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Motherhood Hacks: How to Spend More Time on What Matters

POST:

How to Spend Less Time on To-Dos and More Time on What Matters

CATEGORY:

Parents, Toddlers

Date:

June 9, 2020

I have a lot going on — two kids, a full-time job, a career speaking and writing— and I get asked all the time how I do it all. The answer is, I simply don’t. I can’t. I learned a long time ago that I absolutely, positively, jump on a soap box and shout it from the rooftops, CANNOT do everything.

Why? Because I have really important things TO get done. High on my priority list are things like spending time with my kids, excelling at direct patient care, and helping modern moms win at parenting without losing themselves. Low on my priority list? Things like maintaining a perfect appearance or getting lost in a running to-do list of errands and menial tasks.

I bet you’re like me. You have a limited amount of time in the day and only so much energy to focus on what really matters. Deciding what you’re NOT going to do makes just as big a difference as deciding what you ARE going to do when you’re a modern mom.

Here are the tasks I make a point to NOT spend my time on during the week:

1. Laundry

I hate laundry. As soon as you throw the last load into the dryer, another day’s shirts and pants are ready for a deep clean. Laundry is a never-ending reality at my house with six-year-old into building fairy houses out of mud and a three-year-old with constant watercolor painting plans. If I had a million dollars, I would hire someone to wash and dry and fold (and put away) every single last sock.

I don’t have that kind of money. I’m guessing you don’t either. So, instead of wishing for a laundry genie to magically appear, I’ve decided on another method: I save it all for one day a week. Yes, the clothes pile up in my hampers Monday through Friday. My daughter couldn’t find her favorite pink mermaid skirt last week and had to wear the blue one instead. My husband washed his own pair of jeans. And? We all survived anyway.

What I do Instead:

I save washing, folding, and putting away clothes for the weekends. By consolidating my efforts, I know I can make quicker progress with this necessary-evil chore. I fold clothes while watching comedy stand-up specials Sunday night, adding the more menial task to a more pleasurable activity. I streamline my closet and my kids’ closets so there is less to wash in the first place. I keep seasonal items front and center and leave off-season clothes in another area of the closet. When my kids are older, you’d better bet this will be one of the first items I add to their chores lists. Until then, I’ve minimized its impact on my life.

2. Fancy Meals

I decided a long time ago that making gourmet, three-course meals that could wow Martha Stewart was just not worth it during the middle of the week.

What I do Instead:

My husband is the chef in charge on school days. I’m not great at cooking weekday meals other than spaghetti and meatballs or chicken teriyaki out of a freezer bag. I shine when it comes to holiday meal extravaganzas, but my husband is a weekday whiz in the kitchen. Since he and I both know I would probably succumb to take out every night if he didn’t cook consistently (and because we keep working at being parenting teammates), he wears the chef’s hat in our home most Mondays through Thursdays.

3. A Perfectly-Polished Appearance

I need to look professional at my job and it feels good to express myself with personal style. I like looking my best but I don’t have time to spend an extended amount of time on fashion choices OR on hair and makeup during the week.

What I do Instead:

I have my closet arranged for maximum efficiency and easy access. The night before work days, I pick an outfit, including the undergarments I need and the shoes that will coordinate with my ensemble. That way, even if there is mayhem in the mornings as I coordinate getting two kids dressed, fed, and out the door, I’m not trying to make decisions about my own needs at the same time. Last week, I woke up to a power outage when my alarm went off at 6 a.m. I was SOOOO happy with my practice of planning ahead.

I spend, no joke, about five minutes on my makeup in the mornings, and usually I apply it while I sit in the car after school drop-off, using the sun visor mirror to check my progress. I have two make up bags – one I keep at home with date night products I hardly ever use, and one I keep in my car so I don’t even have to think about bringing it along each morning. I’m going to be honest here: if you’ve seen me on my Instagram stories you know that day to day, my routine is pretty minimal: some foundation, mascara, and a little lipstick. If I have a speaking engagement or a media appearance on my calendar, I’ll spice things up but, otherwise, basic is best in my world.

4. A Bunch of Extracurricular Activities for my Kids

The pressure is on for modern moms to say “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself for our children. Every where we turn, society tells us we’d better sign our kids up for as many activities as possible, look for every educational opportunity available, and make sure to never miss out on a chance for social or academic advancement. It can feel like, if we don’t start RIGHT NOW building our kids’ college application resumes (even if Jacob just barely celebrated his fifth birthday and can’t even tie his own shoes yet), they might not ever hold a meaningful job. Though we know that can’t be right, it still sure feels like it’s true.

Turns out, though, over-scheduling stresses our kids out. Maybe less discussed but equally important? It stresses parents out, too. And, the more stressed we get, the more our kids start to feel it. I get it—there are some busy days we just can’t simplify, but when we’re chronically overcommitted, it creates a cycle of anxiety and dissatisfaction. If there is one teensy-weensy silver lining to us all being more home bound lately with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that it’s giving us a chance to slow down and reprioritize as we look to our future schedules.

What I do Instead:

I focus on one or two weekly non-school activities per kid per season (three max). Mix it up while they are young, if possible, unless they find something they love that they want to stick with. If you can, find one active activity and one more academic or community option (think music class, art class).

For older kids, let them choose from a handful of options, versus demanding that they be involved with a specific activity you really care about. If the coach or teacher is a bad fit, that’s one thing but, if at all possible, try to stick with whichever activity they choose through the season, then switch it up if it’s not working out so you can help foster a little perseverance and commitment.

5. Tasks Others Can Do Just As Well as I Can (or Better Than I Can)

Remember: you are not the only person who can take care of your home, your kids, your bills, or your calendar. The running list of tasks that fills your mind all day long—the appointments you need to make, the dry cleaning you need to take in, the groceries you need to buy–is unhealthy, and it steals away your ability to focus on the here and now.

What I do Instead:

I reduce my mental load by simplifying the number of tasks I have, either by getting rid of them or by delegating them to someone else (including my kids).

This is an area where, if you’re parenting with a partner, working hard at building a team mentality makes a huge difference. Maybe your significant other LOVES vacuuming but hates making school lunches. Thinking about ways to divide and conquer according to areas of strength (or just lesser detest) can help reduce resentment and build a parenting partnership mentality. Not everything has to be fifty:fifty, you just don’t want the scales to always be tipped toward you in the household management department.

The Bottom Line

Every mom you know either pushes herself to the brink to “do it all” or purposely decides she WILL NOT. The ones who choose to not do it all make it happen either 1) because they have the means to financially outsource everything (not realistic for the other 99.9 percent of us), or 2) because they’ve had some real conversations with their partners (or others in their personal village) about being a team, or 3) because they’ve made a conscious decision to let some things go while they go all in on what really matters. For those of us without infinite resources, this is about intention and prioritization.

If we want to avoid burnout, mental overload, and that deep feeling of resentment that so commonly comes these days with motherhood, we have to learn how to prioritize, not just the things we need to accomplish, but also the things we value.

I’m spending my precious resources on the things that matter most to me, and I’m letting the rest fall to the very bottom of my list.

Motherhood Hacks: How to Spend Less Time on To-Dos and More Time on What Matters

How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child with Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Babies

POST:

How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child

CATEGORY:

Babies, Toddlers

Date:

March 9, 2020

Everywhere you look, someone’s trying to sell you on ways to get your baby smarter, or to capitalize on their existing genius. “Buy this fancy playmat, guaranteed to raise IQ. Purchase our video program, designed to make your baby a complete wiz. Want your baby to get into Harvard? We’ve got just the thing.” Yeah, smart would be good, we tell ourselves.

There’s a billion-dollar baby industrial complex out there, designed to, you guessed it, make other people money, and to prey on our desire to be the best parents possible…and to raise kids who are the most successful possible. Commercialism threatens our ability to focus on what matters and to live in contentment every day with our kids. Which begs the question, what is the true measure of success? You can read our definition here.

This week on the podcast, John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, joins us to talk about the science behind intelligence and about what truly makes babies really smart…in the ways that actually matter.

His ideas about what constitutes intelligence might surprise you…and relieve you. Turns out we have a lot more control over how our kids turn out (at least in terms of their emotional intelligence) than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. Hint: our relationships with our partners and the other adults in our parenting village have a ton to do with it.

How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child with Dr. John Medina

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Pick it up in Stores and Online March 17, 2020

How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child
traveling with young kids, balancing home and work life

POST:

How to Travel with Young Kids

CATEGORY:

Babies, Toddlers

Date:

February 24, 2020

This week on the podcast, we’re welcoming jetsetter and Instagram influencer Brianne Manz to talk all about how to travel with young kids – making trips not just tolerable but also enjoyable. Taking family trips are SOOOOO important – and even if you are doing it on the cheap, you can create amazing memories together. Some of the best moments we’ve had as a family have been cozied up on a blanket at the beach with grocery store provisions or roasting marshmallows over a campfire. As per our usual on the podcast, we’re keeping it realistic and grounded, realizing that “no good trip goes unpunished,” as my pediatrician colleagues always say.

Brianne is also sharing her experience with developing a business from the ground up, and following your dreams even if you’re not sure exactly what direction they’ll take you. Brianne’s website, Stroller in the City, is total eye candy for those who love to travel.

Brianne primarily works out of her home and on the go, so she has had to learn early on how to balance work life and home life in the same space, a feat I’m entirely in awe of. We also talk all about how to get your work done the most efficiently if you run your own small business (like she and I do) and how to give yourself a break when you’re feeling unbalanced. If you work out of your home, this episode is chock full of professional wisdom for you, Mama.

Missed a Modern Mommy Doc Podcast episode?

You can catch them all here:

Want to Read the Book?

It’s in Stores and Online March 17, 2020

Motherhood hacks and tips, behavior tips for toddler moms, toddler behavior management, emotion-coaching

POST:

Motherhood Tips | Working Through Your Kids’ Complicated Emotions (and Your Own)

CATEGORY:

Toddlers

Date:

June 25, 2019

I still remember the weekend I packed up all my belongings, cleaned out my house, and hauled everything across town a while back. We were setting up camp for one year at my parents’ while we rented out our space to a lovely family from The Netherlands. It was all part of a master plan to pay off remaining student loan debt that we just couldn’t seem to wipe clean without some major overhaul, even after fifteen years of working full time and making monthly payments.

They say moving is one of the most stressful life events — right up there with getting married and starting a new job. I knew parts of it would be rough when we made our decision to go all out on debt repayment but I also knew we had to make a major shift in our financial plan if we wanted to ever feel a little more free. Once we signed on the dotted line, there was a lot to do to make it all happen, from arranging cleaners to buying UHaul supplies and getting everything packed up in time.

I wasn’t trying to Type A myself through this major life change, but I sure was good at it. I made the checklists. I checked off all the boxes. It felt good to be organized. Even so, two months after accepting our tenants, making child care shifts, and getting everything else arranged in a logical manner, it all hit me full force emotionally.

It hit my kids, too.

All their toys were in boxes and half the rooms in our house became off-limits last week to accommodate drying touch-up paint. My girls tried their best for about two hours the morning their playroom was cordoned off to find something else to do. The fix it guy maneuvered around them, trying to avoid their antics as I unsuccessfully encouraged them to get creative. Then one of my girls hit some kind of behavioral limit. A shoe was thrown. Some hair was pulled. There was an all-out screaming event held by the toddler. She should have charged admission it was so dramatic.

I piled them in the car, understanding full-well kids sometimes express their frustrations and stress in less than ideal ways.

“Let’s go to the berry farm,” I said, imagining myself peacefully meandering through rows of blueberry bushes with a wagon of equally-serene children behind me. “We can grab some lunch on the way.”

The kids were ecstatic, ready to spend a more enjoyable afternoon with a less distracted mom. We stopped at our favorite burrito bowl place, adding three lemonades to the order just because. I could feel the mood lift, my littlest now happily skipping along, holding my hand. She swung herself up onto my arm, making monkey noises as she attempted to climb me. The drink carrier tipped as I tried to set it down on the sidewalk so I could rearrange my crew and our food. Off we went again, past the shops and other families enjoying their days.

I’d almost made it to the car when the first lemonade fell out of the carrier, tumbling to the ground as my daughter tried again to use my body as a jungle gym, despite my admonishments. I set the carrier on the hood, presumably safe from mishap while I strapped everyone into their car seats and took a big breath.

I let my guard down too soon, though. The second lemonade made its downward turn as it slid across the wet hood, exploding like a yellow bomb as it hit the pavement. I grabbed the carrier just before the final cup met its demise, only to have the lid flip off when I tried to set it into my cup holder. Before I could catch it, a sweet, sticky film covered the console. It splashed onto the passenger seat and down to the floorboards.

Lemonade was everywhere. Everywhere.

I felt a low, guttural sound come from somewhere around my mid-chest.

And then I felt myself start to cry.

This was not a controlled, adult, tears around my eyes kind of sniffle. It was a full-on, body shaking, sobbing into my steering wheel kind of cry—the kind that makes your kids really quiet, the kind that makes you really quiet after five seconds because you realize you are surrounded only by the sound of silence. It was only spilled lemonade but somehow it meant more.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” My oldest whispered.

“Yeah, mom, only kids are supposed to cry,” I heard my baby girl quip.

“No, mommies can cry,” she responded. “Especially when they’re having a hard day. Mommy is having a hard day. All of her lemonade spilled and it ruined the car. And we’re moving, Sissy. Moving can be very hard.”

“Oh, yeah,” she answered back. “It’s okay for adults to cry about that. Don’t worry mommy, it will be all right.”

I sat listening to my very young children have a very grown-up conversation about the way life works as I pulled myself together. I looked back at them, feeling a little sheepish that the only adult in the car was having the most difficulty being wise. I saw their earnest faces smiling back at me and I remembered this truth:

Our children learn just as much from our real emotions, from our in-the-moment mistakes, even from our flat-out parenting failures, as they do from the scripted, controlled learning experiences we arrange or manipulate for them.

When they see us being vulnerable about the way we feel, they can be honest about the way they feel, too.

Now that I was a bit more composed, I explained myself:

“You know, mommy is really excited about our move and what that’s going to mean for our family—that we’re working on a goal to spend more time together and to be stronger as a team. You’re right, though. All the little parts and pieces that have to come together to make this move happen are sometimes overwhelming. Those lemonades falling—one after another—was what they call ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Every once in a while your body needs you to just let your emotions out a little so they don’t keep getting bottled up. When you least expect it, sometimes the kettle lets off a little steam. Just like that happens for you guys sometimes, it happens for mommy, too.”

I watched their little heads nod, like old sages. My kids are not always that attentive but at that moment they sure were. I had a captive audience, maybe because I shocked them a bit with my sob-fest but, hopefully, also because they truly know that feelings are okay.

They know they’re loved no matter what their emotions, however mixed up they feel. They know it’s all right to work through all the complex feelings that come with making big changes. They know it’s okay for things to be not all bad, not all good, but somewhere in-between. When you are authentic with your kids, they learn that authenticity is something to be desired.

Now, let’s not take this too far. I’m not suggesting you let your kids in on every deep, dark emotion you ever have, or that you overshare your mental play by play on the regular. Obviously, sobbing through our days is neither productive nor healthy for our children. What I am suggesting is this: it’s important to let our kids learn how to be strong and brave, to get past their fears, to build resilience.

It’s equally important that they learn how to be vulnerable.

I’m suggesting we show them that when they’re weak, they’re still lovable—that they’re still strong, even when they don’t feel like they are—that accepting and working through our emotions is another form of developing that all important “grow from your struggles” skill, that they’re part of a community that loves them no matter what.

The dinner table replay of the day’s events was pretty epic that evening, but what was most impressive was the way my kids jumped in as I summarized the story to my husband. He sat there wide-eyed as I recounted the tumbling drinks, the lemonade bath, and the crazy conversation that ensued.

“Mommy lost her marbles a little bit this afternoon,” I laughed to my husband.

The toddler piped up quickly as she slurped her noodles off the fork. “Yeah, but we helped her find them again.”

Yes, baby girl. You sure did.

Want more help winning at parenting without losing yourself?

Check out our self-care and newborn care courses.

Know a mom-to-be who could use some help caring for herself and her little one?

Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.



behavior tips for toddlers, toddler behavior management and emotion-coaching, motherhood hacks

Toddler tantrum: parenting 101, raising children, How to treat your child like a human when she's acting like a monster

POST:

Top Tips for Toddler Tantrums | How to Treat Your Child Like a Human When She is Acting Like a Monster

CATEGORY:

Toddlers

Date:

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.

How I initially handled the toddler tantrum:

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.”

How to help your child through their toddler tantrum in a better way:

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 (want tips on exactly how to do it? sign up here for our free toddler tantrum guide). 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.

Becoming your toddler’s coach:

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.

Here are my top tips for toddler tantrums:

We remember that, in 99% of cases, our children’s behaviors do not constitute emergencies.

There is almost always time to stop, get ourselves peaceful, and then move to action.

We reality check our deepest fears and disappointments.

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.

We own our own emotions and role-model healthy ways to deal with those feelings that rise to the surface when we’re triggered.

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.

We broadcast and emotion coach.

“Jill is frustrated she can’t play with that toy right now” or “Owen is disappointed he can’t have an ice cream today.”

We set firm limits and rules about what is ok and what is not.

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?”

We use time-outs sparingly and natural consequences wisely.

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!”).

We allow, whenever possible, our children to brainstorm their own solutions.

“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.

Want more tips on dealing with toddler tantrums? Sign up for our FREE Toddler Tantrum Game Plan here.

Want more help winning at parenting without losing yourself?

Check out our self-care and newborn care courses.

Know a mom-to-be who could use some help caring for herself and her little one?

Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
parenting hacks, parents guide to tantrums

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