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I got into the field of psychology because I wanted to help others, and this desire to help came from my ability to easily empathize. I never knew just how valuable empathy was as a parent until I started noticing the narration running through my mind as my daughter would cry, whine or scream.


I will be the first to admit that when I first became a parent I was not able to consistently use empathy. I was anxious and frustrated that I could not figure out how to help my very tearful (and reportedly colicky) baby during those first few months, and every time I thought I had the parenting routine down, developmental changes made me shift everything.

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Fast-forward a couple of years—I noticed my daughter crying at bathtime and found myself saying in my head, “She really gets upset when water gets in her eyes. She’s really scared that shampoo will get in her eye.” I then wish I had bought curved rinse-cup that would fit up against her forehead. I also thought the tear-free shampoo wouldn’t bother the eyes until I decided to try it and noticed how annoying it felt, as my eyes were feeling like they were reducing to raisins.

My point in saying all this is that empathy was the one of the keys to keeping myself calm.

I would reflect what she was expressing to me,“You really don’t like it when we wash your hair. You are worried that water and soap will get in your eyes,” but I knew that I still had to get her through it and continued to say, “We will try and make sure that water does not get in your eyes.”

How would this look if I were not coming from a place of empathy?

Well, for one, I may lose my cool because I may view her as an obstacle to getting her own hair clean thinking in my head, “Just let me clean your hair so that this can be done with!”

I may raise my voice and make it even more difficult for her to manage her feelings, as she may feel that she is unsafe to express her feelings with me or that her interests are not my priority. This pattern can continue for many months or possibly even years—with my frustration only increasing and her ability to see me as an understanding parent diminishing.

And no one wants that. So here’s how we can parent with more empathy:

1. Be aware

Notice what you are saying to yourself as your child begins to whine or cry. Are you finding yourself frustrated that your child is not listening? Do you keep nudging them to get through the difficulty by saying, “You’re okay.”

If this is you, know that you are not alone. In fact, we have likely all been here at some point. Instead of being really hard on ourselves for having been there, let’s just notice it.

Notice why it is difficult to tolerate the tears or frustration that your child is experiencing. Are you taking this as a reflection of you as a parent?

I will tell you right now that whining and crying does not mean that you are doing something wrong as a parent.

It is simply the current mode of expression while your young child is learning language and learning how to regulate himself in order to express themselves through words. Their brain is nowhere nearly as developed as yours, so it is important to shift the expectation you have for your child. Research now says that the brain is not fully developed until about age 25.

2. Take time for yourself

You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others—If your cup is empty, you have nothing else to give. Self-care does not necessarily mean manicures and massages.

For me self-care is waking up at 5 a.m. to exercise for 15 minutes, have my cup of tea, eat breakfast without distractions, and do a little bit of something I enjoy (like writing or reading). And yes on some days this is not realistic and sleeping in a little bit longer becomes my self-care.

What does it look like for you? Taking care of yourself can be those little things that actually make a big difference. For example, actually taking a lunch break at work and using part of the time to go for a walk or setting limits to how many events, birthdays and get togethers you commit to.

Overall, I notice that self-care really means slowing ourselves down and being intentional with our decisions. It’s so easy to move from one thing to the next never letting ourselves catch a break. So if nothing else, work on slowing down as a part of your self-care.

3. Put yourself in your child’s shoes

Empathy is going to be the key to getting out of your own head and into your child’s. You will not easily shift to an empathic point of view if you are not aware of your own perceptions and neglecting yourself. This is why I put it for step three.

Sometimes it is helpful to think back to when you were a child and recall what you needed when you were tearful or upset. Keep asking yourself, “What is my child trying to tell me right now? What does my child need from me right now?” This will help you get to an empathic understanding of your child rather than focusing on, “How can I get them to stop their crying/whining?”

4. Identify their emotions

Here you are going to help your child gain the words to express himself. For example, “It looks like you are upset because we have to leave the park. I know it can be hard to say ‘good-bye’ when we are having fun. We will be coming back to the park tomorrow.”

5. Stay calm

It is incredibly important to remain calm above all. If there is anything you forget, please DO NOT forget this one.

By staying calm you are showing your child that you are able to handle the situation.

Often times we have this idea in our heads that we are showing that we are in charge when we raise our voice or yell.

Helping our children be calm, starts by showing them how. If you want to help your child feel secure, you need to remain calm so that they know you feel like you can handle it. If you must, go ahead and fake it until you make it here.

Take a few minutes to get yourself in the right space before responding. And if you notice yourself being reactive, see my next step.

6. Take the time

Give yourself room to grow. These changes will definitely not happen overnight. You might find yourself forgetting to fill your cup, stressed by many things at once, and raising your voice at your child.

You will make mistakes. We all do.

The most important thing you can do when this happens is become aware of it and acknowledge your mistake to your child. For instance, “I was upset and yelled. It was not okay for me to yell. What I wanted to tell you is that I see that you are upset, but we still need to go. I am here to help you go back to the car.”

So much of this requires us to unlearn the things that we have been taught through our own families, friends, and through society. The more we practice this, the easier it will become.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


Our Partners

Starting this weekend Target will be limiting the number of people allowed in its stores to give shoppers and staff more space to spread out and adhere to social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beginning April 4, Target will actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store's specific square footage," the company notes in a news release.

You'll also notice staff wearing gloves and masks over the next two weeks as the company steps up its coronavirus protection measures.

Many people are choosing to stay home and order groceries online, but that's not an option for everyone as long lines at some Target's prove.

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"We're incredibly proud of the commitment our more than 350,000 frontline team members have demonstrated to ensure millions of guests can count on Target, and we'll continue to focus our efforts on supporting them," says Target's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Mulligan.

Target is open this weekend but—along with Costco, Aldi, Publix and Trader Joe's—Target stores will be closed on Easter Sunday to give the essential employees in these stores a much-deserved break.

I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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According to attachment theory, when you respond to the needs of your child, a strong bond is formed and woven into their personality, serving as a basis for all future emotional ties. So your kids love and depend on you. And they can feel anxious when involuntarily separated from you, like when you are asleep.

Child psychologist Esther Cohen suggests that it is fairly universal that infants and toddlers try to open the eyes of their sleeping parents. Her theory is that when you are present, but with your eyes shut, you are not responsive, and on some level this causes your child a form of "emotional distress." So the best and easiest way for them to feel better is to wake you up.

Cohen believes that reestablishing eye contact bridges the gap between your physical presence and your emotional presence, making the situation feel normal again. Your kids are relieved that you are alert and there to interact with them—and that you are available to protect them.

Kids are hardwired to seek our attention all the time.

At birth, your brain is only about 25% of its adult volume. Born particularly vulnerable, you depend on years of loving care. This prolonged helplessness has resulted in the evolution of certain behaviors—like baby coos, smiles and crying—that increase your odds of survival within your family.

By the toddler age, they've developed a sense of who you are and what you can do in relation to people, and realize when they are separate from their parents. Toddlers also have what's called object permanence—they can understand who or what is, or is not, present. That means they'll search for objects and people. (And wake you up when they find you.)

Bottom line: When you sneak off for a nap and your toddler looks for you, know that this is a natural instinct for them, and they will grow out of it. But for now, when you are asleep, you are not there, so your kids must. wake. you. up.

And for an extra fun fact: Research indicates that this also could be why it's so hard for you to ignore your partner when working from home. They are there, but technically not available, so you

continually find reasons to interact with them—just like waking them up from a nap. 😉
Life

Navigating family dynamics during or after a divorce is already a tremendous challenge. Throw a highly transmittable virus and a global pandemic into the mix, and many parents will be left with more questions than answers. Matters of custody, financial stability and mental and emotional health take on new significance—and new challenges—under these circumstances. But you can do it, mama.

As a divorce attorney, I've worked with numerous families during these past weeks, in various stages of the divorce process, all of whom are learning to navigate and negotiate unfamiliar dynamics created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are my tips for co-parenting in the context of COVID-19.

1. Show children that you are calm.

Parents know better than anyone how perceptive children are. Even so, we often forget how our moods and anxieties can unintentionally affect our children. To keep the calm in the household, let children see things are under control: Ensure that potential disagreements with your co-parent are kept in conversations between the two of you (not in front of the kids), and give yourself time and space to manage your own stress and anxiety. Stressed children mean stressed parents—and the principle applies in reverse as well.

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2. Be transparent with your co-parent.

Communicate as openly and honestly as possible with your co-parent about yourself and your children. Keep your co-parent updated about you and your children's location, home education and health (physical and emotional). It is critical that, in the case of an emergency and in everyday life, both parents be fully aware and in sync regarding children's whereabouts and welfare. Transparency breeds trust; secrets breed mistrust and animosity.

3. Keep your rules.

Because this moment feels so uncertain and some of our regular norms have fallen by the wayside, there can be a tendency to let other household rules start to slide. Make sure everyone remembers their responsibilities within the family.

School might be at the kitchen table now, but having children make their beds, get dressed and brush their teeth in the morning helps maintain a sense of normalcy that can be helpful for children when things seem tumultuous. Maintain chore schedules, eat dinner together and continue to follow rituals and rules that remind children (and parents) of the responsibilities we have.

4. Consult your health care provider when disagreements arise.

If you disagree on social distancing measures, I usually advise both parents to telephone their child's pediatrician or health care provider and agree ahead of time to follow their advice. Parents can also consult the CDC measures and agree to follow those protocols. Educating your co-parent can be the most helpful thing to do now.

If you are divorced and work with a parenting coordinator, they may also be a helpful resource. If not, a third party, like a mutually trusted friend or relative can serve as an impartial mediator to help you come to a reasonable agreement.

5. Maintain boundaries.

For parents and children in this time, it is important to maintain a degree of personal space. Many of us have been directed to self-quarantine, and isolation is not easy. The nationwide efforts to keep us apart in order to contain the virus have put many of us in closer contact with those around us than we may be accustomed to.

Constant shared space and time can certainly introduce new stress into an already tense environment. While these small measures may not seem significant, taking time to yourself to be alone—even just in a separate room—can be healthy and good for group morale. Take a walk, do some yoga, whatever it looks like, take care of yourself as a parent right now.

Be flexible with your co-parent.

Flexibility, transparency and reasonableness need to be at the forefront of all decisions. Remember that this is an unprecedented situation, and it calls for flexibility, especially in scheduling.

Both sides need to be reasonable if someone becomes ill, of course. If your co-parent can't travel due to illness, then you need to be understanding about this issue and work with them to provide makeup time for the future. But the situation also calls for transparency by the parent who is sick. That parent should provide the information necessary to make the co-parent feel comfortable that they have appropriate resources and are taking proper precautions to keep children and adults safe and healthy.

Plan ahead.

While immediate concerns may be taking center stage right now, planning for the future has never been more crucial. Make time to sit down with your current or ex-spouse and take stock of your respective finances, your job security and your co-parenting schedule management as soon as possible, and create a plan (and a backup plan) for going forward. Though it may not be comfortable, transparency with your current or ex-spouse is essential.

Be smart, plan ahead and above all, stay safe.

Love + Village

As a mom of three and former social worker working for many years in the fields of adoption, Sara Ester of Sara Liz Photography knows firsthand the importance of family time. When she learned that families all over the country are self-isolating due to the coronavirus outbreak, she knew it was the perfect time to capitalize on moments of connections. Her mission was simple: promote family time to ease stress and promote happiness.

Liz reached out to dozens of families on social media asking if they would like to be photographed on their porch for a "Front Porch Session" and the responses were huge.

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Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

"Amid all the COVID-19 stuff going on I asked if families would be interested in a quick five-minute session on their front porches to document what a crazy experience it has been to be quarantined at home," Ester told Popsugar. "The people participating ran with it! So many families made funny or encouraging signs, showed up in their pajamas or yoga pants, and just really embraced the whole 'quarantine chic' idea. It was really reaffirming to see how everyone is in the same boat. We're all just trying to do the best we can with a crappy situation!"


Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

We're living in perilous times and it's nice to see families using the lockdown as an opportunity to bond. After all, it doesn't matter how big or small your house is, it's the love inside that counts.

Photo by: Sara Liz Photography


"Photography, specifically documentary photography is a big part of how I see and function in the world a lot of the time," Ester shared in an Instagram post. With everything being so overwhelming the last week or so, it has helped me to also keep in mind that what we are dealing with is historical."

News
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