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The Unflinching Mother vs. the Unblinking Sentinel

“What was your most harrowing mothering experience?” I heard one mother ask another on the bench next to mine at the playground.


There was a line of strollers in front of us. The kids, mostly toddlers, were on the slide or in the sandbox, sharing well or sharing poorly, while the adults had one eye on them and one on their phones.

My eyes were neurotically fixed on the kids I had brought to the park, and there was a reason for it.

The friend quipped:

“Harrowing? Besides bursting out a little human from my body after spine-splitting labor for one full rotation of the earth?”

They laughed. It wasn’t my question to answer, but I had known my response instantly:

Disneyland. I had one six and one seven-year-old boy by the hand. It was a packed day, so the three of us, hand in hand, weaved through the crowd to get to our rides.

Needing to pull out a map, I let go of their hands for maybe thirty seconds. Once I figured out where we were going, I reached for their tiny palms again. Only one reached back, so I did a 360º scan of my immediate surroundings expecting my other boy to be right there. He wasn’t.

My breath tightened a little – I had seen too many movies with a child disappearing in the span of time it took to look at a watch – but okay, keep calm, this is real life. Real life with real pedophiles who stalk areas concentrated with kids!

I squeezed my grip on the hand I did hold, pulling him this way and that, swinging my panicked head around clusters of vacationers. But my other boy wasn’t there.

He wasn’t anywhere!

My mouth went dry and my vision dimmed. The world – my life – turned black and I couldn’t breathe. Before my body completely shut down, I managed to spot a park security guard and pounced on him, yanking one boy out of two, by the arm.

I must have looked ripe for the asylum with my tear-glazed eyes and dried-out mouth trying to make words. The white-haired guard was calm. He told me that in over fifty years, they hadn’t lost a single child. Whether or not that was true, it had the intended effect and I was able to take a breath and give him a description.

My boy, it turned out, was already waiting at security headquarters. When I burst through the door, a woman security guard was comforting him as he cried.

I wanted to float away with relief; instead, I knelt down in front of him so we were eye-level and told him that letting go of his hand was the worst thing I’d ever done. The guards suppressed smiles at my melodrama but I couldn’t be mad about it since they’d found my boy.

I walked out with two out of two boys, taking their hands, convinced I’d never let go, not even when it was time to put them to bed.

The amount of time it took for all of this to happen was, drumroll – under five minutes.

Five minutes, and the darkest moments of my life.

That was my most harrowing experience,” I wanted to tell the two moms on the park bench, but they hadn’t asked me. Besides, I wasn’t a mother.

I was the babysitter.

I did crafts, made cupcakes, helped with homework, ran baths and read bedtime stories all those times they couldn’t.

I was the temporary mom to all the kids whose actual mothers couldn’t be around, the one who had warm spit-up trail down her chest while burping their infant. The one who gently attached a hairpiece with forty-seven bobby pins to a teenage daughter’s real hair for an Irish dance competition the time her mother was called away on a business trip. The one who cradled a feverish son and placed cold compresses on his forehead. And yes, the one who clapped on every weekend in the family room as twin girls performed their rendition of High School Musical 1, 2 and 3 in their entirety.

“You see,” I wanted to tell the moms on the playground bench, “I may not have burst out a little human from my body, but I know how to be a mother too.”

But did I?

The day my world went black was when I lost a kid – someone else’s – at Disneyland. I couldn’t handle five minutes of high-tension worry.

Yet there they were doing it, year after year, child after child.

Mothers hush their worry of the world because they must. Maybe I wasn’t brave enough to do what they do.

Instead I became a sometimes-mom, keeping my eyes fixed on their kids like an unblinking sentinel. After all, wasn’t that why so many mothers hired me, because I couldn’t bear the idea of unwatched children?

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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