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Mothers Hold Children’s Hands for a While – or Sometimes Forever

When I co-owned a home décor business, one of the products featured in our catalog was a calligraphy sign that said: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a while… their hearts forever.” At the time, my kids were five and three, then eight and five, and 12 and nine – Lindsey and Michael practically grew up in the warehouse where I packed and shipped those sweetly framed pieces of art to our customers.

During those busy years, I adored holding my toddler’s, preschooler’s, and grade-schooler’s hands. They were so small, so soft, so innocent. I held them when we crossed streets, when we walked to the park, and sometimes, when I was driving down the road. I’d reach behind me to the backseat where the kids were safely buckled in and slip my palm into Lindsey’s or Michael’s. Without ever saying a word, we’d hold onto each other for a mile or two.

In July, my 37-year-old daughter and I took a cruise to Alaska. The last port on the itinerary was Victoria. We’d traveled there on Holland America 10 years before, when my daughter was 27. Out of all the ports of call, Lindsey said she enjoyed this one most because at the end of that evening, we had taken a horse drawn carriage from the Empress Hotel back to the cruise ship. Lindsey grinned the entire ride. So, we were both looking forward to returning to this charming Canadian city and seeing a little more of the town.

As soon as we exited the ship and headed down the ramp of the MS Eurodam, Lindsey reached out to hold my hand. You see, back when my daughter was 16 month’s old, she had a grand mal seizure. Afterwards, she developed essential tremors that caused her hands, arms, and head to shake. In 2006, doctors at Oregon Health Science diagnosed her with intellectual disabilities, explaining that a short in her neurological system causes information to process differently in her brain than in those of her more typical counterparts. They also predicted she would eventually live in a group home. Then in her late 20s, Lindsey began to suffer from balance and spatial issues that caused additional mobility problems.

Despite struggling daily, my daughter has proven the OHSU doctors wrong. Lindsey lives independently – in her own apartment – and she works a part-time job at a local State Farm Insurance agent’s office. Some days, Lindsey’s tremors are mild and anyone observing her might not even notice. Other days she fights to confidently take a single step – yet forces herself to take many. A few years ago, for a short period of time, Lindsey felt more comfortable using a walker to get around our small community. Lately, though, she’s graduated back to a cane. Some days, she doesn’t even need that.

Once we left the port area, I offered to hail a taxi to take us into town. Lindsey said she’d rather walk. That answer pleased me because the mile stroll along the waterfront – from the port into downtown Victoria – is delightful. Besides, my Fitbit indicated that I needed a lot more steps to reach my daily goal.

But as we headed down the sidewalks, the paved paths, the wooden walkway near the water, past the houseboats and the little boat taxi landing, unless Lindsey was gripping my hand, she took baby steps. It was as if her legs were frozen.

When I held my daughter’s hand, she moved at a fairly normal pace. When I let go, cruise ship passengers seemed to whizz past us as if they were running in a relay. Holding on tight, Lindsey stepped confidently. Letting go, my daughter moved slower than a sloth.

I know Lindsey cannot help this. At least I do not wish to believe she does this for attention. Although my mind did wander back to recent days on the cruise ship and how effectively Lindsey moved about the corridors with only her cane and no help from me. Still, I chose to consider that on those unfamiliar streets, in that unfamiliar city, she needed to hold my hand.

As we walked, I thought back to the years when I treasured holding my little one’s hands. In most cases, it wasn’t a mandatory gesture – it was a way to connect, to let them know I was thinking about them. As children grow, though, most mothers hope their kids will let go of their hands and begin to navigate the world on their own.

Sauntering toward the Empress Hotel, holding my 37-year-old’s hand, I glimpsed someone staring at us, trying to assess our situation. My face flushed red. A rush of emotions surged through me. Envy. Why can’t we be like all the other mothers and daughters? Grief, then deep sadness. For Lindsey. She struggles so. And even though my brain comprehends that she can’t help having mobility issues, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed to have to walk the sidewalks of Victoria hand-in-hand with a 30-something woman – to stand out from the other mothers and daughters walking toward the town’s center. Then shame. Shame because I allowed myself to care what other people think, to permit untoward feelings in the first place.

My mind somersaulted back in time, back to my warehouse where I also packed a wooden sign we carried: There are two things we should give our children. One is roots, and the other is wings.

“Why can’t my daughter have wings?” my brain screamed, suddenly feeling angry and frustrated along with all those other emotions. We were surrounded by happy, chatty tourists, and yet, I felt lonely. When it comes to my daughter, after all my years of counseling, I know it is okay to feel a mixture of emotions. All emotions have value. There is no right or wrong way to feel. I took a deep breath. I released the air slowly. I turned toward my daughter.

“You’re doing good, Linds,” I said. She gripped my hand tighter. Her face concentrated on the path ahead. She steadied her cane on the pavement, took a step, lifted her other leg, and shifted her body forward – one slow movement at a time. I studied my girl. “She definitely has roots,” I thought. Independent roots. And she proves them again and again, day after day.

As I walked toward the city center holding my daughter’s hand, I knew she also had wings. Her wings may not allow her to fly as high as I’d initially hoped on the day she was born, but compared to what the OHSU doctors predicted back when she was six, my girl is soaring.

And, sometimes, whether it’s convenient or not, and whether I embrace it or not, Lindsey is going to need to hold my hand.

This article was originally published here.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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