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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:

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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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I am burned out. My house is a mess. My hair is dirty. My kids are napping, and I know I need to take a shower, but instead, I'm going to clean the kitchen so that the piled-up dishes stop frowning at me from the sink. I'll feel better starting the afternoon with a clean kitchen and state of mind that actually brings me peace. And this is okay. For me.

I see those beautifully written and curated posts about self-care that are meant to encourage me to set aside other's needs and tend to my own. Sometimes these posts do their job and I make a plan to "do something" to recharge. But I recharge by doing things for others and feeling satisfied in having met their needs as only I can.

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The way we are conditioned to think about self-care affects what we do and how we feel about it. For me, it's not a choice between sacrificing enough to validate myself as a 'good enough' mom, or believing that self-care is integral to my wellbeing. It is a matter of knowing I deserve it—in my way—and that should be okay.

Our culture values and glorifies self-sacrifice. "We promote the employee who works 80-plus hours a week; we idolize the mom who never seems to need a break," according to clinical psychologist, Dr. Jessica Michaelson. "This belief that self-sacrifice is best creates a great deal of shame when we feel like we need something different."

And too often there are barriers that prevent us from practicing self-care. In a recent study published in Midwifery, researchers examined mothers' perceptions regarding the role of self-care, their ways of self-care, and the barriers to doing it. The findings? Whether the mothers thought self-care was essential or not, barriers like time and other limited resources—money, social support, and difficulty accepting help and setting boundaries—prevented them from actually practicing it.

But worrying that needing self-care makes you selfish or weak should not be the barrier that prevents you from obtaining it. "Self-care absolutely is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is lacking any consideration about others and profiting by this. Self-care is about making sure that we are well and healthy so that we are more available to help others," explained author, therapist and Silicon Valley health coach, Drew Coster.

Self-care can be as simple as a shift in perspective that leads to a better quality of life.

Self-care can mean many different things, but knowing what self-care is *not* might be even more important. Self-care is not something you force yourself to do or something you don't enjoy doing, either. Clinical psychologist, Agnes Wainman, explains that caring for yourself is doing "something that refuels us, rather than takes from us." That means whatever works for you, works for you. Even if that means letting others do something for you.

So if a spa day or binging on Netflix aren't your thing, that's okay, because self-care actually might not be what you add, but what you take away. You can give yourself permission *not* to do something, or eliminate tasks that are draining.

One tiny bit of self-care can make all the difference.

"In a perfect world, most of us would love to get an hour-long massage every day, take a bubble bath every night, and enjoy a relaxing gourmet meal each day. Is that possible for most of us? No," says Jacqueline Getchius, MA, LPCC, licensed professional clinical counselor and owner of Wellspring Women's Counseling based in Minnesota. "Instead, we need to take a good look at what actually is possible. Start small."

Some examples of small acts of self-care that can refuel you just as much as that hour-long massage:

  • Allow yourself to worry about something tomorrow
  • Sit down and put up your feet instead of sorting the socks
  • Let your partner do an extra chore
  • Go for a short walk without the dog
  • Skip a workout for once and have a cup of tea
  • Instead of doing a whole meditation, take five deep breaths
  • Turn your phone off for 30 minutes
  • Throw something out
  • Don't stay up late—let all the things wait
  • Unfollow someone on social media who brings you down
Bottom line: Self-care is as unique as you, mama. However you identify it, the key is that it refuels you in *your* way, however that looks.
Life

I love being a mother...and sometimes it swallows me up whole. There is no "but" in my love of motherhood—it is 100% the most incredible thing I've ever done and my most favorite job in the world. And it is the hardest work in the world, the most suffocating at times and it can break me down like no other.

Motherhood is all and, which can make it all the harder.

So when my youngest was 14 months—and we had officially ended our breastfeeding journey—and I was offered a press trip to Steamboat Springs, CO to go on a snowmobiling trip no less, I jumped at the chance.

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It would be my first trip away from both my girls—my first trip away from my youngest ever. It would also be my first time to Steamboat, my first time snowmobiling (or doing any kind of extreme snow activity. It would be a bonafide adventure.

But when I first read the snowmobiling itinerary, a tiny, niggling voice whispered at the back of my brain: I can't do that. I will be too scared.

I ignored the voice as I packed my bags, kissed my babies goodbye and made my way west. I reveled in the simplest things—the single carry-on suitcase, with room left around my clothes that would normally be stuffed to the gills with blankets, tiny rolled socks tucked between miniature pairs of pants and extra diapers. I basked in the decadence of a light handbag, packed with only my own things instead of extra snacks and sippy cups and extra diapers (always extra diapers). I delighted in the breezy way I moved through the airport, the only thing disturbing my peace was the thought that I must be forgetting something. I can't possibly be holding enough things right now.

I love motherhood, and it is a constant weight in my life. Sometimes born lightly, tiring me to a deep satisfaction. But sometimes a heavier burden, threatening to pull me under. In either case, there is always so much to hold and carry.

Ironically, I missed my girls already. Found myself sneaking peeks at photos on my phone, wondering when the next time they would call or send me a Marco Polo. After all, I love being a mother.

But there were also near constant reminders of how much I had needed a break. When my flights were boarded and then delayed, I breathed a sigh of relief that they weren't here, imagining my anxiety levels rising at the thought of entertaining a whiny toddler and a super mobile baby for any extra time in this tiny space. I watched two movies (one of which I had wanted to see for over a year). I read one and a half books. (For context, in the last year since my second daughter was born, I had probably read...zero.) Enjoying these things I rarely had time for anymore felt like catching up with old friends, people who knew me way back when.

Later, after settling into my room (with my own bed! And my own bathroom! And no one asking me to wipe their butt in it!), I met my fellow travelers at the house next door for dinner. I ate appetizers without anyone asking me for a bite. I drank a glass of wine and sat in a chair for 20 minutes before I stood up—of my own volition—to sit at the dinner table. No one commented that the food looked "yucky!" or asked how many bites they had to take to get dessert.

Irony alive and well, it was me who kept bringing my girls back to the table, telling stories of the funny things my 4-year-old says. The way my 1-year-old squishes her face and snorts to look "tough."

I love motherhood, and it is the constant thread of my life. It affects everything, tints everything, changes everything—and I wouldn't change that for the world.

The next morning, I woke before the sun for the excursion, drank a cup of coffee (that I finished before it got cold, thank you very much), and boarded a shuttle to the meeting site. I again had to shake that feeling that I was forgetting something, but there was relief in knowing that anything forgotten was mine alone. I could deal with a forgotten hat (my toddler would throw a tantrum). I could shake off a cold wind on my neck (my baby would scream, and we would have to go home).

The other riders and me shivered slightly in our snowsuits while the guides demonstrated the ignition and the kill switch and the proper way to whap whap whap the gas. They told us we would start on trails and then go off the trail if we were comfortable. The old voice resurrected in my brain and whispered again: I can't do that. I will be too scared.

After our (incredibly short, to me) training, the guides broke us into groups of five and started to lead us out of the lot where we had met onto the trail. Just like that—here's how to turn it on and away we go!

I should have felt more nervous, but strangely, motherhood had prepared me for steep learning curves. Just four years ago, hadn't I been wheeled to the doors of the hospital, tiny baby wrapped in my arms, sent home and told to have at it?

I could handle motherhood—I could handle this.

I was pleasantly surprised to find snowmobiling was much easier than I thought. Flying down the trail, I felt myself relaxing into the ride, able to take in the stunning surroundings and hearing only the roar of my motor and the whistle of the wind under my helmet. I felt brave and strong and exciting—things that maybe I had forgotten I could be. That I already was.

At lunch, perched on the edge of an alcove of trees and overlooking a snow covered meadow, our guides told us we could "play around" as soon as we were done eating. They pointed to the wide open stretch below us, off-trail and unmarked by anything. I stared at the expanse of white and mountain and heard the voice say again (though perhaps a bit quieter): I can't do that. I will be too scared.

I lingered by the fire a few minutes after I finished eating, my eyes not leaving that meadow. I couldn't do it. But then...what if I could? I pushed myself up from the drift, grabbed my helmet and hopped on my sled.

"I can just go?" I asked one of the guides.

He grinned at me. "Just go!"

In seconds, I was flying down the hill, the waist-deep powder cascading behind me. I crested a hill and paused for a second. It was so cold, the mountains were so beautiful and I was so alone. More alone than I had felt in years. I took a long, deep breath, realizing for the first time how much I had really needed this.

Once you are a mother, you are a mother forever. It's as sure as your bones—and as wholly part of you. You can't lose the part of you that is a mother. But you can lose the rest.

I had thrown myself into motherhood willingly, like so many other endeavors in my life, wanting—needing—to give my children my very best. My all. But somewhere along the way, I had forgotten to reserve a little bit for myself. This trip was a reminder: It was okay to prioritize myself now and then. It was necessary.

I missed my babies, but I felt now how much I missed this part of myself.

When you choose to make your first post-baby vacation an adventure, you pay homage to the woman you were before. The one who did things for the first time, who had a world of opportunity before her. But you honor something else too, something perhaps even better: the woman you are now.

Because, truthfully, I never want to go back to who I was before. It would be disingenuous, and it would devalue all the work I had put in since then. The woman I am now is so much more empathetic, so much stronger, so much more confident—she's the woman the old me would go to for advice and counsel and to be built up when she needed it.

By choosing an adventure, it was a permanent reminder to me—and to that tiny, doubting voice—that I have no idea what I can't do. But I knew now that I can do so much more than I ever thought.

As I started to turn back from the meadow to head toward the group, I took a turn too sharply and tipped my sled, wedging it firmly in a deep bank. I was totally fine—the snow was so deep, it was exactly like landing in a fluffy pillow—but I couldn't right the sled myself. I radioed the guides for help, and one of them came speeding up within minutes. In a second, he had the sled dislodged and I climbed back aboard.

"You good?" he asked. And I grinned.

"Never been better."

Life

Like so many women of my generation, I didn't have a built-in village when I became a mom. My folks were 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast. My friends were out of sync with me, either parenting much older kids or child-free. And my husband was at work 10 hours a day, leaving me home alone with a helpless newborn who came with no instruction manual.

When are her real parents coming back to get her? I remember thinking. How could I possibly be solely responsible for the health and well-being of this adorable but terrifying little person?

I had many new-mom questions and precious few answers.

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Was it strange that my baby seemed to get hungry every 45 minutes?

Why couldn't my baby fall asleep unless she was on top of me?

Would I ever feel normal again?

Between baby blues, sleep deprivation and loneliness, normal felt very far away.

Then one day, I bumped into a neighbor—let's call her "Neighbor Mom"—pushing a stroller. She was new to our building, but not new to parenting, ably balancing an 18-month-old toddler and an 8-year-old school kid. She must have sensed my neediness, because she invited me, a fragile stranger, into her apartment. It was cozy and inviting, strewn with kid stuff and safely baby-proofed. I lay my little one on a blanket on the floor and took a deep breath in, relaxing for the first time in ages.

Neighbor Mom and I developed an easy friendship, casual and convenient. We kept our doors open and could drop by any time the other was home. I tagged along on walks to her older daughter's elementary school, just to have someplace to go and someone to talk to. We introduced our husbands and made simple family dinners together, arriving not with wine and flowers but with a highchair wheeled from next door.

As I got more comfortable with my new friend, I confided in her about my mom worries. At the top of my list: my baby wouldn't sleep without being in my arms. If I tried to put her in the crib, she woke hourly, screaming. I was a walking zombie. Everyone from the pediatrician to my college roommate was imploring me to sleep train. I knew they meant well, but I felt pushed around, and I resisted.

Unlike, say, my own mother, this kind, gentle mama next door never criticized me or made me feel like I was doing it wrong. Instead, she talked about what worked for her. She shared her dog-eared copy of Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting book. I didn't become an attachment parenting convert, but I took up baby-wearing and it helped so much.

I also learned a ton just by watching Neighbor Mom in action. She was masterful at setting limits without flying off the handle. If her toddler misbehaved, she crouched down, made eye contact and offered a firm "no" before redirecting to safer activities. It's one thing to read about these techniques in books. Seeing them in action was much more helpful. I swear, my kids owe the fact that I'm not a screamer to Neighbor Mom.

Another important habit Neighbor Mom modeled for me was self-care. Here was a totally hands-on, devoted and present stay-at-home mom, yet I'd see her jogging out the door every morning before her husband left for work, getting her cardio while she could. She did yoga on a mat next to her toddler. She took a night class at the college. I saw that it was not just possible but smart to take care of yourself so that you'll have the energy and enthusiasm needed for your children.

About a year after moving into my building, Neighbor Mom and her family relocated up north. I keep tabs on them through social media and loved seeing their family expand to include a third child. Although I was sad when they moved, I keep Neighbor Mom in my heart. Her example has helped me remember to be patient with the baby mamas I meet—to listen to them, support them and not judge them. New moms have enough busybodies telling them their baby ought to be wearing socks. I try instead to be the cheerleader who says, "All your baby needs is love and you're doing a great job."

Some time after Neighbor Mom left, a very pregnant woman walked past my building and paused so her dog could watch the squirrels. We got to talking and I learned she was expecting her first, and she had lots of questions. It felt good to be the one who had answers, or at least experience, to share. I wound up telling her about the wonderful preschool I'd found for my daughter, and a few years later I bumped into there. We're still friends today.

I can never thank Neighbor Mom enough for all she gave me, but I can pay it forward—every chance I get.

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Love + Village

"Spring forward, lose sleep." That's how parents tend to think about the start of Daylight Saving Time, when the clocks spring forward one hour at midnight, and we all lose an hour of sleep. (Sadly, there are no exemptions for the already-sleep-deprived.)

With the start of this year's Daylight Saving Time around the corner on Sunday, March 8, 2020, most of us are preparing to set our clocks one hour ahead as we “spring forward." Thankfully, this means the days will start to feel longer with more sunlight, but it also means another shift in your child's sleep schedule.

The good news is, there are ways to minimize the effects of the time shift and help make the forward leap into spring a smooth transition for the entire family.

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Try these 5 "spring forward" tips to help kids adjust to Daylight Saving Time without losing sleep.

1. Prepare by going to bed earlier the night before

Truthfully, the concept of shifting bedtimes can feel a bit like rocket science. So, to keep it simple I recommend going to sleep earlier the night before—that way the household still wakes up feeling rested.

Some people recommend doing this for several nights before, moving bedtime earlier and earlier, but honestly I have seen this cause more confusion than good. If you focus on the night before, they still get the same amount of sleep as they normally would on the night the time change happens since our bodies naturally will wake at our normal time.

Much like traveling to a different time zone, it is going to take some time for your internal sleep clocks to adjust regardless of how prepared you are. Going to bed earlier to avoid overtired little ones is a good idea in general.

2. Encourage light during the day and darkness for sleep

Our body's internal sleep cycles (also called our circadian rhythms) are regulated by lightness and darkness, and heavily influenced by our environment. This is why many of us wake up when the sun rises and start to feel sleepy shortly after the sun sets (although many of us go to bed way past sunset).

You can help your child's 24-hour sleep cycle by exposing her to light first thing in the morning and making sure that her room is dark during naps and for bedtime. If your child's bedtime is on the earlier side, it may get harder to put her down as the days get longer, so blackout shades might be a good option in this case.

3. Keep routines consistent

As we enter a new season, schedules and activities can tend to feel a bit chaotic, and your children often experience the impacts of this the most. Even with the time shift, it is still important to stick closely to your current routine, only making minor changes if possible.

4. Try to be patient with your kids

As we all know, the effects of sleep deprivation impact the entire family. Children are just as confused about the time change as we are, and although our bodies will eventually adjust naturally, some have a harder time than others. If you notice meltdowns become a bit more frequent after the time change, try to remember that lack of sleep could be the culprit. I encourage you to set aside more quiet time and maybe even an extra nap while you all try to adjust to this new season.

5. Invest in an Ok-to-Wake! clock or another device that can help keep sleep on track

This is a great option for eager toddlers who are used to getting up and running into your room in the morning. Having a child-friendly alarm clock that turns green to indicate it is time to get up can make a big difference to a child trying to adjust.

The great thing is, if you already have an early morning riser, the time change will actually help to shift those early morning wakings to a more manageable time!

Your children are more resilient than you might think so try not to worry too much about the impact daylight saving time will have. Our bodies know what to do, and sometimes the best thing is to just go with it and hope for the best! You've got this.

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Learn + Play
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