Find out how to curb whining and tantrums with four easy steps. Enjoy your kids, don't just put up with them.
Get the inside scoop on what you really need to know when you have a new baby.
Learn the five keys to sustainable self-care so you can be the best you for yourself and for your family.
Modern parenting is a joy but a challenge. We're here to help you accept and problem-solve the painful parts of mommying so you can move on to really enjoying life with your kids, spending less time on your to-do list and more time on the things that really matter.
June 13, 2018
This morning I joined KATU News’ AM Northwest to talk about my new book, The Newborn Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care For Your Infant and Yourself, aimed at new moms. The host, Helen Raptis, asked me to explain the inspiration behind the project, so I laid it all out there (as I always do). Check it out here.
Before I became a mother, I was a pediatrician. I trained at Stanford University, I worked hard and logged countless sleepless nights. Naively, I thought I was ready. Then I entered the world of new moms. To be honest, I entered it with a bit of cockiness. I thought all my training, all my experience, and all my education would make me the perfect mom. At my baby showers, people teased me, “Well, we won’t give you any advice. You already know it all.” I was beyond confident.
Well, you know what they say…pride goeth before a fall.
When my first daughter arrived, she was not easy. I loved her from the moment I met her, but I second-guessed my decision to change my life so drastically within about 1 week of having her. She cried nonstop, spit up constantly, and would not sleep. I can remember rocking her and holding her in the dark for hours, often crying right alongside her. Countless nights, after nursing and shushing and swaddling every 45 minutes to get her calmed, my husband would put her in the car and drive around town in a giant freeway loop. It was the only way to get her settled for any extended period of time.
It was the first time in my life feeling so completely out of control and, eventually, I started to fall pretty deeply into postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety. I would go on a walk to the grocery store, see a five-year-old child with her parent and think, “Wow, it is really amazing that you survived to grow so old.”
That’s when I realized I needed help. I reached out to my fellow pediatrician and other new moms for advice. After a few weeks, I started taking regular chunks of time for myself away from my baby—just small trips to a coffee shop or to the park at first—so I could come back more refreshed. I did a lot of babywearing and talked to my own obstetrician about support and resources for PPD and Anxiety. When possible, I made my husband the soother-in-chief. If I wasn’t breastfeeding, he was in charge. Slowly, I changed and my daughter did, too. As she got older, she got a little easier and I got a little healthier. We emerged from a place of dark hopelessness to—not a perfect rainbow- and pony-filled haven—but to a new manageable normalcy.
I wish, looking back, that I paid attention sooner to the clues that I wasn’t quite myself. I also wish that my partner and my village understood more about what I was going through. They could have more effectively helped me if they had known more about what I needed. I also wish I had the real information I needed to be successful with my infant—information about realistic expectations, about how to take care of myself, and about how to recognize and troubleshoot the tricky, awkward parts of the newborn experience.
That’s why, starting this month, we’re partnering with Postpartum Support International (PSI), a Portland-based organization whose mission is to promote awareness, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues related to childbearing in every country worldwide. They provide support, education, and local resource information for families. Equally important, they offer training for professionals who work with those at-risk for perinatal mood disorders.
Every time you buy a book or an online course, we’re giving 5% of our profits to PSI.
If you are a new mom, you know that this journey called motherhood isn’t very elegant. It’s amazing and, sometimes, it is better than you ever thought it could be. It is also really hard. If you’re expecting, you know you don’t need scary birth or postpartum stories to get you through the first days and weeks with your infant—nope, new moms need real help and real guidance.
Remember, if you are struggling with PPD or Anxiety, you are not alone. Ask for assistance, seek out support. Rely on the others around you. Take a giant step back and take a breath. You are an amazing mom, even if motherhood is not exactly the way you thought it would be.
May 31, 2018
I’d had about enough with the toddler tantrums. My daughter was in some type of angry zone, upset at the world, mad at everyone. She woke up on the wrong side of the bed—again—and we wound up in some spiral tug-of-war of wills. Sobbing, she screamed and refused to brush her hair—I could handle all that. Then she threw a small book at her toddler sister, hitting her in the back and leaving a mark. I felt myself almost lose it. I couldn’t handle the toddler tantrum.
When someone, even someone you love, intentionally hurts your baby, the feeling that surfaces (brace yourselves, it’s about to get real here) is RAGE. I’ve never felt that way toward my own daughter until the book incident ensued. It was a feeling of confusion, of desperation. A feeling that I must be doing this mom thing all wrong, that I need to go to stinkin’ parenting school myself, that I’m a mom fraud.
My initial gut reaction? To scream, be mean back, and move immediately to punishment. I wanted to treat my firstborn like the enemy or a monster.
That’s not what you expected? Me neither. It’s definitely not the picture of a perfect pediatrician, but it is the truth because it turns out, I am human. As it also turned out, I thankfully remembered at that moment, so is she. She is so much more than her toddler tantrum. Well, actually, a little song started playing in my head that helped remind me.
“People make bad choices if they’re mad or scared or stressed. But throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best. True love brings out the best.”
Sound eerily familiar? Yep, the Frozen soundtrack was my saving grace at that moment (I knew that movie would be good for something one day). Seriously, as cheesy as it may sound, that tune has it exactly right when it comes to early childhood behavior and successful parenting. It’s the crux of emotion coaching and of collaborative problem solving: an assumption that all people want to do and be their best but that traumas, circumstances, skill deficits, and developmental immaturities keep them from it a lot of the time. An understanding that our most important parenting goal should be to coach our kids toward desired behaviors, not to punish them for their ineptitudes.
Think about it this way: if you were in charge of a beginning-level soccer team and one player hadn’t eaten breakfast, leaving him without any energy, and he couldn’t run down the field, would you get mad at him or would you feed him? Missed a goal… would you sit him out of the game or would you work on his kicking skills? If he had an incomplete pass, would you run over in the middle of the game and explain in an irritated voice how he failed or would you use the next practice to build his skills? Storming onto the field in a fit of anger would not only be inappropriate, it would be ludicrous.
When you are a good coach, you think about where your player is going, not where they are now. You work with them toward the goals you share, and you consider it your role to teach and guide. We have to think about our parenting in the same goal-oriented way if we want to be successful.
Does that mean we just let our kids run free and wild, hurting others along the way, with no accountability? Not at all. Does that mean we bend to every unhealthy request our kids make? Not in the least. Do we never get angry or upset? That’s impossible. It does mean that we first think of our children as fellow-people, who usually act out based on feelings and needs, not spite.
There is almost always time to stop, get ourselves peaceful, and then move to action.
In those whirlwind moments of toddler and preschool parenting, the fears that we’ve been storing down in the depths make their way to the forefront of our minds quite often. But fears like my child is on a path toward a career as a complete sociopath or my kids will never love each other, while seemingly real in the moment, are hardly ever based in reality. Remember, aiming for perfectly-behaved kids is unrealistic and unfair. We can’t let our fears dictate our in-the-moment parenting responses.
It’s perfectly okay to say to your child, “Mommy feels scared and angry right now. I need to take a second to calm down.” In fact, when we consistently acknowledge what’s going on for us inside and demonstrate how to deal with the raw feelings we have in nonviolent, non-harmful ways, we are showing our kids how they can do the same.
“Jill is frustrated she can’t play with that toy right now” or “Owen is disappointed he can’t have an ice cream today.”
When our kids use inappropriate methods to express their emotions and get their needs met, we help them find an alternative solution. “We don’t hit. We don’t yell at our loved ones and friends. Can you think of another option?”
A book to the back of a sibling? In my house, that is a line we don’t cross. However, time-outs don’t have to be angry, drag-out power-struggles. They can be a chance to help kids stop and get control of themselves. Check out tips from Zero to Five author Tracy Cutchlow on the topic here. If we do set a consequence for an action, we make it logical and attainable (like taking away a privilege or helping to clean up a mess that was made), not far-fetched or punitive for the whole family (“That’s it! No playdates for a month!”).
“You’ll need your hair brushed before we can leave. You want to keep playing right now. What should we do?”
The toddler years are full of magic and wonder, but they can also be full of stress and turmoil. When your kids act like little monsters, first attend to your own emotions, learn to respond versus react, and use tantrums and “bad’ behavior first and foremost as teaching moments—steps along the path to emotional self-regulation and effective problem-solving. If you do, you’ll build a team of healthy, resilient human beings.
May 18, 2018
This month, I’ve been doing a lot. More than I usually do. And I’ve been getting a lot of questions for parenting advice about how I do it. On the surface it looks like I’m up to my ears promoting my book, staying active on social media and writing blog posts. I’ve also had a ton of questions about how I balance a side-business with my full-time physician job and my two young kids.
My secret weapon? The key to my sanity? I don’t do it all. I know that, if I did, I would be unhappy, stressed and, ultimately, not very successful at anything. Instead, I live by five guiding life and task management principles. You can, too, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working woman or a mix of both. Here they are:
Prioritize Your Priorities
This may come as a shock but, it turns out, I am not Beyoncé. I do not have a full staff of assistants working for me, an unlimited budget, or a private jet. Nope, I have a real life with pressures and demands. Some demands and pressures loom a little larger than others, taking up more mental energy and time than they should. Instead of letting those demands run me, I try my best to keep them in check.
The best way to do that? (1) Have a super clear sense of my priorities. (2) Get clear in my own head about, not just what I have to do, but what I want to do. (3) Limit my 100% level efforts to my top three priorities and let the other items on the priority list act as icing on the cake. (4) Be honest comfortable enough in my own skin to care less about meeting others’ expectations of my priorities than about being true to my needs and goals. You can get more information here about our self-care survival guide and other free parenting resources.
Find a Passion
My daughter came leaping downstairs this morning, full to the brim with excitement. “Do you think I could strum my ukulele a few times before school?” she asked hopefully. I had to laugh. Usually, my girl is like a slumbering bear in the early hours (turns out she takes after me in more ways than one)—hard to wake, easily aggravated, and difficult to motivate. But something was different today. We signed her up for ukulele lessons last night and even bought her a used instrument, complete with a small wooden dolphin decoration and sparkles embedded in the paint. She found a passion. And passion changes everything.
Passion makes a difference for adults, too—particularly for moms and dads. Stuck in the day-to-day grind of parenting, the early months and years can feel like a never-evening cycle of drudgery—a song on repeat that keeps playing and playing. Our minds can get stuck in mental overload mode, even though they’re full only of the mundane. We can only take so many diaper changes, feeding sessions or nap attempts.
For me, working on my passion project (running a blog and writing a book) doesn’t really feel like work—it’s self-directed, I can do as much or as little as I want to do and it’s something I care about deeply. The same is true for most people who find a project to get excited about. Maybe your passion project is a cause you want to learn more about or be involved with, even if only virtually. Maybe your passion project is not a project at all—it’s exploring music lessons for yourself or nurturing your love of gardening. It doesn’t matter what it is or how big or small it is—it matters that you have something.
Focus on Your Strengths, Delegate the Rest
I’ll never receive an award for best housecleaner (or even a sixth-place consolation prize). Actually, my housecleaning skills are completely lacking. I’ve come to grips with this not so sad reality. Same goes for keeping close track of late start school days for my kid’s preschool, remembering to walk the dog or making lunches for myself to bring to work. You probably have some “weaknesses,” too. So what? Instead of spinning your wheels on to-do list items you’ll never get to or will never remember, delegate to the others in your house or in your proverbial village. When it’s financially feasible, hire a housecleaner. Put a partner in charge (it will be one of the best moves you ever make). Delegate, delegate, delegate and stop feeling so guilty that you’re not superwoman—no one is.
Take Full Advantage of Technology
Thank goodness we live in a modern world where, for a small fee, we can automate almost everything we do. I would wither on the vine if it were not for autopay and Amazon Prime. I also take advantage of healthy meal kit delivery systems like Sun Basket and One Potato, use my calendar reminders to keep me organized, and “read” almost everything in audiobook form.
Can technology be a negative force in your family, keeping you from spending focused, quality time with the ones you love? Sure it can. You have to treat your smartphone and your computer like the tools they are, not like the distraction they can often become.
Make Time for Self-Care
Ever notice how, when you take a weekend to unplug or even an hour to relax, you’re actually able to accomplish more in the hours or days to follow? Self-care (dedicated time spent caring for yourself—either alone or with others) is never a waste. Quite the opposite. When we re-group, relax or re-focus, we’re able to offer those who depend on us or who partner with us the very best of ourselves. We can be more present and more peaceful.
Trying to do it all or be it all? Please, please don’t. It’s such a waste of energy and it never works out how you hope it will. Something’s gotta give eventually. Instead, identify and live by your priorities, use the resources around you, and work first from your strengths. Your excellent example of imperfect balance will lead the way for your kids to eventually do the same.
May 7, 2018
My house is anything but peaceful these days. The toys seem to multiply on the floor, despite my valiant attempts to keep them organized. The trash and recycling bins fill up with diapers and food scraps the moment I empty them. My kids are at high volume and high intensity most of the time. In fact, I would call it chaotic. With a preschooler and a toddler running around, we have our hands full. Sound familiar?
Last night, my husband looked at me with weary eyes as we attempted to wrangle our girls at dinner. Our littlest was trying with all her might to stand on the table, the eldest whining bitterly about her vegetable options. “Why is it always like this with them?” he asked.
There are moments when I’m brought to tears by a question like that. At times I feel just as discouraged and tired of the constant mayhem our young girls bring to our lives as everyone else. I am by no means perfect at being peaceful. Take last week, when, after explaining to my big girl for about 20 minutes that she needed to pay attention to her sister’s signals and emotions, I almost lost it. (“Honey, when you hug her tightly and she screams in terror, she is trying to tell you she needs space.”)
But, I’ve learned a few parenting tips and tricks to stay peaceful and present when things get hectic (read: most days). Tricks that I wish someone had told me before I ever became a mommy in the first place.
Sure, there are zen master mamas out there who can’t imagine being bothered by the sounds of multiple screaming children. Or worst, multiple screaming children screaming in unison. Those ladies are few and far between. That’s definitely not me—if their tendency is toward calm, mine is toward mental overload. So, for all of us who weren’t born relaxed, getting more responsive to our babies or children (versus reactive) takes a whole lotta effort and practice. Why? It’s EASIER to get all riled up. It’s what our bodies do naturally, as part of a fight or flight response to perceived danger.
The only problem is, when our infants wail or our toddlers flop themselves on the ground in protest, even though it’s not usually an emergency or dangerous, our bodies can’t tell we have a false alarm on our hands. Instead, our bodies do what they normally do when we sense danger—our heart rates go up, our blood pressures rise, we get hyper-focused and intense.
It can take awhile to learn how to do that. So, if you’re a new parent (or even a parent-to-be already worked up about the whole kid thing), don’t throw in the towel right away if it takes you weeks, even months or years to get the hang of it. Read about how to get mindful. Practice, practice, practice. And forgive yourself when you mess up (‘cause you’re, inevitably, going to).
There is absolutely no way for a parent—new or experienced—to parent peacefully without taking care of themselves on a regular basis. Our kids notice when we’re stressed—they feel it, their little neurons pick up on it. They also notice when we’re content, balanced, and relaxed.
Yep, there is no faking it when it comes to setting a good example for our children: self-care takes time, commitment, and a realization that, in the end, we’ll have a lot more family joy if we find joy first ourselves.
Motherhood was never meant to be attempted in a box, by ourselves, without the help of, literally, a village. But, we try too often to muscle through it alone, ignoring the input or the assistance of others. Or, we rely on superficial social media connections. The truth is if you’re going to be a peaceful parent, it’s going to take community—friends, family, or a partner (or all three!)—sharing the hardships and the celebrations of raising small children in real, face-to-face interactions.
So many moms and dads I see in clinic seem shocked as each developmental stage comes along. They are surprised by cluster feeding and colic, worried by stranger danger, and perplexed by toddler tantrums. My best advice? Read ahead! Get a baseline understanding of what’s to come for your child developmentally from reputable sources. If you’re still pregnant, invest in information.
Your baby or toddler may not have all the same challenges as her peers, but she’s bound to have at least some of them! The more you know, the more you will feel empowered and ready to face those “Why are they like this all the time?” moments with confidence.
The chaos in my house is not changing any time soon. When someone asks me how my girls are, I tend to say, “Well, it was touch and go there last week but today we’re all hanging in there.” Because it’s true. And real. And, it’s also true that, in the middle of the hot mess I awake to so often, there’s peace—not around me, but inside. Or at least I’m moving in that direction.
May 4, 2018
Are you freaking out about your infant’s freakouts? Most of us tend to freak out when we have an infant at some time or another!
Listen in as we talk with PDX Parent about our article, out this month on Portland newsstands (released 4/30).
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