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When you hear about mothers going into labor, you may think of a woman panting rapidly and screaming in agony, but for many mothers the hardest pain to confront is laboring over the decision to work or stay home with her kids.


I considered myself lucky that I got the best of both worlds by working part-time in the career I loved and staying home the rest of the time to be room mom, girl scout leader, soccer coach, and hands-on playmate.

But for quite a while, I second-guessed my situation, because I hadn’t planned it all out before my kids were born. It happened, and I accepted it. It took a comment from a mom friend who made a completely different decision for me to realize that I had to rejoice in my choice to truly embrace it.

My mom friend, Gina, lived in a big, beautiful, new, luxurious, organized home that smelled like vanilla and sparkled like diamonds. My kids looked up to her kids (who were older), like my husband and I looked up to their parents, who were successful in a way we hoped to be. Would we ever get the custom-built McMansion on a large plot of land like this couple had? And if we did, would we be just as down-to-earth, generous, and fun to be around as they were — the kind of people who make you feel happy to know them, but a bit envious because they seem to have so much?

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Many years ago, we went to their house for their youngest daughter’s birthday party. The mother was the quintessential host: ponies for the kids to ride, amazing appetizers for the moms to try, plenty of beer for the dads to drink. They always invited lots of family and friends to their soirees, and we all relaxed as the birthday girl opened her presents.

The 7-year-old shrieked with delight as she opened fun little kits to make bead bracelets and glittery sun catchers. Her mother sighed and said, “Sometimes I wish I could do those kinds of crafts with you. But I know you’ll have fun putting them together with your babysitter.”

And with that, Gina moved on to the next conversation, not burdened with any of the guilt or second-guessing of the mommy wars – that internal battle to stay home and be hands-on with the kids all day vs. going back to work and letting someone else take on those joys and frustrations.

She owned her decision to work full-time as a surgical nurse. She was very well respected and well paid. She embraced this; she relished in it. She knew what it brought her, and she knew what she was giving up. Her husband had a successful business. It took both of their careers and incomes to live their high-end lifestyle, and they were clearly happy with their choices.

It made me ponder mine. I didn’t necessarily own my decision to pause my career and stick it in neutral while I worked part-time. I viewed my decision to work two days a week as an opportunity that fell into my lap. And now I was stuck with it — for better or worse.

Many of my mom friends envied me. The working moms said their life would be SO much easier if they worked two days a week instead of five. The stay-at-home moms said they would feel SO much more satisfied if they had just a couple days a week to wear work clothes and be praised for their intellect and contribution. I prided myself that I had been lucky enough to stumble into a happy medium that everyone else seemed to crave.

This part-time arrangement, which I suggested to a former boss after taking a year off to breastfeed my first child, gave me great satisfaction: chasing down news stories as a television reporter two days a week and coordinating endless stay-at-home mom adventures the other five days of the week. I was the one sitting on the floor with my kids making bead bracelets and building Lego sets, and I loved it.

So, month after month, year after year, I let my career stay in neutral. I felt fulfilled by my job, but it stayed the same. I didn’t move into the bigger market the way I envisioned I would.

I would have liked to move up and make more money. But I knew if I pushed hard to achieve a more prestigious and lucrative position, I would feel conflicted about wanting to accept a career move that would demand more than 50 hours a week and keep me away from my family nights and weekends. I didn’t want that.

Was spending every day making clay animals what I did want? My friend convinced me that I needed to own my decision, so I could be at peace with it even after 10 years had passed and I hadn’t advanced my career.

As I watched my friend’s daughter opening the rest of her presents, I wondered if my situation was a gift or a curse. I rolled around the scenarios in my head: Missing the choir concerts and having someone else cover the boo-boos with band-aids, but landing the high-profile and high-paying job of my dreams. Or being at every soccer game and reading stories every night, but maybe not reaching my ultimate career goal or being able to buy my dream house before the kids went to college.

I knew I didn’t want to look for a full-time job in my field for fear I’d be offered one. But I kept re-examining the reasons why. Did I resist pushing ahead in my career because of someone else’s expectations? No, my husband and family and friends would have supported me if I opted to work full-time.

Did I do it for my kids? In one sense, yes, because I thought my hands-on parenting was better than any daycare or nanny. But did I think they needed me to be home to thrive? No. Kids whose mothers work full-time are just as well-adjusted and happy as those who don’t work at all.

Did I do it for myself? That had to be the reason. If that wasn’t the real reason, then I needed to make a change.

Then I knew the answer, and it tasted sweeter than the chocolate in the birthday cake. I thought about how much I loved teaching my kids hopscotch, leading my daughter’s girl scout troop, and making up silly games for my son’s school parties. I wanted those experiences for me. It’s the kind of motherhood journey I’d always dreamed of – the kind that fit my personality and desires. I wanted to be there after school to help my kids with homework and take them to their activities, so I could watch them blossom in karate classes and piano lessons.

That was the day many of my doubts scattered like fairy dust. The more time my career stayed in neutral, the more I recognized I had made a conscious decision. I thank my friend Gina for a lesson she didn’t even know she taught me.

My teenagers don’t remember the nature walks we took when they were preschoolers or the endless games of Junior Monopoly in elementary school, but I do. And I relish those memories. Did I give up something for that? Yes, I did. I worked part-time, not to get ahead, but to contribute enough to our family’s income for us to be able to pay the bills.

I wanted those experiences with my young kids more than I wanted my dream house. My friend’s comment reinforced that I was not letting life happen to me; I chose my path. I have no regrets.

Gina also made her decision fully aware of what she was giving up. She accepted that she wouldn’t be doing hands-on activities with her kids day-to-day. She had a wonderful babysitter who offered those experiences for her three children. And while it seemed like a nice, wistful thought to imagine doing it herself, it was fleeting. That kind of mundane playtime wasn’t important enough to her to give up her desire for a successful career and a high-end home.

I believe both of our decisions were the right ones. Both of us have teenagers who seem to be happy and healthy and are doing well in school and extra-curricular activities. All of our children are on track to go to college and find their own successes. Both of us have strong marriages that have weathered the storm clouds of parenting. We both know we made the decision that worked for us, not out of guilt or necessity or pressure or expectation. We knew what we wanted in our heart, and we went for it in spite of external pressures — not because of them.

I just heard recently that Gina got a wonderful promotion and is achieving great things in her career. I just took on some new projects that I hope will lead to my goal of creating an OverAchiever Mom TV show for working mothers. We’re two moms who decided we could “have it all” in our own way, knowing that our “all” included a few sacrifices along the way. If you know in your heart those sacrifices won’t impact your kids’ or your own happiness in the long run, then decisions don’t turn into regrets.

We can both tell our children with conviction that, when you come to the fork in the road, the path is as clear as Dr. Seuss’ words I’ve read to my children hundreds of times: “You can steer yourself any direction you choose…and YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth is an example of the kind of character she seeks to foster in the next generation. As the founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to children's character development, as a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a mom, Duckworth is trying to teach parents to let their kids struggle and that success is a long game.

According to Duckworth, grit is "this combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods. So it's loving what you do and working really hard at it for a very long time."

During the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Duckworth tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety, "One could argue that motherhood requires more grit than anything else because it is such a stamina sport and the grind doesn't always feel like it's working."

As Duckworth explains, mothers can model grit every day by persevering in the face of challenging parenting moments, but we can also instill grit in our children, even very young kids, by encouraging them not to give up. It is so easy to tie a child's shoes for them when we're running late, but if we take a moment to stop and let them work through that challenge on their own we are being gritty and encouraging it.

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"You let them struggle and you don't solve their problems for them too early," Duckworth tells Tenety, recalling a time when one of her daughters was struggling to open a box of raisins. "When she gave up and like walked away thinking that's too hard, I did worry about her long-term grit. I was like, oh my gosh my daughter's been defeated by a box of SunMaid raisins. But the important thing is that when you see your child struggle, let them struggle a little longer than maybe is comfortable for some of us."

By not rushing to open the box of raisins for her daughter, Duckworth taught her an important lesson in perseverance: If you want something you have to keep working at it yourself because you can't assume people will do things for you. This can be hard for parents because we often want to rush in and fix things for our kids, but Duckworth suggests we force ourselves to wait a beat and give our kids a chance before coming to the rescue.

"If you solve their problems guess what? They will not figure out how to solve their own problems if you make life a frictionless path. Then don't be surprised when they are not very resilient," she explains.

When we don't do everything for our kids they learn that they are capable, and we're cultivating a growth mindset. When we let our kids struggle and persevere, we're teaching them that the ability to get back up and overcome challenges is more important than talent—we're teaching them grit.

To hear more from Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author Angela Duckworth about grit and growth, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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News

Relocating is one of the most stressful life changes families will experience, even more so when you add kids into the mix. Packing boxes and getting everything ready for your move with toddlers around can seem like an impossible task. You know the scene: You're trying to pack clothing and lift heavy boxes, but they want to play and see everything that's going on. But packing doesn't have to be a chore, mama.

Try these playful interventions whenever you're struggling to keep your little one entertained.

1. Create special time.

Believe it or not, children want to help us. When they feel disconnected to us their behavior can go off-track. That whining, moaning, tantrumming toddler is sending out a red flag that says, ''Help! I need connection!''

So before spending a day packing boxes, be proactive and connect with your child. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and tell your child it's their special time and they can choose whatever they'd like to do with you. As you play, shower your child with attention, so their cup is filled. This helps them to internalize a sense of connection to you, so they are less likely to demand it in challenging ways and get in the way when you need to focus.

2. Host a packing party.

Put on some music and make packing fun! Give your child their own box, and allow them some freedom to pack their own toys themselves—even if you go back and rearrange things later. Don't seal all the boxes so they still have access to toys to play with. And remember that they're bound to get distracted and start playing with every. single. toy. they pack away. Make sure they're occupied so you can continue packing.

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3. Try giggle parenting.

Giggle parenting is when you get a child to laugh to ease the tension. If you notice your child getting bored, or frustrated, giggle parenting can ease tensions, and give your child mini doses of connection to help their behavior stay on track.

For example, maybe you playfully say, ''I really need to pack this big object,'' then you attempt to place your child in a box and exclaim, ''oh no, that's not an object, that's [insert child's name!]'' Or pick up a dirty sock and say with a playfully inviting tone, ''I really don't want this sock to be packed'' and put it on the floor. Cue your child trying to pack the smelly sock, and you can act playfully annoyed, and retrieve it from the box. Repeat as the long as the giggles keep coming,

It's the perfect antidote to situations where they feel powerless and out of control. Spending 5-10 minutes being playful at various intervals throughout the day can help shift the feeling that something big is happening.

4. Pack with a puppet.

Although toddlers don't always listen well, you will probably find that they are much more likely to respond to a plush toy or puppet. So use a puppet to ask them to pack in a silly voice that gets them laughing. Or have a naughty puppet who removes items from boxes, while you act playfully frustrated. After a few laughs to release tension, your toddler will be more able to listen to you about what needs to be done, or will be more likely to play independently.

5. Use reverse psychology.

Good old-fashioned reverse psychology works wonders when trying to distract little ones. Say to your child in a playful way that you'd really like them to leave their toys on the floor, and not pack them. Then leave the room. They are bound to take this as an opportunity to pack things up, and you can pretend to be upset that they didn't listen.

6. Turn packing into a race.

Older toddlers love to win so why not set up challenges to get them moving and competing? Have a race to see who can pack five things the fastest. Make it a close call but let them win, and act playfully disappointed when you lose. You could also try setting a timer to see how many things can be packed in 5 minutes or how long it can take to pack a whole box.

7. Practice pretend play.

Use a trolley or a toy stroller to act as a delivery service. Ask your child to bring you items to pack. Pretend play gives them a sense of purpose, and a fun, novel way to be involved.

8. Take a break outside.

At some point during a full day of packing or moving, get outside, even if it's just for ten minutes. Have a playful game of chase in your yard, or go to a local park. This can really help shift grumpy moods.

9. Stop for tantrums.

At some point during the day, tears and tantrums may come up. You may be tempted to stop tantrums, but this is counterproductive as it may just postpone the upset. Crying is a healing process for children, a natural way to release stress and tension, so the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Be the lighthouse guiding your child out of the stormy seas of their emotions, and when they recover they will feel well-connected to you, and be much more willing to help in the process.

10. Remember to relax.

Do something for yourself, mama. Order takeout. End your day with snuggles and bedtime stories. Packing and moving with toddlers can be one of the most challenging jobs you can do, so well, done, you did it.

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Learn + Play

Brooklyn based stay-at-home dad Mike Julianelle, also known as Dad and Buried online, shared a brutally honest post on Instagram recently that has gone viral. In it he describes how being a stay-at-home parent is really hard, especially during the summer when the kids need to stay entertained in the long hot days in the city.

The post also goes into something that struck a chord with many stay-at-home parents: not having a choice. Many of the over 500 comments the photo has received touch upon how stressful and draining being the parent at home with the kids all day can be.

The post reads:

"It's day two of my summer as a stay-at-home dad and I've already lost it on my kids.

Actually, I lost it at day 1.5. I'm not cut out for this.

I knew it 6 years ago when I did it for the first time, I knew it a month ago when it was looming again, I knew it yesterday when things were going well, and I definitely knew it today when I yelled at my 8yo and carried him to another room because he wouldn't stop complaining about something he actually wanted to do.

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I don't want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don't want to have to find ways to fill my kids' days all summer. I don't want to plan, I don't want to pack stuff, I don't want to herd them places, I don't want to go places.

I don't have the temperament, I don't have the patience, I don't have the interest.

I also don't have a choice.

Circumstances being what they are, and summer being what it is, someone has to stay home with my kids all day. Mom and Buried has done it for years, and now she's working and I'm not, so I'm back in the saddle. Reluctance (and unsuitability) aside, I have no choice but to get better at it.

They don't need to know how stressed I am, they don't deserve a dad who's grumpy and frustrated before the day has even begun, and most of all, they don't deserve a boring summer.

Summer is sacred. And it's usually Mom and Buried's territory. But it's on me now.

No, we might not be able to send them to camp or take them on fancy trips, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to do. And it's on me to do them. More than that, it's on me to do them with a smile on my face. Or at least without constantly yelling at them.

So far, things aren't going so great. But there's nowhere to go but up!

This is one of the primary challenges of parenting. Not letting your grownup stress impact your kids' childhood innocence. We all have struggles, and sometimes the toll they take is going to manifest itself, often in ways you don't even realize.

I guess the good news is: I do realize it. Which makes it even more crucial that I manage it, and do whatever I can to prevent my kids from catching on.

I've gotta fake it until *they* make it. But what else is new?"

Shout out to this SAHD for his honest, and to all the stay-at-home parents for the hard work they do, all day, everyday.

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Life

The sound of my youngest son's wailing filled the air. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. As his screeches pierced my ears and my eyes rested on his angry face, a thought flashed into my mind: I wonder if I will ever reach a sweet spot in parenting.

I like to imagine that somewhere in my future is a magical age where the daily demands of parenting lessen and I will finally have it (mostly) all figured out. It seems I have been waiting for and wishing for this "easy" time since the first few weeks of motherhood.

When my oldest was a newborn and I was fumbling my way through sleep-deprivation, I just knew as soon as he started sleeping through the night, then motherhood would be so much easier.

When he finally did master sleeping longer stretches, he figured out how to roll over. He would roll one way and get stuck. I would flip him back, and he would be good for about five minutes and then get stuck again. I just knew as soon as he was able to roll back over the other way, then motherhood would be so much easier.

After months of nursing, and then pumping, and then bottle-feeding, I just knew that once he was eating solid foods, motherhood would be so much easier because he would sleep better, and I wouldn't have the enormous mountain of pump parts and bottles to clean each night.

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Then he started to eat solid foods, and meal times were so messy and I quickly grew tired of constantly cleaning his highchair and the floor and the wall. I just knew once he could eat on his own, then motherhood would be so much easier.

I carried him everywhere because he couldn't yet crawl, and my arms and back would ache. I just knew that once he could crawl motherhood would be so much easier.

And then he did start to crawl, and suddenly nothing was off-limits. I just knew once he was older and I wouldn't have to worry about him falling down the stairs or jamming a toy into a light socket, then motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to walk, then run, and I worried about him running away from me in the store, running into a parking lot, or tripping on his wobbly legs and doing a faceplant into the sidewalk. I just knew that when he was older and better able to listen and communicate, motherhood would be so much easier.

Then he started to talk and protest, and have very strong opinions about everything and the meltdowns began. I just knew as soon as we were done with this age, motherhood would be so much easier.

As my sons have grown, each stage has brought new joys, but also new challenges. Some aspects of parenting have become easier, and others have become harder.

So does this parenting "sweet spot" I have conjured up in my mind even exist?

Do I just have to be patient and it will arrive one day out of the blue when my sons reach a certain age or I gain the perfect amount of parenting wisdom?

I kept thinking about this as my son calmed down and pressed his tired little body into my own. I gazed down onto his tear-streaked cheeks. I brushed the wispy strands of his hair with my fingertips. I paused at that moment to really soak him up as he cuddled on my lap. I let the tension of the previous minutes fade away.

And a new thought entered my mind. "I'm already in a sweet spot, right here and now. I don't need to wait for one."

Parenthood will probably never be "easy." But it is pretty sweet, nonetheless.

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Life
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