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Modern parents are repeatedly told that their stress has a lasting effect on their children’s development.


For example, this Daily Beast post, alarmingly titled “Stressed Parents Scar Their Kids:

“…when parents are under emotional, financial, or other forms of stress, it can alter their children’s patterns of genetic activity at least through adolescence and perhaps longer. And since some of the altered genes shape brain development, the effects of parental stress might permanently wire themselves into children’s brains.”

Or this Forbes article, “How Parents’ Stress Can Hurt A Child, From The Inside Out:”

“…there’s a small but intriguing body of evidence suggesting that beyond a child’s disposition, a parent’s stress level can affect a child’s very makeup, including his or her risk of mood disorders, addiction, and even disorders like ADHD and autism.”

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Headlines claiming that parental stress “rewires a kid’s DNA” are scary, so they get clicks.

They also get clicks because stress is a fact of life. We’re all dealing with it. In America, 68% of all adults say they’re stressed. Meanwhile, 32% of parents say that their stress levels are extreme.

A 2007 survey of 1,000 from the American Psychological Association found that 90% of kids say they know when their parents are stressed – and it bothers them. It gives them feelings of sadness, worry, frustration, and annoyance.

But research shows that in normal or even elevated amounts, those typically aren’t “scarring” emotions.

Not all stress is equal.

Headlines like “Stress Has Lasting Effect on Child’s Development” fail to mention the difference between normal and toxic stress.

“Stress is a complex psychobiological process with biological, emotional, mental, and behavioral consequences, all of which influence one another.” – Dr. Ross A. Thompson, Stress and Child Development

In a medical sense, “stress” is the body’s physical response to challenging or negative circumstances. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child identifies three main types of stress:

Positive stress, which is short-lived, causing minor physiological changes such as heart rate and hormone level. This type of stress is a common part of life.

Tolerable stress, which is more intense but still relatively short-lived. For example, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, accident, and family disruptions such as separation or divorce.

Toxic stress. Toxic stress can be extremely harmful to children. It comes from intense adverse experiences sustained over weeks, months or years. Abuse, severe household mental illness, deprivation, profound trauma, substance abuse, and neglect can trigger toxic stress. More on toxic stress and children from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. 

Parents dealing with normal stress feel guilty, assuming that their elevated stress is as harmful to their kids as toxic stress. But that’s not the kind of stress most parents deal with around their kids.  Statistically, the four most common stressors in parents lives are work, money, family and health.

Science shows that some stress has benefits. 

Researchers are starting to categorize the benefits of “good stress.” As NPR reports,

“… some scientists now argue that our usual narrative of stress — that stress is universally bad for health — is too one-sided and doesn’t reflect the reality that some degree of stress can actually benefit people. Stress isn’t always a bad thing.”

The Stress and Child Development publication from Princeton University describes how “stressful experiences that are mild or moderate, predictable, and of short duration are likely to enhance biological functioning and promote mastery and competence.”

The TED Blog article “Stress as a positive: Recent research that suggests it has benefits,” says that “stress can induce both good and bad habits.” 

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal shares a fascinating idea: “that the harmful effects of stress may be a consequence of our perception that it is bad for our health.”

Teaching kids about stress is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.

It’s been shown that “parents play a major role in teaching children about the expression, regulation, and experience of emotion.” (Eisenberg et al., 1998)

By teaching our kids how to manage stress – which is a fact of life – we can give them tools that help them for the rest of their lives.

Mitigating the impacts of stress

The all-consuming nature of stress makes it hard to manage, and even harder to turn into a “teachable moment” for your kids.

In an NPR interview, Dr. Eldar Shafir said that dealing with stress is “like driving on a stormy night. You’re focused completely on the thing that’s capturing your attention right now, and other things get neglected.”

Making it worse, stress is contagious. 17 % of children who say that their parents are always stressed are more likely to say they’re stressed themselves, vs 2% of kids who say their parents are never stressed.

This stress can then create a negative feedback loop between parents and children:

“Parents should be aware that not only do their own emotions and parenting style affect the emotional outcomes of their children, but if they are not aware of how their children’s tempers affect them, they could fall into a spiral of ineffective and indifferent parenting which further contributes to negative behaviors from the children.”  [link]

Episcopal minister and author David Code is well-known for his work on the effects of stress on parents and kids. His insights are useful though he can be a bit alarmist. (For example, I couldn’t find any evidence that normal parental stress gives kids ADHD, as he mentions here.)

He suggests that to deal with stress, parents have to get back to being social. He says, “I have never seen toddlers more satisfied or happy or fulfilled than when their parents are blabbing away with each other or with friends on the couch.”

Surveys also show that most people socialize to relieve stress.

Meanwhile, in this NPR Health articleDr. Robert Waldinger recommends exercise. He says, “If you could give one magic pill that would improve physical health, mood, reduce weight,” this would be it. For stress relief and antidepressant effect, 30 minutes is enough. More on fast stress relievers for parents.

Comforting kids in times of stress has measurable benefits for them.

As this Harvard article makes clear, “If at least one parent or caregiver is consistently engaged in a caring, supportive relationship with a young child, most stress responses will be positive or tolerable.”

Meanwhile, “Children who have the support of caregivers manage more successfully than children who must rely on their own resources alone.”  – Stress and Child Development

Other studies show:

“Supportive responses by parents invite children to explore their feelings by encouraging the child to express emotions or helping the child understand and cope with an emotion-eliciting situation.” (Eisenberg et al., 1998; Fabes, Poulin, Eisenberg, & Madden-Derdich, 2002).

“Supportive parental responses to children’s negative emotions have been found to be related to aspects of emotional and social competence including children’s emotion understanding and friendship quality.”(McElwain, Halberstadt, & Volling, 2007).

Even in situations of toxic, chronic stress  “the neurobiological response to chronic stress can be buffered and even reversed” with the care of an adult, writes Ross A. Thompson.

In those toxic situations, kids don’t “necessarily become immediately hard-wired to create dysfunction that cannot be changed.”

Don’t let headlines about the “dangers of parental stress” stress you out even more.

For most families, the long-term impact of normal and even elevated parental stress on kids is much more subtle – and much less distressing – than pop-science headlines would have us believe.

These articles tap into parental guilt (and societal blame) about how the stressful, modern work-life balance affects our families. But the shape of modern life itself is stressful.

Parents shouldn’t be blamed for that, nor made to feel that a normal response to stress will damage their kids.

Footnote: The Secret History of Stress 

Did you know that  the “inventor” of the idea of stress, Hans Selye, “was a shill for the tobacco industry?

From NPR:

“… both Selye’s work and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers. They were interested in promoting the concept of stress because it allowed them to argue that it was stress — not cigarettes — that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.” [link]

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

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Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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