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.
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.
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, H
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.
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’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.
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).
You may be thinking (or have been taught by someone else) that taking care of yourself, especially as
This is why I choose not to live a frantic, harried
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.
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Grab the book! Out March 17, 2020.
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.
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