POST:

How to Make Time For Your Kids

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

August 12, 2019

This weekend I was so bored. No, seriously, I planned a trip with my family for the express purpose of removing distractions, de-stressing, and getting back to basics. 

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We went glamping in Mount Hood National Forest, away from the city lights and our daily demands. The highlight of our trip came when my daughter and I, bored out of our minds after spending a few hours in a boat catching no fish, decided to go on a hike around the large lake where we were staying. 

The first half of our hike was awesome. She pretended to be a horse for the entire first mile, neighing and trotting along the wooden path. Around mile marker 1.5, though, my little girl got tired. We were too far away from our starting point to turn back easily so we kept on going. By mile marker 1.6, I was carrying my almost six-year-old on my shoulders. 

My body ached but I realized, as we sang our way along the path and I felt the sweat drip down my back, that we were having one of those memorable moments you look back on once your child is grown, those special times you can’t plan, they just happen.

And I realized it was happening because we had been so bored we had made space for it. 

My daughter started asking me questions about how to be a better friend, we had this deep discussion about why her sister annoys her to get her attention, we even talked about some fears she’d been thinking about as she prepares to start the school year again. I carried her some of the way and she skipped, ran, and walked a long portion, too. As we made it to the finish line, 3.2 miles later, I wasn’t thinking about my shoulders or my back, I was thinking about how lucky I was to be the one there to listen when my daughter started talking about the things that really mattered to her. 

I was thinking about how, even though I believe staunchly in moms taking time to care for themselves, I also want moms to know how intentionally our kids need us to make room in our schedules for them, too. Our kids may not need us to spend our every waking hour with them but they do us to spend a substantial amount of time with them. A few moments here and there are just not going to cut it. They don’t deserve our leftovers. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg gets real on this subject in his book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens:

“In our harried, over-scheduled lives, we often talk of making quality time for our children. I agree—a few moments, when parents are truly present and undistracted, can be most meaningful. At the expense of saying something unpopular, though, quantity matters too. All parents are stretched to make ends meet and fulfill their multiple obligations, but we need to make available as much time as possible for our children. To some extent, the quality of our time with them is influenced by the quantity of that time. I’m not suggesting that you quit your day job. I am saying that there will be more opportunities to listen if we spend more time with our children. We won’t always be there for the crises, triumphs, or heart-to-heart moments, but the more time we spend with them, the more likely we will be available to listen during a significant moment. Enrichment activities are important, but never forget that time with us is the best way to enrich their lives.”

Special Time 

When we do prioritize moments to intentionally focus on our relationships with our children, practicing Special Time is one of the best ways we can make the most of it. Special Time can mean setting aside twenty minutes per day to remove distractions, get on the floor or sit at the table with our kids, and play. We let our kids lead us, refrain from using any judgement statements (good or bad), and spend time doing what they want to do. [As opposed to time out, when you intentionally remove your attention for bad behavior, it’s a time inwith your child, when you intentionally focus on your child and your child alone. 

This doesn’t have to be complicated. When your child is a baby, this may be as simple as you getting on your hands and knees next to his activity mat. When he’s a toddler, it can literally mean playing with toys on the floor. Set a timer, turn your phone off—make this time only about you and your child. As your children get older, floor time can morph into mommy-son dates to the coffee shop or mommy-daughter dates to the pool. When we remove the distractions of the outside world and focus just on our children for discrete periods of time they can count on, we build a foundation of memories and mindfulness, ultimately building resilience and connection.

Week Nights and Weekends 

It’s tempting to phone it in with our families when we get home from work or make it to the weekends. Have you ever driven up to your house after a long day at the office, parked in the driveway, and then let out a heavy sigh as you thought about rejoining your kids? Sometimes, whether we like to admit it or not, it’s easier to show up emotionally at work than it is to show up emotionally at home, especially when we’re tired or if our kids are going through an especially rough developmental phase. 

Consider taking a few minutes before you walk inside your home to reset, letting the hours that came before you fade into the background as you prepare to greet your kids and spend time with them. Maybe that hesitation to leave your car is there for a reason. It’s a reminder you need to take a beat before you move on to your next commitment. When we arrive home even a little more rested and ready to parent, we’re better at the task. 

When the weekend arrives, commit to simplicity. Don’t overschedule yourself or your kids. Leave opportunity and time for spontaneity. Choose family activities that encourage play, adventure or discovery when possible. Avoid stacking games, errands, and appointments when you can. While it’s true that you can’t always choose when your daughter’s soccer games occur, you can choose to only sign her up for soccer, versus soccer and chess and piano and gymnastics, all in the same season. Resist the urge to squeeze in so many activities over the weekend that you and your kids are run ragged by the time Sunday night rolls around. Remember, the best parts of life usually happen in the in-between moments and down beats, when we’re taking it slow. 

Vacations

I’m all for finding contentment wherever life finds us, in using mindfulness to appreciate the beauty of right where we are instead of wistfully wasting our lives away on what we’d rather be doing or need to be doing but, sometimes, having a family happy place can get us through some pretty rough patches. I have two magical family happy places seared in my mind that my brain flips to on the regular.  

In one, I’m lying in a hammock on the beach in Hawaii. It’s me and my baby daughter. We’re giggling and softly swaying as we look up at the blue sky and the palm trees. The sound of ukulele music wafts through the air from our condo, where my husband blends homemade Pina Coladas and plates fish tacos from the local food truck.

In the second, I’m snuggled in my bed with my husband and my two kids. We took a day off work. School’s out. We’re playing Stevie Wonder on our Bluetooth speaker. The sheets and the covers feel so soft and snuggly. It’s raining outside and peaceful inside. We’ll probably make waffles at some point. We have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. We’re just here, with our people, in our home.

Snuggling up in my bed is completely realistic. I could have a “four peas in a pod” moment most weekends with my two girls and my husband if I made it a priority. It just probably won’t be as prolonged or as peaceful as I’d like. Inevitably, one of my kids will complain that the other one is taking up too much room, the other one will steal half the covers, my husband will realize the waffle maker is broken and World War Three will break out between my kids as we decide over alternatives like pancakes or French toast. 

Swinging on a hammock with my kids on a tropical island takes more effort to achieve but is worth pursuing. Sometimes we need to physically remove ourselves from our day to day lives. Sometimes we need a real vacation.

Vacations matter to our kids—toys and stuff can’t even come close.

Plus, getting away—not necessarily to a foreign country or to an island, but to just about anywhere that promotes relaxation, communication, and maybe a little boredom, matters for families, too. Vacations not only allow us to take a step back from the drone of life, they also allow us to explore new places, to make new memories, and to simplify—together.

Family vacations are an amazing way to model self-care and to get out of our day-to-day grind. This doesn’t have to drain your bank account. Camping and cheap motel beach trips are often just as good, if not better, than high-stress, multi-plane adventures. 

Boredom, space, time. Think about how, as you round out this summer, you can take a few more moments than usual for yourself and for your kids to get bored. It’s where all the magic of being a mom happens.  

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POST:

3 Ways Moms Can Work Less and Play More As They Parent

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

July 12, 2019

“Doesn’t it feel amazing to have an hour every once in a while to move and to breath and to just be however you want to be?” That’s what the yoga instructor asked our class this week as I stood, almost shoulder to shoulder, in a crowded room with the heat turned up for an hour-long class. Sweat was dripping off my face as I dove forward, planted my hands on the mat, and scooped my chest up, then back again to downward dog. “In this hour, you get to play. You get to do whatever you want to do,” she continued on above the music and the sounds of coordinated breathing. As I huffed and puffed, it didn’t feel much like playing but I realized as I drove home to my real life and the real stresses that come with it, she was speaking wisdom.

I’ve thought a lot about the power of play lately. It’s a silly word, one that evokes an image of preschoolers mindlessly sifting through sand at the park.

Play? As an adult? As a mom? Without my kids? What does it look like? And who has time for it, anyway? 

Defining play for hard-working moms is easy. It simply means they take a break from their obligations and their stressors. They think about the activities that make them happiest and they do those things, guilt-free. They sign up for a massage. They go out for a long dinner with their friends. They go to an excruciatingly hot yoga class (I’m not sure why that’s my version of play, but it is). They flop on the couch and binge watch Netflix all night long in a pair of sweatpants. They take a nap. They forget about all the things they have to do and they do what they want to do for a little while. 

Sometimes, it means they spend time doing something loud and sweaty and memorable with their partners, like I did last weekend. I know what you’re thinking but I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about rocking out to our favorite band at an outdoor music festival, singing along to the lyrics at the top of our lungs as the lights blared down from the stage. Sometimes it means they lose themselves for a second in a shared sunset or a good conversation, washing away their exhaustion momentarily. 

I remember being especially exhausted when we made some major changes in our finances a while back. It’s tiring to spend your nights and weekends preparing to get your family moved and settled for a year-long family adventure. Once we fully-transitioned to our new home, there were all kinds of new issues to navigate, both for our kids and for ourselves. Emotions were running high and it was hard to adjust. There were all sorts of moments when we all had to be especially brave as we dealt with a new living environment and a new routine. Playing was not at the top of our to-do list.

For most parents (and families, for that matter), making time for play is a lot harder than defining it.

No mom I know weaves what makes her happy into an already full life without a major amount of effort. Nevertheless, the most successful moms I know make time to do it. They prioritize play because they know this: if we want to live our lives with intention (including parenting with intention), if we want to approach those hard mommy moments with courage (moments like sleepless newborn nights, toddler tantrums, or moments when our kids’ true selves go hiding), we have to build in opportunities to rest.

As Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and author of Brave, Not Perfect says, “You can’t be brave if you’re tired.”

Almost every mom I know is tired but ninety-nine percent of new parents I meet — both male and female — are really tired. New parents are earning their bravery stripes day by day by day. They’re learning how to take care of a human being for a first time and, if that doesn’t take guts, I’m not sure what does. If you’re a new mama, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s even easier for those moms to be brave, though, when they get the rest they need. When they’re less physically and mentally tired, they have the energy to handle the challenges that come their way with more perspective and resolve. 

Seasoned moms may get the physical rest they need on a more consistent basis but mental rest is quite another story. Just like burnout is real in the workplace, its real on the home front, too. hBeing over stressed and under rested seems to be the name of the motherhood game these days. It doesn’t have to be, though. You can choose to:

Choose Play Over Perfection

You cannot and you should not do it all. So what if your house isn’t perfectly kept and your life is not perfectly organized? Choose to concentrate on the things that really matter to you, then let the rest go. The most peaceful parents learn to prioritize early on and they prioritize play. 

Expect Your Parenting Partner to Pick Up the Slack

You are not the only person who is capable of taking care of your kids. If you have a partner, share your parenting responsibilities with that partner. Work toward parenting as a team. Give your partner the space to take care of him or herself and be committed to taking care of yourself.

Take Care of Yourself So You Can Take Care of The People You Love Most 

Resting is not selfish. Playing is not selfish. Yes, our kids need our focused attention at regular intervals but they don’t need us to be with them all the time. Caring for the people we love most is about setting aside moments to be together, looking for our kids’ deeper needs, and approaching motherhood as less of a perfect balancing act and more of an intentional practice. It’s not about martyring ourselves. 

What does it mean to play when we’re busy, burdened modern moms? It means setting down our heavy loads (and handing them off to someone else for a while if necessary). It means paying attention to what we really need. It means taking a break, tipping the scales away from exhaustion and toward bravery, away from burnout and toward joy. 

Want more help winning at parenting without losing yourself?

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hacks for new parents, peaceful parenting, motherhood tips

POST:

Modern Motherhood Hacks | Re-Thinking Your Family’s Relationship With Screens and Devices

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

April 29, 2019

Something terrifying happened in my kitchen last week. My daughter hoisted herself halfway onto the counter and reached for a pen against the wall. On her way down, she bumped her elbow, hitting right on her funny bone. She burst into tears.

That wasn’t the scary part.

Here’s what really shook me up. As she let out her first wail and rounded into a ball in the floor, the first words out of her mouth were, “Mama, can I watch a show?”

Seriously, like mid-scream, the absolute first thing that came into her mind was not physical comfort or emotional support, or even some verbal proclamation of pain. It was TELEVISION.

She’s never had that kind of Pavlov’s dog reaction before to an injury (thank goodness) and, at first, I kind of brushed it off, but then I started thinking more and more about her relationship with screens and about our current culture of quick-fix distractions and personalized, immediate conveniences.

 

Screentime and Our Kids

It would have been tempting to blame the TV—the device itself—for my daughter’s behavior. I can’t count the number of times I’ve rattled off recommendations in my pediatrics clinic about limiting the total amount of time per day parents let their kids use their screens or made suggestions about caring equally about content versus total screen time.  Families seem to get that too much and the wrong kind of screen use is bad for their kids.

I practice what I preach, too, most of the time—more science shows, less Sophia The First, a heavy emphasis on learning and positive social skill building à la Daniel Tiger. 

This, though, was a different part of the technology revolution I’d never even stopped to consider: not only was I letting my child be entertained by screens, I was letting my child be comforted by screens, too. The screen was a proxy for a bigger, societal problem. 

See, we live in a world where it has become incredibly difficult to say “no” to our children because we have so many ways we can say “yes.”  Over the first post-millenial decade, the cultural norms around how we navigate our daily tasks have so dramatically changed. There’s increasing pressure on parents to have 1,000 convenient-but unhelpful-ways to keep our kids happy. The Tech Culture of Convenience has rewoven the task of raising children.

“Our culture, in large part, has been influenced by the technological revolution—a series of amazing advancements that have modernized everything from shopping to scheduling doctors’ appointments. But has it all been for the better? It turns out kids who grew up with the technological coming of age (typically born in the early 2000s—the iGen Kids (or GenY Kids)—are struggling as a result of it,” says Dr. Kristin Valerius, a child psychologist and director of Sundstrom Clinical Services.  

The Evidence

The research backs her up.

First of all, it shows heavy childhood screen use is ubiquitous:

“…Members of this generation are growing up with a smartphone, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time without the internet. The Millenials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.” said Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and researcher, in her 2017 The Atlantic article. 

Twenge has been analyzing adolescents’ levels of happiness and wellbeing across generations for over 25 years using the Monitoring the Future Survey. The survey, conducted since the mid-seventies, asks 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their self-esteem, life satisfaction, and daily activities like tech use. Kids, of course, have always had fluctuations in happiness from year to year but in 2012 something astonishing happened: well-being dropped off dramatically. Not just a little drop off. Like, drop off a cliff drop off and it stayed that way. After 20 years of relative stability in overall happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem, it went downhill fast…and never recovered. It didn’t matter the kids’ financial situations, they—across the board—seemed to be having a harder time.

“In all my analysis or generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it,” Twenge said in that same 2017 article inThe Atlantic.

Of course, no single event, including the advent of pervasive, individualized technology defines a generation. But the dual increase in mental health concerns and media use seem to be strongly connected. We know that factors like heavy social media use, texting, computer games, and accessing the internet are not the keys to a teen’s happiness. In fact, studies show heavy screen use is actually associated with decreased happiness, whereas things like sports and in-person social interactions are associated with improved life satisfaction.

So, what happened in 2012? Technology with its apps, and devices, and new ways of doing everything became fully infiltrated, that’s what happened. In 2012, the year of the huge drop-off, the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent. Between 2012 and 2015, the percentage of iGen Youth with smartphones went up from 37 to 73 percent. By 2016, 89% had devices. The changes Twenge saw were not based on ethnicity or on social-economic status, nor suburban or rural location. Across the board, no matter what their demographics, suddenly teens were living on their smartphones. 

“I don’t think (we have a problem) because 89% of kids are on their devices,” says Dr. Valerius. “If that were the case then just taking the phone would solve it—but that doesn’t. I believe device usage is a proxy measure for how ubiquitous the individualized convenient way of doing things had become. And in reweaving the task, our parenting job became harder, our kids missed out on important developmental tasks, so that by the time these iGen were teenagers circa 2012 they were showing the stress-fractures of growing up in this Brave New Tech World.”

Everyone talks about how screentime is bad, that devices are bad, but Dr. Valerius thinks that misses the point. By focusing on device-use, we keep parents focused (and yelling at their kids) for how often they are on that device instead of focusing them on how many ways they need to help their kids navigate life…and it keeps parents focus away from themselves and why they are feeling so much pressure to just satisfy their kids at every moment.)

What’s REALLY So Bad About Kids Using Screens

It seems we all use our smartphones 24-7, our heads bent down over a small screen, our fingers moving in a perpetual scrolling motion. Deep down, I think we’re aware it’s probably not the best thing for us, no matter what our age. But is there something specifically bad about personal device use for our young kids or for our parenting? YES.

When we allow technology (and any other knee-jerk easy solutions) to soothe and entertain our kids, we replace patience with immediacy, we limit our kids’ abilities to deal with negative emotions on their own, and we give quick-fix, personalized solutions to boredom, reducing our children’s abilities to handle less stimulating environments. We take away the opportunity to develop grit.

As a working mom, my family time is limited throughout the week. In the evenings, I’m tired. On the weekends, I’m always hoping for reduced stress, but with two little ones in tow, that’s hardly ever the case. Nothing is worse than coming home from an exhausting day at work only to be inundated with tears and squabbling and strife. It’s extremely hard for modern, stressed-out families to “just say no” to letting screens parent our kids in the name of peace and harmony, but I firmly believe that we have to be fully aware of our choices if we want our children to be resilient and our parenting to be successful.

How Do We Manage Screens and Mitigate Their Use? 

Dr. Valerius gives some powerful suggestions:

1. Deepen Your Genuine Connection with Your Kids

In this modern world, we have to create space to more deeply connect with our kids. It’s not going to happen on its own. We have to be intentional about it. Mealtimes, bedtimes, outings, vacations, holiday rituals—when we focus on using these moments as ways to build community and connection, we glean their true value. Connectedness helps with emotional regulation, self-soothing, and other skills that are lacking from your child’s digital experience.

2. Help your children build a network of people that know them, including their weaknesses

“True relationship and intimacy come from vulnerably failing and then reconciling, not from being fake or perfect all the time,” says Dr. Valerius.  When you let your kids experience that kind of transparent connection with others, they learn that they have value no matter what, that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

3. Learn To Value Negative Emotions and Failure in Your Kids and In Yourself

Dr. Valerius says, “You and your child can have different emotions. Your job isn’t to keep your kids happy or to make them mind perfectly. Your job IS to help them trust they will be okay when happiness comes and goes.”

How do we do that? We let our kids be bored and uncertain about how to fill their free time. The creativity and problem solving that happens in that “bored” space is crucial for the sort of coping that they will have to do throughout their adolescence when they want to fill their empty places with 1,000 poor or risky choices. We let our kids be upset occasionally, we let them work through disappointments, we allow them to experience things not going their way early on so that, years down the road, they can handle life’s curve balls with more grace and perspective. 

“Anger can build intimacy. Stress can build grit. Belonging and love are built on being forgiven (which requires failing and making it right afterward),” says Dr. Valerius.

Of course, letting our kids be bored—given that we could instantly take it away—means that their whining and pestering also fills that space. Constantly. And any good modern mommy has times that they cave just to have a moment of peace. So that’s were Dr. Valerius’ next recommendation comes in…

4. Limit Tech Use:

  • Under age 2- almost nothing
  • Over 2 years – less than 2 hours a day (preferably under an hour for elementary school kids) but some days with no screen at all. 
  • No screens in routine car ride trips or at mealtimes
  • No screens in bedrooms (except book readers or music without other apps)
  • No personal devices until middle school
  • Equally important – screen-free times for parents 

It’s a New World, Baby

Feeling defeated already as you read this? Don’t be. 

First, realize that the way modern moms are often tempted to deal with their kids’ incessant begging to have whatever they need is not some type of character flaw—it’s a product of our kids’ environments: a world where personalization, convenience, and entitlement surrounds them. 

“I truly believe it is harder to withstand than our mothers because they couldn’t say yes and we can,” says Dr. Valerius. “Standing firm seems to be an impossible task sometimes for the parents of patients I see—and for myself at times. If we don’t get connected with the task and the emotions it stirs up in us it doesn’t matter what tech limits we know we SHOULD have…we will take a path of lesser resistance.”

My family’s screentime dilemmas are not going away anytime soon. Devices are here to stay—for me and for my kids—but I don’t have to let them break into our home every other second, invading our lives. With my eye on the future, I’m making a commitment to using screens (as much as possible) as tools instead of trespassers. 

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.

toddlers, screen time, devices and kids, modern motherhood, working mom

POST:

Modern Mommy Hacks | Practicing Patience When You’re All Tired Out

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

March 18, 2019

Patience. It’s hard when you’re a parent. I don’t just mean when it comes to handling baby blowouts and toddler tantrums, though Lord knows those moments will test most any mom. Practicing patience is the hardest when it comes to the hurdles we wait for our kids to move past, for the milestones we worry they’ll never achieve. Just like being okay with the stage of motherhood we’re in right now is a huge challenge, so is being okay with the stage of childhood our kids are in at this moment. I thought long and hard about my perspective on developmental leaps and setbacks this week. In the course of just a few days, we had milestone breakthroughs for both of my daughters—one simple, one monumental:

Parenting Milestones

First, my two and a half-year-old started pooping on the potty. She just walked right into the bathroom, climbed onto the toilet, and an announced, “I’m a big girl! Now I’m ready for preschool.” She had been using the toilet to pee like a champion for a few weeks, earning stickers left and right. Suddenly, though, without any prompting or prodding, she was fully underwear-ready.

No big deal. Simple. Easy.

I’m pretty sure I was way more excited than she was, given I immediately started counting up dollars saved now that I only have to buy enough diapers to cover naps and nighttime sleep. Next, the monumental event came to pass (I’ll just go ahead and warn you, it’s not going to seem monumental to you at all): my five and a half-year-old looked me straight in the eyes and beamed. Yes, she has smiled before, but this time when she did it she was dancing, leaping across the floor of the school gym with an audience of peers and parents at 9:25 on a Friday morning.

No big deal. Simple. Easy. Right? Wrong.

There was a time I held that same anxious daughter in my arms while she watched all the other kids she knew enjoy soccer or dance or swimming, terrified something horrible would happen to her if she gave it a shot. There was a time I wasn’t sure if her fearfulness would allow her to make it in social or classroom settings. There was a time my worries about her worries completely overwhelmed me. So to see my baby walk confidently in front of a room full of moms and dads and flash me a thumbs up before she pliéd across the floor made me all weepy with pride. It’s not that I care if she dances specifically (actually, long term picking some less perfection-driven passion may serve her better), it’s that I care that she’s beginning to develop some resilience and maturity. She’s growing up. As I look back at what helped her get so big and brave this week, I’d love to pat myself on the back for perfectly parenting my anxious child up until now. I’m sure my pediatrician-level understanding of the brain and the help of several psychologists along the way helped, but in the end, she did it all on her own.

The biggest lesson I learned this week?

Often times we bang our heads against the wall for months (or years) trying to move our kids in the direction we hope they’ll go but, along with our parenting prowess, leaps in development (and beyond fears) usually happen because our kids’  desires to experience something awesome outweighs the potential risks they perceive in that activity. In short, joy has to overpower trepidation for them to move forward. When they finally take that leap, it reinforces how amazing it can be to take a chance.  My incremental work over the past several years to move her past her worries mattered but that it was just the foundation: her own excitement over being a part of this particular class performance is what pushed her over the edge.

Every parent has their own moment when they feel at odds with their kids’ progression through a particular developmental challenge—moments they can’t change because they’re not meant to be changed, they’re meant to be waded through or waited for.

We can worry our way through them, we can internet search our way through them or we can, after checking in with professionals and advisors we trust, just sink into them. For most modern moms I know, worrying is the default when our kids don’t get to whatever’s next quite fast enough, be it a developmental milestone, a social leap or a move toward independence. Anxiety defines our parenting generation. I’m not sure we can help it—we have a constant influx of information, a steady diet of dissidence on almost every topic (including parenting philosophies), a billion to-dos, and conflicting commitments. We’re stressed, not just about our kids but about our own lives. Sometimes we forget that, even if we’re going a mile a minute, and it feels like our struggles should hurry up and get with the picture, too, they cannot. Some things, especially the most painful things, just take their own sweet time. Worrying about them, although it feels productive, just makes them take even longer to pass.

“Aha” Moments

Nine times out of ten, my “aha” parenting moments have some element of, “I’ll do it differently next time,” but not this one. This one was about letting things happen like they’re supposed to, waiting for the rain to stop pouring down until the sun comes out again. If you’re in a tough spot—either with your kids or with yourself—remember: time makes most things better. After you’ve worried and worked to find a solution, take a second to decide you may have to just get the support you need, take breaks, and wait a little longer.

Confidence begets confidence.

Yesterday, another breakthrough on a cloudless blue sky day. Suddenly, my timid little girl is yelling, “Superspeed mode!” as she careens down the sidewalk on her bike, shedding her hesitation to ride solo from just a few days prior. “I’m building up my stamina, Mama!” she calls back to me, her hair a stream of sunlight as she pumps her little legs and grips the handlebars with all her might, so sure of herself and her newfound strength. My heart is pumping fast, too, as I run to catch up, beating harder from relief and release than from anything else. A million things I’ve held onto, a million things I’ve had no control over, a million things that have to just work themselves out. Let me remember this next time I’m feeling stuck: growing up, leaps and setbacks and all the mucky stuff in-between. It’s all part of it. Have patience. Don’t rush it, mama.

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.
mommy hacks for parents of anxious kids and toddler tantrums

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Why You Need a Family Happy Place: The Power of a Family Vacation

CATEGORY:

Parents

Date:

March 3, 2019

Three weeks, two days, seven hours and twenty minutes, but who’s counting? I am. The anticipation is killing us at my house as we painstakingly mark days off on the calendar ’til our next family vacation. Even my two and a half-year-old joins in the “Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii” car ride chants her older sister spontaneously bursts into on the regular these days. My next dedicated getaway with my family may be almost a month away but, in my mind, I’m already there. I’m all for finding contentment wherever life finds us, in using mindfulness to appreciate the beauty of right where we are instead of wistfully wasting our lives away on what we’d rather be doing but, sometimes, having a happy place in our minds can actually play a huge role in getting us through the roughest patches we face. I have not one, but three, magical moments seared in my mind that my brain flips to on the regular, especially when my kids are acting up or my day job is making me seriously question my career choice. In one scene, I’m lying on a yacht along the blue-green water off the Amalfi Coast (I know, it’s a little much—just bear with me here). I can smell fried calamari from seaside cafes and I’m holding a glass of white wine. I am—no joke—lying in a two-piece retro emerald green swimsuit on my back with my pre-baby body and I’m laughing. I’m not laughing like belly laughing. I’m laughing like Beyoncé on her yacht “Oh ha, that’s so amusing” laughing. There’s radio music—classical Italian —and crisp green grapes. The sun is hitting my shoulders and my hair so that I literally look and feel like a goddess. Now, I’ve been to the Amalfi Coast and I’ve even been on a boat in the Amalfi Coast (a tiny speed boat we rented for $50 an hour with NO grapes and NO wine and definitely NO PRE-BABY BODY), but the odds of me getting back there anytime soon are slim to none. In fact, the trip was a poor financial decision and it took us years to pay down the credit card bill). Still, the romanticized version in my head of what it was like to be there is as real as the sky is blue. In another, I’m lying in a hammock on the beach in Hawaii (see a theme here)? It’s me and my then 8-month old daughter. We’re giggling and softly swaying as we look up at the blue sky and the palm trees. The sound of ukelele music wafts through the air from our condo, where my husband blends Costco Pina Coladas and plates fish tacos from the local food truck. For the last one, I’m snuggled in my bed with my husband and my two kids. We took a day off work. School’s out. We’re playing Stevie Wonder on our Bluetooth speaker. The sheets and the covers feel so soft and snuggly. It’s bright outside and peaceful inside. We’ll probably make waffles at some point. We have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. We’re just here, with our people, in our home. These are my three happy places. Two are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Amalfi Coast on a millionaire’s yacht? That will likely never come to full fruition but it doesn’t matter. It triggers my mind to relax, to slow down, to breathe. Snuggling up in my bed? That one is fully approachable. I could have a “four peas in a pod” moment most weekends if I made it a priority. It just probably won’t be as prolonged or as peaceful as my mind makes me think it will be. Inevitably, one of my kids will complain that the other one is taking up too much room, the other one will steal half the covers, my husband will realize the waffle maker is broken and World War Three will break out between my kids as we decide over alternatives like pancakes or French toast. Still, it’s a good place to go back to—literally and physically. See, as much as I try to live my life based on a fundamental belief that I can be content wherever I am—that my perspective is what drives my satisfaction, not my circumstances—sometimes I need to physically remove myself from my day to day (or weekend to weekend) life. My kids? They can come along, too, cause it turns out they need to get out of their ruts and tired routines, too.

The research is clear that vacations matter to our kids—toys and stuff can’t even come close. Plus, getting away—not necessarily to a foreign country or to an island, but to just about anywhere that promotes relaxation, communication, and maybe a little boredom, matters for families, too.

Camping and beach trips are just as good, if not better, than high-stress, multi-plane adventures. Vacations not only allow us to take a step back from the drone of life, they also allow us to explore new places, to make new memories, and to simplify—together. Family vacations are an amazing way to model self-care and to get out of our day-to-day grind. Now, can vacations also be stressful and annoying? Of course. Don’t plan a super complicated, 5-week adventure with your 3-year-old (if you do and you complain about it to me, I will only say I told you so). Do age-appropriate vacations and plan for what can go wrong, when possible, realizing you won’t be able to control everything all the time.

What About All That Can Go Wrong On a Family Vacation?

For real, though, I hear you saying. What about all the hassles of travel? So much can go right when you travel with babies and young kids—chances for adventure, opportunities to re-connect and to re-charge—but SOOOOO much can go wrong: cranky kids, flight delays, unexpected illness. It can be overwhelming to even start to consider taking your little ones on more than a local jaunt. I’m not about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a leisure trip if it feels way more stressful than leisurely. So, is it even worth it to try? Definitely!!

Just make sure you follow these parenting tips on how to keep your troupe safe and sane on your family vacation:

Bring Help Whenever Possible

When we went to Hawaii two years ago with our then eight-month-old baby and three-year-old toddler, we decided to bring our nanny with us. At first, we felt really embarrassed we were planning it that way. It was a little “too rich for our blood,” my husband said. He barely mentioned it to his family when they asked how we were going to juggle both kids, two flights and our desire to actually relax once we got to our island destination. But, after we came back, he could not contain himself about what a completely different experience we would have had without her. I’m so glad we made the decision to set aside our pride. We did the simple math on affordability and made a choice that worked for us. In the end, it cost us about $500 more on an eight-day trip to have her come along (since we would have been paying for her to care for our kids anyway during that week based on our contract with her). Last year when we went on a family vacay, we brought grandma # 1 for the first week and grandma #2 for the second. It was an even more cost-effective way to actually meet our trip-away goals. I can already feel my blood pressure lowering as we arrange the details of our next stay with extra help on the packing list.

Plan Ahead for Illness and Emergencies

Especially when you travel internationally (or to a more remote destination), don’t assume you’ll be able to find the medications or the products you need. Bring ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) when appropriate (plus know your child’s dose). Pack a first aid kit, plus diaper creams and a sunblock you trust. Make sure you remember a thermometer, plus the normal soaps, shampoos, and lotions your child’s body is used to. In my pediatric office. we see countless patients come back from trips with skin irritation and rashes from using hotel-brand products. Before you go, look into how to access care in case of emergency or in case of mild illness. If you book on sites like Airbnb or VRBO, take advantage of your host’s knowledge of the local area and the local healthcare system. Get an international phone plan so you can access family or make phone calls for help if necessary.  Familiarize yourself with Google Translate so, if you are stuck with a language barrier, you can communicate more effectively.

Pack Efficiently

I tend to overpack. I want to make sure I have all the items I need everywhere I go. The upside? I’m ready for most anything. The downside? Usually, I can hardly find the one item I really need as I sift through all the junk I stuffed into my heavy suitcase. This year, I’ve learned to pare it down and lighten my load. It makes it easier in the car, on the airplane and throughout the airport. The less you lug and the more efficiently you lug it the better.

Pick an Itinerary That Matches Your Kid’s Temperament

It might sound like a good idea to travel around the world with your two-year-old and it very well might be. But if your two-year-old is temperamental (or is just typical), think it through before you buy the tickets. On a smaller scale, we have plenty of discussions in my house before a big trip about how to get from Point A to Point B with the least amount of drama. For every adult-focused activity on our vacations, we plan a kid-focused activity. We know when to call it quits on our itinerary, even if we’ve already bought the museum entrance tickets and it feels like we’re wasting our hard-earned money. Dragging yourself through an experience is not a trip, it’s just annoying. No one gives out medals at the end for “Biggest Vacation Martyr.”

Understand That No Good Trip Goes Unpunished

Brace yourself a little for some sleep deprivation and some minor illnesses once you come back from your vacation. If you can, plan ahead so you have a recovery day at the end of your adventure to just catch up on laundry and get the house and yourselves back in order. Anticipate you might have to use your down day to tend to things you forgot to take care of while you were away or that came up when you returned.

Special Tips for Traveling in Airports With Babies and Toddlers On Your Family Vacation

Carry As Little As Possible, Check The Rest

Know how, when you go through the airport, your carry-on luggage and personal item seem to somehow get heavier and heavier the further you walk? Multiply that times ten with a baby because you now have an extra PERSON you are lugging. There are obviously some items you have to bring with you – a small stack of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, bottles if formula-feeding. But, the less stuff you have to lug through security, through the terminal or into the overhead bins, the better. Better to check it and forget it, in my book.

Don’t Spend Extra Time in The Airport, Except When Boarding The Plane.

A lot of new parents think they should get to the airport super early if they are traveling with a baby or child. Usually, though, that just means extra chances for meltdowns (for your baby, not you) and germs. Obviously, give yourself enough time to make your plane, but don’t plan to linger excessively. On the other hand, when it’s time to board the plane, consider your unique situation. Airlines offer family boarding early on in the boarding process, which can be tempting. If you don’t have an assigned seat or you have carry-on luggage that demands overhead bin space, take full advantage of this perk. If you haven’t brought much with you, though, consider minimizing the amount of time you have to sit “trapped” in a small space with your infant.

Stay Away From Sick People

This is a hard one since, notoriously, airports and airplanes tend to be germ fests. The number one way to avoid a baby getting seriously ill from air travel? Don’t take them until after they are old enough to receive their first set of vaccines and are out of the highest infection risk zone (in our practice, we don’t give the first set of vaccines until at least six weeks old and recommend waiting a few weeks after vaccination for the shots to take effect before flying. I waited until about three months until flying with my first baby). Once you’re on your way, it pays off to wash your hands well with soap and water often, wipe down the seats, and to keep your baby away from direct contact with sick people.

Help With Ear Discomfort

Once you depart on your flight, you’ll want to help minimize discomfort in your baby’s ears, which can build as the pressure changes with altitude shifts. Giving baby something to suck on (a pacifier, a bottle or a breast) can really help. On the way up, it’s obvious when you need to pay attention to helping your little one with this but, on the way down, it’s easy to get the timing wrong. Instead of waiting for the flight staff to tell you you’ve started your descent, be observant. When you start to feel the plane descending, get your baby going on an ear pain prevention plan by initiating some type of sucking motion (note: if they are asleep, let them sleep). For toddlers, let them know their ears might feel funny on the way up or down. Ask them to look up and make a silent lion’s roar to help initiate a yawn, thereby triggering the eustachian tube to clear.

Give Into (Just a Little) Screentime

When parents ask me about alternatives to screentime on airplanes for older kids (two years and up), I have to laugh. Most of the time, I’m a huge proponent of avoiding excessive screentime for our kids. It distracts us from making real connections as families, replaces opportunities for creativity and physical activity, and contributes to behavioral problems. When it comes to super long plane rides, though, it’s a different story. Since it’s completely unnatural for us to ask our kids to sit for six hours in a tiny seat, it’s also completely natural for them to get bored out of their minds and want to watch movie after movie. Consider making a plan ahead of the flight with your child. For longer flights, we like to have our five-year-old play games and draw for the first hour or so, then watch a movie, then take a brain and food break. If we’ve still got hours to go, we definitely let her dig back into another show. Treat screentime like ice cream. If you give it to your kids in large quantities every day, it will overwhelm their little systems. If you let loose every once in a while, it’s not such a big deal.

Forget Over-Apologizing

So you have a baby or a toddler on a plane? Oh, well. Tons of other passengers have been in your situation and we’re not irritated when we hear your baby cry or hears you say for the umpteenth time, “Johnny, please get back in your seat.” Those who are will have to just suffer through. If your baby wails the entire trip, it makes sense to at least acknowledge the patience and understanding of others around you. But those little gifts some propose to assuage your neighbors preventatively? Unless you have tons of free hours you would not rather spend doing ANYTHING else, I say forget it. You paid to be on the plane just like everyone else and you’re doing way more hard to work to make the trip successful than any of your seatmates.

When I Am Eighty

My friend Christie, a business exec coach and an all-around amazing working mom puts family vacations and moments into perspective so well:

“I often ask my clients to imagine they are in their eighties looking back on their lives. What do they want to say about it? What would they regret? What priorities and values do they want to say they lived by?… When I’m older and look back at my life and look around the room, (here’s) what I want to see: family and friends. True connection is what actually matters.”

We live in a world where overdoing it is the norm and where taking a break is often seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not. Take a family vacation. You don’t just want, you need, to create some happy places for your family—places you’ll remember when your kids are grown, memories you can access on your hardest days, moments that will, in the end, be the best ones of your life.

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mommy tips and motherhood hacks for vacation with babies and toddlers

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