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It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

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Whether you're booking flights and hotels for a family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.

Research indicates that family vacations are essential. They make our, kids (and us) happier and build bonds and memories.

The gift of an experience, like a family vacation, is proven to be a more prosocial, connecting present than any material possession, according to a study out of the University of Toronto.

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"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it—like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa—and is more intensely emotional than a material possession," says lead researcher Cindy Chan. “If you want to give [someone] something that will make them feel closer to you, give an experience."

Experiencing a vacation together doesn't just bring us closer to our kids, it also makes the whole family happier long after the trip is over.

One British survey found almost half of respondents stated their most favorite childhood memory is one of a family vacation, and more than half (55%) of respondents said “that these holidays have given them happy memories that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

That survey was funded by the Family Holiday Association, an organization dedicated to helping lower-income families fund low-cost getaways. According to John McDonald, Chief Executive of the Family Holiday Association, a family vacation can act as a “happiness anchor." When families are faced with challenging times, reflecting on memories of happy times can be very powerful. “By using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we're often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective," he says.

Getting out of the house and heading to a different location isn't just fun for kids, it actually might make them smarter. Family vacays can also be a brain booster for kids by providing an enriched environment.

“An 'enriched' environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction," Dr. Margot Sunderland, a child psychotherapist and Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health, wrote for the Telegraph.

Vacations provide kids with all kind of enriching experiences (like making sandcastles with mom and dad) that aid in cognitive development and helps with frontal lobe growth. “If you are choosing between buying your child a tablet or taking them on a family holiday, consider the profound effects on bonding and brain development; there is no competition," Sunderland writes.

Plus, playing on the beach or running off with the family on a hiking adventure activate systems in a child's brain (and our own) that trigger neurochemicals including oxytocin and dopamine. “They reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings towards each other and a lovely sense that all is well in the world. With all the anti-stress aspects of these systems firing, family members get to emotionally refuel," Sunderland writes.

You don't have to fly to the tropics to enjoy the benefits of a family vacation. Whether you're planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family. And that's pretty priceless.

[This post was originally published Mach 7, 2018.]

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


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It's the kind of news no one wants to report and that no elected official wants to have to give to constituents, but on Wednesday Connecticut's Governor, Ned Lamont broke the news that an infant in his state died due to complications of COVID-19.

"It is with heartbreaking sadness today that we can confirm the first pediatric fatality in Connecticut linked to #COVID19. A 6-week-old newborn from the Hartford area was brought unresponsive to a hospital late last week and could not be revived," Lamont tweeted.

According to the governor, the baby tested positive for COVID-19.

"This is absolutely heartbreaking. We believe this is one of the youngest lives lost anywhere due to complications relating to COVID-19," he wrote.

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Lamont continued: "This is a virus that attacks our most fragile without mercy. This also stresses the importance of staying home and limiting exposure to other people. Your life and the lives of others could literally depend on it. Our prayers are with the family at this difficult time."

Lamont initially said the baby was 6 weeks old, but Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin later confirmed the baby girl was 7 weeks old, NBC Connecticut reports.

Before this baby's death, the youngest person to die from COVID-19 in Connecticut was 35 years old. The Connecticut case follows the death of a 9-month-old infant in Illinois on March 23. That baby's death is still being investigated as it is presumed to have been caused by COVID-19 but that has not yet been confirmed. The results of that cause of death investigation are expected within days, The Chicago Tribune reported this week.

Health officials are asking parents to take the social distancing guidelines seriously because while preliminary research suggests that children with COVID-19 usually don't get as sick as adults, a study posted by the journal Pediatrics found babies and preschoolers can become severely ill if they get COVID-19 (older kids are also are not immune, as the recent deaths of teens in France and London, England illustrate).

We are not reporting on this news to scare you, mama. We are reporting it to inform you so that you can make the best choices possible to protect your family.

Here is how you can protect you babies from COVID-19:

According to Dr. Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S., a pediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and an infectious disease expert at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the best way to keep our kids from getting COVID-19 is to avoid exposure. That means staying home and avoiding contact with people who don't live in your home or who are sick or have been exposed to sick people.

"Children are exposed to COVID-19 when the virus contacts their eyes, nose, mouth or lungs. This usually occurs when a nearby infected person coughs or sneezes, which releases respiratory droplets into the air and onto the child's face or nearby surfaces such as tables, food or hands," Dr. Milstone explains.

Speaking on Good Morning America this week, another expert, Dr. David Kimberlin (professor and co-director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham) reminded parents that there are other viruses going around that are not COVID-19.

"Not every fever, not every cough is going to be this new COVID-19 virus," said Kimberlin. "That said, the coronavirus is circulating widely and so it has to be on our radar and part of what we're thinking. Pediatricians across the country are on heightened awareness with this."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents call their doctor if their infant is showing symptoms that could be COVID-19 (including fever, cough and shortness of breath). Your pediatrician can tell you if you need to take your baby to the ER.

If your infant or child has difficulty breathing, can't keep down liquids, has bluish lips, confusion or won't wake up, call 911.

[An earlier version of this post stated the baby's 6 weeks old. It has been updated with clarification from Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who says the baby was 7 weeks old.]

News

The World Health Organization and other organizations agree that pregnant people have the right to have their partner or another companion present at their birth, but recently several New York hospitals barred partners from delivery wards. Pushback from the government forced them to reverse course—but a recent case has some hospitals tightening visitor policies without issuing outright bans.

A New York state father made headlines this week after he hid his coronavirus symptoms from hospital staff at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital so that he could be present for the birth of his child. When the mother started showing coronavirus symptoms shortly after giving birth, the father told hospital staff that he had been exposed and was symptomatic when he came to the hospital.

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"After the mother exhibited symptoms, and the OB team learned that the partner had been exposed to COVID-19 and was symptomatic, the patient was tested and all staff who had been in contact were informed of their possible exposure," a hospital spokesperson explained in a statement to media.

Thankfully, no staff members tested positive and the family has been sent home to quarantine, but the case highlighted the need for stricter screening of visitors. Before this case, the hospital asked visitors questions to confirm their health status. Now, they're checking temperatures at the door and every 12 hours for the duration of their visit.

"It was purely an honor system before," UR Medicine spokesman Chip Partner told The Democrat and Chronicle. "Now we're adding the temperature check."

"Our health care team understands how important it is to pregnant patients to have a support person with them during labor, and therefore, additional safeguards have been added to allow this to continue safely," the hospital's statement to media explains.

It continues: "We will continue to weigh all the medical evidence available to continue to make the best possible decision for all our patients, visitors and staff."

It would be heartbreaking for a parent to not be present at the birth of their child, but it would be even more heartbreaking if other babies contracted coronavirus. It is important that people be honest with medical care providers during this time of crisis.

News

Looking for more creative activities to keep littles entertained while isolating during the coronavirus outbreak? We hear you, mama. Quarantine life isn't easy, that's why we were thrilled to hear that the Library of Congress is collaborating with Captain Underpants and Dog Man author Dav Pilkey to create weekly video drawing lessons for kids.

Starting today, their website will include free videos and downloadable activities for kids to participate in. And, on Fridays at 8 am, viewers can enjoy Pelkey's reading sessions from his books on its website and social media feeds.

In a new video, Pilkey explains that he's stuck indoors just like his young fans are and is spending some time drawing his Little Petey the Cat character.

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"And one thing a lot of people don't know is that little Petey is actually based on my mom. My mom is one of the most optimistic, positive people I've ever met. Even when I was a kid and I was having a hard time at school she always had my back, and she always believed in me. Even sometimes when I didn't believe in myself. And little Petey is a lot like my mom. He's always looking on the bright side of life and I think that's an important thing to do, especially when times are tough," Pilkey says, before reminding kids to keep drawing, reading and doing good during the pandemic.

It's a message kids (and moms) need these days.

"The Library of Congress is delighted to join forces with our friend Dav Pilkey and the nimble team at Scholastic to bring you Dav Pilkey at Home," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden told Publishers Weekly. "Our hope is to combine Dav's artistic gifts and charisma with the wealth of knowledge in our collections. We know that Dav's message of Do Good and the Library's message of Engage, Inspire, Inform are natural partners and will bring children, parents and teachers many happy and fruitful moments during this difficult time."

Each show will also feature tips from Pilkey for children to act out scenes from Dog Man books and for creating new characters of their own. This initiative truly comes as no surprise as Pilkey has made it his mission to promote literacy and creativity in children over the last two decades.

Be sure to tune in and if you need even more Pilkey, check out his other hilarious and heart-warming books.

News

Mothers carry an incredibly heavy mental load during the best of times and during this pandemic, we are facing unprecedented psychological challenges. And a new Pew Research Center survey found women are reporting higher rates of psychological distress right now, compared to men.

According to Pew, people financially affected by COVID-19 and those juggling childcare after school and day care closures are more likely to be psychologically impacted by this crisis. Women in America are both more likely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck and more likely to be responsible for children when schools close, so it makes sense that we are more distressed right now.

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But COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for society to abandon mothers—we will need to support each other in the coming months more than ever.

Marisa Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. According to Young, during the pandemic parents may "endure more than what might be psychologically manageable," even if they have the privilege of working from home. "During this outbreak, parents are suffering," Young writes for The Conversation.

She continues: "They are dealing with one of the most consequential impacts on the psychological health of the modern-day workforce: work-family conflict. This conflict has to do with the competing demands of paid work and family obligations. Additional workplace closures and social distancing practices will make it even harder for working parents over the next few months."

If you're not flourishing in this new world, mama, don't worry. No one is.

"The situation feels impossible for two-parent homes where both partners can work from home—and gets exponentially harder for single parents, kids with special needs, families experiencing homelessness, and parents who have to work outside of the home. Add financial worries, lack of proper technology for online distance learning, and logistical challenges like grocery shopping and managing outside time while social distancing, and it can feel downright paralyzing," Cheryl Wischhover writes for Vox.

It's not you, mama. It really is this hard

Single mom Devonne Moise of Charlotte, North Carolina was already struggling financially before the pandemic hit, and how she's trying to homeschool her children, she told Christina Bolling of the Charlotte Observer. "I just feel like, God, I'm trying," she told Boiling from the front porch of her home where her children were trying to do schoolwork but barriers like missing Chromebook cables and WIFi disconnection were slowing their progress.

"My kids say, 'Mom, as long as you stay positive, we'll know it's okay.' So I don't let them see me frustrated," she said. "But I'm just so tired." Moise said.

She's not just physically tired, she's emotionally spent. Extreme fatigue is a symptom of depression and psychologists say the pandemic is increasing our stress levels, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Even parents have panic attacks

According to Pew, almost 20% of U.S. adults say they've had a physical reaction to pandemic news in recent weeks, and this is especially true for people who are facing financial hardship. For many, these physical reactions come in the form of panic attacks.

Google's data shows that searches for "panic attack symptoms" are up 100% since the pandemic started and there has been a surge in calls to mental health hotlines.

If you are suffering from panic attacks know that you are not alone. "The piece that gets people going in a classic panic attack is often that they feel as though they can't breathe," Sheila Addison, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, tells Popular Science.

Addison recommends those in the midst of a panic attack attempt to slow their breathing, and focus on counting to four while inhaling, take a pause, and then exhale to four. Repeating that process doesn't instantly end a panic attack but it does diminish it, she explains.

Ask for help when you need it

If fear and panic attacks are taking over your life, ask for help, mama. In a piece for The Washington Post, single mom and writer Pooja Makhijani explained how her anxiety was exacerbated as COVID-19 cases in her home state of New Jersey skyrocketed. When she found herself panicking she reached out.

"I'm asking for help, which for now comes mostly in the form of phone calls for me and virtual play dates for my daughter," she writes.

"And I'm making myself available to others—as a resource for recipes or home schooling activities and as a listening ear to those whose challenges are different from mine. Being open and vulnerable has served me well in past difficult situations, and now while we are social distancing, I'm reaching into that well of giving often."

We mothers can support each other, but we must also demand companies, employers and lawmakers support us.

There are several well-researched ways companies can support workers' mental health if they are working remotely, and flexibility is a big one.

Government support for those who cannot work from home is important, too, and lawmakers may need to consider innovative ways to help America's stressed mothers. Dr. Eric J. Brandt, a National Clinician Scholar at the Yale University School of Medicine is calling on the government to expand SNAP and WIC to allow users to order groceries online using Instacart or other services.

But right now, even mothers who don't need SNAP or WIC are having difficulty ordering groceries online, something that is certainly contributing to mothers' psychological distress and the stress of delivery workers.

Bottom line: Mothers need support to keep working, support if they can't work, and support to feed their families during this challenging time. And when the curve flattens and we are able to leave our homes, affordable childcare and maternal mental health support will be key to rebuilding a post-pandemic America.

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