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Growing up I always knew I was “going to be somebody and make something of myself." An obsessive overachiever, I was confident that I was destined to do something amazing with life. I had big plans for myself, and I never deviated from a well thought out plan.

I loved college. Never before had I experienced the thoughtful, knowledgeable, and meaningful conversations I did during class. I was hooked; I couldn't get enough of it! I soon grew to feel a great sense of camaraderie with my classmates. I had found my place and soared, regularly earning a spot on The Dean's List (while continuing to work my nearly 35 hours per week “part-time" job). All was going according to plan.

And then it wasn't.

I had been casually dating a neighborhood boy for the entire summer preceding my freshman year. Soon after classes started and I moved onto campus, our relationship grew serious; very serious, very quickly. I began spending more and more time at my boyfriend's house and less and less time on campus. While I remained dedicated to my studies and earning superb grades, I completely forfeited any true “college experience" for the sake of my relationship.

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Despite my parent's greatest efforts to spare me from missing out on my chance at a college experience, I chose to honor my commitment to both my relationship and my boyfriend. It wasn't long before I moved off campus and into an apartment with my boyfriend. I was only 19. Amidst all the changes that had taken place in my personal life, my academic performance never suffered and my passion for learning remained as strong as ever.

I married my boyfriend during my junior year spring break. Nine short months later, while seven months pregnant, I proudly walked across the stage to receive my degree! I had already applied to and been accepted to my now alma mater's School of Graduate Studies and was scheduled to begin my graduate career the following September, after a five-month “break" to recover from and adjust to being a first-time mom.

A first-time mom who stayed home with my son and handled each and every single responsibility pertaining to the care and well-being of my child, and our household. By this point, my responsibilities also included “damage control and cleanup" for whatever mess my husband had created for himself, and I began growing more and more exhausted as the weeks passed.

When September inevitably rolled around I was excited to begin my graduate studies, though admittedly plagued with anxiety at the thought of leaving my infant son in the care of my ill-equipped husband for nearly five hours per week.

I attended three weeks worth of classes before realizing my son needed me full-time (his father simply couldn't be trusted) and withdrawing. I was devastated; for the first time in my life, I felt like a failure. I couldn't finish something that I both started and yearned so badly for.

Despite my disappointment, I became engulfed in my new role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom. I was so very in love with my child, and never took for granted the privilege that I had been afforded. I heard my child's first spoken word, witnessed his first steps, taught him to count, read to him every single night before bed, and even saw him proudly use the potty for the first time! I was #blessed and I knew it, on most fronts.

My marriage was broken, shattered beyond repair, and I knew it. Instead of addressing and handling the problem, I instead chose to turn a blind eye to the catastrophe that had become my marriage. I immersed myself in my role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom and even began internally identifying myself this way.

Occasionally I'd feel the sting of desire and regret over the goals that had essentially been abandoned. In those moments, I reminded myself just how badly I was needed at home and did my best to convince myself my circumstances were beyond my control; I had a small child and an immature, irresponsible, and unreliable husband. How could I ever balance graduate courses in addition to my daily responsibilities, I'd ask myself?

A devastating family death finally inspired me to file for divorce after a 10-year-long-relationship and four years of marriage. At the time I filed for divorce I had been out of the workforce for four years and had never once worked since graduating from college. To say I was scared would be the understatement of a lifetime, but I knew I was doing what was right for both my son and myself.

After a few too many wine-fueled late night pity parties, I knew what I had to do. I contacted my former advisor and re-enrolled in my graduate program. I found an apartment for my son and myself (complete with a white picket fence!), bought a new car, and landed a pretty desirable position at a well-known local law firm. It seemed as if my plan had managed to find its way back to me and I was back on track.

My divorce was terribly messy. I was awful, he was awful, it was all awful. What should have been an open and closed case was dragged out for nearly two years, courtesy of my ex-husband. I was struggling to balance single motherhood, a demanding, high paced job, and managing a household and all the expenses that come along with it (including pre-school).

I was juggling this far too fragile balancing act all while taking a full load of graduate courses and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. It wasn't long until my ex-husband decided he would no longer honor his moral obligation to provide for my child with child support payments. The fact that these child support payments were court ordered meant nothing to him. He ceased all means of support (and continues to).

As I grew into my role at work and began to excel I knew something had to give. I was simply spread too thin. I was unable to be the very best mom, employee, or graduate student I knew I had the potential to be while juggling so many major responsibilities. Because I wasn't receiving any financial assistance from my ex-husband, I once again made the decision to withdraw from my MA Program upon completion of the classes I was enrolled in. This time, I truly had no choice. I had a small child to support, obligations to honor, and I needed to work to fulfill these obligations. I withdrew with a 4.0 GPA and in good standing with my University.

Over the next few years, I largely worked in Education, with a short-lived stint in IP Law. I continued to struggle. Though it was gratifying to know that I was modeling strong, positive, and responsible behavior for Jack to see, I hated leaving him in someone else's care each day. Time and time again I was told, “it will get easier," and “it won't always be this hard," but it never got easier and it continued to grow increasingly harder.

When I met my now husband he encouraged me to leave my position with the IT Law Firm and follow my heart. As badly as I wanted to, I was afraid. What if I left my job and once again fell flat on my face? I couldn't bear the thought of starting all over again. Eventually, I did find a part-time position in my field and left the firm. I remember walking out of my office on my last day at the firm and feeling as though my soul had been set free from the prison it had been shackled in. I was liberated.

Much to our surprise, shortly after we became engaged, my then-fiancée (a fine dining chef), was recruited by and offered a position in Las Vegas at one of the country's top-grossing restaurants. The offer, experience, and education my fiancée stood to gain was far too good to turn down and so together we made the decision to accept the offer and move across the country to Nevada. Our move and the major change in lifestyle we experienced brought with it many new decisions to be made and questions to be answered.

During one particular conversation, my husband sat me down and told me he thought I should stay home with our son. He thought it best for me to be completely available to our little guy during his transition period. I agreed. He surprised me though when he told me that he knew I wasn't as happy as I could be. He continued, reporting it was his observation that I hadn't been truly happy since returning to the workforce and forfeiting my role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom.

What could I say? He was absolutely right. In that moment, we decided I would resume my role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom, with the unconditional support of my husband. I was so filled with relief, love, and gratitude that I couldn't speak. Instead, crying tears of joy while trying to thank him through my sobs.

The next few years were amazing. We blossomed into a whole, healthy, and happy family while in Nevada. My husband experienced great success and our son prospered. I was once again fortunate enough not to miss a single baseball practice or game, school performance or event, soccer game, or karate lesson. To our son's delight, I was even able to read to his class a few times that year. My “job" as a full-time-mom allowed me the freedom to ensure our little guy was able to accept almost all invitations to play dates and birthday parties, sleepovers and camp outs. I loved “having my old job back" and was deeply happy and content.

A few years ago my husband accepted yet another prestigious position, this time closer to our home state on the east coast. Though it was difficult to leave the friendships and life we had created during our time in Nevada, each of us was excited to be so close to family, friends, and home. We settled beautifully in our new beach side community. My husband continues to excel in his career and our son is well adjusted, popular, and a genuinely good-hearted little boy. We're all healthy, happy, well taken care of, and safe.

So, what could possibly be wrong?

Me.

As I approach my 34th birthday next week and my son rapidly approaches his 10th birthday in just a few short months, I find myself wondering and worrying about my future. Though he is still very young, requiring supervision, guidance, and love at all times, my son has begun to assert his independence. He will need me less and less as the years' pass. Then what? What happens to me?

It's not my son's job to fulfill me, make me happy, or give me an identity. That's my job; always has been and always will be. This I know without a shadow of a doubt.

My husband's career has taken off. He's experiencing well deserved critical acclaim and has even been featured in local media quite a few times. My heart swells with pride and admiration for my husband. He deserves every bit of the success and attention he's achieving and receiving. So, he's good. He doesn't “need" me for anything either.

But what about me? Where does that leave me?

The same fears, worries, questions, regrets, and anxieties continuously run through my mind. The relentless fears and regret torment me, racing through my mind leaving me to wonder:

Is it too late for me?

Did I waste my potential?

What is my purpose?

And finally:

Maybe, just maybe, now is the perfect time for me. Maybe now is the ideal time to revert back to my plan, get back on track, and to not only meet but crush both my MA and Ph. D. goals?

From the sidelines where I find myself sitting these days, it seems now is as good a time as ever.

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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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