A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

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.”

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]

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Many parents begin looking into Montessori when their children reach preschool age, but there is so much you can do at home even with the youngest babies. Montessori is much more than a method of education or academic system. It is a philosophy and a certain way of approaching children, whether at school or in the home.

Here are five simple (and free!) ways you can begin using Montessori with your child from birth. And if your child is older, don't worry—all of these principles apply to older children as well.

1. Provide freedom of movement

From birth, we can give children the opportunity to move freely in their environment.

For a newborn, this simply means providing plenty of time when they are not being held or constrained in a carrier, stroller or other device.

You might spend time siting next to your child while they lay on a soft blanket, either inside or outdoors. They're clearly not able to move around the environment on their own at this point, but can practice moving their arms and legs and supporting their head, without their movements being limited.

For an older baby, freedom of movement might include letting them pull up on objects and edge their way around the room at their own pace, rather than putting them in a jumper or holding their hands while they walk.

Freedom of movement is excellent for gross motor development, but it is also a great confidence builder. It sends a clear message to your child that you believe they are capable of developing their muscles and abilities in their own timeframe.

Another aspect of freedom of movement is comfortable clothing that supports a baby's growing ability to move. Dressing your baby in a onesie or loose fitting pants and shirt maximizes their ability to move. Providing young babies plenty of time unswaddled and without mittens or shoes also helps them learn to use their muscles.

2. Use respectful communication

Respectful communication is a hallmark of Montessori for children at all ages, and this can certainly begin at birth. It may feel silly at first, but try telling your infant each time you're going to pick them up. Let them know when it's time to eat or time for a diaper. It will begin to feel more natural each time you do it.

You might try asking permission, such as, "May I pick you up for a diaper change now?"

While they, of course, won't be able to answer you in words yet, they will understand your tone and if you ask regularly, they might start to respond in other ways, such as reaching for you or smiling.

We can also show respect through our communication by always using real, precise language. For example, rather than telling a baby a picture is a "doggie," try telling them it's a "dog," or maybe even the type or name of the dog if you know.

This type of communication lays a wonderful foundation for a relationship of mutual respect, and also exposes your child to a rich vocabulary from the beginning.

3. See caregiving as bonding

Caregiving tasks, such as feeding and changing diapers, can seem endless and can be truly exhausting, especially in the first few months. In Montessori, we try to view these activities as a time for bonding and connecting, a time to give a child our undivided attention.

In a classroom with multiple babies, or a home with older siblings around, this can be an especially important time to take a few moments and be present with the baby you are caring for. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media while breastfeeding or rush through diaper changes to get to the more fun stuff, but these are truly opportunities to slow down, make eye contact with your child, and simply be with them.

Montessori also views these activities as collaborative. We always try to do things "with" children, rather than "to" them.

For the youngest infants, collaboration might just be talking them through what you're doing, or following their lead for when they need to eat and sleep.

For older babies, you can include them more through asking them to crawl to the diaper changing area or bring you a diaper, or offering them two shirts or two foods to choose from.

Reframing these caregiving activities not only makes them more enjoyable for us parents, it ensures that we have regular check-ins where we're fully present with our babies. It makes them feel cared for, and never like a burden.

4. Allow time for independence

How can a baby be independent? They rely on us for so much—warmth, nourishment, safety, love—but we can actually help infants develop independence from the very beginning.

We can look for times when our baby is calm and alert and let them "play," or lay on a blanket, without being held. We can give them time to look around the room and visually explore their new world without interacting with or distracting them.

We can respond to mild fussing first by talking to them, by gently touching them or holding their hand, rather than immediately swooping them up into our arms. Sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that we're there.

Every baby is different and every baby's tolerance for these moments is unique. Some babies might be content to lay on their own for quite a while, while others seem to want to be held constantly. Follow your own child's lead, but look for little opportunities to help them stretch their independence from the start.

5. Practice observation

Observation is one of the most important principles of Montessori for all ages.

Each child is on their own developmental path and the only way we can really know what they need, what challenges they're ready for, is through careful observation.

Naturally, you spend tons of time watching your new baby. Observation is just a slightly different mindset, watching with intention, to see what new skills your baby might be working on, what parts of the room they stare at with captivated interest.

This type of observation will help you know what toys to offer your baby better than any developmental timeline. It will also help you get to know them in a deeper way.

Montessori can seem a bit mysterious or even intimidating, but so much of it is really so simple. It is much more about how we view and interact with children than about academic achievement or beautiful materials.

No matter what type of school you plan to send your children to, incorporating these principles at home from the beginning can add so much to your parenting journey.

You might also like:

There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.

This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.

Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.

DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.

"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."

For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.

However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.

Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.

You might also like:

Ayesha Curry has three kids, a husband with a super busy career and a super busy career herself. It would be so easy for her priority list to be: 1) kids, 2) career, then 3) Steph—but the TV host, chef, Honest Company ambassador and entrepreneurial #bossbabe says her partner still has the number one spot, even after all these years.

Speaking to HelloGiggles, Curry explains that she and her Golden State Warrior husband have seen how partners prioritizing each other can benefit a family as a whole. That's why she and Stef don't prioritize the kids above each other.

"Both of our parents are still married and have been married for 30-plus years, and the one thing that they both shared with us—some through learning it the hard way, some through just making sure that they do it—is just making sure that we put each other first, even before the kids, as tough as that sounds," she tells HelloGiggles.

For the Currys, that means making time in those very busy schedules for date nights where they don't have to be mom and dad, they can just connect as partners. Curry admits that it's not always easy to break her brain out of mama-mode and prioritize something other than time with her kids, but she recognizes that when she and Stef put each other first, the kids benefit.

"That's been very important, as hard as it is. Because when you become a parent, you want to put your kids first, and we do, but we do it second to our relationship. Because ultimately, when our relationship is good, the kids are happy and they're thriving and our family life is good. We have to put that into perspective and realize that it's not us being selfish, it's making sure we set a strong foundation."



Experts back Curry up

Family therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Fatherly that while putting each other first may seem counterintuitive to parents, it's important. "I think that the question of when to prioritize your partner over your kid is best answered with 'always,'" Bilek says.

David Code is a therapist and the author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He wants parents to lean on each other more because when we don't our kids can end up shouldering some of our emotional needs, and that's not fair. It's also not fair for parents to put their relationship and themselves last every time. He believes the "greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself."

According to Code, "families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention."

Therapists like Code and Bilek are calling on parents to put their partners first, and stop buying into the myth that we don't have time for our spouses.

If the Currys can find time for each other in their crazy schedules, so too can the rest of us.

You might also like:

This morning I left my 4-year-old sobbing in the arms of her Pre-K teacher. As I turned to leave, the sight of her little face crumbling, trying to be brave but not quite managing, tore right to my core. I walked away feeling like I was wading through treacle, my chest aching and my arms heavy and useless where my child should have been. It felt so very unnatural to leave when she was crying out my name.

Keep reading... Show less
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.