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To the mama who has to cram in work after bedtime

In a perfect world, we would be applauded for our commitment to our families and discouraged from logging on after hours.

To the mom who's trying to cram in work after bedtime.
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I work a 9-to-5-ish job. The "ish" part is because I rush home from work each day to spend whatever sliver of face-time I can get with my toddler.

I try to leave not a second later than 5:00, and often leave work even earlier, because my 2-year-old starts to lose steam by 6:00. By 6:30 or 7:00 his bedtime routine in in full swing. That means I have a tiny window in which to spend quality—or really any time with him, an hour or two at most. And that time competes with my dinging phone, a host of chores, and both of our end-of-day weariness.

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The sorely limited mom-baby time during the workweek is sad. It's not enough. But it's the reality for me and so many other working moms.

If we get a few minutes of cuddle time or can squeeze in a couple of books, I consider the evening a win. Bath time isn't just an item on the checklist; it's the most intimate, dedicated, uninterrupted precious few minutes we get together each night. It would be a travesty to spend it in a conference room facing people in business casual.

I love my job, and I love having a professional life, but I will not compromise that those precious minutes I get with my child in the evening by staying at work late. I will decline meeting invites that people send me for slots after 5:00. Unless there is a literal fire, I will put unfinished work on the back-burner and hightail it out of the office.

In a perfect world, we would be applauded for our commitment to our families and discouraged from logging on after hours. We would be shamed for sliding into our seats early because it means we're missing breakfast with our kids and watching milk drip down our kid's chin is way more important than spreadsheets. We should be home before dark and in time for a full evening stretch to rest our cerebellums and hug our loved ones. Because we won't get that time back. Ever.

But it's far from a perfect world.

While I've had the pleasure of working in a couple of places where the office becomes a dead zone after 6:00—you can see a tumbleweed roll by—the much more common scenario has been that there's an unspoken race to see who can work the longest. Because more time still translates to a more dedicated employee, or so we continue to reinforce.

In order to contend with that I-see-you-so-you-must-be-dedicated culture, I don't feel great about running out when the clock strikes 5:00. Like many other working parents, I feel compelled to make up for any lost time by booting up my laptop after my kid goes to sleep and cramming in some extra hours. It's not an ideal scenario, but it chips away at the guilt I feel about leaving early. And frankly, (for better or worse) I feel like the optics of working late into the night give my reputation the same boost that sitting at my desk until 7 p.m. might.

I get to work by 8:30 each morning. I rarely take a lunch break. I work faster than most of my colleagues, and always have, while still producing work of equal quality. I would argue I often work harder, smarter, and more efficiently as well, in good part because I know I have the double standard of being a female (gender pay gap) and a mom (motherhood penalty) working against me.

Perhaps the tide is shifting. Remote and flexible work arrangements are increasingly common. Startups and newer companies have that mentality baked in from the start, and younger cohorts are demanding a move away from the stodgy desk-culture of yesteryear. All that momentum is pressuring the legacy companies to rethink their dynamics and to flex their expectations. I've been lucky enough to experience some of that. I've also worked really hard to avoid any problems.

Despite the stronghold the old guard still holds, and the general temperament in America that time spent working is a measure of worth, I am hopeful that we will continue to move in a direction that values families first and gives workers the flexibility to carve out their own schedules.

In the meantime, I'll do what it takes—including pulling out my computer and poring over docs long after the last board book has been read—to ensure I can make my most important engagement of each day: bath time.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

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Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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