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It's Thursday night. Having just settled on the couch after a long day of wiping noses, counters and bottoms, feeding small humans, and cleaning up or tripping over their toys, you're feeling maxed-out and wondering how you made it through the day.

You're desperate for some downtime—catching up on Netflix is in order— but then there it is… the tiny, plaintive, "Mom-my?" from down the hall. You try to pretend you didn't hear it, and with a small prayer, you hope that little feet will patter in the other direction and leave you to your bliss. "Ma-ma….?"

Nope. Not gonna happen.

Up off the couch and down the hall you go to determine which of your two kids is in need, only to find them both standing in their doorway, saucer eyes watching for you in the dark. "Sweetie?" you muster. Giggles accompany, "We wuv you, mom mom mom mama mam!!" followed by squeaks and shrieks as they run and jump into their beds on either side of the room.

It's that last burst of joy and energy that has begged to be spent. You comply with a chase and a tickle, and you think, this. This is bliss. 😊

Another round of good-night kisses and kiddos all snuggled in, you find your way back to your partner on the couch, only to restart that conversation that never seems to end, "Should we have another?"

Some families are complete with one child, and some with two or three. For others, it can be four, which seems like a lot, yet some families feel compelled to add more.

The decision to have fewer or more kids is as individual as each family—there's no "one-size-fits-all." And there's plenty of research to support whichever side of the equation you happen to be on.

Is less more?

When deciding whether to have more children, parents must consider: Will their bank balance, careers, lifestyle and relationship be able to take the strain? Limited time and money, the high cost of childcare, student loans, and lost income and opportunities from an interrupted career can all take a toll.

And large families can be stressful. Extra noise in the home and needing to sharing clothes, books, toys and rooms can negatively impact kids if their individual needs are not met. But mostly, studies indicate the biggest effect comes in the from of less attention from mom and dad, which is critical to a child's development.

In the study, The Quantity-Quality Trade-off and the Formation of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills, data was drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics database that has surveyed more than 12,000 young men and women between the ages of 14 and 22 over the past 39 years. Questions like, "How often do you read stories to your child?" and, "How many times in the past week have you shown your child physical affection?" helped to provide insight into who got more resources from their parents: singletons or kids with siblings.

In the study, researchers found that having additional children reduces parental investment—defined as resources (money, books and other material goods), time spent with children, affection, and the location and safety of the home environment—with kids of larger families ending up with less education and earnings as adults.

"A lot of what happens in early childhood has lasting impacts," says Chinhui Juhn, lead researcher and Professor of Economics at the University of Houston. "In many respects, this matters more than a lot of things that happen later in (a child's) life."

But it's not all bad news. A growing body of research indicates that children with siblings tend to be healthier, happier and more well-rounded.

Some say a large family is one of the best things you can possibly be a part of. Influenced by the writings of Swedish researcher Therese Wallin, journalist and father of six, Colin Brazier, wrote Sticking Up For Siblings: Who's Deciding the Size of Britain's Families? to ensure that those who would like to have more children are aware of the advantages.

Brazier states, "Siblings have been shown to be a protective influence against three of the great epidemics of modern life: obesity, allergies and depression."

There are many reasons why kids with more siblings are less likely to be obese than those without from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds. From smaller meal portions to greater calories burned, children with more sibs tend to reach motor milestones, like walking and running, sooner than those without older sibs to emulate.

Siblings naturally create opportunities for more physical activity. One U.S. study even purports that with each extra brother or sister, a child will be, on average, 14% less obese.

And it's been shown that children with more siblings are generally less susceptible to allergies because the germs they share at a young age boost their immune systems. In fact, a second-born child is 20% less likely to develop eczema than an eldest or only-child, and 50% for a fourth-born child. Additionally, several epidemiological studies have revealed that the protective effects of siblings are even better for hayfever and more serious autoimmune conditions, like multiple sclerosis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This immunological protection can only be partially replicated when young children share germs with non-siblings on playdates or at daycare.

Happiness is sewn into the fabric of large families.

A large family is like a built-in community, with shared experiences providing the glue that keeps siblings connected over a lifetime. Unconditional love and support from many siblings can make kids less prone in life to mental health problems brought on by family crises, like marital divorce or parental death. And the benefits can carry into old age.

During middle and old age, indicators of well-being—mood, health, morale, stress, depression, loneliness, life satisfaction—are tied to how one feels about their siblings. In one Swedish study, satisfaction with sibling contact in one's 80s was closely correlated with health and positive mood— even more than was satisfaction with friendships or relationships with adult children. And loneliness was eased for older people who enjoyed a supportive relationship with their siblings.

In the book,The Sibling Effect, Jeffrey Kluger states, "Sibling bonds (are) the longest-lasting relationships we have in our lives. Nobody affects us as deeply as our brothers and sisters—not parents, not children, not friends. From the time we—and they—are born, our siblings are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models...they teach us how to resolve conflicts and how to conduct friendships and when to walk away. Our siblings are the only people we know who truly qualify as partners for life."

From greater empathy to learning to take turns and share, sibs make each other more likely to be well-rounded. Boys who have sisters learn the dignity of women and how to treat them with respect as they consider how they would like their own sisters to be treated. And sibs with lots of brothers and sisters have to figure out ways to stand out to be different.

With less parental supervision, kids have the freedom to explore their own path, making them more creative, according to a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The limitations that can come with a large family may be mitigated by parents intentionally employing the benefits of a small one.

Though children in small families may have fewer sibs to bounce around with and learn from, some of the upside is that they have more individual time with their parents and more resources afforded to them. According to some researchers, these advantages result in more schooling and slightly higher test scores, enabling them to achieve more academically and occupationally than kids from large families.

In a 1988 study, Ohio State University professor and Stanford Fellow Douglas Downey found that by controlling for parental resources—meaning conscientiously spending time, giving affection, and providing a community for their children—parents can greatly reduce the negative correlation between the number of siblings and their respective outcomes.

This finding is echoed in Judith Blake's 1989 study, Family Size and Achievement, where she concludes that, indeed, highly educated parents of multiple children tended to still provide above-average parental resources to their kids, resulting in better outcomes for them.

"One reason for this pattern," Downey suggests, "may be that a child in this type of community has a larger group of adults nearby who have an interest in the child's well-being—aunts, uncles, older cousins, grandparents, and other adults—and this feature buffers the (resource) dilution process occurring within the nuclear family."

To sum it up, many studies indicate there is not necessarily a trade-off between the quantity of kids and the so-called "quality" of those kids. By distributing resources like time and attention to their many children as they would if they had fewer, it is possible for parents to minimize the impact of fewer resources on a child's well being.

The research shows that by developing and maintaining a nurturing connection with each child, parents can mitigate other potential hardships and their lifetime ramifications.

So, how can a parent of many parent like a family of few?

  • Be organized. Make lists. Plan ahead. Be flexible. By doing so, you make room for those moments that allow you to connect with each child.
  • Spend some alone time with each child every day. Even if it is just running errands or letting the older ones stay up later, one-on-one time counts. And be sure kids have time with Dad.
  • Don't burden older kids with too much little-kid responsibility. Everyone has their chores, but relegate them to the normal stuff. And if the older ones babysit the younger ones, pay them to show respect for their individuality and to avoid resentment.
  • Be creative with space. Share bedrooms and move non-bathroom activities out.
  • Buy in bulk and be choosy with what you purchase. Define what's really necessary and keep in mind the value of hand-me-downs.
  • Keep it simple—from the lists to the chores to your home—and don't fret a mess. Hugs and laughter are more important.
  • Build your village. Enrich your brood with alloparents.
  • And be sure to make time to keep the love fires burning with your partner so you can stay warm long after the kids are gone. 😉

Ultimately, how we parent our children—no matter the number—extends beyond the parameters of family. As world-renowned economist, Gary Becker, said, "(T)he people of the world are our greatest resources." So, with diligence, love and attention, we can fulfill our responsibility to bring up our little charges to realize their full potential and very important roles in the world.


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Every generation has its parenting trends. “The Greatest Generation" had the idealized “perfect family"—a “picture perfect" two-parent, gender-divided home in the suburbs, that was probably more trope than reality.

The Baby Boomers brought us parent-as-life coach/ friend/chauffeur and manager. At best, it's a nurturing style done out of love and wanting the best for your kids. At worst, it's called “helicopter parenting," the idea that parents try to protect their kids from all harm and difficulty, only to make their kids incapable of caring for themselves.

And our Millennial generation has a “free-range" parenting trend, a backlash against the overly-controlled childhood aimed at teaching kids to rise to life's challenges.

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All of this talk about gender roles, helicopter parenting, grit and independence has me wondering—what kind of parent do I want to be?

Do I want to give my kids a picture-perfect childhood? Do I want to control them and make sure every good thing is done to them and for them? Do I want to set them free to figure it all out on their own? Defining the parent I want to be—and deciding what values drive my day-to-day parenting decisions—can be complicated.

The truth is, “helicoptering" comes easy to me, even when I know it's good for my children to work hard, face obstacles, and experience the pride of genuine achievement.

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure my kids have the best opportunities in life, especially in things that I may have missed out on in my own childhood. (Though I'm sure I'm pushing my own values on them and they will find their own way to rebel....)

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure they always look both ways before they cross the street, have their carseat properly installed, and are aware of dangers in our world. (Though I teach them these things and do my best to keep them in safe situations...)

I don't want to helicopter—but having faith that they'll be safe when they're out of my sight is really hard for me. (Though I say a prayer and trust in the universe...)

I don't want to helicopter—but sometimes doing things for them can be so much easier/ faster/ better than letting them do it for themselves. (Though I try to be patient...)

I don't want to helicopter—but I set up play dates, schedule after-school activities, and encourage them socially so that my children can make new friends. (Though I'm sure they will find true friends in their own time...)

I don't want to helicopter—but watching my little ones struggle can be hard for my mama heart. (So I hope they know I'm doing this because I love them...)

I don't want to helicopter—but protecting my kids comes easy. Giving them space to struggle and grow is essential, but hard, for both of us.

Life

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.]

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