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Any parent with young children knows how stressful traveling can be—especially on a plane where plenty of eyes will be on you if your child is having a tough time. How strangers react during a trying time with your kids can make all the difference. They can make a trip worse or elevate the experience for everyone with a little bit of empathy.


Mother of two Jessica Rudeen knows this first hand. Her Facebook notifications have been blowing up since she shared the story of how a total stranger turned a stressful trip with her baby and toddler into a pretty great day. The post has been shared nearly 5,000 times, and with more than 700 comments, it's clear how much Rudeen's story resonates with others.

Rudeen and the stranger, Todd Walker, met while boarding a plane. Seeing Rudeen was overwhelmed and flying solo with her two kids for the first-time, Walker offered to hold the baby. Rudeen agreed, handing him her crying 4-month-old while she tried to calm her 3-year-old who was melting down as they found their seats.

"I learned a long time ago it takes a village, so I handed the baby over and tended to my toddler," Rudeen tells Motherly. "Trying to calm two kids and not be concerned or distracted about what other people might be thinking, while also worrying about being kicked off the plane made me pretty anxious. My mind was racing and relief set in as the plane was taxiing."

Walker, who was sitting in the row with the family, helped get Rudeen's daughter settled with a movie. When the toddler offered him some of her markers and a coloring page, he gladly obliged. By the end of the flight, they were best buds—Rudeen's toddler showing Walker everything out the window and Walker playing along in wonder.

"She was so cute and wanted to share her colors with me and look out the window and we just hit it off," Walker tells Motherly.

As luck would have it they had the same connecting flight—one Walker makes frequently for work—so he took the child's hand and helped guide the family through the airport to their gate. He even changed his seat in order to sit with them again en route to Wilmington, North Carolina—Walker for work, and Rudeen to visit family.


No, Walker isn't an airport angel from above, just a man with two grown children who recalls his wife once having a similar experience when their children were young. A stranger helped her too, so when Walker saw Rudeen with her hands full, he knew he had an opportunity to pay it forward.

"Flying is stressful," Walker tells Motherly. "I had little kids once. I think most people on that plane have had little kids themselves, and we have all had that fear of our kids not doing well on the flight. So I just wanted her [Jessica] to know that hey, it's okay, we're gonna do this together and be fine."

During their time together, Walker learned that Rudeen lives in Bentonville, Arkansas, not far from where his son goes to school at the University of Arkansas. Rudeen's dad lives in Kansas City near Walker, making it somewhat likely their paths would cross again. However, Rudeen wanted to be sure that Walker knew just how appreciative she was.

When she arrived home, Rudeen put out a plea on Facebook: "This man showed me kindness and compassion that I've never known from another person. I'd like to find him." Within hours the post was shared hundreds of times, and the two were reconnected with plans to meet up again soon. Walker says he is looking forward to his wife meeting Rudeen and her children, and getting to know her husband as well, who wasn't with Rudeen on this trip.

"He definitely made an impact," Rudeen says. "I hope now that we've connected, we will have lifetime friends in him and his family."

Rudeen says she will never forget Walker's compassion, and how he went above and beyond, not only in helping her and her children board the plane, but in keeping her toddler occupied during the flight so she could tend to the baby, and guiding them all to their connecting flight. No doubt she'll be looking for opportunities to pay it forward too.

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These families of ours. They sure need a lot of food, don't they? After breakfast, lunch and snacks (so many snacks), dinner can pose a special kind of challenge when you're hangry, too: You have to plan, prep and cook—all while gently turning down kids begging for one more snack.

Enter, Gobble: The solution I craved, both because it's simple and legitimately craveable!

As Motherly's co-founder and a mom to three young kids, I've tried many meal service kits before and Gobble stands out above the rest as the fastest, easiest option. Not only does each meal take just 15 minutes from fridge to table, but you only have to dirty up one pan, which makes cleanup a cinch, too. Gourmet-quality meals I can whip up quickly with pre-prepped ingredients? It's like a mama's culinary dream.

Here's what else my family and I loved about Gobble:

There were so many meal options.

I'm mostly a vegetarian. My family mostly is not. So finding dinners we can all agree on has always been a challenge. But with two dozen weekly meals to select from, we had no problem—for once! And while many of the meals are annotated as kid-friendly, we're not just talking mac 'n cheese. My oldest son's favorite from the week was actually Potato Pierogies with Caramelized Onions & Sautéed Spinach. Yes, even the spinach!

It actually made me feel like a gourmet chef.

Look, I know my strengths. And preparing elaborate meals from scratch is not one of them. But by getting all the information and ingredients I needed delivered to me with Gobble, I felt my inner Julia Child come out. I mean, when's the last time I served my family homemade Chicken Piccata with Broccolini and Lemon Pepper Tagliatelle? Never. The answer is never until my Gobble box arrived.

When I say fast and easy, I mean it.

Unlike meal prep kids that have emphasis on me doing the prep, Gobble dinner kits come with pre-chopped, minced, diced and grated ingredients. There was still a bit of chopping left for me, but even without Iron Chef skills, I was able to do it all, cook it and put it on the table within 15 minutes. Which means I could spend that extra time I normally use to prepare dinner for my family with my family—pretty novel idea, right?

I felt good about serving it and better about eating it.

Sometimes I buy broccoli, kale and asparagus with the best of intentions, only to leave it hanging in the back of my fridge for a week before tossing it. But with Gobble, I truly got the experience the magic of fresh ingredients I knew how and when to use—which made me feel like one accomplished mama when I served my family Meyer Lemon Gnocchi with Asparagus Tips & Artichoke Hearts.


After previous failed attempts at serving my kids nutritious meals, I didn't have my hopes up too high—but they surprised me by (literally) eating it all up.

At the end of the week, my family requested I order another kit as soon as possible, which I was all too happy to oblige: With Gobble's easy scheduling plan, I was able to pick another week that I knew was going to be busy. (The very next week, in my case.)

Order now and get $40 off your first delivery with code MOTHERLY40.

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

When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

After feeling alone and suffering silently for years, Gabrielle Union has been very open about her struggle with infertility since her memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine, came out last year. She surprised many by writing about how she'd suffered "8 or 9 miscarriages" while trying to conceive with husband Dwyane Wade, and just over a year later the couple surprised the world again by announcing they'd just welcomed a baby girl via surrogate.

Union's story is incredible, and one so many women needed to hear, and that's why Oprah's OWN network just aired a sit-down interview special with Union and Wade: Oprah at Home with Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade & Their New Baby.

(The audio version of the interview drops in two parts on 'Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations' podcast on Monday, December 10, and Wednesday, December 12.)

The interview, which first aired over the weekend, saw Union open up about how the years of IVF treatments and disappointment left her questioning everything she knew. "I've just always been of the mindset — because this is what people tell you: 'You work hard, you do the right things, you're a good person, it will happen for you,' eventually," Union, 46, told Oprah.

"I could not let go of this idea of creating this life within me," Union explains, adding that she felt the "need to be pregnant for everybody, including myself."

As the medical interventions escalated, Wade became worried. "I'm watching her do things to her body and to herself that it's getting to the point where it's not healthy," he told Oprah, adding that he always told Union that he wanted a baby as much as she did, but that he married her and that she was the most important thing to him.

"So it came to a point where, you know, I started to feel a certain way about that because I didn't want something to happen to her," Wade told Oprah.

So when the couple decided to explore surrogacy, Wade was pleased to see the medical part of his wife's journey come to an end.

When the couple surprised the world by announcing the birth of their daughter, Kaavia James, Union was puzzled by comments that insinuated the skin-to-skin photo she used in the birth announcement was an attempt to "act like" she'd been pregnant herself, or that she really had been pregnant herself.

She notes she never tried to make it seem like she'd been pregnant, as she explained her daughter was born via surrogate in the caption for that photo, which was taken after the surrogate had a C-section.

"Our surrogate went into recovery, and we were able to go immediately into another hospital room," Union told Oprah. "I had one of my New York & Company sweaters on, but skin-to-skin was kind of hard. And because the doctors kept coming in…it was easier to have skin to skin in a hospital gown."

Wade said he found the comments painful. "I think for me the most hurtful thing was once we had the baby, and everyone started talking about why is she in the bed holding the baby, why does she have a gown on, why is she acting that she just had a baby," Wade said.

Union and Wade say they hope talking about their story will help others tell theirs, and know that they are not alone. "So many people are suffering in silence and every time, when we're candid and transparent about our journeys, no matter what those journeys are, you are allowing people to be seen and heard and empowered in ways that they've never been," Union told Oprah.

She may have felt alone during her journey to motherhood, but by telling her story, Union is making sure other mamas don't.

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