A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

I’m about to delve into a touchy subject for many parents of school-aged children, so I’m going to preface this by waving a white flag. First and foremost, I am a mom to three kids in school. One of them has special needs and has had an IEP in place since he was three years old. In other words, I understand why many parents feel compelled to micromanage what is happening in their child’s classroom.


I know all too well the anxiety a lot of parents feel as the new school year approaches. They are hungry to know everything and anything about their child’s teacher. What is their age? How long they have taught? How strict or lenient are they? Do they have children of their own? What do they look like? And so on.

This is an assumption, but I have a feeling it will resonate with many parents: You want to like your child’s teacher. Probably more importantly, you want that teacher to like your child. Basically, you want them to make all the same decisions that you would, because you know your child best, and you know what’s best for them.

When your child is with you, everything remains under your control. You are captain of the ship. But once your baby is on the bus, you relinquish all the decision-making that affects your child while they are spending their day inside those brick walls. It’s unnerving.

Things will go wrong. Your child will be teased. Sometimes, they will be bored or frustrated. They will, from time to time, get embarrassed. Or be hungry before lunchtime. Or trip and fall. Or be rejected by their peers. Or feel the sting of not being the best at a particular task.

You will not be there to work damage control. It will be up to…your child’s teacher. The worst part of all is that you won’t be there to witness it and make sure it is up to par with your expectations.

When your child comes home with a pout on his or her face, you will do a little digging for facts. Who is at fault for your child’s unhappiness? Why wasn’t the problem dealt with properly so that all is well in the world in your child’s eyes?

I’m going to cut to the chase right here. It doesn’t matter what happened. It’s the teacher’s fault. Here’s why I can make that statement with utter conviction (and you may have already guessed this by now): I was an elementary school teacher for eight years.

Somehow, along the way, our general culture has shifted from an accepted truth that teacher knows best to the opposite end of the spectrum, which means every move a teacher makes is under intense scrutiny from all directions. This has some benefits, as teachers should be held to high standards for the sake of the children they teach. But in many cases, this mindset can veer off onto a slippery slope where the only human being in the classroom held accountable for anyone’s actions is the teacher.

This might seem like an overreaching argument, but let me back that up with a few examples of everyday correspondence modern-day teachers receive from parents:

My child is annoyed with the student who sits next to her in class. Please change the seating arrangement in your classroom.

My child is discouraged because he has not been recognized as student of the week (or whatever positive behavior system that school has in place). When will it be his turn?

My child came home hungry from school today because she did not eat the sack lunch I packed for her. Can she be allowed extra time to eat?

My child is not being properly challenged by the amount of homework given. Can you provide additional homework for my gifted child?

In response to a negative behavior notice sent home: My child only behaved this way because so-and-so in class did this or that. She was only reacting and is not in any way responsible and therefore does not deserve any kind of consequence whatsoever.

This is just a sample of the ways (and there are many more) that parents do a disservice to everyone involved by stepping on the teacher’s toes. Of course, circumstances will arise that warrant parent intervention, such as bullying, abuse, etc. But overwhelmingly, these common interjections only accomplish one thing:

They teach your child that if they complain to mom or dad, the mess will be cleaned up. That certainly may be a temporary relief, but there is an inherent problem with that sequence of events. Your child has not learned any life lessons he or she will need to be successful down the road. We have essentially removed any natural consequences for mistakes that, as unpleasant as they may feel at the time, leave a lasting impression that actually changes behavior for the better.

To illustrate the point, try and recall a humiliation or let down from your youth. Maybe it wasn’t making the soccer team. Or somebody made fun of you because you forgot to wear deodorant and you smelled bad. Maybe you didn’t bother to study and bombed the test.

Those memories make us wince. We hated going through that. But guess what? We probably decided to do something differently because of it, if not just to avoid the experience in the future.

What if mom or dad had called the school and made everything a-okay without you having to change a thing? Where’s the motivation to push yourself if someone else is going to take care of it for you?

Herein lies the problem that so many kids struggle with. They don’t know how to come up with their own solutions because they haven’t been forced to yet. A certain gumption and mental fortitude is disturbingly lacking in so many upcoming students. Of course, I am generalizing here, but it is a problem for too many that will reap unwanted consequences for the future.

Let’s revisit our parental request examples from above and imagine that the teacher complied:

The child who had her seat changed because her neighbor was annoying? Now she doesn’t know how to manage being around irritating people. (If you’ve ever worked a job a day in your life, you realize this is a necessary evil.)

The student who earned a reward just because he thought he deserved it and is tired of waiting for recognition? Where is the push to keep going when he will have to keep working hard before a goal is in sight?

The child who now has extra time to eat lunch because she was too busy jibber-jabbering with friends to focus on what they were there to do in the cafeteria? She has missed out on learning how to prioritize her time when there’s a schedule to keep.

Extra homework because your gifted child was too smart for what had been assigned? If he really wants to be challenged, he needs to learn to motivate himself to explore ways in his free time to extend his knowledge and imagination.

And lastly, the child who only misbehaved because someone else did. How will she come to know that she cannot control the actions of others and instead take charge of her own attitude and behavior?

I make these cases in point to paint a picture of what starts to happen when we succumb to the urge as parents to swoop in and remove any painful experiences from the lives of our children. Sure, the tears subside for the moment. But what happens when they grow older? Isn’t our purpose as parents to guide them to self-sufficiency?

Maybe it’s a clearer perspective from the teacher’s point of view. As parents, we tend to mix our emotions with our child’s daily reality. But I’m willing to bet that if your child’s teacher has his or her best interests at heart (and most anyone who enters into a career in education does), that teacher is not only concerned with preparing your child academically. We also want to prepare them for life.

That’s what you want, too, isn’t it? We are all on the same team here, folks. Next time you feel inclined to save the day with a suggested alternative to a teacher’s method, ask yourself if perhaps the best course of action is to let your child learn the darn lesson.

Your kids may not thank you today. But you will thank yourself when they are older.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

BUY


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

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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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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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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