September 14, 2019
September 4, 2019
There is a sweet mom who comes to see me every few months at my pediatrics’ office with her two young kids. Every time I walk into the room, she asks me about what I’m wearing. “You always look so stylish and put together,” she tells me. I’m literally laughing my socks off on the inside as she compliments my personal style because there have been so many times I have NOT looked put together, especially in my early parenting days. I was the absolute queen of yoga pants, a shirt with dried breastmilk or pureed pumpkin, and a messy bun when my babies were little. Patients’ families would see me at the grocery store on a Saturday during my maternity leaves and hardly recognize me.
“Dr. Casares?” they would ask, quizzical.
“Yep, it’s me,” I’d respond grinning, still messy from a full night of nursing and diaper changes.
And that’s how it should be. If you’re in the very first months of mothering, just putting your pants on can be a challenging feat, much less trying to color coordinate a blazer and low-heeled booties. When you’re a new mom, you and your baby muddling through is the most important task you have on your list. So what if the house is not perfectly clean and you’re rockin’ sweat pants every day? Appearances should matter least when you’re learning how to keep a small human alive and yourself mentally well in the postpartum period.
When it came time to head back to work, though, I knew finding a low-stress way to present myself positively to the world would matter — not because I needed to dress to the nines or to have perfectly-coiffed hair to be accepted or loved –but because, the truth is, when we “dress the way we want to be addressed” like brand image strategist Toi Sweeney says, we can more confidently face the world (or even just the day).
I work hard at the things that matter in life and I know you do, too. Compared with building resilience in our kids and finding joy as we parent, looking good while we’re doing it barely matters. No matter how unimportant appearances are, though, it turns out they are a necessary evil. I have to wear clothes every day. I have to look professional at my job. Plus, I like to express myself with personal style, both in my home and as I show up socially and professionally. The problem is, particularly when we work, taking care of the way we look can feel like another stressful item on our to-do list. It doesn’t have to be, though.
Here’s how to simplify your shopping and your outfit selections throughout the week:
For years, I organized my closet in a haphazard way. Over time, I spent gobs of money on items that didn’t fit with the rest of my wardrobe. Now I have my clothing arranged by color. Here’s my secret: I don’t include every color of the rainbow. As you might imagine, my personal style reflects the Modern Mommy Doc website style and I dress accordingly, not because I have to but because those colors fit my personality and preferences. Narrowing my color palate also makes it easier for me to get dressed in the morning and makes my shopping more relaxed. I never feel like I have nothing to wear. I can easily mix and match and see where the holes are in my wardrobe.
I’m all for staying off social media as much as possible but I do find making visual boards of personal style extremely useful once in a while. This is not a free invitation to shop online hour after hour or day after day in wistful fashion lust, neglecting your kids and the rest of your responsibilities in the process. This IS an invitation to let yourself browse through Pinterest, seeing what others have curated from the web, saving whatever clothing items catch your eye, even if they are designer pieces that you’d never wear or could never afford. Concentrate on what you like, not on what fits with your current look or your current life, even. Then, look collectively at what you’ve curated for yourself. That’s your style, my dear. Mine is modern romantic, with clean lines paired with more feminine touches.
Once you have your personal style identified, take notice of the stores out there that fit your style, or parts of it. I have three main retailers where I shop online and in-person (though mostly online at this point): Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and a local retailer called Adorn. Nordstrom carries all the basics I need, including shoes, and has a killer Anniversary Sale. Anthropologie carries all the layering pieces or funky items I like to mix in to individualize my style. Adorn has a few more unique pieces and also has an amazing summer and winter sale program.
By honing in on just a few stores that carried several brands that fit me well, with lines that worked with my body type, and whose sizes I knew like the back of my hand, it was easier to shop online at all of these retailers, making my shopping even more streamlined.
By narrowing my shopping to three main retailers, I could also more easily shop their sales, earn rewards, and maintain a more cohesive look. Like my mama, I look for deep discounts so I can buy quality items that will last without breaking the bank. I still browse on vacation in boutique shops for specialty items, and I definitely buy basics like socks or trendy items that may not last even a full season at cheaper shops. The majority of the time, though, sticking with three retailers allows me to spend less in a shorter amount of time on quality items that will last me for years. What modern mama doesn’t want that?
One huge benefit I found when I started color-coding my closet and simplifying my palette was that I started spending significantly less on repeat items I already owned. All that saving freed up significantly more dough for fun accessories and shoes when my budget allowed. Even more importantly, it freed up money for saving toward my long-term life goals and for spending quality time with my kids and my partner.
As we work to win at parenting without losing ourselves, getting more efficient about our shopping and dressing is one of those tasks that can either be full of fun or full of stress, but creating a put-together look doesn’t have to be so complicated. Are there more exciting ways to style yourself? Yes, I’m sure. Do most modern moms I know have time for more as they juggle the rest of their priorities? No way. Follow a few simple guidelines: simplify your color palette, stick with brands and retailers that fit well and save you money, and organize your closet for maximum efficiency so you can get on with the rest of your (way more important) life.
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
August 30, 2019
My husband and I have been going to marriage counseling for awhile now. Every other Thursday, on my day off, when I would rather be sleeping in, I pull myself out from under my perfectly-toasty comforter and drag myself out the door. For an hour, I sit with my husband and try to change unproductive statements like, “When you neglect to take out the trash, you make me mad,” to “When I feel like I’m doing more work or taking more on around the house, I feel lonely. I long for a true partnership where we work together to make our relationship and house run.” It takes a trained professional to help us get there, believe me. The therapy is hard work but it’s always worth it –kind of like a brutal mountain run that kicks your tush but makes you glad you showed up and struggled through to the other side.
It required getting up at 5:30 am to make it happen. I was out the door at 5:45 with a frozen smoothie in-hand for my post-workout refuel, my day-off ripped jeans and bomber jacket uniform neatly folded in a bag. By 7:00, I had showered, blow-dried my hair, and jumped into my car for a quick ride on the highway to our therapy session. By 7:03, I realized I chose the completely wrong route. Traffic was at a standstill. In twenty minutes, I moved 10 feet. There was no way I was going to make it to our 8 a.m. appointment.
I was so frustrated. Each session costs us a pretty penny because we pay out of pocket given limited insurance options for this type of specialist in town. Plus, I knew my husband would also be high-tailing it there. We’d both decided a long time ago that, if we wanted to make our relationship really work, we would have to commit to building into it together, not just with date nights and getaways (though you know I love those), but also by talking about the hard stuff, the stuff that keeps a fifteen-year marriage going.
At 8:14, I reached my destination, ran up the stairs, pushed open the door to the room where my disappointed partner would likely be waiting and…
You read that right.
Our appointment, it turns out, was at 9 am. The man and woman sitting there just kind of looked at me, wide-eyed and my therapist had to come out and explain to me (lovingly, that’s why I like her, aside from the whole speaking truth into my most important relationship thing) that, err, sorry hon but you showed up very much at the wrong time. Nevermind the fact that the poor couple I intruded on probably thought some criminal had just
Why am I sharing this with you? Because life — especially life as a mom — is full of mistakes. And, as I look back on this morning and the part that actually did irk me in the end, it wasn’t that I embarrassed myself in front of total strangers who I’ll never see again, it was that I wasted a bunch of time stressing out over the original mistake I thought I was making — being late for something I really cared about. Even though there was absolutely nothing I could do about my original decision to get on the freeway versus take my usual back-road route, I wasted a full hour wishing my way back to that first turn signal.
The same is true for so many parenting blunders. Whether you are a parent to a 2-week-old infant who misses the first sign of diaper rash or mom to a cranky toddler who’s eventually diagnosed with an ear infection, you WILL make mistakes as you try to navigate developmental stages, regressions, and just plain hard days that come with being a mommy. We all do. The mistakes are not the issue.
The next time you feel like you’ve really messed up –especially in your parenting–take a second to
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
August 12, 2019
This weekend I was so bored. No, seriously, I planned a trip with my family for the express purpose of removing distractions, de-stressing, and getting back to basics.
It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We went glamping in Mount Hood National Forest, away from the city lights and our daily demands. The highlight of our trip came when my daughter and I, bored out of our minds after spending a few hours in a boat catching no fish, decided to go on a hike around the large lake where we were staying.
The first half of our hike was awesome. She pretended to be a horse for the entire first mile, neighing
My body ached but I realized, as we sang our way along the path and I felt the sweat drip down my back, that we were having one of those memorable moments you look back on once your child is grown, those special times you can’t plan, they just happen.
My daughter started asking me questions about how to be a better friend, we had this deep discussion about why her sister annoys her to get her attention, we even talked about some fears she’d been thinking about as she prepares to start the school year again. I carried her some of the way and she skipped, ran, and walked a long portion, too. As we made it to the finish line, 3.2 miles later, I wasn’t thinking about my shoulders or my back, I was thinking about how lucky I was to be the one there to listen when my daughter started talking about the things that really mattered to her.
I was thinking about how, even though I believe staunchly in moms taking time to care for themselves, I also want moms to know how intentionally our kids need us to make room in our schedules for them, too. Our kids may not need us to spend our every waking hour with them but they do us to spend a substantial amount of time with them. A few moments here and there are just not going to cut it. They don’t deserve our leftovers. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg gets real on this subject in his book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens:
“In our harried, over-scheduled lives, we often talk of making quality time for our children. I agree—a few moments, when parents are truly present and undistracted, can be most meaningful. At the expense of saying something unpopular, though, quantity matters too. All parents are stretched to make ends meet and fulfill their multiple obligations, but we need to make available as much time as possible for our children. To some extent, the quality of our time with them is influenced by the quantity of that time. I’m not suggesting that you quit your day job. I am saying that there will be more opportunities to listen if we spend more time with our children. We won’t always be there for the crises, triumphs, or heart-to-heart moments, but the more time we spend with them, the more likely we will be available to listen during a significant moment. Enrichment activities are important, but never forget that time with us is the best way to enrich their lives.”
When we do prioritize moments to intentionally focus on our relationships with our children, practicing Special Time is one of the best ways we can make the most of it. Special Time can mean setting aside twenty minutes per day to remove distractions, get on the floor or sit at the table with our kids, and play. We let our kids lead us, refrain from using any judgement statements (good or bad), and spend time doing what they want to do. [As opposed to
This doesn’t have to be complicated. When your child is a baby, this may be as simple as you getting on your hands and knees next to his activity mat. When he’s a toddler, it can literally mean playing with toys on the floor. Set a timer, turn your phone off—make this time only about you and your child. As your children get older, floor time can morph into mommy-son dates to the coffee shop or mommy-daughter dates to the pool. When we remove the distractions of the outside world and focus just on our children for discrete periods of time they can count on, we build a foundation of memories and mindfulness, ultimately building resilience and connection.
It’s tempting to phone it in with our families when we get home from work or make it to the weekends. Have you ever driven up to your house after a long day at the office, parked in the driveway, and then let out a heavy sigh as you thought about rejoining your kids? Sometimes, whether we like to admit it or not, it’s easier to show up emotionally at work than it is to show up emotionally at home, especially when we’re tired or if our kids are going through an especially rough developmental phase.
Consider taking a few minutes before you walk inside your home to reset, letting the hours that came before you fade into the background as you prepare to greet your kids and spend time with them. Maybe that hesitation to leave your car is there for a reason. It’s a reminder you need to take a beat before you move on to your next commitment. When we arrive home even a little more rested and ready to parent, we’re better at the task.
When the weekend arrives, commit to simplicity. Don’t overschedule yourself or your kids. Leave opportunity and time for spontaneity. Choose family activities that encourage play, adventure or discovery when possible. Avoid stacking games, errands, and appointments when you can. While it’s true that you can’t always choose when your daughter’s soccer games occur, you can choose to only sign her up for soccer, versus soccer and chess and piano and gymnastics, all in the same season. Resist the urge to squeeze in so many activities over the weekend that you and your kids are run ragged by the time Sunday night rolls around. Remember, the best parts of life usually happen in the in-between moments and down beats, when we’re taking it slow.
I’m all for finding contentment wherever life finds us, in using mindfulness to appreciate the beauty of right where we are instead of wistfully wasting our lives away on what we’d rather be doing or need to be doing but, sometimes, having a family happy place can get us through some pretty rough patches. I have two magical family happy places seared in my mind that my brain flips to on the regular.
In one, I’m lying in a hammock on the beach in Hawaii. It’s me and my baby daughter. We’re giggling and softly swaying as we look up at the blue sky and the palm trees. The sound of ukulele music wafts through the air from our condo, where my husband blends homemade Pina Coladas and plates fish tacos from the local food truck.
In the second, I’m snuggled in my bed with my husband and my two kids. We took a day off work. School’s out. We’re playing Stevie Wonder on our Bluetooth speaker. The sheets and the covers feel so soft and snuggly. It’s raining outside and peaceful inside. We’ll probably make waffles at some point. We have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. We’re just here, with our people, in our home.
Snuggling up in my bed is completely realistic. I could have a “four peas in a pod” moment most weekends with my two girls and my husband if I made it a priority. It just probably won’t be as prolonged or as peaceful as I’d like. Inevitably, one of my kids will complain that the other one is taking up too much room, the other one will steal half the covers, my husband will realize the waffle maker is broken and World War Three will break out between my kids as we decide over alternatives like pancakes or French toast.
Swinging on a hammock with my kids on a tropical island takes more effort to achieve but is worth pursuing. Sometimes we need to physically remove ourselves from our day to day lives. Sometimes we need a real vacation.
Plus, getting away—not necessarily to a foreign country or to an island, but to just about anywhere that promotes relaxation, communication, and maybe a little boredom, matters for families, too. Vacations not only allow us to take a step back from the drone of life
Family vacations are an amazing way to model self-care and to get out of our day-to-day grind. This doesn’t have to drain your bank account. Camping and cheap motel beach trips are often just as good, if not better, than high-stress, multi-plane adventures.
Boredom, space, time. Think about how, as you round out this summer, you can take a few more moments than usual for yourself and for your kids to get bored. It’s where all the magic of being a mom happens.
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
July 12, 2019
“Doesn’t it feel amazing to have an hour every once in a while to move and to breath and to just be however you want to be?” That’s what the yoga instructor asked our class this week as I stood, almost shoulder to shoulder, in a crowded room with the heat turned up for an hour-long class. Sweat was dripping off my face as I dove forward, planted my hands on the mat, and scooped my chest up, then back again to downward dog. “In this hour, you get to play. You get to do whatever you want to do,” she continued on above the music and the sounds of coordinated breathing. As I huffed and puffed, it didn’t feel much like playing but I realized as I drove home to my real life and the real stresses that come with it, she was speaking wisdom.
I’ve thought a lot about the power of play lately. It’s a silly word, one that evokes an image of preschoolers mindlessly sifting through sand at the park.
Defining play for hard-working moms is easy. It simply means they take a break from their obligations and their stressors. They think about the activities that make them happiest and they do those things, guilt-free. They sign up for a massage. They go out for a long dinner with their friends. They go to an excruciatingly hot yoga class (I’m not sure why that’s my version of play, but it is). They flop on the couch and binge watch Netflix all night long in a pair of sweatpants. They take a nap. They forget about all the things they have to do and they do what they want to do for a little while.
Sometimes, it means they spend time doing something loud and sweaty and memorable with their partners, like I did last weekend. I know what you’re thinking but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about rocking out to our favorite band at an outdoor music festival, singing along to the lyrics at the top of our lungs as the lights blared down from the stage. Sometimes it means they lose themselves for a second in a shared sunset or a good conversation, washing away their exhaustion momentarily.
I remember being especially exhausted when we made some major changes in our finances a while back. It’s tiring to spend your nights and weekends preparing to get your family moved and settled for a year-long family adventure. Once we fully-transitioned to our new home, there were all kinds of new issues to navigate, both for our kids and for ourselves. Emotions were running high and it was hard to adjust. There were all sorts of moments when we all had to be especially brave as we dealt with a new living environment and a new routine. Playing was not at the top of our to-do list.
No mom I know weaves what makes her happy into an already full life without a major amount of effort. Nevertheless, the most successful moms I know make time to do it. They prioritize play because they know this: if we want to live our lives with intention (including parenting with intention), if we want to approach those hard mommy moments with courage (moments like sleepless newborn nights, toddler tantrums, or moments when our kids’ true selves go hiding), we have to build in opportunities to rest.
Almost every mom I know is tired but ninety-nine percent of new parents I meet — both male and female — are really tired. New parents are earning their bravery stripes day by day by day. They’re learning how to take care of a human being for a first time and, if that doesn’t take guts, I’m not sure what does. If you’re a new mama, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s even easier for those moms to be brave, though, when they get the rest they need. When they’re less physically and mentally tired, they have the energy to handle the challenges that come their way with more perspective and resolve.
Seasoned moms may get the physical rest they need on a more consistent basis but mental rest is quite another story. Just like burnout is real in the workplace,
You cannot and you should not do it all. So what if your house isn’t perfectly kept and your life is not perfectly organized? Choose to concentrate on the things that really matter to you, then let the rest go. The most peaceful parents learn to prioritize early on and they prioritize play.
You are not the only person who is capable of taking care of your kids. If you have a partner, share your parenting responsibilities with that partner. Work toward parenting as a team. Give your partner the space to take care of him or herself and be committed to taking care of yourself.
Resting is not selfish. Playing is not selfish. Yes, our kids need our focused attention at regular intervals but they don’t need us to be with them all the time. Caring for the people we love most is about setting aside moments to be together, looking for our kids’ deeper needs, and approaching motherhood as less of a perfect balancing act and more of an intentional practice. It’s not about martyring ourselves.
What does it mean to play when we’re busy, burdened modern moms? It means setting down our heavy loads (and handing them off to someone else for a while if necessary). It means paying attention to what we really need. It means taking a break, tipping the scales away from exhaustion and toward bravery, away from burnout and toward joy.
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
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