The 3-Part Stay-at-Home Mom Routine that Benefits Mom and Baby

{Focusing on 3 aspects of my stay-at-home mom routine have made all the difference in making daily life more engaging for me and my kids}


I still remember vividly that day my husband went back to work after the birth of our first son. It was my first day at home with my newborn son...all alone. I was nervous, sleep-deprived and still getting to know this little bundle whom I loved dearly.

BUT, he cried a lot. Would I be able to calm him without breaking down into tears myself? Would we be able to make it out to the grocery store on our own?

It seems silly to me now, but if you flash back to those moments, you may have felt similar. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but how do I do this new role?

Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development
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Like many stay-at-home moms, I was used to desks, not diapers. I had spent the past 10 years either working in the non-profit world or in grad school. My schedule was my own, I had meetings, I wrote papers, I did research. How do I now drop that part of my life and focus all my attention on this tiny bundle of need and crying? I loved him dearly, but I was a little lost.

Over time, of course, we found our way. It took much of the first year for both of us to figure out our new world--together. Babies change so frequently in that first year, that just as soon as I thought I had our routine figured out, he would change. With some reading and reflection, I soon began to focus on 3 primary areas in our daily life together and this helped immensely: activities, identity, and self-care.


Activities

In those early months, there aren't many activities you can really do with a newborn. However, my son (and most babies) do find ways to make their preferences known.

Bouncing/Walking
My son loved bouncing! Bouncing in the infant bouncy seat and bouncing while strapped to my chest in an infant carrier. Walking also worked well, as long as he was attached to me; not in a stroller. It was pretty much the only thing that calmed him when he got into fussy periods.





Talking
Most babies love hearing your voice. It doesn't really matter what you talk about, just talking helps their brain come alive. It also helps you and your baby get "in sync." Synchronicity is one of the key emotional skills that are developing in the first few months. The more you are in sync with your baby, the easier it will be for you to respond to his needs.

Reading
Some parents may feel weird reading to a young baby since they can't really respond or even focus on the page. However, research shows that even babies benefit from hearing books read. Check out this post for baby books that boost brain development.


Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development



Identity

Figuring out your mom identity often takes time. Becoming a parent is life-altering in more ways than one. Being the research geek I am, before becoming a mom, I had read tons of books on child development, breastfeeding, etc. but nothing really prepares you for how you will feel. I thought I would figure out breastfeeding way sooner than I really did. I swore my baby would never sleep in bed with us. Well, real life has a way of not going according to your plans.


Related reading: The Child Development Bookshelf: Best Books for Parents and Kids

Breastfeeding did not come as easily as I had expected so my identity at those early nursing moms support groups didn't fit as well I had thought. I struggled with breastfeeding while those other moms seemed to do it so easily.

After trying out several different moms groups, I eventually found one that was a good fit for me. Having other moms to talk to with whom you share common beliefs, experiences or life views makes a world of difference. For many moms, this type of group helps solidify your mom identity. For other moms, it might be something else--a fitness group or a baby storytime group. 



Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development


Consider what interests you had before you had a baby. This usually helps you figure out a path to find other moms who share your interests. Just because you have a baby doesn't mean you have to give up your personal interests or identity.


Related reading: What Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Taught Me About Child Development (that a Ph.D. didn't!)

I also figured out that it was okay to "mourn" a bit the passing of my pre-baby identity. That's not to say that I lost it completely but it did have to change. I think many moms go through this stage.  Especially if you worked full time before staying at home with kids, the identity shift from the "working world" to the stay-at-home mom world is kind of abrupt. Even in today's world, being a stay-at-home mom is not exactly highly valued. Sometimes people still really wonder what you do all day. 

Developing your mom identity really benefits your baby too. The more you can connect with who you really are, what kind of mom you want to be, the more confident and fulfilled you will feel. The more confident you feel, the happier and more engaged you will be with your baby.

Self-Care

As moms, we have a tendency to give and give and forget to take care of ourselves, especially in early motherhood when the needs of our babies are so immediate. The physical and emotional demands of motherhood are real. Many times moms feel guilty for taking time to take care of themselves. The truth is, however, if we don't we will eventually succumb to the demands and our physical or mental health might suffer. We get run down and we get sick. We don't take a break once in awhile and our patience starts to wear thin (research backs this one up). A lack of self-care ultimately catches up to us.

Related reading: Research Reveals the Real Reason You Lost Your Temper with Your Toddler

After months of nursing every two hours and getting very limited sleep, I learned this lesson myself. My mental health started to suffer. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband who stepped in to give me enough of a break during nights that I could function again. 



Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development


Over the years, I've figured out that self-care is not just about pedicures and spa days. It's about figuring out what fills you up, what helps you keep your boundaries in place and your mind clear. Self-care looks different for everyone. Here are just a few ideas but it might look completely different for you:

- reading while the kids nap
- going for a run with the toddler in the stroller
- chatting with friends in real life (or sending a card instead of a text)
- listening to a podcast in the car instead of Wheels on the Bus
- sitting down to eat instead of scraping up the kids’ leftovers

The key is that self-care shouldn't be a source of guilt. It should make you feel stronger knowing that by taking care of yourself, you are inadvertently taking care of your children. Babies, perhaps even more than us, are very in tune with the emotions of their caregivers. Using the "still face" experiment, studies illustrate how upset babies get when their caregivers are unresponsive to their emotions. This speaks volumes to the need for self-care. If we are so fatigued or worn down, that we cannot respond well to our children, over time they will notice.

Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a mom who reports to an office each day, the idea of focusing on activities, identity, and self-care will hopefully help guide your daily routine. The specifics of each person's daily routine might be different, but I think by focusing on these 3 areas, it helps you keep the big picture in mind. By finding ways to balance your child's needs and your own needs, you will no doubt find yourself feeling more confident in your parenting.


Related Resources:


The Gifts of Imperfection





Rhythms, Routines and Schedules



Perfect for Pinning:

The 3-Part Stay-at-Home Mom Routine that Benefits Mom and Baby


A Conversation About Children's Mental Health

In the past week, 2 major celebrities have passed away as a result of suicide. Yet, in our country, mental illness is still considered a taboo topic in many circles. It's important to be aware and educated about mental illness at all stages of life, starting with our kids.

While the frequency of conversation surrounding mental illness is trending upward, there is still work to be done. It’s vital to ensure that all individuals who are diagnosed with a mental disorder have open lines of communication and resources available. May is Mental Health Awareness month, and children and adolescents are largely impacted by mental health disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14. This startling statistic can lead us to ask, what do we do with this information?

A Conversation About Children's Mental Health



The Unique Face of Mental Illness


First, we must acknowledge that each person diagnosed with a mental illness has their own unique situation. Each individual has their own personal set of circumstances that has lead to a diagnosis. There is not a, “one size fits all” solution when it comes to mental illness and how to help those affected by it. We must continue to facilitate dialogue in various aspects of mental health, and talk about the countless scenarios that our kids may be up against. Mental Health Month raises awareness around trauma, and the impact it can have on the wellbeing of children, families, and the overall community we live in. While mental health disorders can stem from a variety of different causes, we want to spotlight trauma, and how it can influence the state of mental well-being in children.



Related reading: The Hidden Way that Kids Learn Empathy (and how parents can help)

Trauma and Mental Health

Often times, many people don’t consider the state of children’s mental health. This is alarming as children as young as 18 months old can experience a traumatic event and go on to have later behavioral and psychological problems. From being exposed to crime, violence, abuse, or even the loss of a loved one, trauma can stem from a lot of different situations. We’re looking more closely into the impact that trauma can have on the mental state of children and teens.



A Conversation About Children's Mental Health


If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to a traumatic event, specialists have identified specific behaviors to be on the lookout for. If a child you know has recently experienced a traumatic event:

  • Separation anxiety or clinginess toward teachers or caregivers
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased interest in and/or withdrawal from friends or family and normal activities
  • Over- or under-reaction to physical contact, sudden movements, and sounds
  • Angry outbursts and/or aggression
  • More frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
  • Repeatedly recreating the event through comments, drawings, or activity
  • Emotional “numbing,” or expressing no feelings at all about the event

Although trauma is a common underlying cause of mental health issues in children, it is not the only cause. Even infants have a full mental life and are constantly making sense of their interactions with caregivers. As this wonderful article by Lisa Sunbury describes, experiments with babies have shown that they are careful observers of their caregivers' emotions. Although they don't have the emotional skills to understand adult emotions, they often react when they see withdrawal or sadness in their caregivers.

This video illustrates the classic "still face" experiment done to examine how babies respond to a lack of response from a caregiver. If the relationship is "repaired" as in seen in the video, the bond remains, however, if babies experience repreated withdrawal, impacts on their mental health can be seen.






Get Informed

Identifying a problem and ultimately understanding a diagnosis can be overwhelming. This rings especially true when trying to grasp the diagnosis in a child. Where do you start? This is a frequent question that carries a lot of weight. It can be hard to collect your thoughts and know what to ask. Jumo Health is an online suite of resources to educate and empower those dealing with diagnoses. Available are free discussion guide downloads to help steer conversations with your doctor about diagnosis. Depression and Anxiety are just two examples of topics that have a guide available.


A Conversation About Children's Mental Health

In addition, Jumo Connect offers a series of comics and podcasts that explain different diseases, disorders, and conditions. Some of the most relevant include the “Mental Health: Anxiety and Depression podcast.” This follows Gianna, a high school junior who has lived experience of depression and anxiety. It’s a great resource to help kids and teens connect to someone who may be experiencing the same struggles and difficulties in life.

Related reading: National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day


Resources for Children's Mental Health

Another great organization is ZERO TO THREE. They work to ensure that babies and toddlers benefit from early connections that are critical to their well being and development. Children can be resilient when it comes to trauma, but they typically process events different than adults. ZERO TO THREE has developed a great parenting resource on building resilience. It is designed to teach how you can help infants and toddlers to learn to cope with adversity.

A Conversation about Children's Mental Health


Recognizing resilience at four different levels: the individual, the family, the school and caregiving systems, and the larger community. Parents can build their child’s resilience on a daily basis by teaching self-care, emphasizing the positive, building a strong parent-child bond, reading together, encouraging social skills, maintaining a daily routine, nurturing self-esteem, and practicing reflection.

This post contain affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you.


Related Resources:

15 Summer Acts of Kindness for Kids: Ideas for Developing Emotional Intelligence {plus a FREE printable}

{Random acts of kindness for kids to help our youngsters grow in emotional intelligence. Research-backed but easy ideas to bring into the daily summer routine}


I had done what "good moms" do. I signed them up for camps. I enrolled them in summer baseball. I had registered them for vacation Bible school. We had done our reverse bucket list for summer.

I got to the end of May and thought I had a good plan for the summer. Then I realized--I had just set up a world that revolved solely around them. Is this how I want summer to be? Do I want to just be
the "cruise director" of their summer?

Summer Acts of Kindness for Kids
This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links
helps support this blog at no added cost to you.


Or is there space to think of others? Can we incorporate some simple acts of kindness into our routine? What can I do to help them grow in empathy and emotional intelligence this summer?

Related reading: The Reverse Bucket List Summer: Helping Kids Grow in Gratitude

The Science of Kindness

Summer is the perfect time to capitalize on the extra time to build emotional intelligence. One clear finding we know from research is that it takes a lot of practice and modeling for emotional skills to take hold. From an early age, kids are wired for kindness. Babies as young as 9 months old gravitate toward the "kind" puppet in lab studies. However, for this mindset to continue, it has to be reinforced as kids grow.

The Science of Kindness

Related reading: Kids' Emotional Intelligence: Why Low-Tech Skills are the Key to Success in a High-Tech World

Modeling kindness in our daily lives is one of the best ways to reinforce empathetic thinking. As eloquently pointed out in the book, The Yes Brain, the part of the brain that helps control empathetic thinking is one that can be developed and trained over time. By pointing out the feelings of others and practicing empathetic interactions, this part of the brain becomes stronger in kids. 

Even in our high-tech world, emotional interaction and kindness still matter. It makes for a better world, and research also tells us it helps make kids happier and more successful...even in those high-tech jobs. Although coding computers may one day be automated, skills like communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence will never be perfectly imitated by a robot. These skills are what make us human.


Related reading: Nature and Nurture: The Origins of Compassion

Purpose, not Pressure

I realized the other day that I have 9 summers left with my oldest and 13 left with my youngest until they (presumably) leave the house. Pointing this out, however, is not about feeling pressure to make things perfect all summer; it's about making good use of the free time we have.

So I put together a collection of easy, low-key summer acts of kindness for kids that we can incorporate into our daily routine.

Summer Acts of Kindness for Kids:

  • Kindness rocks--decorate stones and place them in surprising places for people to find
  • Bake cookies or muffins and deliver to local heroes (e.g., police, firefighters, etc.)
  • Donate used books to a nonprofit group like Reach Out and Read, a children's hospital, or children's shelter
  • Make snack bags to give to homeless individuals
  • Participate in Camp Kindness--6 weeks of kindness, empathy-building activities from the Kindness Elves
  • Read books that promote empathy and ask kids a lot of questions about how the characters are feeling (see my Pinterest board for book ideas).
Want more ideas for acts of kindness? Sign up here to receive an expanded printable list FREE:




Kindness-related Resources:




The Yes Brain




Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World





Little Loving Hands--fun crafts given to charity



Perfect for Pinning:

Summer Acts of Kindness for Kids: Ideas for Developing Emotional Intelligence


The Benefits of Summer Camp are Lost When Smartphones Intrude

{The social-emotional benefits of summer camp are clear but what happens when smartphones intrude on the normal camp experience.}

I vividly remember my first experience at sleepaway summer camp as a child. I was in about 4th or 5th grade and it was my first time away from my parents overnight (except for sleepovers at grandparents' and friends' houses). I went with a close friend and even her older sister was there with us.

But...I was homesick. I cried every day of the week-long camp. Although my friends and family had boasted of the benefits of summer camp, they were lost on me. My mood improved somewhat through the week but overall I did not enjoy it much.


Summer Camp in the Age of Smart Phones

Nowadays, kids experiencing feelings like mine at camp might have quick access to a cellphone to call or text their parents.

A new study from C.S. Mott Children's hospital considered how access to smartphones might change the camp experience. The researchers interviewed officials at 331 camps across the U.S. and Canada. The results were both enlightening and a little disturbing.

A Few Advantages of Technology at Camp:

The camp officials pointed out that they did see some advantages to kids having access to technology at camp. Kids could take pictures and create slideshows of their favorite memories, for example. Other times technology was used for entertainment during "downtime" like video game tournaments or music for dance parties.

Related reading: Distracted by Your Device? This Parenting Research Will Change Your Perspective {plus a printable mantra to help}

The Downside to Technology at Camp:

Many of the camp officials, however, reported the downside to kids having technology and internet access at camp. As you might expect, many kids became so immersed in texting and social media that they would not participate fully in camp events or bond with their fellow campers.
One respondent even wrote, campers are “more worried about their phone than the poison ivy bush they’re about to step in.”
One of the more concerning (and sad) consequences of technology at camp was the fact that counselors reported that kids did not want to participate in activities like talent shows or dance parties where videos of them might be taken and posted on social media. The fear of embarrassment was just too much.



Other times, it wasn't the campers but the counselors who found it hard to harness their technology. Some officials noted that counselors sometimes used phones or devices so much that it compromised their duties.

Related reading: Parenting Challenges--Resources to Help You Manage Technology, Foster Kindness and Simpify Life

Emotional Benefits of a Technology Break

There was one encouraging note in the research too. Many officials reported that once teens recovered from the initial shock of having no phone for a few days, they were actually eager for the technology break. They said they felt more relaxed without the pressures of social media comparison.

New research backs this up as well. One study found that pre-teens who spent 5 days in an overnight camp without phones, TV or computer had better skills in reading emotions in facial expressions than a same-age control group who did not attend camp. Of course, it's hard to tease apart whether these emotional benefits resulted solely from lack of screen time, time in nature or a combination of both factors. Nevertheless, the benefits of summer camp without screens are clear.

Related reading: Kids' Emotional Intelligence: Why Low-Tech Skills are the Key to Success in a High-Tech World

Besides the obvious emotional benefits, summer camp can also build a sense of resilience in kids as well. Researchers who study resilience have shown that kids who experience tolerable risk gain skills in coping and identity-formation that stick with them for years. Summer camp offers just this type of tolerable risk as kids take on new physical challenges, make new friends, and cope with unpredictable circumstances.

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps
support this blog at no added cost to you.


I can definitely relate to these benefits. Remember that horrible first camp experience?  A couple of years later I went back and had a blast. What would have that first experience been like if I had a cellphone to call or text my mom every day?

Here's an even more important question: what would that second camp experience have been like if I had the chance to call or text every day on the first trip?

You can probably guess my answer. If I had been tied to technology on that first trip, I probably would have never made that second trip. The experience of homesickness, as difficult as it was, was what made the second trip possible. 

As with many things in life, the challenges and struggles are often what make the subsequent happy experiences so wonderful. Put in child development terms, the coping skills and resilience I learned through that week of homesickness are what made me feel confident enough to handle going back to camp the next time.



The second camp trip I remember just like a scene out of The Parent Trap: cabins with lots of tween girls chatting, camp activities that forced us to get beyond our awkwardness like canoeing, archery and yes, even a camp dance. Those are the skills and memories that live on long after the week of summer camp.