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We were in the side yard smiling in the sunshine and watching my growing toddler explore the world with the excitement of the very young. My friend gestured towards my front porch, where she had left a box of clothing her three-year-old had already outgrown.


“I don’t even remember what’s in there, to be honest, I packed it up a few months ago…” she said, apologetically. “Hopefully none of it is already too small for him. If it is, you know, just pass it along.”

In the time since I became a parent, the near-constant trading of clothing has become a constant feature of my life. I have learned that when my kid outgrows all of his clothes suddenly (and doesn’t it always happen suddenly?) I can easily go to my friends with older children and ask, “Okay, who’s got stuff for us?” Usually someone does. Usually people are thrilled to get these boxes and bags of old clothes out of their homes. As my own child outgrows his wardrobe, I place the too-small items in an old diaper box until it’s full and I go hunting for someone to take it off my hands. I never have to hunt very far.

 

 

I turned to my friend. “If it doesn’t fit, there’s a neighbor baby just down there,” I said, pointing two houses down, while still keeping half an eye on my kid on his wobbly legs. “He’s only five months younger and takes most of our hand-me-downs.”

This was the point in which my friend beamed at me. Grinning ear to ear she said, “Oh, that’s so wonderful, then you get to see them again!” I suddenly knew that there’s way more to hand-me-down clothing than I previously imagined.

My own childhood experience with “handed down” clothing was less than idyllic. The secondhand stuff always came from the kids of my mom’s friend, or else a distant cousin, and it was always woefully out of style. To make matters worse, it was usually picked over by one or two other children before landing at me, so the good stuff was already gone. And while my mother would remind me not to be snobbish about wearing clothing I didn’t love, she also had her own issues around the implications of a secondhand wardrobe. Because she hadn’t had brand new clothing growing up, she made a big point of making sure my sister and I often did. No wonder I was predisposed to dislike the cast-offs of family friends! To add insult to injury, these articles of clothing always arrived in a big, ugly, black garbage bag.

In my little kid brain, the symbolism was stark and clear. I could never imagine myself having an affinity for hand-me-downs.

My own child, now two years old, owns a handful of things that were purchased new. One or two of them were bought by his ma and myself, but far more of them were purchased by grandparents. He also has some things found at thrift stores. But primarily – overwhelmingly – his wardrobe swells with secondhand clothing.

Who knows how he will feel about it. Maybe when he’s seven years old he will turn his nose up at the whole operation, just like I did. But for now, he loves rifling through a box of fresh hand-me-downs just as much as I do. And I do love it, I really really do.

From the parental side, there are many things to love. First, there’s the cost factor. We’re a low-income family, and even the cheapest clothes in stores still cost money. But the box of summer stuff from the kid down the street never ever does. Kids grow fast, so having clothing needs removed from our budget is extremely helpful. It’s also far less wasteful, since children do go through clothing so quickly. Especially babies: They wear them for such a short period of time that used clothing isn’t worn out until it graces the fifth or sixth kid. If you don’t want to support huge corporations, and you don’t have the money for the really fancy indie kid’s clothes, second hand is a great option.

Then there’s the fact that — and this might sound shallow — my friends have impeccable taste. They dress their kids in really cute outfits, and that helps me do the same. Once, a friend in New York sent me a bunch of messages about my kid’s (and let’s be honest, my own) taste in toddler outfits, before sending us a hand-picked box of stuff she thought would be the best for my particular child. It has gotten to the point where my wife and I have caught ourselves checking out an older kid’s fly outfit and saying “I wonder if we could get that in a year or so?”

But there’s something else, something more than efficiency or aesthetics, that makes me really love the hand-me-downs. I think it is the thing my friend and I were talking about in the yard that day, the thing that makes the transfer of clothing from kid to kid an actual joy. That thing is this:

In all likelihood, my family will only ever have this one child in it. That means that every single baby or kid-related item has only a short time with us. Every stupid t-shirt that I love to see him in, every cute pair of socks – they all have to go. But when they go to the baby down the street, they don’t disappear. Smaller kids breathe new life into what were once our favorite things, and their parents mix and match them in ways I never would have thought to do. When I see the neighbor baby in a onesie that my own baby used to wear, I sigh and say, “I remember when he could still fit in that.”

It isn’t just me. As our children grow and change, my neighborhood and my larger community keeps right on swapping kids’ clothes. All the parents stand outside while the kids play and say wistfully, “Oh, I remember that one, it used to be my daughter’s! But it looks so cute on your kid too!” Or, “Isn’t that sweater great? I got it from an old friend who moved to California, her sister made it, can you believe that?” The constant shuffling of outfits is a constant tangible, physical reminder of the fact that my kid isn’t alone in the world. He’s part of a community of children.

That is something worth celebrating.

After my friend climbed back in her car and drove away that day, I scooped up my kid and took him inside. In the living room, I took a box cutter to the box and we spent a fun half hour going “oooh” and “aaah” over the new items inside. Most of it fit great, and he wore it all winter.

But, he’s hit another growth spurt since that sunny day. Nowadays you can find most of the clothing from that particular box, still in my neighborhood, on a couple of other toddlers. My friend was right: It is really wonderful to get to see them again.

 

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

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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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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