically about the decisions they are facing.

2 | Allowing them to stay in the water

The lifeguard never decides if the water is too cold for us, or if it is too deep for us. I’ve never witnessed a lifeguard advising people to stay out of the deep end simply because it was over their heads. A big caveat to letting children think for themselves is allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions. If they never experience the negative impact of a bad decision, they will never understand why it was a bad one.

I’ve rarely intervened when my children have made a bad choice and had to suffer for it. Of course, a lifeguard must judge when someone in the deep in is in distress, and as parents sometimes we have to make those same decisions and step in even when we’re not wanted.

3 | Trusting them to know what they can do

A lifeguard assumes you’re a swimmer until you prove otherwise. They may recognize that you are a lousy swimmer but they will never stop you from trying. Letting our children face the consequences, of course, means that you have to let them make mistakes. There may be many times that you are aware of them making a decision that you know will have a negative impact on them. It is respectful to allow them to do that!

4 | Pulling them out with dignity

A lifeguard pulls a distressed swimmer out of the water without judgement. A key aspect of being a lifeguard parent is never saying I told you so. I have never seen a lifeguard pull a drowning person out of the water and berate them for getting in over their heads. As a parent we can’t either. If we don’t give our children a chance to fail, they will never learn that they can succeed. When we say, “I told you so,” the only thing we teach them is that our decisions are better than theirs, insinuating that they will always need our help to make sound decisions.

Lifeguards are safety nets

As a non-swimmer, I know I’m always a little bolder when swimming under a lifeguard’s watchful eye than I am when I’m swimming on my own, even with other strong swimmers. I know the lifeguard’s got my back and that if I get a little further out than I can handle they’ll jump in and pull me to safety. As a lifeguard parent that’s what I want to be: the one who stands beside my children as they interact with the world, willing to pull them in when they get over their heads.

When I was a teen my swimming friends competed for the lifeguard jobs. It had perks, like getting to be at the pool or beach and out in the sun all day. Being a lifeguard parent has its advantages as well. It opens the possibility of being a parent and a friend to your children, and that leaves you free to admit when you need help or have made a mistake.

As a lifeguard parent, I don’t have all the answers. In fact, sometimes I need other lifeguards to help me do my job. I have often admitted to my children, just as I would to my friends, that I’ve made a mistake, misjudged something, or needed to update my way of thinking about something. Letting our children know we make mistakes strengthens the relationship between us by showing them that none of us are perfect and that we all make poor choices sometimes.

The water is really deep sometimes

I have something to tell you and I think it’s going to make you mad.” I may never have heard those words if I hadn’t chosen to be a lifeguard parent. I might have woken up to a daughter who had overdosed and was maybe fighting for her life, or worse. 

Further information about suicide and suicide prevention for young adults can be found at PsychCentral and The Yellow Brick Program.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


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


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Learn + Play

Mother's Day is almost here, and whether you're shopping for a favorite mama in your life, dropping some hints to your partner, or planning on treating yourself (you deserve it, mama!), we've got just the right gift to help you enjoy your special day this year.

From family portraits to flowers, we've rounded up 16 of our favorite Mother's Day gifts that are sure to put a smile on any mama's face. Happy shopping!

1. Custom family portrait, Etsy, $74.99 and up

Cue the tears—we could not be swooning more over these heartwarming custom family portraits. We love the artist's attention to detail + simple, modern aesthetic, and we think any mama would be overjoyed to show off her family with one of these handmade portraits.

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2. This is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices, Amazon, $16.34

This is motherhood

This collection was written by—and for—mamas. You'll find reflections on each phase of "the wild ride of motherhood," including the soaring highs of meeting your new baby, the ground-shaking lows that make you doubt everything you've ever known, and all the beauty and pain in between. Each chapter closes with practices from Motherly's team of wellness experts to help you define, clarify, process, and celebrate your journey.

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3. Mama necklace, Tiny Tags, $105.00

mother's day gift ideas

There's no sweeter name than 'mama.' This handwritten pendant is a sweet, beautiful way to tell mom just how much she's loved.

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4. Classic tote, Cuyana, $175.00

mothers day gift ideas

This tote is truly a timeless classic. Made from genuine Italian pebbled leather, it's simple + sophisticated in all the right ways and will last mama for years to come.

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5. Breakfast in bed set, Target, $24.99

mother's day gift ideas

Breakfast in bed paired with the incredible style of Joanna Gaines? Let's make every day Mother's Day, okay?

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6. Tassel earrings, Baublebar at Nordstrom, $38.00

mothers day gift ideas

These tassel earrings are a fun addition to any look, and just right for mama's night out (or any night out, really!).

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7. Heart bowl, The Little Market, $10 and up

mothers day gift ideas heart bowls

These hand-carved bowls are perfect for anything from serving snacks to storing jewelry—and each purchase supports the Wood Carvers of Kenya artisans.

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8. Promptly Journal, Amazon, $34.99

promptly journal mothers day gift

These beautifully bound journals are a great gift for the mama who wants to chronicle all of life's important moments but doesn't think she has the time. Each journal is filled with short, easy prompts, making it easy to document all the little moments she'll never want to forget.

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9. Leather band vase, Mark & Graham, $29.00

mothers day gifts mark and graham

With a rustic twist on a classic, this vase is the perfect place to show off your Mother's Day flowers (hint, hint). Monogramming available.

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10. Fresh, ethically grown flowers, Farmgirl Flowers, prices vary

mothers day gifts flowers

She has the vase, so now she'll need the flowers to fill it! We not only love these natural, beautiful arrangements (they come wrapped in burlap, a detail we think is genius!) but we love that they're ethically sourced and grown, as well.

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11. Mama T-Shirt, The Bee and the Fox, $33.00

mothers day gifts t shirtsthe bee & the fox

This statement tee is a great way to remind mama just how awesome she is.

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12. Diaper Bag Upgrade, Mini Bae, $178.00

mini bae diaper bag mothers day gift

Upgrade mama's diaper bag with a chic backpack. This one has multiple pockets on the inside and outside and coverts to a crossbody.

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13. iRobot Braava Jet, Amazon, $169.99

We know what you're thinking—a mop for Mother's Day? BUT WAIT. It's a robot mop! (And a damp sweeper, and a dry sweeper.) It cleans all by itself! It gets rid of all those crusty ground-in kid stains while mom sits back and relaxes! YES!

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14. Photo display box, Artifact Uprising, $55.00

artifact uprising photo box mothers day

Every mama loves to show off photos of her family + her little ones—and this brass and wood display box makes it effortless and stylish. We love how it doubles as a storage box and a beautiful frame-like display.

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15. Limited edition apron, Rifle Paper Co x Bennett

mothers day apron

If you know a mama who loves to cook, this stunning (and sturdy) apron may become her new best friend. It's a limited edition collab with an LA based chef-quality apron maker and crafted from gorgeous Rifle Paper Co. fabric, and it's truly an heirloom piece. There's even a matching mini-me style!

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16. Ceramic styling brush, Amazon, $58.99

In styler styling brush mothers day gift

If there's one thing all mamas need more of, it's time—and this cult favorite ceramic styling brush provides just that. It instantly delivers shiny, straight and smooth styles with just one single pass, or the perfect blowout look.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Shop

As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I'm from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying “It's in the water" wasn't just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices.

I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my 12-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.

My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn't happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone.

It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, “We got pregnant on our first try."

These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.

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One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor's office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve—a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs I had left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn't impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.

The biggest toll of infertility is the silence

I couldn't talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn't logical.

I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn't even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn't ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.

Infertility is not only silent, it's physically draining

Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basal thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus).

I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.

I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn't anything I wasn't willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn't stop.

Infertility is also expensive

Most insurance policies don't cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast.

Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was $15,000. The cost didn't even include medication, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. On average the procedure is $20,000 to $30,000.

The worst part is that there's no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20% success rate. Flip that around and that's an 80% chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth.

I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.

Infertility causes you to lose spirit

I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn't matter or wasn't worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn't move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes.

I would think why couldn't I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.

A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.

But something stopped me.

I stumbled across the book, Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph Over Despair and Statistics by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.

I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn't deserve a baby.

I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.

I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn't work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.

I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn't bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.

Then, he smiled.

I was pregnant. I couldn't believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.

Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, “Relax, it will happen." Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.

What I didn't say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can't be measured.

But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that's what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don't give up.

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Life

We're not only at the beginning of a new year, but the start of a new life for those due in 2019. If you're expecting a baby this year you've got plenty of celebrity company, mama.

Here are some fellow parents-to-be expecting in 2019:

Jenna Bush Hager is pregnant with baby no. 3! 🎉

There's going to be a lot of new parent talk happening backstage at the Today show this year! A week ago Today co-host Hoda Kotb announced she's just adopted her second child, and now, Kotb's co-host Jenna Bush Hager has announced her third pregnancy!

On Easter Monday, Bush Hager told co-host Craig Melvin (and America) while chatting about what her family got up to over Easter. Apparently, once her girls (6-year-old Mila and 3-year-old Poppy) found out there was no more keeping it a secret.

"Yes, I'm pregnant!" Jenna said. "And I'm only telling because Mila and Poppy found out yesterday in their Easter baskets. (Then) they told the man behind me on the airplane; they told the people at church. So ..."

Congrats to Jenna (and to Poppy and Mila, we're sure they'll be great big sisters)! 🎉

[A version of this post was originally published October 21, 2018. It has been updated. ]

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News

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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