Holiday Helps for Harried Moms

It’s the most exhausting time of year! For moms the duties of kid schlepping, meal cooking, and overall household management, are joined by holiday baking, gift buying, card sending, and party coordinating. Put it all together and you end up with many mothers who are barely surviving. I’m right there with them!

1412SanDiegoFamWhy does it end up this way for so many of us so often? I believe it’s because in the midst of all the chaos there is also much joy and satisfaction to be had. Even just checking off tasks accomplished from our lists can be fulfilling because we know we’re playing an important role in our families.

But in case satisfaction is proving elusive for you this year, here are some hints and tips from my articles published in regional parenting magazines to help you navigate challenges like gift wrapping and sickness, as well as some encouragement for your new year.

Good-Looking Gifts That Are Good For the Planet

My new article, “Earth-Friendly Gift Wrap Alternatives,” offers ideas on how to make use of bags, tins, and other materials you have around the house to disguise your gifts this Christmas, along with some history behind gift-wrapping traditions. Check it out in the December issue of San Diego Family.

Sickness Plus a Holiday Can Still Equal Celebration

None of us plans to be sick during the holidays, but it happens more often than we like. The good news is that  sickness of any kind doesn’t have to derail the festivities entirely. In this month’s issue of Connecticut Parent I share insight from experts and moms who’ve been there on how you can adapt the celebration around a sickness – whether it be a garden-variety flu, a hospitalization, or a life-threatening condition.

Plan for a Bright 20151412AugustaFam

Forget the New Year’s resolutions. There’s a reason many people don’t like them: they don’t work. Instead, why not count down to 2015 with a list of things you can look forward to, or that can make life better, in the new year. Plan out 10 date nights, list 9 friends you will get together with, and so on. My article in this month’s issue of Augusta Family, “A New Year’s Countdown That Will Have You Looking Up,” offers 10 idea-starters for listing out what you want 2015 to look like. After all, it’s not too soon to be mapping out the next twelve months of your family’s bucket list aspirations!

A Crisis Self-Care Plan For Moms

During a recent months-long crisis in our household, I surprised myself with how much strength I had as a mom. I gave myself to caring for my family like never before. But I also stretched myself thin, emotionally and mentally. I went to bed drained more nights than not. In case of emergency

When others reached out with offers of help, I tried to take them. But I often didn’t know how to respond or what exactly I needed. I realized then how unprepared I was to take advantage of opportunities to sustain myself.

I don’t think my situation is that unusual. As moms we can be great nurturers – for everyone but ourselves. This is particularly true in times of crisis, when our family needs us to stay at our best. All of our energy goes toward keeping our family afloat. And while we may know it’s a good idea to take care of ourselves too, we just doesn’t have the wherewithal to figure out what that would look like.

Which is why I suggest we plan for self-care before crisis hits. We need to be students of ourselves to learn what would help us most. Having just gone through it myself, here is what I wish I had created (and how you can create your own):

A Crisis Self-Care Plan

Decide now that you matter enough and it is important enough for you to have a strategy in place for how you will care for yourself. Then create a plan from the following prompts and put it in a safe place, like the back of your daily organizer, or the inside of your medicine cabinet (having it where your husband can see benefits you by giving him a tool for helping you out).

  1. Think of those people in your life who are the most supportive, positive and encouraging. Write down their names. Then, when you need to know that someone has your back, or if you need an upbeat distraction from your difficulties, you’ll know exactly who to call for a chat on the phone or over coffee at Starbucks. This may or may not be who you would call to help with the actual emergency/difficulty.
  2. Consider what most brings you comfort, that could bolster your spirits during the hard times. Maybe you have a favorite place to walk or meditate. Or a comfort food. Write them down on your plan.
  3. In crisis sometimes our need is for escape – to do something entirely different that takes our mind off the present difficulties. Name your ideal escapes. They may be ordinary, like “go to a movie (alone, which can be an adventure, as Shelly Najjar suggests).” Or they could be entirely new ventures. Believe it or not, a time of trial can provide a great motivation to check something off your life list.
  4. Make a list of “quick rechargers” that you can go to when brief opportunities for respite appear. Things like “take a nap,” or “watch an episode of Downton Abbey” Try to come up with ten or more that you can rotate through, should your crisis go on for a while. It’s important that you find time daily for self-care.

Knowing you have this written down, you can approach a crisis with more confidence. Instead of adding regret to the list of emotional burdens you bear, you’ll have concrete answers to offers for help. You’ll know who you want to be with and what you want to do, when you have time for yourself. And those around you can have a better idea of how to direct you toward keeping yourself well when tough times hit.

Photo credit: In case of emergency by waldopepper on Flicker via CC License

Watch for the release of my new book, Bucket List Living For Moms, coming next Monday. There will be giveaways!

The House is Empty. Now what?

It was the start of first grade for my youngest child. I remember standing among the other camera-wielding ‘mamarazzi’ waving to our children as their stubby legs, barely visible below bulging backpacks, stumped their way in a line behind their new teacher into school. We all lingered there, suspended for a few minutes. The swoosh of the closing door had seemingly sucked the energy from the air around us.

Then, bit by bit we moms bade our farewells to each other, grasping for something to define what would come next.

“Off to get laundry going!”

“Gotta run to the grocery store, once I figure out what we’re having for dinner!”Empty Room

Stepping into a silent house myself after the short walk from school felt anti-climatic in the wake of the morning’s hubbub. After 10-plus years of parenting nearly 24/7, I now would have six hours each day to myself. Six glorious hours. Why didn’t I feel more like celebrating?

Looking back, four years later, I understand was happening with me: I was coping with an identity shift.  I had been envisioning what this day would be like, but when it arrived I wasn’t sure. Would the dream I’d held onto of how I would use those six hours become reality? Could I forge a writing career out of six-hour days, while still being a good mother?

Every year hundreds of moms face that same moment when the door of the school closes on their youngest child entering full-day education. Not all of them face the uncertainty of furthering a career dream like I did. Many already have lined up a list of chores and projects that will fill the coming days and weeks. They have their calendars marked with volunteer hours at their children’s schools or in their churches. They plan meet-ups with other moms, the next iteration in mommy gatherings once playdates are no longer a necessary excuse for socializing.

But in between the cleaning and the get-togethers comes that silent house. That space where, if we pause long enough, we’re forced to ask ourselves, “now what?” Now, without children to bathe and feed and entertain, what will I do? Who am I when I am not being a mom? If you haven’t been alone in your own home for six, ten, or even more years, the silence and the question can seem scary.

If right now you’re in that place of entering a house empty of children for a few hours and wondering “now what,” be courageous enough to face the question head on. Don’t bury it under endless mind-numbing activities. Honor yourself enough to consider what you might want your children’s school years to look like for you. Is it  time for you to go back to school yourself? To seek certification in a certain area? To choose a new setting for volunteering? Or dabble in a hobby you’ve been considering?

Go ahead. Ask yourself, “now what?” See what answers surface. You might surprise yourself.

For now, I’m enjoying the writing life. But I’m also continually reviewing my goals and dreams. Because I know all too soon the next transition in my children’s livee will come. And I want to be prepared with a more certain answer for the next “now what?”

**Editor’s Note: Cortney Fries’ article in Chicago Parent gives some great examples of parents who found an answer to the “now what?” in a career change. I hope you’ll check it out! **

Photo credit: img_1213 by reclaimedhome on Flickr via CC License

Help for Spring Break, Spring Cleaning & More: March/April Articles

The kids are bickering, the house is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all. Does that sound like your family’s spring break? No? Maybe yours goes more like this: the kids are bickering, your car/hotel room/suitcase is a mess, and you’re just wishing you could get away from it all.

Spring TipsParenting and its challenges has no end. There is no getting away from the needs of children and the pressures of running a household. But there are ways to keep yourself in the midst of the joy more often. There are solutions that help you get away from the stress to regroup and refuel – together. I’m thankful as a journalist that I can take some of these common problems and run them by experts and fellow moms for interesting, helpful and doable solutions. In the March and April issues of parenting magazines in the U.S. and beyond, I have articles that offer great insight and tips on these very problems. I hope you’ll read them for yourself so that you can enjoy your family – both during spring break and in the months to come.

Spring Break & Having Family AdventuresFlagler Parent

Planning a Spring Break that Doesn’t Break You, Calgary’s Child

Have You Ever: An Invitation to Adventure, Flagler Parent

Spring Refreshers & Why Kids Should Help with The Chores

31 Refreshers That Take 15 Minutes or Less, Okanagan Child

Chores Make the Grade, Houston Family

Sibling Spats

A Special Solution to Sibling Strife, Atlanta Parent

Public Restroom Comic

Parent-Child Relationships

Mother & Daughter, Shoulder to Shoulder, Family Australia Magazine

Humor for Moms of Preschoolers

The Perils of Public Restrooms with Preschoolers, The Village Family Magazine

Photo credit: Tulip Era in the Ottoman Empire… by Kivanc Nis on Flickr via CC License.

Permission to Think of Yourself, Mom

What do you want to do? What is your biggest dream, your highest hope?

QuestionNo really. What do you, mom, want to do most in life – today, tomorrow, next month?

Can you tell me off the top of your head, without needing to hear other people’s answers first?

I ask this question because I am guessing that I am not the only mother who has ever forgotten who she is and what she enjoys (beyond being with her husband and children). And I’m probably not the only mom who has gotten so caught up in her notions of what she was supposed to do or supposed to be like, that she lost sight of her true self.

If you can’t honestly answer the question of what you would most like to do during the time you have on this earth, you may have forgotten too. Or maybe you’re just unsure.

In the realm of bucket lists and life longings I often see people wanting a sample list to work from. They want to know what other people would call bucket-list-worthy aspirations. “Give me a bucket list I can work from,” they say.

And I understand this. Another person’s list can be great for inspiration – to show us how big and bold we could go. It’s entertaining to read what someone else wants to pursue.

But I think particularly among moms there is an insecurity behind wanting a pre-determined list. We spend so much time sacrificing for the little people in our lives – in essence denying our own interests – that we can no longer pinpoint what we would choose for ourselves if given the chance. And oftentimes we get so busy trying to keep up with moms around us for the sake of giving our children the best opportunities in life, that we quickly become imitators. Imitators who unintentionally mask their real desires.

So taking the time to answer the question of what you want is an important exercise. Our children need self-assured mothers who know themselves. They need moms who have a destination in mind besides the doorway of their child’s college dorm room 18 (or fewer) years down the road.

It’s a simple question. What do you want to do. Yet the answer won’t come easy. Certainly not in the errand-filled, volunteering, kid-schlepping life of a modern mom. But we need to make it a priority to ask and answer it repeatedly over the course of our children’s lives. Because if we wait to answer until they are grown, the answer may have faded away or moved out with our children. And we will have missed out on having our children as companions on our journey toward fulfilling some of our life ambitions.

What do you want to do?

If you’re still not sure, that’s okay. Take it as a sign that you need some personal attention. Then give it to yourself: recognize what moves you, what sparks energy in you. Re-engage in an old hobby. Try something, anything new for the sake of testing the waters. Soon you will find that the answer will resurface. And with it will come you as your best, truest self and mother.