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Parenthood brings so much joy—welcoming a baby to the family, getting to know your new little one, watching them discover their world, and helping them grow and flourish into healthy toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, and eventually young adults. But in the transition to parenthood, couples shift their focus from each other to their children, while continuing to manage the everyday stresses of work, finances, extended families, friendships, health and more.


Parenting can be a significant source of stress for couples, leaving partners to feel like two ships passing in the night. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that couples experienced greater relationship decline following the transition to parenthood, compared to couples who did not have children—this suggests that during this most challenging transition time and the years to follow, couples need to take extra care to nurture their romantic relationship.

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Here are some tools for keeping your relationship connected while being in the midst of parenthood:

1. Manage your stress

Being a couple means having the emotional space to be with another person. When we are stressed, our ability to tolerate difficulties decreases, and we experience anger and frustration much more easily. A partner’s sock left on the floor becomes a point of contention, rather than simply picking it up like the weeks prior. If you are not looking after your own stress level, you simply do not have space to look after someone else’s needs or emotions.

When it comes to looking after yourself, be mindful of the expression “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” which means you cannot give to others in you are not looking after yourself. Be sure to check in with your own stress levels before being able to tackle your relationship.

2. Be a united front

Dr. John Gottman, couple therapist and researcher, talks about couples moving from “me” to “we” which is created by finding ways to connect and understand their partner.

Moving into a “we”-ness also means becoming a united front as parents. Don’t blame the other person for a decision. Instead, take private time to discuss family decisions and parenting together, so that you can be consistent with your children, or with extended family.

Using “we” language helps others know you are a team. Stand up for your partner, or ask your partner to stand up for you. And be sure to let your family know that it is not okay to criticize your partner. This will send a clear message to your families that you are a package deal.

3. Listen to understand

Stephen Covey, author and motivational speaker, said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.”

We know that when you do not feel listened to and connected with your partner, you will either fight to be heard even more (i.e., pursue your partner), or you will shut down (i.e., withdraw from your partner). This becomes a vicious negative cycle as a couple. It is really easy to be in your own perspective. It’s like playing volleyball in a tournament of love—you only see the ball coming AT you.

While all of your feelings are valid, there are two people in this relationship. When stress levels are high, or you have reached a difficult moment in parenting, try understanding what it is that your partner is communicating or requesting.

Ask questions to understand the who, what, why, when, where and how of what they are expressing. Is there an emotion that they are not sharing with you? Can you accept this difficult emotion? What is it that your partner is longing for? Where does this come from? When do they feel it? And the hardest, how might you be contributing to it?

4. Share your own feelings and needs

When I say assertiveness, clients often say, “So I should say no?” That is not what assertiveness is. Assertiveness is a type of communication style that respects the needs of yourself while respecting the needs of the other person.

Try first to empathize with your partner about what they want or what they did. Next, share your feelings to help the other person understand what you need. Use “I feel” and “I need” language. But take note, this is not the same as saying “I feel like you never spend time with us as a family”. This is not a feeling. Try “I feel…” and insert happy, sad, scared, alone, etc., and help your partner understand when this happens and what you need. For example, “I feel sad that we don’t have time together. I need us to have a date night.”

Try to avoid criticizing your partner when asking for help—this will allow them to be more open to hearing your request, rather than growing defensive.

5. Know when to let it go

A healthy relationship does not mean resolving every conflict that arises. As two individuals, you each have your own thoughts, feelings, desires, values and opinions. It is inevitable that you will have disagreements. Recognize that it is okay to have differences—after all, these differences likely attracted you to your partner. You do not have to resolve every conflict. Instead, know when to let it go and to return to being on the same team.

6. Schedule a date

It’s so easy to slip into meeting everyone else’s needs and demands, especially as parents. In addition to taking time for self-care to manage your own stress levels, make a point to schedule time as a couple—and keep that commitment. It doesn’t have to be a formal date night with a sitter. It could be sharing a special drink after the kids go to bed, watching a movie, or playing your favorite game. Or perhaps it is an intimate conversation. Try downloading the Gottman Card Deck App to start interesting conversations that build connection. The point is to have uninterrupted time with just the two of you.

7. Seek professional help

Sometimes conflict, either related to parenting, extended families or issues in the relationship, has been long-standing. What we know about couples is that they can get into negative, reinforcing cycles, which prevent them from being able to resolve their conflict.

The average couple will wait six years before seeking help. Waiting to seek help can lead to further entrenchment of these negative cycles and make moving forward in your relationship more challenging.

There will never be an ideal time to work through your marital issues—something will always come up. I encourage couples to attend therapy sooner rather than waiting for things to hit rock bottom. A trained couple therapists can help you learn to change your negative patterns in your relationship, improve your communication, and increase your physical and emotional connection.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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