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It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and Ariel Swift is late. Five minutes to be exact.


The lobby of the Feinberg Pavilion in Chicago hums with movement, as doctors exit the large double doors leading to the attached hospital. They are dressed head to toe in blue scrubs, the only exposed skin is their hands typing methodically away on their phones.

The coffee kiosk I sit next to is the only source of noise as baristas yell out orders for pick up. Iced coffee. Caramel macchiato. Double shot Americano. A gaggle of preteens flood the entrance and laugh as they get caught in the revolving door.

I look up from jotting down questions in my top-spiral notebook and someone is walking toward me with an outstretched hand. It’s Ariel Swift. She apologizes profusely, shaking my hand and introducing herself.

“I’m so sorry I’m late! I’ve been running around all morning.”

She is short, with dirty-blonde hair and nose ring. T-shirt, sweater, jeans. She has a warm laugh and as she pulls her chair out, I realize she is very pregnant. She reminds me of someone who always gets the compliment “you look like a friend of mine,” or a person who evokes life stories out of strangers. The moment before I dive into the interview and start simultaneously scribbling notes and quotes, I feel a wave of serenity wash over me. The professional reporter exterior I’ve crafted melts away, and I feel like we are catching up on old times. I realize Ariel Swift must be very good at her job.

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Ariel Swift is a doula. Turn to any television show or movie for the definition of a doula and this is what you’ll likely get: A woman in handmade clothes with scarves and beaded jewelry dripping from every limb. Hair piled on top of her head, possibly barefoot, shaking incense around the room. She will walk in with a knapsack filled with herbs and oils, with techniques that have been passed down for generations “in her culture.” She will probably be racially ambiguous – this is the writers hoping you connect her work with the work of a bayou witch. She’ll asks you to “roar” your baby out and possibly suggests labor is the most pleasure one can have in their life.

Honestly? I equated doula to this stereotype too, before I embarked on this story. Unfortunately for Hollywood, that’s not what most doulas look like today. Many of them look like Ariel Swift.

Swift is the owner and creator of Doulas of Chicago, which services women for pre-, during, and postpartum maternal care. Doula businesses focus on all three aspects of giving birth in an intimate setting, which most health care providers can’t do because of the patient-to-doctor ratios. Prenatal care usually involves checking in with clients about fears or concerns, and how to talk to their doctor. During-care is the big day, where doulas provide phone support during early labor and their presence for active labor and delivery. Postpartum care can involve lactation consulting and visits with the family to see if everything is okay. New mothers can experience postpartum depression, and doulas can recognize those initial stages and facilitate a match with professional help.

What inspired Swift to become a doula was the birth of her first child.

“I didn’t think my doula was very good,” says Swift. “My only criteria was that she look like my mom.”

After that experience, she decided to train with ProDoula and start practicing as a doula. To become certified with ProDoula, you must attend a two-day seminar, which focuses on hands-on work and emotional support. Doula training programs vary and can cover several aspects of work as a doula. After certification, one is able to start taking clients. Since her first client in January of 2012, Swift’s attended 112 births. “Having a doula is like having a person to help you weigh the pros and cons,” says Swift.

Doula vs midwife

Before weighing pros and cons, we should clear something up first. There is the common misconception between doula and midwife. A doula is there to help you emotionally process these life changes and be there during birth to act as a guide. A midwife is medically trained to facilitate a birth, usually in a home birth. Doulas do not perform births, nor should they be advertising that they do so.

Midwife training is split into two categories: CNM (certified nurse-midwife) and CM (certified midwife). Both go through an accreditation process, but a CNM is a certified nurse, whereas a CM is someone in a medical field. Though midwives are trained in some medical aspect, there are still states that outlaw midwives to practice. Recently, Alabama changed its law to allow midwives to start seeing patients and attending home births.

Some question why modern medicine needs doulas and midwives. The United States boasts that we are at the forefront of medical advancements, but sit in a waiting room for two hours and you might think otherwise.

Birth in the US, then and now

The history of the midwife in the US goes back to at least 1660. Before modern medical advancements, home birth was all a woman had. Formal midwife training wasn’t created until 100 years later, and it was still a developing trade for women. Mind you, during this development midwifery was still being practiced in rural areas and low-income communities where it was a necessity to seek a midwife instead of a doctor. Modern medicine thought they were re-inventing the wheel when it came to midwives when in reality it was a practice as old as time. Hospitals weren’t even a thought until around 1751 when voluntary and public hospitals were being built.

Flash forward to the 1930s, when the boom of women going to the hospital for birth was started. At the beginning of the 20th century, most women knew someone who died from childbirth. Now women wanted to feel safe and comfortable, and sterile metal and baby nurseries gave them that. “The perception was that it was the modern way to give birth,” says Sarah Rodriguez, a medical historian at Northwestern University who focuses on women’s health.

Ironically, going to the hospital was a luxury, and not as commonplace as today. But still, this luxury was only for middle-class white women, because America was still in a period of segregation. Many women didn’t speak English or couldn’t afford the new way of birthing, which can even be seen today when it comes to insurance premiums and how costly it can be to have a baby in today’s world. And despite the sterility and perceived safety a hospital birth provides, the numbers paint a troubling picture.

Rising maternal mortality

A recent study by NPR and ProPublica reminded us that the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in any developed country, and it hasn’t been just this year. Since 1998, the graphs have been working their way to the top with no end in sight. “It’s embarrassing, horrifying, and sad,” says Maura Winkler, the owner of Chicago Birth and Baby, who is trained as both a doula and a midwife.

Google this issue, and there will be countless articles declaring it doesn’t exist, or or explaining it away because of X, Y, or Z. Putting criticisms aside – such as how the US defines maternal mortality different than other developed countries – there’s still a birth problem within our current healthcare system. Rising rates of maternal mortality currently claim 26.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. For a place like Presence Medical Center in the heart of downtown Chicago, commonly referred to as the “baby factory,” this covers a busy month.

“We have a quilt with lots of holes in it, we don’t have a system,” says Rodriguez. She refers to the various programs and sections of American health care, in place of a baseline care that can help everyone. There are veteran affairs hospitals, children’s cancer hospitals, and even labs where organs are being grown. But when it comes to general care, our system can’t provide safety for something as common and natural as childbirth.

When I tell her about our growing problem, she isn’t fazed.

“I’m not surprised about this,” she says, “If you compare the UK to the US, our maternal mortality stats are quite poor.”

Which many studies do. To grasp how strange it is that America would have such high mortality rates, studies compared our stats to those of other first-world countries. In the UK, maternal mortality rates are falling so drastically one journal claimed your husband is more likely to die during your pregnancy than you are.

Doctors and medical professionals speculate many reasons why women are dying during birth. Today there are more women with pre-existing conditions and high-risk pregnancies. Women are having children later in life and the farther you get away from your 20s, which is physically your most fertile years, the harder it can be to have a smooth pregnancy. That’s why most doulas agencies focus on women who are in their early 30s.

Doctors may label women over 35 as high-risk simply because of age, which can cause problems down the road. When women are labeled high-risk, it can justify a doctor’s desire to medically intervene, even though the woman may be as healthy as ever. These interventions can include C-section, episiotomy, or hooking up a fetal monitor during labor, which limits the mother’s freedom to move around. If active labor lasts longer than around six to seven hours, a C-section is usually the next step. Pushing C-sections on women isn’t putting health first, especially when perfectly healthy natural birth can last up to 16 hours.

“I think doctors don’t want to risk waiting and they go for the extreme quicker,” says Helen Stevenson, a registered nurse who is pregnant with her second child. “I think this scare has led to a rise in C-sections here in the US.” She’s right. C-sections in the United States have risen, from five percent in the 70s to 20 percent by 1996. Pitocin, a drug commonly used in the hospital to induce labor, creates contractions and speeds up the opening of the cervix. For some mothers, this is necessary. But often these drugs are used to start active labor, even though letting nature run its course is a viable option. A Pitocin-induced labor is often painful, forcing your body to start active labor when it’s not prepared for it. Other times it can affect a baby’s breathing during birth.

“Some of them [nurses] slam it into women,” says Kate Ritter, a doula with Chicago Birth and Baby. Ritter experiences birth rooms where women receive procedures like episiotomies and Pitocin. An episiotomy, where a cut is made to further dilate the cervix, was considered efficient when first invented in 1742. Now, it can cause painful healing and is used as a last result.

Ritter recalled an instance where an episiotomy was performed on a client without discussion and against her strict instruction. Ritter wanted to say something to the doctor but held her tongue because ultimately, she acts as an emotional support for the client, not to tell the doctor what to do. Doctors must make quick decisions when a baby is in distress, but for a doula these situations it can put them in a moral dilemma. “A lot of women just need to understand what’s happening,” says Ritter.

The role of the doula

There are ways a doula can facilitate those conversations between provider and client, like playing “dumb doula.” If the doula is the curious one, asking doctors what’s happening step-by-step, it takes the pressure off the mother to ask. Doulas can offer more than just emotional support and can help new mothers have control over what happens to them in childbirth. When speaking to women, that seemed to be the number one priority in their birth plan: having control over what happens to them in the birth room.

“Overall I wanted freedom in my birth plan,” says Reagan Weaver, who recently gave birth to her first child. “To let my body do what it was built to do and for me to find what worked best for me. This being my first child, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect; no one can really prepare you.” Weaver lives in Alabama, so she couldn’t use a midwife because she knew the state didn’t allow these practices yet.

Here’s the thing: There is a glaring discrepancy between the horror stories of childbirth gone wrong and the stories of these doulas. With a doula, the mothers-to-be understand what’s going on and they have someone in their corner during one of the most stressful event in their life.

These doulas can teach women how to speak to their provider and discuss with them all options for their pregnancy. The women who I spoke to whodidn’t use doulas lamented that “if they knew more” or “had enough money” they would have absolutely used a doula.

“I can definitely understand some women wanting more of an intimate/personal experience with their deliveries and the people involved with it,” says Claire Dansereau Auerbach, who recently gave birth to her first child Addie. This makes me wonder why these practices are falling by the wayside and shot down by women choosing birthing plans? Surprisingly, 95 percent of women in low-risk pregnancies can give birth without medical intervention, yet only two percent do.

Cost

It’s surprising to think doulas are what started it all, and yet today they are a luxury.

“Right now the expenses of just having a child are already overwhelming, so I don’t see how we could afford to add anything else,” says Valerie Tull, who works at The University of Alabama in the Center for Public Safety and is expecting her first child in a couple of months. “If doulas ever became an option covered by health insurance I’d definitely consider using one.”

Doula services are an out of pocket expense, not covered under major health insurance companies. Now that these holistic practices are legitimized, they are charging and acting like a business. The average doula service can range from $4,000 to $6,500. On top of the medical fees to give birth in a hospital, which can cost $3,500 or more, it’s easy to understand the financial reasons why women aren’t keen on hiring a doula.

Owners like Swift think doula companies aren’t charging enough. Being a doula is an involved profession that requires you to be on call for a pool of expecting mothers. But accounting for licenses and overhead, this business can cost the doulas quite a bit too. “Because it’s work that involves the heart, not everyone is open to know that it’s a job,” says Swift.

Doulas usually start off as independent workers, which can allow for some wiggle room in price if they let the connection to their client come before money. Which, on one hand, is a bit heart breaking. It’s hard to remember there is a business side to something so pure as helping a woman give birth. On the other hand, these services can’t go unpaid, and if doulas are undercharging their clients because of a soft heart, eventually that doula will go out of business.

Swift sees being a doula as an “altruistic” profession and a passion that is sometimes hard to put a price tag on. Money, passion, and compassion aside, there still is one major thing to consider when discussing holistic childbirth: insurance. Under the current Affordable Care Act, maternity care and child birth are an essential health care. With our disparaging political climate and the notorious health care bill trying to seep its way into congress, things could change. If the proposed healthcare bill were to somehow pass, a number of regulations would make it harder for many to handle pregnancy.

First off, it would gut Planned Parenthood. Regardless of what you think about them, they offer prenatal care for women who don’t have insurance. Not as many of their offices offer the care, but you can’t deny the help they are giving to people in need.

Secondly, it would allow states to regulate what is considered “essential care.” Like previously stated, the ACA considers maternity care and childbirth as an essential care, but in more conservative states that have already proven their lack of understanding of the female body (looking at you, Texas), those legislators could completely change the game for women, and not for the better.

Doing it right

On the flip side, you have facilities like the Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, located in Chicago, which has in-house midwives. Which means it’s covered under insurance. You can have your child in one of their swanky birth rooms with a midwife, with a team of doctors on-call if anything should go awry.

“It’s a very collaborative relationship,” says Mary Bauer, director of Midwifery Services at Presence and a nurse-midwife. “It’s very respectful, understanding that the two disciplines of midwifery and obstetrics have different philosophies.” Bauer started the midwifery program at Presence after nine years of practice as a midwife. The program has only been established for a year, but so far has proven to be a model that works with patients and providers. The midwives work eight-hour work days, with a lot of time spent with patients individually. It’s like having the backing of a hospital with the intimacy of a private practice.

These programs are popping up around the country, but they are few and far in between. On top of the shaky ground that is our healthcare and the overwhelming statistics, it can seem like right now (and the near future) is a terrible time to start procreating.

It seems to me the problem is a lack of education and understanding. These doula practices are doing the good work, but if people don’t know about them or can’t afford to use them, then more and more women will have difficult or deadly births. As a healthy child of a high-risk pregnancy, I have to believe hospitals want what’s best for you. But as a 23-year-old woman with hopes of children in the future, I am setting up a kiddie pool in my living room and calling nine midwives. When the holistic option seems to be the safer way, my trust in modern medicine fades. The facts speak for themselves: Medical intervention can irreparably damage or kill a mother. It seems hospital lawyers are more in charge of a birth room than mothers, and that’s something no legislation or regulation will stop.

As I dove into my interview with Ariel Swift, past the pleasantries and apologies, I felt a twinge of guilt. I was talking to an expectant mother about how often women die in childbirth. I watched her grab her stomach when I recited my findings on maternal mortality. Even she, a birth professional, isn’t safe.

This is fear. The fear that no matter what we do, things can still go wrong in a split second. It plagues us all, this fear of the unknown. Yet succumbing to fear is the easiest way to complete a self-fulfilling prophecy and put yourself in an early grave. It is the doula, the champion in our corner, who can provide courage, shine a light on the unknown, and lessen our fear as we women perform an act as natural and beautiful as the setting sun.

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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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