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“Wow, Mama, what kind of bug is that?” my son asks, squatting in the dirt and peering at a tiny bug that I would have never noticed.


“I’m not sure, honey, we will have to look it up later,” I say, watching the multi-legged creature try to make a quick getaway.

“Okay!” he replies, before running off to find another hill to climb.

My youngest comes toddling down the trail, a wooden stick in hand. “Hike! I hikin’, Mama!” he proclaims proudly, carefully placing his newly found walking stick with each step he takes down the tree lined path.

A moment later, a creek is spotted, and the boys quickly abandon their entomological and ambulatory pursuits in order to throw rocks into the water. They ignore my pleas to keep their feet out of the water, and then a follow-up request to at least roll up their pants, and moments later they’re covered in water, mud, and smiles.

This is childhood, I think to myself. It’s a constant pursuit of knowledge, joy, and adventure, fueled by a drive that’s only found in the youngest among us. As parents, we hope to offer our children a healthy start, a sense of duty to help others than themselves, and an opportunity to experience the simple delight of being a child. Playing outdoors gives our children an excellent opportunity to fulfill all of these needs.

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Overall Importance of Outdoor Play

There are several reasons I take my children outside on a daily basis. Some of these are less noble than others, primarily that my children seem to take better naps if they’ve spent the morning running around in the sun. I also find that I have to spend less time performing the more tiresome aspects of parenting, like constantly harping, “Use your indoor voices! Don’t jump on the couch! Give your brother some space!” When we’re outside, things just seem to go a little bit more smoothly.

Outdoor play has been a fundamental part of childhood until recently, and there are grave consequences associated with this shift. One study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that roughly one half of the preschool aged children surveyed did not walk or play outside with a parent once per day. Even more concerning, the study found that the girls in the study were 15% less likely than boys to have daily outdoor play.

When children do make it outdoors, other studies have shown that the time they spend out there is short, with the average child spending only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that children should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that 2 to 5 year olds may need two or more hours per day of physical activity. Even if toddlers seem to be constantly active, they still require dedicated time for physical play. 

Pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg of the AAP, while testifying before a federal subcommittee, described the importance of outdoor play for children:

“Play in an outdoor, natural environment allows children to explore both their world and their own minds…. Nature places virtually no bounds on the imagination and engages all of the senses. For all children, this setting allows for the full blossoming of creativity, curiosity, and the associated developmental advances.”

While I might personally be motivated to run my kids ragged with the hope they’ll burn off some energy, the benefits of nature play extend far beyond an earlier bedtime. Playing outdoors offers children opportunities that can’t be replicated in a classroom or even a gym – opportunities for better physical and mental health, a better world, and even a better childhood.

Physical Health Benefits 

This lack of outdoor play time has its consequences for children’s health. Numerous studies have found relationships between the time children spend outdoors, their proximity to a park or greenspace, and being of a healthy weight. One Australian study found that the older children who spent time outdoors were more likely to be physical active and were significantly less likely to be overweight. This outdoor playtime can help spark lifelong health habits, as being overweight in childhood puts a child at risk of being overweight as an adult.

The health benefits of playing outdoors aren’t limited to helping children maintain a healthy weight, however. Vitamin D, which is produced in the body after skin is exposed to sunlight, is increasingly becoming recognized as an important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium and is essential for bone production and health. Deficiency in Vitamin D, which has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes, is common, with roughly 70 % of U.S. children not getting the amount they need, according to one study.

Even eyesight can be affected by a lack of time spent outdoors. The risk of myopia, or nearsightedness, is reduced by two-thirds for children with nearsighted parents if they spend more than 14 hours per week outside.

Mental Health Benefits

If the only benefit of playing outdoors was avoiding having to buy a new pair of glasses each year, we could debate whether or not it is worth it. But the mental health benefits of encouraging children to play outside erase any doubt to the question.

I have had my fair share of days where the constant whining, the insurmountable piles of laundry, and the boredom of the daily routine has built up inside of me until I am ready to explode and buy myself a plane ticket to Fiji, or at least drive to the nearest hotel and check myself in. On these days, I know what we need to do is get ourselves outside and into nature, our backyard, or on a walk through the neighborhood. When we finally make it out the door, I feel my stress level drop and watch the kids run around, much happier than when they were bouncing off the four walls of our living room.

It’s not just in my imagination, either; time spent in nature has been associated with better mental health for adults. Researchers found that adults who took a 90 minute walk in a natural setting were less likely to ruminate (focusing on negative parts of yourself, a behavior associated with mental illness) than those who walked in an urban setting. Other studies have shown that exercise in green environments, particularly those with water, lead to improved mood and self-esteem, two things from which most parents could benefit.

The mental health benefits extend to children, too. Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are able to concentrate better after spending time outdoors, according to numerous studies, and time spent in nature can also help to reduce stress in children. We often forget that children are not immune to the stresses of the world and require an outlet to relieve some of the anxiety and pressure they may feel. Playing outdoors helps them return to their most natural state – simply being a kid.

Conservation Benefits

But here is where things start to get really interesting. Our children are facing a world that is unlikely the one that we grew up in. While we may have heard vague rumblings about a hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, and disappearing rainforests in our childhood, the threat of climate change has become fully realized in this generation. June of 2016 was the hottest June on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was the 14th month with record breaking high temperatures in a row.

With climate change moving from a theory to a reality, the need for citizens who are concerned about the well-being of our environment and all of those who live in it is greater than ever. But instead of fostering a connection between children and the outdoors, we’ve divorced nature from childhood, putting conservation efforts in jeopardy.

There is good news, however. Children who have a high sense of connection to nature are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behavior, such as recycling, turning off lights, and saving water, according to a recent study. This connection to nature is influenced by a family’s attitude to nature and having positive experiences in nature.

The same idea holds true for adults as well. Adults who recreate in nature, whether they are bird-watching or hunting, are more likely to actively participate in conservation efforts, such as habitat preservation or donating to conservation organizations.

When I am hiking with my children, my mind will often jump down the path, ten, twenty years ahead of us. I wonder what kind of world they are going to grow up in. Will they ask me what a glacier was when we visit Glacier National Park? Will the nightly news be bombarded with one environmental calamity after another? Will my generation be able to clean up our mess in time, or will we have to trust that our children will be able to figure out better solutions than we have?

If we want to enable the next generation to become good stewards of the environment, we cannot expect it to happen organically. Instead, it will take a concentrated effort to ensure that all children are able to access nature and experience the joy of playing outdoors. For our children (and for adults as well), melting ice caps and vanishing rainforests might sound like far off threats, but they can more easily understand the importance of keeping a river they love to fish in free from pollution, or why cleaning up trash along their favorite trail is necessary to preserve the habitat. Letting children experience nature first hand gives them understanding and an investment in their local ecosystems.

On The Right to be a Child 

The best part about playing outdoors with children is that it is one of those rare parenting moments when what I believe my children need, and what they want, actually intersects.

Childhood should be a time of excitement, learning, and adventure. The look of unbridled joy on a child’s face is one that no parent can get enough of. There are many times I have seen that look in my kid’s eyes – on Christmas morning, when they watch their grandparents get off of the plane, or when we tell them that yes, tonight they can have ice cream after dinner. When we are outside that look is not a rare one. I see it bubble up when they are splashing in puddles on rainy days, running at full speed across a field, or tumbling down a hill.

The concrete benefits of outdoor play are numerous, but even if they were non-existent, our children would still deserve the chance to run outside if for no other reason than it is part of what it means to be a kid. Chasing fireflies after bedtime, making mud pies, and building forts are all essential elements of the childhood experience. Sure, these activities inspire creativity, assist gross motor development, bolster burgeoning language skills, but more importantly, they are part of a season of joy in a child’s life that is often all too short.

Our children have a right to experience all of childhood, whether it is the view from the top of a tall tree or their first skinned knee, picking wild blackberries, or even bad case of poison ivy that will twist into a tall tale they till their own children about one day. At their heart, children are wild things, and we should let them grow up where the rest of the wild things are.

Like most parents, I worry about the start I am giving my children. I fret over if the food I give my children has too many pesticides on it, or if the pacifier my child has held onto for too many years is full of chemicals yet to be discovered as harmful. I try to teach them the importance of kindness and service to others, and pray that it will stick somewhere in their subconscious. I google milestones and activities to help them develop important skills they will need to know in life.

But the truth is, one of the simplest activities I can do, and the one they enjoy the most, is to simply head out the door and into nature. Playing together outside is not only beneficial for our physical and mental health (theirs and my own), but helps to lay a foundation for a lifestyle that respects the world we live in.

The time our children spend play outdoors is rapidly diminishing, and this has ramifications not only for their own health, but for our larger communities if are our children grow up without a connection to the environment. But even more simply, we should hold dear the importance of outdoor play as a foundational part of childhood because our children have the right to be kids.

My oldest son still talks about the time he found a frog fishing with his dad last summer. I am not surprised, as most of my best childhood memories were also formed outdoors. I want my children to know the beauty of eating s’mores by a campfire, swimming in a creek, and traipsing through a forest, because, more than anything, I believe it can bring them a good dose of joy.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


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


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Learn + Play

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

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Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

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News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

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The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

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