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A friend told me her son couldn’t understand why a young child he knew had such a hard time being away from his mother while at school. The kindergartener would cling to her mother’s hand and in tears, voice protestations to being left behind.


My friend explained to her son that the 5-year old felt scared to be separated and left with people she didn’t know well. Her son, still confused, looked up at her and said, “But why doesn’t she just talk to her mom in her head?”

Astonished, my friend looked at her son and said, “Is that what you do?”

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He replied, “Yeah, I talk to you in my head all day, it helps me not feel so lonely and I don’t miss you as much.”

What every kid needs to take to school is an adult they hold onto psychologically. It is the sense they carry with them that there is someone to return home to, share their secrets with, and feel a sense of significance, belonging, and caring towards.

It underlies their capacity to be resilient, resourceful, and survive adversity. It allows them to face the challenges that school will present, from learning new subjects to persevering on tasks that are difficult. It will be critical to helping them deal with tricky peer groups, friends that turn into enemies, and bullies that are on every playground.

The beautiful design inherent to attachment is that we don’t have to be physically close to someone to feel connected; rather, we need to make sure we are firmly planted in their heart.

A strong relationship with at least one caring adult is the answer to resiliency in our kids—not skills they have to learn, having to act tough, or to ‘suck it up.’ We don’t need to work at preventing our kid’s from facing adversity but make sure they don’t face it alone.

Relationship is the natural home for the human heart.

The shielding effect of adult relationships

When a child has a strong relationship with an adult, their heart is shielded. The emotional system is protected from the wounding words and ways of others because a child cares more what their closest adult attachment thinks about them.

What kids say doesn’t hurt as much, it doesn’t feel as toxic, personal, nor as deep. The best inoculation against ‘mean’ kids is an adult who is holding onto a child. It is an adult who should offer a child an invitation for relationship that is gracious, generous, forgiving and unwavering.

While adult relationships shield kids’ emotional systems from the worst parts of their day, there will still be tears that may need to be shed. There will be emotions that are stirred up and need to be expressed as well as problems to be solved.

It is through relationship they are invited to rest from all that does not work so that they can embrace what might.

As a parent it feels like my homework each night involves gathering my kids and trying to take their pulse emotionally. I aim to help them make sense of their disappointments, hurts, as well as excitement and joy. Sometimes the stories and day’s events spill out of them spontaneously, or sometimes they need space, quiet, food, or to play before I can engage them.

At dinner my kids sometimes compete for airtime or can be mute, alerting me to the fact that a bedtime chat is likely the best place to connect. I care little how or when my children and I engage on the day’s event and only that we do. I keep my eyes on our relationship and an ear to their emotional world, vigilant to when I am needed most. I take faith that what my kids need most in facing the world outside are the relationships that anchor them to home.

How to cultivate strong relationships with kids

The recipe to cultivating a strong relationship with a child cannot be reduced to a set of instructions, directions, or mantras to hold onto. Relationships at their root, are an invitation that is offered to someone. It is an invitation to depend, to trust in, be guided by, and feel at home with someone.

We cannot dictate how relationships are forged and protected but we can be certain that it is the answer to the problem of facing separation and adversity.

The following strategies are key to building strong relationship with kids and protecting them from competing attachments such as peers or technological devices.

1. Collect their attention and engage their attachment instincts

We all seek connection—it is the primary driver in our attention system. The goal is to get there first with kids, meaning we need to collect their eyes, smile or a nod in agreement.

We need to engage them each morning by checking in, talking about the plans for the day, sharing a funny story—anything that puts you into relationship with them. Feeding them is a wonderful opportunity to collect their eyes and to invite them to depend on you.

2. Cultivate loyalty and a sense of belonging

When a child perceives an adult as being disloyal to them by not taking their side, understanding their perspective, or using what they care about against them through consequences or the use of time outs, the relationship can take a hit. When there is a sense that an adult is not for them, a separation is created in the relationship.

The challenge is there are times we cannot abide by a child’s actions or their words, when their behavior is clearly inappropriate, and we will need to act.

Finding our way through these situations while maintaining a sense of belonging and loyalty can be achieved by coming alongside the feelings and thoughts that have stirred a child up. While we make note of what isn’t okay, we can cue the child that we do understand and are there to help with what isn’t working for them.

It doesn’t mean we have to change what isn’t working, but we can give them some room to express it.

3. Family rituals, structure and routine

As kids face the separations that are part of life, they need to regularly return to things that ground them. Rituals and structure are these anchors, providing a regular hum and predictability to contact with their key relationships. From the morning routine that starts with a hello and ends with a goodbye to the dinner time that starts with a hello and ends with a goodnight—these are the rhythm’s that connect kids to time, place, and people. If separation is the problem, then holding onto to the connection that comes from rituals, structures, and routines is the answer.

The reality is we can’t perfect a child’s world or ensure they never face adversity. Venturing away from home is an important part of life. School often represents the first bold steps in this direction but we need not be alarmed by what awaits them. We just need to work at making sure they have our relationship to hold onto that will shield their heart from wounding.

Relationship is the home of the heart and when we understand this, we won’t ever fear that our kids will ever be too far away from us.

Originally published by Deborah MacNamara on macnamara.ca.

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I've always been a bit of a workout snob. I had strict, unflinching rules about what constituted a "real" workout for years—and I scoffed at anything that came up (in my mind) as inadequate. First, a real workout lasted at least an hour and had better leave me dripping in sweat. It required putting on workout clothes and going to a gym or boutique studio and resulted in muscle soreness that made it difficult to wash my hair in the shower the next day.

To some degree, I saw my workouts as a punishment for whatever bodily sins I had committed earlier in the day, like eating a cookie. The horror.

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As I got older, though, and thankfully worked through a lot of my body issues, my idea of what made a "real" workout started to shift. I started to find ways of moving my body that were enjoyable as well as strengthening, and exercise became my version of therapy, something that helped me feel more centered mentally as much as physically.

One rule remained, though: I was not a home-workout kind of girl.

To be fair, I thought I had tried. But after a few unsuccessful attempts at getting a sweat on with a DVD in my living room, I quickly dismissed the idea that you could get a real workout at home.

Then I had a baby.

Suddenly, scheduling a spin class in the city became impossible (unless I wanted to add babysitting expenses to my already hefty gym membership dues). As I took my 6-week exercise hiatus post-labor, I would sometimes crave a workout and wonder, "What am I going to do now?"

And while I stumbled across a few videos with instructors I liked that challenged my body, it wasn't until I met Karena and Katrina that something really clicked.

Fitness trainers and real-life best friends, Karena and Katrina are two California girls who co-founded Tone It Up and started posting workout videos on the beach—only to find that they soon had an insatiable social following.

From those few free online videos, they've built a fitness empire that extends into videos, workout gear and apparel, nutrition, and, recently, an online nutrition program and studio accessible through an app (monthly membership costs $12.99, or you can sign up for the year for $83.99—a much lower cost than most studios or gyms).

I've done a lot of TIU videos in the last two years because I love the way the girls talk about our bodies (and how actually challenging the workouts are), but recently I decided to try the membership to see if it really did help me create a better routine for my fitness.

I committed to five consecutive days of workouts, telling myself that that was the minimum amount of time I would have to dedicate to see any kind of result, physical or mental. And, you know what? Something interesting happened.

For one, it was much easier than I anticipated to stick with my goal.

Most of the live studio workouts are about 25 minutes, and they're offered every hour or half hour (depending on the time of day) so it's easy to find one that works for you. If for whatever reason I wasn't able to make a live class, they have dozens of on-demand videos (some that are eight minutes or less!) that it's easy to mix-and-match into a full 20- to 30-minute workout. There's even a TIU Pregnancy channel with prenatal-friendly workouts that can be subbed in if needed.

Each morning of the five days, I would wake up, have a small snack, drink a glass of water, and take my TIU class. The time flew by, thanks to the trainers' bubbly (but not annoying) personalities and the quick pace of the workout. Before I knew it, I was hitting the shower and getting on with my day.

After only five days, I knew I had found something I could stick with.

For one, the app makes it incredibly easy to fold a daily workout into your routine. You can look at the studio classes for the week and "sign up" for the times you want to take, and then your phone will alert you when it's time to sign in—no "I got distracted and forgot" excuses!

For another, the incredible variety of classes ensure that not only do you work out your entire body every few days, but it also makes it really hard to get bored. Instead, I found myself looking forward to seeing what the girls had in store for me each day. I even found the workouts easy to do with my busy toddler nearby—sometimes she even joins in, hopping around the living room with me or performing her own adorable squats and pushups.

Plus, it's hard to beat the emotional encouragement.

The trainers are all women with their own fitness stories and journeys, and their goal is to help you feel strong and healthy and enjoy the process—not just feel like you need to lose weight or like you're being punished for something. At the end of each workout, I felt proud and powerful for what I had just done—and I couldn't wait for the next one.

Most importantly, I love the example my home workouts help me set for my daughter.

Fitness is a regular part of our lives, not because we need to change ourselves or because we're paying some penance, but because it keeps us healthy, strong, and confident. Moving our bodies feels good, and every time she sees me make time for my own health, I know I'm setting the tone for how she should treat herself for the rest of her life.

Plus, the new muscles that have started to peek through my arms and shoulders? Those don't hurt either.

Life

Self-care is one of the most important things pregnant women and new mothers need to focus on for so many reasons. If we don't look after ourselves, we have nothing to give to others.

Now that you are pregnant, there is no better time to begin thinking about your long-term health and happiness (I know you have already been thinking about baby's, after all).

If our car's gas tank is empty, we don't expect it to run... we head to a gas station and fill it up! This is exactly what we need to do for ourselves. We need to fill ourselves up before we can give to others—including a baby.

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Our lives are moving at an alarming pace and very often self-care is seen as selfish.

I know this firsthand because I did it for years. During my pregnancy I was incredibly healthy but I did it all for my baby and not for myself. I only realized this after I had my son.

After his birth, I completely neglected my self-care and myself, which did not help my postpartum depression. During my recovery, I realized that self-care is not only important, but essential. We so freely give everything to our children.

My plea for new moms is to value your own care just as much as that of your new child. During pregnancy, self-care is important for both mom and baby. This philosophy should be carried through post birth.

After your baby is born, it's so important to eat well, rest when you can, and stay hydrated. As soon as you feel ready, get out for some fresh air with baby. Just remember not to push yourself too hard. Your body is still recovering!

Keeping stress low and practicing daily happiness habits are also important.

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in everything we are doing wrong as a mom, so I like to keep a gratitude journal to remind me of the good things I have, and the amazing things I have done as a new mom. It helps to keep me focused on the positives in my life. No matter how bad my day is there is always something to be grateful for.

Once I started to value myself enough to eat well, exercise, talk kindly to myself, and practice daily happiness habits, I began to understand the power of self-care and what it truly means not only for ourselves, but for those we love.

I now have more time (believe it or not), patience, energy and vitality for my son and my life.

Practicing self-care does not mean you are shirking your responsibilities.

As a parent, there is no better way to instill confidence and self-esteem into your kids than to be a happy and healthy role model.

Rome wasn't built in a day and sometimes we need to learn (or re-learn) to like ourselves and value ourselves when we become new moms.

The small changes I have made over the past few years have led me on a path of wellness and true contentment—a feeling I have always craved but was never able to find.

After I had my son, I stopped hinging my worth on external things like property and job status. I started to look within and face my fears. It's been a rocky road—some days fraught with fear and others filled with bravery. But, I have been giving life my best shot.

Life

Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

News

A short work week provides the perfect opportunity for us to teach our children about kindness—and to look at the world around us and see all the beautiful things others are doing.

Whether it's standing up for ourselves against unfair criticism (we see you, Meghan Markle!) or wishing good things for people all around the world, there's good happening out there. Mothers are making things happen for their kids every day despite a lack of support from society—and there are people seeing the pressure society is pushing on new moms and saying "no, this is not okay."

And to prove that, here are the stories that went viral this week:

This mama perfectly sums up what everyone gets wrong about maternity leave

I took four and a half months away from work after I gave birth to my twins. And yes, those days were full of sweatpants and dirty hair and Netflix and couch cuddles—but make no mistake: They were grueling. They were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. And they were certainly not a vacation.

Of course, that didn't stop the comments about how I must be "getting so bored" or questions about how I was "passing the time." Because we have this weird societal idea that parental leave is a vacation. And newsflash: It's not.

That's why we're applauding Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mama Pukka, for posting about this very idea. "A reminder to businesses: Maternity/ paternity leave is not 'a holiday'. It's not 'a nice break' and it is not time off," Anna writes in a LinkedIn post.

"It's a heady cocktail of anticipation, expectation, arrival and survival. It's stripping yourself back to a primal state and nakedly navigating blocked milk ducts, torn stitches, bloody sheets, broken minds, manically Googling blackout blinds," the mother continues. "You are needed. Every second you are needed—if not in person, in mind. It is a job. Without sick days. Without fair remuneration. It is the most privileged position in the world but it takes balls, guts (often with no glory), boobs and any other extremity you can put to work."

👏👏👏

Maternity leave is the perfect representation of motherhood's demands: You're in pain, recovering from serious physical trauma, dealing with an unfathomable hormonal shift—but you can't really stop to take care of or even check in with yourself because there's a little person (or a few little people) who depend on you for survival. And the weight of that? It can feel crushing.

Maternity leave is a perfect exercise in selflessness and tenacity. It's certainly not the stuff vacations are made of, that's for sure.

So thank you to this mama for making a truly important point. Because there is this unfair idea that mothers have a few weeks or months to simply check out...when in reality, that's simply not the case. Maternity leave is demanding. It's hard. It's isolating. It's essential. It is so many things happening all at once...and none of them feel anything like a break.

This viral video shows a mama helping her baby walk for the first time 

A beautiful 4-year-old girl named Kinley and her mama are inspiring people everywhere with an incredible viral video in which Kinley learns to walk. Kinley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects motor skills, at age 2.

Kinley's mom, Shanell Jones, shared the footage of her daughter walking in January of 2019 and another video a year later—and the progress is remarkable. The post has been viewed nearly 3 million times.

"It brings joy to my heart that my daughter is bringing hope to people," Shanell tells Good Morning America. "People reached out saying, 'I didn't feel like my child was ever going to walk, but this video helped me have faith.'"

It's not just the progress the little girl is making that inspires. It's also her mother's constant encouragement. We love listening to this mama cheer on her beautiful daughter. What an amazing, inspirational duo!

This viral hospital sign shames parents for phone use when we really need empathy

Think back to when you first welcomed your baby. Do you remember how you felt? How exhausted, how dazed, how vulnerable you were in those early days? If you've been through it, you know that the last thing a new parent needs is to feel shamed...especially a new parent who is still at the hospital.

Unfortunately, parents at one hospital likely did feel shame...and it's thanks to a very questionable sign posted on its wall. British parent Dr. Ash Cottrell posted a photo of the sign Twitter...and let's just say it's rubbing users the wrong way.

"I'm on SCBU [special care baby unit] with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad…," he writes alongside the photo of the sign.

The printed sign essentially shames new parents for looking at their phones.

"Mummy & Daddy . . . Please look at ME when I am feeding, I am much more interesting than your phone!!! Thank you," the signs reads.

The special care baby unit is for babies who don't need the NICU but still aren't well enough to go home. A baby may go to the SCBU to be put on oxygen or a feeding tube or to treat low blood sugar or jaundice. It's a stressful time for parents who might want to send updates to family or just check their feed for a moment of relief.

"When your baby is in SCBU you have no option than to sit and look at your baby. All day. For hours. You can't take them home & cuddle & snuggle & be mum. If, for some of those hours, you look at your phone to relieve the tedium of hours on the ward, nobody should tell you off." one Twitter user replies.

This sign is SO not what a new parent needs to see—especially a hormonal mom who is likely putting immense pressure on herself already. So mama, take it from us: You're allowed to look at your phone. Because you're human.

News
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