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Working Mom Tools | How to Find an Amazing Child Care Provider

CATEGORY:

Babies, Parents

Date:

November 11, 2019

You’ve made a work-through-your-emotions-when-you-go-back-to-work plan, you’ve thought about how you’re going to feed your baby when you’re back on the job. Now, who’s going to watch your little one? What about child care?

If you’re like most modern moms out there, the thought of leaving your baby in the arms of someone else, anyone else is pretty daunting. The good news? It doesn’t have to be.

I had the world’s best nanny for my kids for my first five years of parenthood. She was an amazing childcare provider. I didn’t find her by luck, though (okay, there was probably a little luck). I found her by design. And, whatever childcare situation you’re looking for — in-home one-on-one care, a child care center, care from a family member — you can do the same.

As a private practice pediatrician, new and expecting parents ask me often about what type of setting is best for children—child care, family care, or in-home nanny care. My answer is never black-and-white because, like almost all things in life, it depends.

I care most about quality, and in my book, quality child care provides a safe space where kids can build deep, one-on-one connections with their caregivers and peers and is a place where kids do not get sick all day, every day (very important for all working parents).

The program or person also needs to provide the level of flexibility you need. Finally, you want the adults caring for your child to have the same parenting goals and values you do, backed by a working knowledge of the core principles of successful caregiving.

You don’t want them to try too hard to focus on a set “curriculum” for your children. Instead, you want them to provide opportunities for exposure to lots of books, music, one-on-one communication, and exploration. This could be in the care of a child care center, an in-home child care setting, a nanny, a nanny share, a friend, or a relative.

My top picks are nannies, family members, and in-home child care settings for young kids. Once kids reach preschool age, the need for structure and social skill development outweighs the home care aspect. At that point, a mix of preschool and sitter/nanny is my top choice. Of course, budget often comes into play, and traditional child care settings with quality, reliable caregivers are a great option too.

Child Care Centers

When you set out to find a child care center, start by talking with other parents in your area. Chances are seasoned parents will start recommending child care centers once their own kids are ready to start the next level of school in the fall. Depending on your location, you may need to get onto waiting lists early (eg, as soon as you’re pregnant; I know, we live in a competitive world). It’s never too soon to start researching.

Look for child care centers that share these goals for your kids, giving care in a way that helps kids.

• Contribute to society.

• Find contentment in their work and play.

• Form healthy relationships.

• Build resilience.

Consider the possibility of increased risk of illness. A child in child care will be exposed to more germs daily than a child in a one-on-one or nanny share setting just because of the sheer number of other children she’s around. Yes, over time that can contribute to a stronger immune system, but, for some families, it can mean a world of hurt every winter. Every child is different—some kids seem to skate by without a cold or rash—but it is a recurring theme.

Even though a nanny or smaller in-home setting can seem more expensive on the surface, your cost-benefit child care analysis should also account for potential days of work missed caused by your child’s illnesses if he’ll be in a group care setting. In my profession, it’s not impossible to take a day off, but it is a huge inconvenience to my patients and to my business partners. So that I can avoid missed workdays, I look for ways to avoid my kids catching major illnesses in the first place.

Nanny Care

Likely because I’ve had such a good child care experience personally, friends and patients ask me consistently where to find a good nanny.

The answer: there are a ton of places to look for quality caregiver suggestions—online caregiver search sites, friends, family, coworkers, social media groups, and even professional nanny companies. On the websites specifically designed for finding care, they’ll make it easy for you to go through all the steps—they’ll allow you to create a profile and a job posting where you then filter through applicants and set up in-person interviews. 

From there, you can sign up for a paid trial during which the caregiver cares for your child for just an hour or so while you’re still in the house so that you can make sure you feel comfortable.

Here’s the secret, though: it’s not about where; it’s about how. It doesn’t matter what site you use or what friend makes an initial suggestion. It matters what process you go through to attract, evaluate

Click here for my best strategies for finding an amazing nanny.

Family and Friends

Friends and family can also be amazing pinch-hit caregivers or caregivers for extended trips. If you have an open, honest relationship with a family member you trust, that person can also work well as a full-time nanny. The obvious bonus? Free care (or at least significantly reduced cost). The downside? For many parents, establishing long-term care with a family member can be more complicated than a traditional child care arrangement because there is no formal employer-employee relationship. The best way to address this is to set up expectations for what your needs are and your kids’ needs are and to let the chips fall where they may (as long as there are no major safety violations) if things aren’t to your exact specifications.

Paid caregivers will also vary in their willingness or ability to meet your expectations, but it’s a little easier when dealing with an employee because you are paying employees. If it doesn’t work out, you can usually end or alter your relationship with significantly less dramatic fallout. If the caregiving prowess or style doesn’t quite measure up, you can choose to find someone new without the emotional considerations that come with personal relationship negotiations.

On the flip side, it can be difficult for friends and family to understand or respect your boundaries or your parenting style. Sometimes you have to make a hard decision—is it worth it financially to muddy the friend and family waters and if it is, will you be able to let go of the smaller things that irk you?

The Most Important Caregiver Consideration

Feeling stressed as you tackle this topic? Don’t be! Focus on finding experienced, quality providers. Like most things in life, what really matters when it comes to child care is that you feel comfortable and confident with your choice. The exact location or setup—child care, nanny care, or family care—matters less. Child care centers and nannies can be great options, but just make sure you find quality caregivers who share your goals and values—that is most important. Finding a nanny or caregiver can be stressful, but it’s also very exciting. You’re building your village; you’re hiring the person who will be there for your kids alongside you, nurturing, guiding, and caring for the person or people you love best. You’ll find amazing people waiting in the wings to work with you.

Know a mom-to-be who could use some help caring for herself and her little one? Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.

Tips for new parents with first baby finding child care providers and resources

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Working Mom Tools | How to Make the Most of Your Breast Pumping Efforts

CATEGORY:

Babies, Parents

Date:

November 4, 2019

Last week, we talked about heading back to work after your maternity leave, including the emotional ups and downs that come with that monumental transition. This week is focused exclusively on lactating moms who want to maximize their ability to pump while at work. It’s time to talk about breast pumping.

For those moms who are breastfeeding at home during maternity leave, the transition to breast pumping can be daunting.

Here are my best tips for making breast pumping successful:

1. Go Back to Lactation

Even if you feel like you have the “breastfeeding from your breast” thing down, breast pumping successfully is a whole other ball of wax. When you’re home all day with your baby during maternity leave, your milk supply is often at its best. Once you go to work, and are pumping consistently, that decreased stimulation to your nipples can sometimes affect your milk production. Meeting with a certified lactation specialist can help guide you as you make the transition to more pumping throughout the day. 

Yes, social media groups can seem helpful when you start breast pumping, giving you tips and tricks and support that don’t come in the pump manual but remember that the members’ advice is usually based only on their personal experiences. Instead, think about returning to a certified lactation specialist to guide you on this next part of your breastfeeding journey. Probably most importantly, the lactation specialist can measure you for the correct phalange size if you haven’t done this already—a critical step for making sure you don’t injure your breasts or nipples in the pumping process and that your pumping sessions are efficient. Set your appointment up for about one month before you go back to your job, if possible.

2. Get a Good Pump 

If you’re planning on breast pumping a lot, you’re going to want to invest in good equipment. It is important for the breast pump to be a “double-electric” pump, which means you can pump both breasts at the same time, and it has an electric motor, preferably with an adjustment for different suction levels.

It also needs to work with a breast pump system, which means it’s compatible with bottles for feeding, bottles for storing milk, cleaning supplies, cooler bags, freezer bags, and so on. You want all of this to work seamlessly together so you don’t waste your priceless time jerry rigging a ton of junk together.

One hidden consideration? Your pump needs to have easy-to-find replacement parts. Most of the major brands out there should qualify. If your pump parts are not online or readily accessible at the store, you’ll be frantic when you really need a pump accessory and you can’t find one.

Most importantly—and this is not emphasized enough—you need something that is going to be portable.

When I had my first daughter, I had this huge pump that needed to be plugged into a wall at all times in order to work. I quickly switched over to one that had extreme portability. (Note: for some moms with production issues, the pump efficiency is the most important factor, making other considerations seem frivolous. Follow your pediatrician’s and lactation specialist’s advice.) Whichever setup you choose, most important is that you set it up and have it all sterilized before you have your baby. This is an awesome task to assign to a partner, but you’ll be using it, so make sure you have a working knowledge of the pump yourself.

3. Buy Extra Parts

Have a spare set of pump parts at work, a set in your pump bag, and a set at home. You will forget something important one day and be so happy for the spare. In the same vein, carry a manual pump to use in a pinch. Even more critical, if you have a pump that has to be plugged in, buy a compatible, rechargeable battery pack. Believe me, in the case of a power outage or a lack of power outlets, you will be happy you followed my advice. On the other hand, if you plan at all on traveling with your pump to conferences or for a getaway weekend, it pays to invest in a portable pump that doesn’t require plugging in at all.

4. Do a Trial Run

Before you ever go back to work, consider a half-day breast pumping trial. Have a childcare provider (or a family member) stay with your baby for half the day while you learn how to pump and store your milk. Whatever your set up will be at the office, try to mimic the environment as much as possible. If you’ve arranged for a gradual return to work, this is an ideal way to get your feet wet as you start out. If you’re starting at full speed it’s even more important to try out your pumping gear ahead of time.

5. Start Early Enough to Avoid Bottle Refusal 

Slow flow, fast flow, vented, preemie—the possibilities seemed endless on the baby store shelves when moms-to-be are pregnant, trying to pick out bottles, already planning for their return to work postpartum. There’s a lot of information out there on bottle feeding. Unfortunately, though, there are hardly any forewarnings about how to help babies take a bottle once they’re already established exclusive breastfeeders. The lactation specialists I work with frequently see moms heading back to work who never bottle fed at all during maternity leave, or who tried it a few times early on, called it good, but then struggled once they started back on the job. 

To reduce the chance of bottle refusal, try bottle feeding early and often, as soon as your baby isone month old (once latch and feeding patterns are well-established).

Not only does it help baby get used to drinking apart from you, it also gives you the opportunity to get small tastes of freedom early on in the “dog days” of infancy when separating yourself from your infant feels magical. 

When you do use the bottle, try one of two ways.

First, try mimicking breastfeeding, holding your baby cradled in your arms like she’s nursing—maybe even starting with the breast in her mouth then swiftly swapping your nipple out for a bottle (hopefully) before she notices. If your baby is on to you, looking up with a quizzical look and spitting out the silicone nipple, try for the opposite: hold her facing outward, maybe looking up at a fan or outside at the birds in the sky, and sneak the bottle to her lips while she’s distracted. In this approach, you’re trying to make bottle feeding completely different from breastfeeding. 

Don’t be thrown off by a little resistance.

Being at the breast is different from being at the bottle. The rhythmic letdown is different, the feel in the mouth is different. Some babies just will not do it at first. If your child fights the bottle, take a second to breathe before becoming flustered. Most babies who refuse the bottle in the first few days after mom goes back to work get the hang of it relatively quickly (even if it feels like forever to their mothers). 

Working and Pumping

Yes, breast pumping while you work is, for most moms who breastfeed, a task that’s just no fun but you can make the most of your time with your pump by getting help, getting effective gear, and planning ahead.

Look for our Working Mom Tools blog next week on choosing a childcare option that works for you and your baby!

Know a mom-to-be who could use some help caring for herself and her little one? Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.

Breast pumping tips for working moms with newborns, new babies who are breastfeeding

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Modern Mommy Hacks | How to Make a Self-Care Plan You’ll Actually Stick With

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

October 11, 2019

Earlier this week, I had a hard day in my pediatric office.  I was on my game, trying my best, providing the best care possible. It didn’t matter. When you’re a pediatrician you deal with sick kids and their understandably anxious parents day in and day out, making a few hard ones here and there inevitable. My medical assistant and I hustled as we tried to make sure everyone was taken care of.

We spent all day seeing well and unwell kids, making phone calls to specialists, and rearranging schedules when patients came late, needed more time, or had extra questions. Despite our best efforts and our commitment to top-notch customer service, stressors and time constraints meant we couldn’t please everyone perfectly. I kept up my determination to stay present and mindful, though, looking for opportunities to make connections, set realistic expectations, and think ahead about potential dissatisfiers. My assistant and I weren’t perfect but we were proud of ourselves as we ended the day. 

By the time 6 p.m. rolled around and I shut down my computer, I was exhausted.

I headed home, letting my early 2000s throwback playlist melt away the day. It was time to get myself out of work mode and back into family mode because, even though the day had been hard, my kids didn’t know that…and they wouldn’t fully understand it if I showed up irritated and weary when I walked through the door. I mean, they would have said they were sorry for me if I had laid out the whole day’s events for them, but they have their own needs at the end of the day—a need to connect with the working parents they’ve been separated from for the last 9 hours. It’s not up to them to take up less space in my life when work threatens to take up way too much.

I let Justin Timberlake ease the day’s pains as I cruised down the freeway. 

The door opened as I turned the handle and two excited voices shouted, “Mom’s home!” As my eldest read to me proudly from her chapter book and showed me her “Life Cycle of a Mealworm” art project (oh, how I miss first grade) and my youngest climbed into my lap, I felt my body sinking into my chair—no longer from fatigue but rather from relief. I was back to my happy place. Work can be my happy place, too, but on that day, Home won hands down.

Why didn’t I feel even more tired as two more souls started scrambling for my attention and begging for my focus? Why did that energize and calm me, all at the same time? Because, my friend, knowing that chaos is inevitable in my work life and in my home life, I planned ahead. I took the time I needed that morning before the day got going to take care of myself. I prioritized self-care preemptively because I knew that I would be taking care of everyone else later on. 

A Self-Care Schedule You’ll Stick With

I follow a set self-care schedule. It’s even on my calendar. I attend my self-care appointments just like I would any other appointment. 

That’s why, at 6 am that morning, I was at the gym, riding on a stationary bike to Lizzo, the lights turned down low, the music turned up loud, my heart beating strong in my chest, covered in sweat, feeling alive.

This is not about self-indulgence— taking care of ourselves is not just talking about massages and pedicures (or even lively exercise classes), though those are really amazing when they happen. This is also not about putting another thing on our to-do lists, something to check off or add to our mental overload. This is about getting intentional around taking dedicated time to stop, regroup, and refocus before moving on to yet another obligation or commitment that is about everything and everyone else in your life but you

What is something you can do about every other day, almost every single week to take care of yourself? Of course, there are weeks you may do absolutely nothing for yourself, but if you can commit to three times a week most weeks, it will be often enough that you stick with it and it will become a routine. If you can get to your activity more often, awesome, but three times a week is a great start.

I schedule my self-care this way:

  • One weekend morning
  • One weekday evening or weekday morning when my husband is with our kids
  • One weekday evening or weekday morning when a caretaker is with our kids

I’ll be honest. I have weeks where none of these three days happen. There are days I have to squeeze time in for myself at the very end of the day. Still, I come back to this schedule time and time again. Remember, this is not about checking off boxes. This is about thinking about how much time you’re willing to give yourself and what you would do with that time if you had it.

Exercise is the activity I choose most often for my “self-care appointments.”

Physical fitness can give you the chance to deepen your social connections, be mindful, and set goals for yourself. Meditation also checks many of those same boxes but there is something valuable in moving our bodies as a way to clear the mental and physical cobwebs away.

Maybe exercise is not your thing. My husband prefers setting aside time to go to football games with his buddies or heading out to a restaurant with close friends. Your version of self-care could be sitting quietly looking out at a view or at a coffee shop reading a magazine. Choose a routine that works for you, not that fits other’s expectations or sounds good to everyone else. This is not about them, it’s one hundred and eighty percent about you.

My self-care schedule takes six hours a week, sometimes less, but it makes all the difference in the world. And, I find the more I commit to spending a few regular, dedicated hours on myself throughout the week, the easier it is to find other opportunities, even small moments, to slow down and focus in so I can continue to keep pace with my life (for more on how to simplify things so the pace of your life isn’t so fast, click here). 

Is Self-Care Selfish?

You may be thinking (or have been taught by someone else) that taking care of yourself, especially as you mother, is selfish or frivolous, but we all know that’s just not true. Self-care is about survival. I know I get antsy, anxious, and downright ornery when I don’t have enough breaks. As moms, we’re overwhelmed and overburdened when we minimize our need to reset.

This is why I choose not to live a frantic, harried martyr’d kind of life whenever possible. Some of our stresses as moms, particularly working moms like me, are inevitable because society is still stuck in antiquated policies and paradigms. Some of our stresses won’t change because our kids are at a particularly difficult age or are struggling with something that just takes time to work through. Some are wholly dependent on our finances or a lack of support from those around us, even (more than occasionally) those who co-parent with us. So many of our stressors, though, can be mitigated by prioritizing well and by taking control of the way we use our time and resources

The Best Moments Deserve Our Best Focus

I don’t want the best moments of my life, the ones I’ll remember forever, to be lost to glazed eyes and exhaustion. I don’t want to give myself or my kids my leftovers, the dregs of my day, the crumbs that are left after I take care of everything else.  Let’s be intentional enough with our time so we don’t miss out on the moments that matter. 

advice for moms of toddlers and infants for exercise and self-care



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.

POST:

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

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

September 30, 2019

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 soapbox 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:

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 for his two-day getaway trip with the guys. 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.

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.

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 three 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.

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.

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.

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. For example, I’m not good at cleaning houses. My housecleaner is. She’s faster at it, she’s better at it, and she doesn’t look like a tornado hit her when she’s done with it. That’s why I pay her money to take care of the number one task (besides laundry) I don’t need or want to do. Hiring a housecleaner reduces my stress, forces me to organize my house the night before she arrives each week, and gives me back my precious time, so I can spend it on more important things, like anything else.

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.

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, 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 away.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of feeling like, if I don’t personally handle every single thing for my home or my family, it just won’t get done. I’m also tired of feeling like if I don’t look perfectly put together or if my house is a little on the messy side, I’m “less than.” In fact, I’ve decided that just will not be my story. I’m sick of that story for other moms, too, but it’s a story that won’t be unspun unless we tackle the deeper issue at play: the unspoken societal expectation that we’ll, as moms, carry all the weight of our families to-do list responsibilities and that somehow appearing overburdened makes us appear like better moms.

That’s a story that is not only unfair and untrue, it’s also unrealistic. (Please know I realize there are plenty of “we’ve got it all dialed in on the teamwork thing” or “I do it all myself and I like it that way” or “gender norms aren’t at play in my household” families out there. If that’s you, I’m giving you air high fives from my laptop as I type.)

Here’s the Truth

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 and the ways we spend our energy and our time. I’m spending my precious resources on the things that matter most to me, and I’m letting the rest fall away.

Photo Credit: Kimberli Ransom Photography

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.

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

POST:

Modern Motherhood Tools | How to Give Your Kids the Space They Need to Be Needy

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

September 14, 2019

My youngest daughter built quite the reputation for going with the flow over her first three years of life. She’s not needy. On a 72-hour whirlwind holiday trip to my in-laws last Thanksgiving, she, literally, was just along for the ride, sitting happily in the back seat as her older sister dealt unsuccessfully with hours of stationary boredom. As a baby, she easily slept through the night and barely cried when her diapers were stinky. As a young toddler, she was cheerful and funny, always holding our attention with her lighthearted antics and roll with the punches attitude.

She also kept it together as my husband and I dealt with her older sister’s needs.

My eldest struggles with severe anxiety—for much of her young life it kept her from enjoying a lot of her childhood. Potty training, starting school, meeting new friends—even being at her own birthday parties—was always a lot of hard work for her and for us. Something changed last month, though. We finally made some progress on the behavioral health front with the help of a skilled psychiatrist. She was suddenly less needy. The breakthrough felt like heaven. My husband and I looked at each other, tears welling up in our eyes, as we remarked how different it was to be around our little girl. She was singing in the bath, happy to attend gymnastics class, excited to meet the mascot at the baseball game. We were having more fun as a family and life was a lot easier.

“Who is this kid?” My husband asked.

“It’s your daughter as her true self,” I found myself responding, flabbergasted myself. Then something else happened. As soon as my older daughter got out of fight or flight mode, and started acting more like herself, my younger daughter started acting up.

Drama replaced drama.

At first, I chalked it up to her age. She is just barely three after all and, like every other threenager I know, suddenly has opinions everything, from demanding rainbow over fairy rain boots to choosing only the red vegetables on her plate for a full nine weeks. Then, I thought maybe she was nervous to start preschool after years of one-on-one care with a nanny. It made sense anticipating a new environment might be causing her to be more demanding and unpredictable. My husband and I talked about it with our couples therapist.

“Man, sometimes it feels like when one thing gets better, another thing just gets harder in its place,” I said.

She nodded, obviously thinking things through before she responded. “You know, it’s funny. In family therapy, sometimes we talk about how there’s only so much space in a relationship or in a family. Maybe your daughter isn’t acting out, she’s just finally taking up some space now that there’s a little more to go around.” My jaw almost hit the floor. You know when someone drops mind-blowing knowledge on you at exactly at the right moment for you to actually be able to receive it and accept it? That’s what happened to me.

In that split second, I saw how my sweet, go with the flow little baby had not been easy going ONLY because she was born that way. She had been easy going in part because she HAD to be.

The role was assigned to her. She had somehow subconsciously realized there wasn’t enough space for her to be super needy. She sensed that her sister was taking up a lot of the emotional space in our family. Now that there was more room, she was flexing her high-maintenance muscles just a little bit. The therapist’s words could have made me feel guilty for not being able to give my kids equal attention at all times in the past, but they didn’t. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t lack of love or care that created our family dynamic. You focus your attention where you’re needed most, and when the thing that needs you most is your sobbing, worried, struggling child, you focus if there. You try your best with everything else. No, the therapists’ words brought relief and deep gratitude. This was an opportunity. While I’d immediately seen my older daughter’s freedom from severe anxiety as a huge gift, I now also saw I had another gift — the gift to BE ABLE to focus more on my littlest one.

I had the gift of giving her the space she needed to be needy.

We can’t love our kids exactly equally and we definitely can’t love them perfectly. We can, though, look for the times when they really need us to let them take up a little more room in our schedules or on the balance scales as we determine where to put our energy and focus. We can also pay attention when others are able to see even more clearly into our lives, giving us the perspective that sometimes only an outsider can provide.

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