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Does becoming a mother change the essence of who you are?


For a long time before I had children, I had no reason to consider my identity—not whether I was true to it, and not even, really, what it was.

I’d always wanted to be a writer and, at 31, by the time my daughter was born, I had one novel published and another one on the way.

I’d been with my husband for 11 years, so any adjustments to that relationship had long been taken care of.

I had friends and hobbies and a regular yoga class. I’d recently earned a black belt in tae kwon do, which I was proud of, though I admit it makes me sound considerably more badass than I actually am. Mostly I was what I’d always been—what they call in the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer an “indoor kid.” I never came home from school and headed out the door with a bike or a ball. I liked to read. I liked to watch TV. I liked to think about what I was reading and watching on TV.

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The thing about those pursuits—and the thing about being a writer—is that they involve mental departure from your actual life, losing yourself in a story that is not your own.

As it turns out, babies and small children don’t consider such departure acceptable.

They want you there, and they want you there right now.

If you don’t oblige, they scream, and it’s awfully hard to think when they’re screaming. When you’re a writer, you spend a lot of time alone, by necessity, and also, I’ve come to think, by inclination.

When you’re the stay-at-home mother of an infant, you spend almost no time alone, and thinking goes out the window, unless you count anxious fretting over when to start solid foods and how to persuade the baby to go down for a nap. It’s unclear to me now why I imagined that this wouldn’t be a difficult adjustment.

In my first year of motherhood, I didn’t write a word of fiction. For years, I’d measured the worth of a day by how many pages I’d managed to produce. Now, I produced nothing. I stayed home with my daughter while my husband worked, and I fed her and rocked her and sang to her. I took her for walks. I photographed her in all her outfits. I went a little bit crazy.

Among the many factors I’d failed to consider while planning my year of stay-at-home motherhood, was what happens to your identity when it’s based largely on doing something you no longer have the time or the energy to do. You’re left wondering: Who am I without this? Who am I at the core?

Among the parents I know, there’s a general consensus that having kids is life’s big before and after. But what is it that changes so dramatically? Is it just your circumstances, or is it your essential self? Of course, that’s a philosophical question that would be difficult enough to ponder even if no one in the room was screaming.

As I attempted, nevertheless, to decide whether I had changed... whether I was now a Mother with a capital M... it began to bother me that my husband didn’t seem to be experiencing the same internal debate.

He got up in the night with the baby. He changed diapers. He became an expert swaddler. But in other ways, he seemed to go on living our old life—working, writing, staying up late to read—while I’d moved far, far away, to Planet Baby. He didn’t seem to feel that his essential self had changed, or that it needed to.

I tried to fight the resentment I felt when he had to work late, when he wanted to talk about politics, when he went to his brother’s house to record music. I envied him his office job, at a place where I myself had worked before my first book sold, a place I’d been perfectly happy to leave. I couldn’t resent him for being unsupportive or failing to respect my career: he watched the baby in the mornings before he went to work, giving me time to myself that I could have used to write, but didn’t. What bothered me was that he was mentally, emotionally able to work when I wasn’t. What bothered me was that for years we’d had the same priorities, and lived the same life, and I wanted that to go on being true.

Whatever had happened to change me, I wanted it to change him, too.

I wanted him to be nothing but a husband and a father, even as I struggled with the idea that I was nothing but a mother and a wife.

I wanted him to no longer want to play music with his brother, to lose interest in his fantasy baseball teams, to stop trying to have a conversation with me that wasn’t about the baby.

It took me about a year to understand that, instead of trying to get him to give up what made him who he was, I shouldn’t have abandoned my own defining interests so completely.

All along, he kept telling me I needed to go back to writing, and all along he was right. For a year I didn’t feel like myself, and then, finally, with him watching the baby in the next room, I sat down at the computer, and there I was again.

There are plenty of other activities from my pre-motherhood days that disappeared from my life, never to return: tae kwon do, staying up past midnight, calling people back in fewer than three or four days. That’s fine; I don’t need those things to be me.

But the writing—that I apparently can’t do without.

So maybe the trick, the way to find a balance between before and after, is to discover what you do that makes you most yourself, and to make sure that you, and your husband, carve out the time that allows you to do it.

For some women, I know that’s work. For others it’s a social life, it’s cooking, it’s an artistic pursuit.

One friend told me recently that she didn’t know how she’d live without the dance class we both take.

In much of her life, she’s a stay-at-home mom who used to be a math teacher, but in that class she’s nothing but a fabulous dancer.

She kicks, she steps, she circles her hips. She does something she’s good at, something she loves, and for the moment her complicated self is made satisfyingly simple.

This, right here, is who she is.

Leah Stewart is the author of several novels, including What You Didn’t Know About Charlie Outlaw (March 2018). She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children, and teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati.

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I'll admit it: I love a pretty pink and blue nursery. It sounds overly cliche, but it's really classic. Traditional nursery colors are all well and good, but wouldn't it be cool to incorporate the same colors you love in your living room and bedroom in your baby's room? If you're ready to step outside the box and be a tad darring, we reached out to designers at Decorist to help us reimagine nursery color palette trends to put a spin on our existing designs.

Here are the top new nursery color palettes for 2020:

1. Mint colorways

"What's really popular are subtle mint shades paired with organic neutrals (think textural ivory and wood tones) with soft pops of black and white, creating a soothing retreat for you and your little one," says Decorist designer Meg Weber. When used in its more vibrant shades, mint can add moments of playfulness and it blends itself well to maximalist spaces. "There is a strong case for calling this shade of green, in its more subtle hues, the new grey," says Weber. "It feels updated and can act as a neutral itself while adding more dimension."

Get started with:

Pairings:

2. Blue + yellow balanced with brown + grey

It's important to remember that blue isn't just for a boy nursery, and pink isn't for girls. The color of your nursery is all about colors you like that make you feel good. You want it to be your happy place.

A blue and yellow palette is a great foundation for any nursery. "This color palette is a classic that strangely feels new again with the infusion of brown and gray furniture in fun colors and bohemian accents," says Weber. "The key is to keep a neutral ground so the blues and yellows pop in a modern way and work with bold geometric shapes. This palette is another great gender neutral option that can also grow with your tot."

Get started with:

Pairings:

3. Jewel tones + vibrant tropicals

Jewel tones are officially trending in 2020 and it feels especially fresh when paired with tropical accents and hints of blush. If you're looking for depth in your nursery, go for rich colors like sapphire, topaz, emerald, ruby and amethyst. This palette works best when executed with a maximalist approach, layering color on color and mixing bold patterns with natural materials. If you're new to the trend, and not quite sold on it, start small with a jewel tone rug. Rugs are a great way to add color without fully committing.

Get started with:

Pairings:

4. Neutral Bohemian colors with a touch of terracotta

When it comes to Bohemian colors, you'll want to look to browns, greens and grays. Think of 1970's design when creating a Boho aesthetic—it's all about mixing colors, patterns and textures. "While I'm personally not a huge fan of Boho, I do love the serene and neutral space it creates," says Decorist designer Belinda Nihill. "Layering texture rather than color is such a beautiful way to do so. For boys, I love adding leather and timber to the soft neutrals; for girls, it's the palest of blush tones."

For terracotta colors, you'll want to look for earth tones that land somewhere between orange and brown.

Get started with:

Pairings:

5. Brooding, moody hues

"Brooding hues are also trending across the board in home decor and translate beautifully to nurseries," says Weber. Moody hues like blue, green and gray undertones are soothing and can make both large and small spaces feel extra cozy. They also look lovely paired with dark greys and rust, and can be infused subtly or saturate a room.

Get started with:

Pairings:

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Lifestyle

It's finally 2020. It's hard to believe but the old decade is over, the new one is here and it is bringing a lot of new life with it. The babies born this year are members of Generation Alpha and the world is waiting for them.

We're only a few days into the new year and there are already some new celebrity arrivals making headlines while making their new parents proud.

If your little one arrived (or is due to arrive) in 2020, they've got plenty of high profile company.

Here are all the celebrity babies born in 2020 (so far):

Laura Prepon is a mama x 2! 

Actors Laura Prepon and Ben Foster share 2-year-old daughter Ella and now share another "bundle of love".

Prepon announced her pregnancy back in October on Instagram:. "We are so excited to announce that our family is growing. Life is beautiful!" and has now announced her birth as well.

"Overwhelmed with gratitude." she captioned an Instagram photo of her baby.

Ashley Graham is a mama! 🎉

A new chapter is unfolding for model and podcaster Ashley Graham, who just announced she and her husband Justin Ervin have met their baby.

The baby arrived Saturday, according to a post made on Graham's Instagram Stories.

"At 6:00pm on Saturday our lives changed for the better," reads the Story. "Thank you for all your love and support during this incredible time."

Graham previously announced that she and Ervin were expecting a son. They initially announced the pregnancy on their ninth wedding anniversary.

Congratulations to Ashley and Justin!

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden just welcomed a baby girl! 🎉

Surprise! Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden are ringing in the New Year as first-time parents!

"Happy New Year from the Maddens!" reads a birth announcement posted to both Diaz and Madden's Instagram accounts. "We are so happy, blessed and grateful to begin this new decade by announcing the birth of our daughter, Raddix Madden. She has instantly captured our hearts and completed our family."

Raddix Madden is the first child for Diaz, 47, and Madden, 40.

The couple say they won't be posting any pictures of their daughter on social media as they "feel a strong instinct to protect our little one's privacy."

Congratulations to the Maddens! 🎉

Dylan Dreyer of 'Today' is a mom of 2! 

Today meteorologist Dylan Dreyer and her husband Brian Fichera, welcomed their second child, Oliver George Fichera, the first week of January 2020. Oliver joins his big brother Calvin to make the family a foursome.

Dreyer is still recovering from birth but her voice was on TV this week when she called into her show with an update on her new family. "I feel good," Dylan told her colleagues. "I just feel so happy and so blessed."

Caterina Scorsone of 'Grey's Anatomy' now has 3 girls!

Caterina Scorsone of Grey's Anatomy has so much to be thankful for in 2020: She's now a mom of three! The actress announced the birth of her daughter via Instagram, noting that her baby's name is Arwen.

Arwen joins big sisters Eliza, 7, and 3-year-old Paloma, who has Down syndrome. Speaking on The Motherly Podcast last year, Scorsone explained how Paloma's diagnosis made her "whole concept of what motherhood was had to shift."

It is likely shifting again, as any mama who has gone from two kids to three knows.

News

We are constantly absorbing emotions from those around us. That's part of the reason being around kids and teens, with their roller coasters of emotion, can be so exhausting. And when our own hearts and minds are clouded by emotion, we are not showing up and responding with our wisest mind and most open heart.

Our capacity for calm in the midst of a kid's emotional storm offers hope, because it signals that calm is possible in the midst of chaos.

What's happening in your child's brain during a tantrum

Neuroscientist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Bryson creatively describe "downstairs" and "upstairs" aspects of the brain. Our primitive brains—the limbic system and amygdala—are reactive and emotional, driven by impulsive, short-term interests, and primitive drives. This childlike, impulsive, instinctual system lives downstairs.

Meanwhile, the outer cortices of our brains, which enable us to inhibit impulses, slow down, gain perspective, process emotional stimuli, and articulate these stimuli into thought and action, live upstairs. This upstairs area helps us plan, think before we act, take perspective, make moral decisions, and form relationships.

The "wise mind" integrates both our emotional and our rational minds, according to Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy. The four aspects of our brains—left, right, upstairs, downstairs—need strong connections to work together to build wise, healthy brains.

During a tantrum, when the amygdala and emotions flare up, it's almost impossible for logic to penetrate our kids' closed-off outer cortices. Helping them settle down from a tantrum to engage their wise mind takes wisdom, compassion, and plenty of patience on our part.

Why children (unlike adults) can't calm down during a tantrum

Our children are not miniature adults—their growing brains are actually incapable of taking an adult perspective on a situation and using that knowledge to calm down.

Remembering this can help us see that tantrums are not methodically manufactured manipulations. A child's tantrum operates at an instinctual level that simply won't respond to reason.

Once we recognize this, we can make more effective choices about responding.

How to respond calmly to a tantrum

Yes, sometimes challenging behaviors are premeditated, and in those cases, we should respond with intention, logic, and clear boundaries or consequences. However, when our kids are experiencing a limbic system meltdown, what they need is connection and calming.

When children descend into lower-brain chaos, parents need to work overtime to first calm our own prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is associated with planning and thinking and is located just behind the forehead—so we can view the situation clearly.

When we show that we've regulated our own emotions, it signals to kids that it's safe for them to calm down. It also models and mirrors to them (often literally, through what are called mirror neurons) how to calm down. Thus, the quickest way to cultivate calm in a child is to practice being calm yourself.

As one meme I recently saw on Twitter says, "Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down."

Telling kids to relax doesn't work nearly as well as a soft voice or a gentle touch, both of which turn on the "attend and befriend" response, shut off fight or flight, thin out cortisol, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.

Once we establish that fundamental connection with our child (or anyone, for that matter), we can open our hearts and minds to each other, see each other's perspective, and move on together.

Once your child calms down, you can move toward processing and planning verbally. Here are some things to try:

  • Continue to engage the PFC by asking what consequence they think would be fair or asking them to reflect on why certain expectations exist in your household.
  • Don't forget your kids' basic needs. That PFC is an energy guzzler—sometimes just a rest or snack is all that's needed to get things up and running again.
  • Sometimes you have to get creative and throw your kid a curveball, maybe literally. In other words, you have to hijack their lower brain by getting them to do something with their bodies—playing catch or doing a few downward dogs.
  • Engage their senses with strong sensory stimuli, like eating a bit of spicy food, smelling or tasting a lemon, or moving to a different room or getting outside.
  • Try to jump-start their PFC with a seemingly random question, like what they want for dinner or what's the name of their best friend's mom.
  • Decrease the dominance of the amygdala with games—a quick round of cards, some fun verbal wordplay, or a checkers match. From there, you can steer your kids back into their wisest minds.

When we interrupt tantrums like this, it's vital that, once things calm down, we address what triggered the tantrum. You don't have to rehash the details of every conflict, but remember that consistency is always key to raising resilient and healthy kids. So if you say you are going to come back to something later, come back to it. This lets kids integrate the experience with their whole brain once it's fully back online.


What's happening in your child's brain during a tantrum

Neuroscientist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Bryson creatively describe "downstairs" and "upstairs" aspects of the brain. Our primitive brains—the limbic system and amygdala—are reactive and emotional, driven by impulsive, short-term interests, and primitive drives. This childlike, impulsive, instinctual system lives downstairs.

Meanwhile, the outer cortices of our brains, which enable us to inhibit impulses, slow down, gain perspective, process emotional stimuli, and articulate these stimuli into thought and action, live upstairs. This upstairs area helps us plan, think before we act, take perspective, make moral decisions, and form relationships.

The "wise mind" integrates both our emotional and our rational minds, according to Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy. The four aspects of our brains—left, right, upstairs, downstairs—need strong connections to work together to build wise, healthy brains.

During a tantrum, when the amygdala and emotions flare up, it's almost impossible for logic to penetrate our kids' closed-off outer cortices. Helping them settle down from a tantrum to engage their wise mind takes wisdom, compassion, and plenty of patience on our part.

Why children (unlike adults) can't calm down during a tantrum

Our children are not miniature adults—their growing brains are actually incapable of taking an adult perspective on a situation and using that knowledge to calm down.

Remembering this can help us see that tantrums are not methodically manufactured manipulations. A child's tantrum operates at an instinctual level that simply won't respond to reason.

Once we recognize this, we can make more effective choices about responding.

How to respond calmly to a tantrum

Yes, sometimes challenging behaviors are premeditated, and in those cases, we should respond with intention, logic, and clear boundaries or consequences. However, when our kids are experiencing a limbic system meltdown, what they need is connection and calming.

When children descend into lower-brain chaos, parents need to work overtime to first calm our own prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is associated with planning and thinking and is located just behind the forehead—so we can view the situation clearly.

When we show that we've regulated our own emotions, it signals to kids that it's safe for them to calm down. It also models and mirrors to them (often literally, through what are called mirror neurons) how to calm down. Thus, the quickest way to cultivate calm in a child is to practice being calm yourself.

As one meme I recently saw on Twitter says, "Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down."

Telling kids to relax doesn't work nearly as well as a soft voice or a gentle touch, both of which turn on the “attend and befriend" response, shut off fight or flight, thin out cortisol, and boost oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.

Once we establish that fundamental connection with our child (or anyone, for that matter), we can open our hearts and minds to each other, see each other's perspective, and move on together.

Once your child calms down, you can move toward processing and planning verbally. Here are some things to try:

  • Continue to engage the PFC by asking what consequence they think would be fair or asking them to reflect on why certain expectations exist in your household.
  • Don't forget your kids' basic needs. That PFC is an energy guzzler—sometimes just a rest or snack is all that's needed to get things up and running again.
  • Sometimes you have to get creative and throw your kid a curveball, maybe literally. In other words, you have to hijack their lower brain by getting them to do something with their bodies—playing catch or doing a few downward dogs.
  • Engage their senses with strong sensory stimuli, like eating a bit of spicy food, smelling or tasting a lemon, or moving to a different room or getting outside.
  • Try to jump-start their PFC with a seemingly random question, like what they want for dinner or what's the name of their best friend's mom.
  • Decrease the dominance of the amygdala with games—a quick round of cards, some fun verbal wordplay, or a checkers match. From there, you can steer your kids back into their wisest minds.

When we interrupt tantrums like this, it's vital that, once things calm down, we address what triggered the tantrum. You don't have to rehash the details of every conflict, but remember that consistency is always key to raising resilient and healthy kids. So if you say you are going to come back to something later, come back to it. This lets kids integrate the experience with their whole brain once it's fully back online.

Learn + Play

Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I need to accomplish once she's asleep. I can't forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never-ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I've accomplished, and all I've yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked her, I looked down at my daughter's legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how my arms used to wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. It feels like this was only yesterday.

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I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair.

I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion.

I thought of all the nights between then and now. The tough, sleepless nights—through growth spurts, teething, and colds—and those sweet, easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down.

I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won't want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won't want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one-millionth time. She won't want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more.

I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well.

For the time being, I'm going to enjoy where we are right now and do my best to just be in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don't get mopped until tomorrow, nothing is going to happen.

Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Life
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