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Self-care isn’t just good for moms—it helps protect your kids, too

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As mamas, it’s easy to forget our own needs and ignore our stress levels, especially if we grew up in households where stress was common. Of course we want to put our kids first to make sure they have as stress-free a childhood as possible, but new research suggests that practicing self-care and knowing when to ask for help is vital to ensuring our kids inherit our smiles, but not our stressors.


A new study published this month in Pediatrics found that children whose parents experienced adverse childhood experiences—such as suffering abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence or watching parents go through divorce—were at a higher risk for developmental delays. Adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, can have long-lasting negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health, and mamas who’ve gone through them can benefit from therapy and other supports to ensure their kids don’t.

For the study, researchers followed babies from 2 months old through 2 years old and analyzed the ACE exposures of more than 530 mothers and fathers. And what they discovered is that, for each additional ACE mothers endured, children were 18% more likely to have suspected delays; when it came to fathers, that risk jumped to 34%.

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What’s more: Kids whose mothers suffered through at least three ACEs in childhood were far more likely to have several developmental issues, according to the study’s findings.

Study leader Alonzo Folger, an assistant professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centers, tells Reuters that delays can restrict school readiness and emotional health, adding, “Childhood exposure to abuse, neglect and other forms of household dysfunction can have psychobiological effects that are toxic to the brain during sensitive time points of development.”

Another study, also published this month in Pediatrics, looked specifically at the effect of a mother’s childhood exposure to toxic stress, as well as health issues during pregnancy, on infant development. A team of Canadian researchers studied more than 1,900 mothers and their babies, and found that maternal ACEs contributed to about 12% of infants’ delays in communication, problem-solving, motor skills and social skills by 1 years old.

But a mama’s exposure to childhood trauma and stress doesn’t only impact whether or not their kid will reach their developmental milestones on time. A third study published in Pediatrics revealed that parents exposed to ACEs were less resilient and had a harder time coping with and caring for sick children.

Just because a parent has a high ACE score themselves doesn’t mean their child will, or that their child will experience delays. Taking care of ourselves helps us take care of children.

“The effect of a stable, nurturing relationship for a child is incredibly important to mitigating the effects of adversity, or ACEs,” lead author Anita Shah, a clinical fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tells Reuters. “For a parent with high ACEs, this may mean reaching out to someone to help them learn how to cope with daily stressors as well as making sure their children can find ways to cope with toxic stressors.”

As moms and dads, we want to believe that we are superheroes who can get everything done without hiccups. But we all know the truth is that we can’t. We need help, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for it. Even if it’s hard for you to admit you’re struggling, do it. You deserve to be cared for the same way you take care of everyone else.

Be kind to yourself, mama

We all have flaws. We all have bad days. We all have stress and trauma that we’re still working through to this day. So be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself when you don’t like how you handled something, and think about the ways you can improve next time. On the other hand, realize when you’re being too hard on yourself. If you didn’t get the laundry done yesterday because you were exhausted, that’s okay.

“We don’t need to play the shame game. It doesn’t help,” pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris writes in her book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity. “If you’re someone with an ACE score of your own, learning to recognize when your stress response is getting out of whack can be hard. Taking the time and finding the resources to do self-care and get yourself on the path to healing can be even harder.”

It’s hard but it’s so worth it. Burke Harris believes that parents have the power to rewrite the story of adversity and break the intergenerational cycle of toxic stress. Parents who lived through adverse childhood experiences know that toxic stress in childhood can have a lasting effect, but when we take care of ourselves now, we’re making sure our children have a different kind of childhood.

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary. Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"When Jill said she wanted to carry a baby for me, I was in shock," Whitney told Today. "I'm not a crier, but I was really emotional."

Through IVF she carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill told Today. "She's my best friend and I know she would have done the same for me. I really didn't put much thought into becoming a surrogate at all. It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

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Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

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Advertisements are meant to sell us things, but they also sell us ideas. When we were growing up in the 1990s the commercials on TV weren't just selling us toys and junk food, they sold us stereotypes, too. Boys and men were depicted as more aggressive, professional and important than girls, while girls and women were often depicted as caregivers or simply sexual objects.

Back then, we were just kids who couldn't always think critically about the messages we were taking in, but now we millennials are the parents, the providers and the purchasers. And we are letting advertisers know that if they want us to buy things, they have to serve up ideas that we can buy into.

A survey by market research company Kantar found 76% of women and 71% of men believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch. We're grown-ups now and this isn't just about stereotypes in children's advertising (many parents are very conscious about reducing screen time and advertising exposure), but also reflections of our own realities.

Today's dads don't see themselves as bumbling caregivers but as competent parents, and mothers see themselves as complex people with a ton of purchasing power who are deserving of speaking parts, authority and respect, even in a 30-second commercial.

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It's 2019. Moms are buying everything, dads are buying diapers and we're raising our kids to reject stereotypes and accept themselves. Corporations that want to sell to millennial families have got to buy in to that, and the good news is, many are.

Building brands by tearing down stereotypes

This month the CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, took the stage at the world's largest conference on gender equality, Women Deliver, and committed 100% of the ad spend for Unilever's Dove Men+Care line to media representations of dads in caring roles, or what Molly Kennedy, Brand Manager for Dove Men+Care, called "positive dadvertising."

Dove Men+Care's commitment to positive representation of men as caregivers comes as the company is strengthening its parental leave policies and encouraging dads (both those who work for Unilever and those who don't) to actually take any parental leave that is available to them.

The idea is that dads may be more likely to take leave if they see positive role modeling in media, which will help moms, too, because research suggests that taking paternity leave results in fathers doing more unpaid care work as their kids grow. And dads are certainly seeing more caring reflections of fatherhood in advertising, and not just from Dove Men+Care.

Changing diapers and the narrative 

Budweiser just launched an ad showing step-fathers surprising their children with adoption papers, and brands like Gillette and Pampers (owned by Unilever competitor Procter & Gamble) have received a lot of attention for the way their ads are questioning traditional ideas about masculinity and fatherhood. Gillette's stand against toxic masculinity was a viral sensation and Pampers' spokesdad John Legend is now part of a corporate campaign to get change tables into more mens' restrooms.

Donte Palmer—the father whose grassroots viral campaign, #squatforchange inspired Pampers' campaign—says he's pleased to see all this positive dadvertising, telling Motherly, "it means a lot, it's just changing the narrative."

He continues: "To have fathers like John Legend, who has a powerful name in his industry and a huge following, showing the world that we as fathers are the caretakers for our babies means a lot. It shows the 'average Joe' father that he can go to his 9 to 5 job and still come home and take care of his children."

Dr. Michael Kehler, a professor of Masculinities Studies at the University of Calgary says he applauds these companies like Gillette, Pampers and Dove Men+Care for challenging gender roles in their advertising, as "the long-held views of masculinity that have kept men out of caring roles has been intentional and maintained by advertising agencies."

He hopes big brands will consult with masculinities scholars for deeper insight and direction as they craft a new narrative in the media.

"More diverse portrayals, richer and complicated images of masculinity can't help but dislodge privileged white masculinity from its perch," he tells Motherly. "The disruption of these images and the re-writing of a narrative of complex masculinities, less linear, less simplistic, less predictable can similarly be a powerful invitation to rethink masculinities in the future."

According to Kehler, it is incumbent on companies to show a whole spectrum of ways of being a man, but "whether or not the portrayal of adverts reflecting men in caring roles has the desired effect of men taking up unpaid work is yet to be seen."

Walking the walk

What we have seen over the course of the last 15 years is that when big brands make big changes there can be lasting culture change.

Under dim lights in a fifth and sixth-grade classroom, 22 boys and girls are watching a short video that shows all the-behind-scenes magic that goes into making an Instagrammable selfie. When the video ends the facilitator invites questions. A student raises his hand and asks, "Does everyone really do this?"

This incredulous tween and classmates are learning about self-esteem and body confidence in their school in Vancouver, Canada, but similar presentations have taken place in more than 140 countries, because the Dove Self-Esteem Project is now the largest provider of self-esteem and body confidence education in the world.

Dove's been doing this work since before the kids in that Vancouver classroom were even born, since its Campaign for Real Beauty launched in the early 2000s and became a controversial turning point in the way women's bodies are presented in advertising. That campaign is often credited with creating a blueprint for modern advertising that includes more authentic and diverse body types and has brought us to a place where we're seeing real stretch marks and postpartum bellies on underwear models.

"Dove definitely changed the conversation," says Andrea Benoit, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and author of a new book on corporate philanthropy.

"There is no question that Dove opened up a space for other brands to start dipping their toes in that conversation without feeling like they were treading in uncertain or dangerous territory. Now it seems like if you're a brand you can't not be inclusive and accepting of diverse bodies," Benoit tells Motherly.

According to Benoit, the continued existence and expansion of the Dove Self-Esteem Project shows that brands can use their resources for good, but she is uncomfortable with how society and governments have downloaded this kind of social responsibility onto brands like Dove to the point that corporations are providing classroom resources and presentations in schools and through non-profit organizations.

It probably shouldn't be up to a soap company to teach self-esteem, but, at least someone is doing it. Just this month UNICEF announced a 3-year partnership with the Dove Self-Esteem Project aimed at helping girls between 10 and 18 in Brazil, India and Indonesia.

"This is a partnership that we really think can help change how girls view themselves and how the world views girls," UNICEF's Executive Director Henrietta Fore said at the Women Deliver conference. While UNICEF explicitly states that it doesn't endorse any brand, the deal with Dove does suggest UNICEF views the company as a worthy philanthropic partner.

Changing the way we see ourselves

When we were kids the commercials playing on Saturday morning taught us that gender roles are confining, that boys are loud and girls are quiet. But now, you might turn on TV and see a dad changing a diaper, or flip to Cartoon Network and catch spots Dove produced with the popular kids' show Steven Universe, which reinforce body confidence, gender equality and self-esteem rather than stereotypes.

Brands have a lot of power these days (some would argue too much power) to shape how we see ourselves, but we have more power than ever to make informed choices about the brands we support and the power to hold companies to account for their actions. According to Benoit, it's not clear what came first: Inclusive advertising or this generation's desire for it. But what is clear is that it is here to stay and that consumers now demand it. We expect companies to not only make good ads but do good in the world, too.

We are demanding to be seen in a way we couldn't as kids. We're no longer passive children absorbing messages from the television, we are participants in an exchange—both a financial transaction and a conversation about the future of society. Having a good product isn't enough anymore. Brands have got to have a message and a purpose worth buying.


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The Food and Drug Administration is warning parents baking with flour to keep the kids (and the adults) from sneaking a bite before the cookies get cooked.

The FDA is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough as more than 14,000 cases of King Arthur brand flour have been recalled over salmonella concerns.

The recall is for Unbleached All-Purpose Flour from the following best by dates and and lot numbers (found on the bottom of the side panel, below the nutrition facts panel.)

  • BEST USED BY 12/07/19 LOT: L18A07C
  • BEST USED BY 12/08/19 LOTS: L18A08A, L18A08B
  • BEST USED BY 12/14/19 LOTS: L18A14A, L18A14B, L18A14C


Back in March there was a similar recall for Pillsbury flour over Salmonella fears, and in January General Mills issued a similar recall for five-pound bags of its Gold Medal Unbleached Flour (also with a best if used by date of April 20, 2020) also due to Salmonella concerns.

These aren't the first flour recalls

These recent recalls follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

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According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli and Salmonella. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

If you made the dough with recalled flour it's got to go, but don't panic if your kids play with dough made from other flour.

Some parents who choose to use flour-based craft dough are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.

During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Three years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

[A version of this post was published December 28, 2018. It has been updated.]

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During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Reshma Saujani is the Founder + CEO of Girls Who Code, the first Indian American woman to run for Congress and a mother who is changing the world by changing the way the world sees girls and women.

During the first episode of the second season of The Motherly Podcast, Sponsored by Prudential, Saujani tells Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about her experience as a #boymom guiding parents of girls to raise risk takers who are confident and not confined by the perfectionism so many women of our generation learned when we were kids.

According to Saujani, it's not too late for us to unlearn perfectionism and embrace the philosophy her writes about in her new book, Brave, Not Perfect.

"Perfectionism is so tied into everything that's wrong with motherhood and what's complicated about motherhood," Saujani tells Tenety.

Mom to 4-year-old son Shaan, Saujani grew up aiming for perfection but says losing her congressional race in 2010 taught her that being brave and taking risks wouldn't break her, the way young girls on the playground are conditioned to believe. She swung big on the proverbial monkey bars, missed her mark but stuck her landing in a quest for joy that has taught her lessons that she is passing down to Shaan's generation.

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"I've got to have the patience to let him fail," she tells Tenety.

While it would be easier sometimes in her busy life to step in and do something for Shaan, she forces herself to let him take the time to do it on his own, and sometimes that means he makes a huge mess, and sometimes it means he fails. As a boy, it's pretty socially acceptable for Shaan to make messes and take risks and spread Legos all around, and his mom wants the girls he grows up with to be afforded the same opportunities to build, fail and fall.

"Teach your girls to build high and kick it down," she says. "Expose them to stories about fierce women that are just creating and innovating and that are not perfect. Like oftentimes even when you watch the shows that you're watching with your kids, everything always has a happy ending. Life is not a happy ending. You can make mistakes. You will fail. You will get your heart crushed. Let that happen to them at an early age. It's kind of like falling in love. Imagine if you never fell in love before how hard it would be to put yourself and your heart out there. If you protect your daughters from failure or the slightest bit of making a mistake they'll never be able to take that big risk."

We are so glad Saujani took the risks she did, and in a world where perfect, Instagrammable photos seem to be the default, it's so refreshing to hear a powerful woman explain that motherhood isn't perfect. It's messy and risky, but mothers are so brave and we're ready to teach our children to be even braver.

To hear more about Reshma Saujani and being brave but not perfect, listen to The Motherly Podcast, sponsored by Prudential, for the full interview.

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