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We all crave those close moments with our children that make our hearts melt. Connection is as essential to us parents as it is to our children. When our relationship is strong, it's also sweet—so we receive as much as we give. That's what makes parenting worth all the sacrifices.

That connection is also the only reason children willingly follow our rules. Kids who feel strongly connected to their parents WANT to cooperate, if they can. They'll still act like kids, which means their emotions will sometimes overwhelm their still-growing prefrontal cortex. But when they trust us to understand, to be on their side, they're motivated to follow our lead when they can.

Researchers remind us that we need five positive interactions to every negative interaction to keep any relationship healthy. And since we spend so much time guiding—aka correcting, reminding, scolding, criticizing, nagging, and yelling—it's important to make sure we spend five times as much time in positive connection.

But we're only human. There are days when all we can do is meet our children's most basic needs. Some days it's nothing short of heroic simply to feed them, bathe them, keep an encouraging tone, and get them to sleep at a reasonable hour so we can do it all over again tomorrow!

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Given that parenting is the toughest job on earth and we often do it in our spare time, after being separated all day, the only way to keep a strong bond with our children is to build in daily habits of connection.

Here are 10 habits that don't add time to your day, but do add connection—and could change your life.

1. Aim for 12 hugs (or physical connections) every day

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Snuggle your child first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and last thing at night. Hug when you say goodbye, when you're re-united, and often in between. Tousle hair, pat backs, rub shoulders. Make eye contact and smile, which is a different kind of touch. If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection. Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond? It's a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today. You'll find yourself glad, many times, if you prioritize that.)

2. Play

Laughter and rough-housing keep you connected with your child by stimulating endorphins and oxytocin in both of you. Making laughter a daily habit also gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise make him feel disconnected and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate. Which is likely to work better?

3. Turn off technology when you interact with your child

Really. Your child will remember for the rest of her life that she was important enough to her parents that they turned off their phone to listen to her. Even turning off music in the car can be a powerful invitation to connect, because the lack of eye contact in a car takes the pressure off, so kids (and adults) are more likely to open up and share.

4. Connect before transitions

Kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If you look him in the eye, use his name and connect with him, then get him giggling, you'll make sure he has the inner resources to manage himself through a transition.

5. Make time for one on one time

Do whatever you need to do to schedule 15 minutes with each child, separately, every day. Alternate doing what your child wants and doing what you want during that time. On her days, just pour your love into her and let her direct. On your days resist the urge to structure the time with activities. Instead, try any physical activity or game that gets her laughing.

6. Welcome emotion

Your child needs to express his emotions or they'll drive his behavior. Besides, this is an opportunity to help your child heal those upsets, which will bring you closer. So summon up all your compassion, don't let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you're the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Just acknowledge all those feelings and offer understanding of the pain. Afterwards, he'll feel more relaxed, cooperative and closer to you. (Yes, this is really, really hard. Regulating our own emotions in the face of our child's upset is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But that doesn't mean we're excused from trying.)

7. Listen, and empathize

Connection starts with listening. Bite your tongue if you need to, except to say, "Wow!....I see....Really?...How was that for you?...Tell me more..."

The habit of seeing things from your child's perspective will ensure that you treat her with respect and look for win/win solutions. It will help you see the reasons for behavior that would otherwise drive you crazy. And it will help you regulate your own emotions so when your buttons get pushed and you find yourself in "fight or flight," your child doesn't look so much like the enemy.

8. Slow down and savor the moment

You aren't just rushing your child through the schedule so you can spend a few minutes with him before bed. Every interaction all day long is an opportunity to connect. Slow down and share the moment with your child: Let him smell the strawberries before you put them in the smoothie.

When you're helping him wash his hands, put yours in the running water with his, and share the cool rush of the water. Smell his hair. Listen to his laughter. Look him in the eyes and meet him heart to open heart, sharing that big love. Connect in the magnificence of the present moment. Which is really the only way we can connect. (For most parents, this is also the secret to being able to tolerate playing that same game, yet again.)

9. Bedtime snuggle and chat

Set your child's bedtime a wee bit earlier with the assumption that you'll spend some time visiting and snuggling in the dark. Those companionable, safe moments of connection invite whatever your child is currently grappling with to the surface, whether it's something that happened at school, the way you snapped at her this morning, or her worries about tomorrow's field trip. Do you have to resolve her problem right then? No. Just listen. Acknowledge feelings.

Reassure your child that you hear her concern, and that together you'll solve it, tomorrow. The next day, be sure to follow up. You'll be amazed how your relationship with your child deepens. And don't give this habit up as your child gets older. Late at night is often the only time teens will open up.

10. Show up

Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he leaves your home. He'll be gone before you know it.

Try this as a practice: When you're interacting with your child, show up 100 percent. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. You won't be able pull this off all the time. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you'll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often.

Because you'll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.

Originally posted on Aha! Parenting.

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Dear second child,

I see you. In the background, laying on your activity mat. I am frantically peeling a banana to appease your big sister's demands while cleaning milk off the floor.

You reach over and grab your toy and I am SO proud of you. I see you.

You smile and coo to yourself and tears threaten to spill from my sleep-deprived blood-shot eyes.

You are 4 months old and I have so many things I've been meaning to do. I want to cuddle you on the couch while reading all the books I loved reading to your sister.

I want to help you explore sensory bins, feeling the rice that I dyed various vibrant colors between your sweet little fingers.

I want to lay with you in the grass, gazing at clouds and soaking in the feeling of you discovering your world.

But your sister just disappeared with a red crayon and has been quiet for far too long. So I dash to her, disappearing from your sight.

I am so sorry.

I want to sit and stare at you and memorize every smile and giggle.

I want lazy days in bed like I had with your sister.

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I want to spend hours just laying in the sun at the beach with you while you nap out in the fresh air.

But there are no quiet, cuddly nursing sessions. There are no cozy, carefree days. It's all business and I'm operating on survival mode right now—and barely keeping it together.

You are so sweet. So happy. You fill our days with laughter and joy. But right now, you are in your activity center while I make dinner.

The guilt overwhelms me as I watch you out of the corner of my eye during another negotiation with your sister over what we will eat tonight.

I want so badly to slow down, sing to you, dance with you in the kitchen, babble with you while I prepare dinner. But I am so distracted. So exhausted.

I feel like I am failing as your mother and I am sorry.

The rush of dinner, bath time, stories and bedtime is a blur. You love bath time and I make sure we spend an extra few minutes together, laughing as you splash and kick in the water.

I love these few moments we have. We read stories in your sister's room before shutting her door and saying goodnight.

This is our time now. Our last nursing session of the day. I snuggle into the chair with you, kiss your head, and breathe you in.

I stare into your eyes and memorize every inch of you. I tell you how much I love you and how wonderful you are. I say I love you before laying you down in bed and sneaking out of your room, the door closing gently behind me.

I did it. I survived another day. A wave of delight and gratitude washes over me, taking the guilt away with it.

You, my second child, are so incredibly special. I love you so fiercely and I am so proud of you. You learn and grow every day and I admire you endlessly. I am in awe of you. I am thankful for your easygoing nature, your abundance of giggles and infectious smiles (seriously, you are the happiest baby I've ever met).

I love our small moments together—when I catch a glimpse of you in your car seat mirror and am overcome with love. When you fall asleep on me while we're at the park pushing your sister on the swing. Our middle-of-the night feedings where I can take all of you in and snuggle you peacefully in the 3am silence only a mother knows.

I don't remember life without you and you complete me in a way I didn't know was possible. And you deserve my very best.

I try, little one, I really do.

I try to make sure and slow down. To dance with you in the kitchen. To give you those extra minutes of bath time. To rock you in that chair a little longer.

I want to sing to you. I want to read you an extra book. I want to pause. To stop. And see you.

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Life

Many mothers-to-be find comfort and confidence in the idea that our bodies are built for birth. It's a mantra that has helped many through labor, but too often this idea is tossed around not to help mothers get through birth, but to discount its difficulty.

Our bodies are incredibly powerful, but so is the myth surrounding their ability to recover after birth. Yes, birth is natural and normal, but it is also really, really hard on us. Society needs to acknowledge that so mothers can get the support and time they need to heal.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances found pregnant people and extreme distance distance runners have something in common: Both groups push their bodies to the limit of human endurance and potential. It turns out energy expenditure among extreme athletes pushing their limits is only slightly higher than that of pregnant people.

Simply put: Science proves It's no wonder you're tired mama, being pregnant takes so much energy.

Science also suggests that giving birth is harder on a person's body than running a marathon, and while athletes are resting and getting treatment for their injuries, too many mothers are trying to walk theirs off.

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In a lot of ways, running a marathon and giving birth are very similar experiences. Researchers note that in both cases, we tend to forget how painful the event actually was, and in both cases our bodies are pushed to extremes. Researchers suggest childbirth is as traumatic as many endurance sports.

But runners step up to the starting line well rested. When women step into the birthing suite, they're already exhausted.

According to Holly Dunsworth, an associate professor of anthropology at of the University of Rhode Island, mothers in the last weeks and months of pregnancy are "pushing right against the possible sustainable metabolic rates in humans."

"We max out toward the end of pregnancy," Dunsworth told the BBC. "Those last weeks and months of pregnancy are tiring." We are starting our race feeling as depleted as runners feel when theirs is over.

To energize for labor, "moms should remain hydrated, and ensure that they are getting enough iron and protein", says Diana Spalding, a midwife, pediatric nurse and Motherly's Digital Education Editor.

And when runners get hurt, they get help. Moms often don't.

A 2015 study out of the University of Michigan found that 25% of postpartum mothers have "fluid in the pubic bone marrow or sustained fractures similar to a sports-related stress fracture." Two-thirds of the women had injuries similar to a severe muscle strain. The research suggests up to 15% of moms sustain pelvic injuries that don't heal, and we're just walking around with them.

According to Janis Miller, the lead author on the study, when an athlete gets one of the these injuries, they end up in an MRI machine getting checked out. When a postpartum mom has the same issue, it's downplayed and often undiagnosed. This leaves women confused and concerned about symptoms, and unchecked physical problems can put a strain on maternal mental health.

"We have this thing where we tell women, 'Well, you're six weeks postpartum and now we don't need to see you—you'll be fine.' But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are [they] ready to go back to work, and they aren't crazy," Miller said in a media release.

As Miller recently told the BBC, mothers often don't even know when they've torn a muscle like the levator ani. A tear in that muscle can cause pelvic floor problems and even prolapse, and it's the kind of thing kegels aren't going to fix, but many moms are told that with kegels and time they'll feel better, when the injury is more serious than that.

"In the extreme, we're asking for some women to strengthen a muscle they might not even have anymore," Miller told the BBC. "What is often observed as weakness is actually torn muscle."

The science shows that childbirth can be as hard on the body as running a marathon, and can even result in similar injuries. But even when injuries are not a factor, anecdotal evidence suggests giving birth is harder than running a marathon.

Just ask Amber Miller, who once ran a six-hour marathon and then gave birth all on the same day. "Giving birth is definitely harder than running a marathon," Miller told The Guardian. "Give me a marathon any day."

[A version of this post was originally published on February 5, 2019. It has been updated.]

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It's Father's Day and dads around the world are getting some love from their loved ones, and we are loving all the adorable posts on Instagram today.

Celebrity dads are getting (and dishing out) a lot of love today, and these 10 Instagram posts, in particular, are melting our hearts.


James Van Der Beek 

James Van Der Beek will always be Dawson to many millennial mamas, but to his five kids he's just "Daddy." His wife Kimberly posted the cutest pic of James with their kiddos, Olivia, Emilia, Annabel Leah, Joshua and baby Gwendolyn.

James posted the same photo to his own account, with a caption that may make you cry.

He wrote: "For me, being a father means having that quiet little voice inside of you that says 'Be a better man,' get louder and more consistent... to the point where you can't really remember where that voice ends and where you begin. It means being tired beyond what is probably healthy, and patient beyond what you previously thought possible. And even though you know you're far from perfect... being a father also comes with an unshakable awareness that all your actions have consequences - context that reaches far beyond your own self-interest. It's scary to feel that interconnected with the rest of the world - especially with your heart now walking around outside your body - because it demands more personal responsibility... but it will make you a better man. Of at least that I'm sure. #HappyFathersDay to all the imperfect dads out there, trying their best and learning on the job.👊#fatherhood"

That post gives us more feels than any episode of Dawson's Creek ever did.


Today, our Istagram and Facebook feeds are filled with evidence that today's dads are doing more than any other generation of fathers. Congrats guys, you really deserve a Happy Father's Day!

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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