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In the chaos of modern stress, life with young children can easily drift into a haphazard crazy survival mode. Dinners, activities and bedtimes start to resemble a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants style rather than an intentional one.

However, science shows that routines and rituals can be one of the most important contributors to a joyful and connected family.

Research suggests that family routines are related to parenting competence, child adjustment and marital satisfaction. Studies have found that routines can also promote children's language acquisition, academic skills, social skills and emotional bonds with their parents.

Here are four ways routines reduce power struggles, calm stressful circumstances, and promote humor, stability, and closeness among families:


1. Routines invite cooperation

Laura Markham of Aha Parenting notes that having set routines helps prevent kids from feeling “pushed or bossed around” because they know the activity “is just what we do at this time of day.” Knowing what to expect helps them develop a sense of mastery and helps them be less oppositional, more cooperative and more independent.

One way to develop routines is with when/then wording. For example, "When you have your pajamas on, then we can read a book."

To drastically reduce daily power struggles, set up expectations such as:

  • "All homework must be done before an electronic device is turned on."
  • "You must be dressed for school before you have breakfast."
  • "Your room needs to be clean before you go out on Friday night."

The alternative—arbitrary amounts of T.V. time, random bedtimes, inconsistent responsibilities, haphazard dinners, or a jumbled order of activities—Markham argues, invites conflicts.

2. Routines offer safety, comfort and ease to the day

Knowing what to expect and when to expect it helps kids feel safe and move through their days with greater ease.

For example, research suggests that children with regular bedtime routines tend to sleep better and longer. Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, details how being absolutely consistent about a baby’s bedtime routine—such as bath, book, turning the same light on, singing the same lullaby, playing same white noise, and giveing the same pacifier and lovey—in the same order every day “cues” a baby that it’s bedtime, provides comfort and helps him or her fall asleep easier. Having a set routine for after-school or weekends also helps kids relax and cooperate.

3. Routines act as a "stability anchor" and relieve stress

The comfort and predictability stemming from routines acts as a "stability anchor," according to research. It helps both parents and children relieve stress, reinforces emotional calm, and decreases anxiety.

Routines also help comfort children in unfamiliar or tough circumstances. For example, if your child loves listening to you read a bedtime story before lights go out, doing so may help her sleep when she’s in a different environment.

In an early childhood setting, a routine can be developed between a parent and child or a teacher and child to ease separations. In a doctor's office or hospital, rituals can ease stress over blood draws, shots, or difficult procedures.

According to Steinglass and colleagues, family stress is often first noted by the disruption of family routines. However, if routines are maintained under potentially vulnerable conditions such as divorce or financial strain, families are able to adapt better to change. Routines can also help family members stay connected despite interpersonal conflicts.

4. Routines are made better with rituals, which ingrain sweet memories

Adding rituals to routines makes them even more powerful. Rituals can be defined as “the sweetness, fun, or warmth that accompany routines.” They are "acts that provide extra meaning, communicate ‘this is who we are’ (as a family), build family ties, offer a sense of belonging, and help build love and connection."

A ritual can be a crazy handshake, a special song at bath time, or the way you always wink at your daughter and say the same thing each time you drop her off at school.

It may be things that no one but your family understands—code words, inside jokes, a way you celebrate a holiday together, or your own rules for sports games. These repetitive, fun or creative behaviors strengthen family ties.

One family played an animal guessing game each time an extra bit of food, such as an extra slice of pie, was left over that more than one person wanted. "I'm thinking of an animal," they'd start, and everyone who wanted the food would guess until someone won the game (and the food), even if it took an hour.

A few dads took their kids on a silly-clothes bike ride on the first Sunday of every month. They'd wear mismatched socks, checkerboard shirts, Batman costumes, capes and crazy scarves and bike through a forest preserve laughing and trying to outdo each other.

A father got his two girls flower corsages every Easter from when they were 2 years old until they were 30.

A family gathered each St. Patrick's Day and sang along loudly as their grandmother played lively tunes, followed by a huge meal of corned beef hash and green cupcakes.

A mom sent her daughter with a Ziploc bag with a piece of candy and a sweet note every time she went to a sleepover at her grandparents' house, a friend's house, or camp.

While some rituals may have been passed down from grandparents or other relatives (like always reading Uncle Scrooge comic books when you’re home sick or always wrapping raw carrots in pepperoni slices), others may be created with your new family.

Some rituals offer opportunities for positive humor, which, research suggests, is related to family satisfaction. Most importantly, as Ellie Lisitsa of the Gottman Institute writes, rituals ensure that you take time for emotional connection.

How do you start rituals and keep them going?

In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg names three parts of developing a new behavior:

  • The cue or trigger
  • The behavioral routine
  • The reward, or something your brain likes that helps it remember the "habit loop" in the future

Identify one sweet ritual you could add to a holiday, birthdays, Sunday afternoons, morning times, bed times or meal times. Do it once and take time to notice what you enjoyed about it—like a smile, a feeling of connection, a laugh, a calm or a warmth. Tuning into the subtle reward may help you build the motivation to make it a habit.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.

Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"

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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)


Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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