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Why Time Apart Might Be the Perfect Marriage Elixir

I was pregnant with our first child when my husband and I attended a friend’s 40th birthday party. Over thumping music and margaritas (a Shirley Temple for me), we wished the guest of honor another happy journey around the sun.


“How does 40 feel?” My husband asked.

“It’s good,” he said. “But I’m tired.” He and his wife had two young kids at the time. “I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night.”

Our friend turned his gaze to his wife. Beaming in her direction, he told us how excited he was to spend the night at the swanky hotel down the street that night.

“So fun!” I exclaimed. “The kids are with their grandparents overnight?”

Our friend and his wife laughed, shaking their heads. “No,” she explained. “I’m staying with the kids so my husband can have the entire night to himself and wake up whenever he wants, in silence, totally alone.”

“Too bad you couldn’t find a sitter so you could stay at the hotel together,” I replied.

“No, this is actually the perfect birthday treat,” our friend insisted.

I sipped my Shirley Temple and tried to make my face look as if I understood.

Six years, two kids of my own, and countless sleepless nights later, I understand. As I’ve come to learn, taking time for yourself once you become a parent is not a luxury but a necessity. Though it seems counter-intuitive, one of the best things you can do for your marriage is to step away from it, regularly and intentionally.

I talked to experts to find out why couples – particularly those with kids – are so much better together when they spend time apart.

Because…kids

Our kids absorb an incredible amount of our time and energy. Ironically, this is exactly why parents need to take time for themselves.

Alex Hedger, therapist and clinical director of Dynamic You Therapy Clinics, encourages parents to take breaks from the demands of both their children and their partner in order to “prevent cracks appearing in either partner’s well-being – or the relationship.”

Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, a certified life and relationship coach, describes those potential cracks as “regret and resentment toward your partner…. You’ll find yourself giving your partner the angry side-eye, and it’s all because you didn’t make time for you.”

While experts agree that down time is crucial for both parents, David Ezell, therapist and clinical director of Darien Wellness, argues it’s particularly important for women. He describes a client who mistakenly believes she should never be apart from her kids, a mindset that tends to be unique to mothers:

“Not only is it horrible for the children – they need to learn mom can leave and come back – but it’s also likely to turn this highly educated, accomplished woman’s brain into mush. Children are wonderful, but we all need a break from being asked why the sky is blue (for the 400th time).”

You’re still fascinating, even if you answer to “Mom” or “Dad”

Before you were someone’s mom, dad, husband, wife, or partner, you were just you. Peel off all the labels and you’re still there, even if you’re buried under laundry and dinner prep and birthday party invitations. And you still matter.

Vikki Ziegler, the author and divorce attorney best known for her starring role in Bravo TV’s “Untying the Knot”, calls prioritizing your own interests a chance to “nourish your soul.” Dating coach Corrine Dobbas calls it a time to “rejuvenate and foster [your] sense of self.”

Whatever you call it, it is vital to stay in touch with what makes you uniquely you – the person your partner fell in love with in the first place.

Alex Hedger uses the analogy of a sports team to illustrate the importance of each half of a couple bringing their best self to the relationship. Just as a team functions optimally when each player brings his or her unique strengths to the game, “having time apart allows you to be true to yourself in a way that allows you to uniquely contribute when being part of the Relationship Team.”

Dobbas agrees. Only when you stay in touch with yourself “can [you] show up in the relationship more present, confident, and less stressed.” Not only do you bring greater energy to the relationship when you’ve had time to recharge, you also become a more interesting person to your partner.

Marriage counselor and author Patricia Bubash says when each partner carves out time for their own interests, not only does it give them something to talk about, but it also gives partners a chance to see each other “as interesting individuals, not just a wife [or] husband.”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Whether you take an hour for a kickboxing class, an evening with friends, or a weekend to go on a yoga retreat, taking time apart give you and your partner a chance to miss one another. Amy Bailey, a Colorado mom of three who has been married 16 years, says that, while date nights are key, so is time apart.

“There’s nothing that makes me miss home and my husband like not having him around,” says Baily, “and we take that time to send each other texts we wouldn’t want our kids to read, and by the time we see each other again – well…we’re ready to see each other again.”

While it’s not always possible to get away for long stretches of time, Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute, encourages couples to get creative with the limited time they have. She says it is especially important for new moms to have what she calls “restorative, regenerative time” in order to show up to the relationship sexually.

“For a lot of women, the ability to be aroused comes from having space for arousal to emerge.” She says because most women can’t just switch from Mom to lover in the blink of an eye, having time alone is essential, even if it’s just 20 minutes to soak in the tub.

Cunningham-Sumter says that even carving out a few minutes for chores, like folding laundry or doing dishes by yourself, “can be your time to turn on your music and just be with yourself.”

While any time away from your partner can be helpful, research suggests time spent in solitude may be especially valuable. Relationship expert David Bennett points to a recent study in which alone time was found to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

My husband gives me time to work out because he knows the more I sweat, the more pleasant I am to be around. Though he doesn’t necessarily care to hear about the way my leggings chafed or how my GPS lost its signal during my run, he does care that I’m still the athlete I was when we met.

Likewise, I rarely deny his occasional request to take himself and his fantasy novel out for a beer and a burger. He always returns in a better mood than when he left. Because sometimes time alone is exactly what we need to come together.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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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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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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

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