Wow! The response from my post on Saturday was a wee bit more than I expected. I’m happy (and a bit surprised!) to know people are reading AND responding. Thank you for asking your questions. Everything I said in that post is TRUE. 100% true. That’s the mantra that marches through my head. But… there is a little more to the story of how I do it all.
It’s tough. It’s not for the faint at heart. But it’s possible. And I promise that just going through this process of meeting the challenge has helped me grow in so many ways.
Let’s get practical.
Here are a few of my tried-and-true Big Picture Tips for How to Do It All:Decide What’s Important
My top priorities are (not in any particular order): my health, my kids, my
husband, my family, and my tribe. When I schedule my week – this is an activity that I do EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT! – I always schedule these priorities first. Time to workout, time to make dinner, time to do laundry, time to play games, time to make connections with people, etc. Sometimes there are some things that just don’t make the weekly schedule because my priorities are going to take up more time than I have.
And yes, I work full-time. In fact, on average I log over 50 hours of “work” in a week! That was time spent teaching, coaching, crunching numbers, creating presentations, meeting with realtors and bankers, updating social media, professional development, writing notes to students, and more. I use quotes around the word “work” because I love what I do. Time flies when you’re having fun!
Remember too that MY HEALTH is on that list. I sleep. I eat. I take a lavender and Epsom salt bath every night. I admit that often the priority that slips through the cracks is my marriage. At the end of most days, I start snoring within seconds of hitting the pillow. Time with my husband to cuddle up, talk about our days, or have sex often slips through the cracks. This ALWAYS causes friction in my life. It’s no different than skipping workouts. So, I make it a point to take time to spend with him.
My point is that you have to know yourself. Know what’s important and know what’s critical (there’s a difference). Then, plan accordingly.
- Plan for the Big Picture, but Always Have a Plan!
My parenting mentor and our pediatrician, Dr. Lisa Morrison, gave me solid advice for life when explaining how to approach my kids’ nutrition. She said, “Don’t worry about 24-hr cycles or even each meal. Think about the whole week.”
Living out a perfectly planned day is like suffering through a boring, mid-western meal of mystery meat, boiled potatoes, and canned vegetables… every DAMN day. Ugh. I can’t handle that. Not only is it difficult, it’s BORING! And it’s hard. Salad with pizza? Just eat pizza! Did they eat all of their greens? Seriously. NO THANK YOU! Sometimes you need to eat cherry pie for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
If left to my own devices though, I would eat chips and salsa or cherry pie for every meal. (This is not advisable, although it is a good description of my college years.) Now as an adult, I plan. I plan meals. I plan work projects. I plan back-to-school shopping (in chunks… I can’t handle it all at once with all four in tow!). I plan holidays. I don’t plan everything but I do plan the things that matter.
Plan for the big picture. Over the course of the week, make sure that you are addressing your priorities. Not everyday. Just over the course of the week. Or two weeks. Or the month. Let go of your perfectionism and your laziness. Both are damaging.
- No Excuses.
If you mess up, fess up.
Do better next time, but don’t make excuses. And understand that mistakes just reveal our speed bumps and little cracks in the pavement. Likewise, don’t sign up for things you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to go hiking, don’t go hiking. Just tell your friends that you’d rather take a bath, or get a pedicure, or wash your wounds in rubbing alcohol before you would ever step foot on a “trail”. Ugh. Just be honest with the world. Mostly, be honest with yourself.
I hate hiking, by the way. Send me your pictures, because I probably won’t see it myself.
- Learn to Let Go.
I hesitate to use this over-used and often misunderstood “Life Rule”. But, the truth is that it is TRUTH. I think the yogis describe it best as Abhyasa and Vairagya. Look it up if you are interested. Abhyasa means Practice and Vairagya means Non-Attachment. My Western Kansas translation is to think of it as the balance of “Never Give Up” and “Always Let Go”.
Consider this. Life is like floating a river. Sometimes, you can just float. Your butt is wedged in the middle of the tube, an ice-cold beer in hand. Sometimes you hold on and ride the rapids. Sometimes when the river is slow, you meander to the side and grab hold of some grass, dip your head back and get your hair wet. If you try to do all of those things at once, you will FAIL. You might even drown! You can’t hold onto the grass on the bank with rapids crashing over your head any more than you can keep your morning workout routine when you have to catch at flight at 5:40AM!
Learn to let go. Learn to roll with the punches. Look at the big picture!
- Have Fun.
Everyday. Just do it. Laugh, dance, play, make jokes with the bag boy at the grocery store,
send your BFF funny memes, and when your kids complain about chores… make whiny
impersonations and then tell them, “It sucks to suck!”
I’ll be honest. I don’t know that #5 creates more time for me to do what I want to do in a day. But I know that it always lightens the load and the mood. I am more effective when I’m happy. I’m better at letting go and I’m more creative in my problem-solving. And is it a waste of time to make people smile? No! Smiling and laughter is ALWAYS worth the two seconds it costs you.
All of that said, here are some of my MUST-DO’s:
- Plan your week. Look at your priorities and figure out when you are going to schedule each of them. Be realistic and be willing to make changes but keep your priorities as the guiding light.
- Review everyday at the end of everyday and plan for tomorrow.
- Speaking of tomorrow… set up the coffee (on a timer!), lay out your clothes, pack your bag, and get everything ready for the morning so you can hit the ground running!
- Adopt a system for getting shit done. I’ve used Franklin Covey’s system (loved it!), Apple’s Reminders, and good ol’ fashioned paper. Currently, I use Todoist and I have to say that it is the BEST system I’ve ever used – easy to schedule, prioritize, and share tasks.
- Where you can, assign (and pay) others to do the things that are important to you to have completed, but that you don’t necessarily need to do yourself. My general modus operandi is to do everything that’s important on my own first until I understand how and why I want it done. Then I farm it out – sometimes to staff, sometimes to my children. Child labor is my favored route.
- Recruit! The most important priorities in your life should also be your #1 fans. Your kids, your partner, your team, your health… all parties should be on board for this journey.
- Talk to someone. See a therapist. Someone to help you think through things. I’ve found that today’s problems ALWAYS have roots in my past. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advising to wallow in your childhood. But, a trained therapist can help you sort through the parts of life that you’ve stuffed down, ignored, avoided, or skimmed over. In the words of a wise friend, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you find yourself hitting the same damn wall, feeling the same feelings of anger, frustration, shame, or pain, then that’s something that needs attention. Take care of it. I promise your life will be better.
I don’t know that I have any more to offer. Those of you asking for the details, there you go. It’s hard. It’s rewarding. It’s frustrating. It’s fun. It’s life.
And I love it.
P.S. I’ll leave you with this. The most precious and critical moments of each day are those that I spend with my closest people.
Coffee with Stella from Hella on our recliners in the morning sun.
Conversations on the commute to and from Whitefish with Baby Joe.
History trivia and sports updates in the neurology office waiting rooms with Tedzilla.
Jokes and barbeque lessons with Little Rick.
And best of all are the late night vinyl and bourbon sessions with my husband, my best friend, my partner, my muse, my love, my sweet Travis.
Taking time and appreciating time with these people is my lifeblood. This time trumps any and every appointment or task on my list. More importantly, when I’m in these times, I’m fully in this time. I don’t text, check social media, answer email, make calls, daydream, or stew about what’s next. I’ve learned how to do this and I’m thankful I decided to figure it out. These moments make up the life that I love living.
“How do you do it all?”
That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!
The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”
My four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
And I’m always looking for a new project.
Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.
Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.
In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!
So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.
What are YOU waiting for?
My kids were young when we first moved to Montana. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting them out of the city and into the woods. I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (an excellent read for city-dwelling parents to feel completely inadequate, on a side note); and, I made preparations for teaching my children all about the outdoors. I dug out my Girl Scout manuals and reviewed knot-tying, how to work a compass, and even dusted off my hiking boots. I was ready to show my children just how beautiful the natural world could be.
On our third day in Montana, we ventured out for our first hike. Lone Pine State Park was a quick trip from our new digs in Kalispell and it seemed harmless enough for my kids’ first hike. Joe had just turned four, Stella and Ricky were 5, and Ted was 7. Easy peasy. This short hike would be the beginning of a new life in The Great Outdoors!
Six hours, twelve bandaids, one bee sting, and four crying kids later, I began to rethink my grand plans.
I tried again a few days later and then once more just to be sure. It became evident that my children did not like hiking. They didn’t like trails, learning about trees, leaves, water sources, or anything involving dirt. I gave up and decided to look again at the library hours and then perhaps a trip to the movie theatre, and I sent the kids into the yard to play.
Sometime thereafter, Stella and Ricky ran into the house asking for sandwiches and some string or rope or something to tie sticks. I obliged and sent them on their way. But curiosity led me to follow them. What on earth were they doing?
I followed them behind the condo, through the empty field, into a stand of trees. Lo and behold, they built a fort. Sticks, rocks, branches – everything they could find. They worked together, they learned to tie knots, they figured out which branches were stronger and which could be easily bent and tied together. Best of all, they were laughing.
Experts agree that play is an important part of child development. They weigh in often about the appropriate and inappropriate amount of screen time, as well as how and when children should be engaged in various forms of exercise. But what few experts talk about openly is the importance of “free play” for children. This is particularly important when it comes to playing in the outdoors. Play is critical.
Play fosters creativity, social interactions, and forces children to discover the natural consequences of actions. There was a failure-success experience for my children when they figured out how to tie together the branches to form a make-shift doorway on their fort. Play is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that it is “essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them to manage stress and become resilient.”
Experts also agree that outdoor activities are essential to connect our children to the natural world. A connection with nature as a young child gives a sense of belonging in the world and gives reference to education in the natural sciences, physics, math, and the like. But just like a playground offers a different outdoor experience than an open field, a directed hike through the woods deprives children of the opportunity and responsibility to use their own senses, reflections, and intellect to engage with the world.
So what does that mean for us Montana parents who want to share the outdoors with their children? Nothing. Keep doing what you are doing. But in the back of your mind, remind yourself how you discovered what you know now about rocks and trees and leaves and dirt and animals. Remind yourself how you learned to climb a tree, skip rocks, and make forts. Was it because your mother showed you? Or was it your brother? Your cousin? Your friend?
Yes, I want my children to eventually learn the beauty of the natural world – mountains, rivers, trails, trees, insects, plants, animal tracks, and more. But the most important skill I want them to learn is how to discover – the world and themselves.
Then maybe I will have done my job.
The best part of my oldest son’s personality is his love of life. Everyday is an opportunity for a party in Ted’s world. He loves people, he loves laughing, and he loves living life to its fullest. On paper, that’s exactly what we want to say about our children. In reality, that personality trait in a child will run you ragged. Trust me.
Years ago, I put sweet Ted in his toddler bed for his afternoon nap. Most days, he was happy to curl up with a story and his blankie. His eyelids would become slow and heavy. Eventually he would fall asleep. That day, there was no heaviness in his eyelids, no slowness to his breathing, and no quiet anywhere in his room. He laughed loudly, begging for another round of Goodnight Moon. Finally, I left him with a kiss on the forehead and the book to read on his own. “Sshhhh, Teddy. It’s time for quiet. Stay in your bed and rest for a bit.” He nodded and smiled sweetly.
It took about an hour for him to settle down, but eventually I could hear him talking softly to himself and clearly taking “quiet time” to himself. So I peeked into his room.
When I cracked open the door, I could see Ted standing on his bed leaning against the wall. It looked very much like he was painting or swiping the wall with something. And then, the smell hit me.
I opened the door in a flurry of confusion and concern (mostly for my carpet and walls, mind you). And sure enough, Ted had slipped off his diaper and managed to use the contents as finger paints for a mural on his wall. “See! Mama, see!”
Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while”.
Clearly, Ted had tapped into his creative side that afternoon. And while I mourned the loss of my pristine walls and untainted carpet, I was immediately transfixed and suspended in a state of confusion. Ted was so happy and so proud of himself for his “work of art”. How could I, as his loving mother, condemn his masterpiece?
Cultivating creativity in children can be less disturbing and more encouraging, if we put some effort and thought into it as parents. That smelly afternoon took me down a new path with all of my children. I knew that day that I had a responsibility to do better for them. Creativity is cultivated by freedom and stifled by continuous monitoring, direction and pressure to conform. In the real world, there are few questions that have one right answer. And fewer problems that have one right solution. Cultivating creativity in children makes for a better world and is crucial to the success of our species.
What can we do as parents to cultivate creativity?
1. Tell Stories. Maybe you read books or retell stories told to you. For my kids, they love reenactments and retellings of my life history. They even love hearing the stories behind the most mundane of household chores. My daughter’s favorite is how Grandma Annie taught me a slick way to peel hardboiled eggs.
2. Get Messy. Play in the mud. Stomp in a puddle. Fingerpaint. (Dirty diapers optional.)
3. Play. Really, just play.
4. Ask Questions. Lots of questions. Open-ended questions are best. “Why is that horse swatting his tail? Why do stars shine? What do you think our puppy is thinking about when he hears your voice?” Let them think, discover, and hypothesize without your know-it-all interjections.
5. Set the Scene. A big part of our job as parents is to make sure that our children’s environment is set up for them to thrive. Think of setting up a tank for a pet snake. Something to climb on, something to hide under, and some water to drink. For kids, it could be paints and paper, music and instruments, or just free time in their busy schedule to daydream.
6. Put Away the Clown Suit. I’m often quoted by even my own children saying, “My job is to keep you healthy and safe. That’s it.” In other words, I’m not a circus clown. Kids don’t actually need us to entertain them. If given the opportunity, they can be quite entertaining on their own!
7. Let Them Decide. When kids have to make decisions, they actually sharpen cognitive skills in problem-solving. If they are young, you can give them a choice. “Would you like to read Dr. Seuss or Jack Kerouac?” As they mature, let them make decisions about what they will do, how they will do it, or when they will do it. Parents should always retain the right to veto, but at least we can give them the experience of making a decision.
8. Lose Track. Turn them loose in the house or the yard or the park and see what happens. Obviously, you are still responsible for protecting your children from harmful people, places, and things. But what would they do if they had the freedom to safely explore?
In the end, cultivating creativity in our children is an essential responsibility. This can be a difficult task given an aversion to emergency room visits or a propensity toward clean carpets. But, it’s clearly as important for the development of healthy, productive adults as any nutritional, educational, or moral aspect of parenting.
One final word to the wise, crayons and fingerpaints are always easier to clean up than a dirty diaper.
When my oldest son was a toddler, the odds were against him. Doctors painted grim pictures of Ted’s future because of the seizures that attacked him multiple times per day. As most parents would, we went to great lengths to give him what we thought needed to learn to play and live like any other toddling boy. We scheduled an array of therapy sessions, learned sign language, encouraged him to jump and run and stack blocks and put together puzzles. We set high expectations.
By four, Ted was two years seizure-free and developing better than his doctors predicted. One hot summer day on the playground, he saw another boy make an arm-fart. The sun was shining and the trees rustling their thick manes of leaves. And Ted’s eyes glimmered in the awesome reflection of that boy’s arm-fart. I watched as Ted slowly slid his hand to his own armpit to cast his first line into the depths of body sounds. And then… nothing. Failure.
According to researchers, it is that kind of failure that should help our kids learn the keys to success. Some of history’s greatest accomplishments came only after disappointments. And yet, we all know that not everyone bounces back after failure. Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013 for her research on “grit” – what she defines as a winning combination of goal directedness, motivation, self-control, and positive mindset. Grit, according to Duckworth, is a key factor in predicting success and more important than talent in many cases.
As parents, we see when our kids have Grit and we see when they give up. What can we do to help them cultivate Grit?
- Start Early. When they cry as infants, we soothe. This soothing calms anxieties and develops the neural circuitry to learn to self-soothe and eventually self-regulate. As they get older, set reasonable limits and enforce them with empathy. “I know you want to eat 76 cookies. They are delicious. But two is all we are going to eat right now.” This will develop internal limits and teach resilience. Children have to be taught that they don’t always get what they want – and it’s okay.
- Teach Them to Achieve Goals. Household chores are a great vehicle for goal achievement. Start with stacking books. Then picking up laundry. One step at a time, teach your kids how to size up a project, identify steps to achieve the goal, and how to deal with obstacles along the way. We use the same system for finishing a puzzle as toddlers to coach our kids in writing research papers as middle-schoolers.
- Teach the Growth Mindset. Tell your children how it works. “So you want to arm-fart? All right, it’s going to take time to teach your brain to work your body to make those awful noises. With practice, your brain will learn. You have the ability to be smarter, stronger, and better at whatever you choose!”
- Enjoy Their Joy. Find out what your kids are passionate about and be their number one fan! With your support in their passions, they will learn to persevere and succeed by facing the challenges, learning through failures, and experiencing success. Most importantly, your genuine care in their happiness will help them to develop an internal happiness that will help them stay the course in the face of disappointment.
Thankfully for Ted, we are gritty parents. It took a full year of Ted trying to arm-fart. The day that first sound emerged from his hand and armpit is one of many proud moments. To this day, we use “The Year of the Arm Fart” as an example for our other kids and a reminder to Ted that he is capable of whatever goals he sets his mind to achieve. With Grit like that, the sky is the limit!
Joe was an awful baby. He cried when I wanted him to sleep. He slept when I needed him to wake. He only smiled when no one was around. And often he would squish his face in disgust when anyone walked into the room. He never ate. When he did eat, it came right back up. In desperation, I weaned him off of the boob and onto food only to be told that we had to go back to breast-feeding a month later. What troubled me most of all about Joe was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was defeated. He was my fourth kid – it should have been a cakewalk. Yet, I felt hopeless, helpless, and deeply inadequate as a mother.
To make a long story shorter, I eventually figured it all out. Thanks to our beloved Dr. Lisa, I realized that I knew nothing. She taught me that raising children is a combination of learning to juggle fiery knives and trying to predict the weather in Kansas from within an Alaskan cave… while knitting socks for elephants… and humming the Ave Maria. The only thing that I could do is learn to listen to my babies and give them what they needed – not necessarily what I decided. As babies, my children were not exactly good communicators. But, I learned to hear their cries, giggles, coos, and translate accordingly. As toddlers, I learned to interpret the whining and No! into requests for food, sleep, and cuddles.
Now as kids and – yikes! – teens, these little people have the same needs but a different language. They are more capable of doing for themselves and actually have responsibilities and society. While I can certainly call the school and gear up my “Helicopter Mama” ways, I know that it doesn’t help them to learn to live in this world. Instead, I have to teach them to be independent and free to discover the realities of the world. Even if those realities are sometimes harsh and less forgiving that we want our children to experience. Since then, I’ve discovered there are varying degrees of allowing children to experience the world. The best practice I’ve found as a parent is to equip them for success and allow them to fail.
“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain quiet observer of all that happens.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
How this plays out in daily life is the reason that a Mother’s job is so challenging. Here are my best tips:
1. Assign Responsibility. In our house, everyone is responsible for their own “stuff”. Clothes, toys, books, homework, pets, etc. However, everyone has a checklist for what needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis. No one is above a checklist.
2. Teach. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to unload a dishwasher, fold a towel, or even feed the dog. If you expect your kids to take responsibility, at least give them an opportunity to learn how to do the task. Not only will they be equipped to meet your expectation, but they will be proud to have followed your lead.
3. Reward. Let’s be clear. Sometimes the reward for doing something is that you don’t have to suffer the consequence of NOT doing it. Whether or not you decide to pass out ice cream cones or just give a big hug should always depend on the situation, the task, AND the kid! (Joe is often given a simple “Good job! It looks nice,” for making his bed and Ted often gets a ticker-tape parade for doing the same!)
In the end, my job is to do the best job I can to grow good people. The task is always daunting and never easier than it seems. But the rewards are unmatched.
I ruined my son’s life today. There will be no iPods, iPads, tablets, Gameboys, or any other “technology” allowed. The only day that the kids will be allowed to use their “technology” is Saturday.
Ricky’s life is over.
The decision to reinstate this rule came after we played what should have been a friendly game of Monopoly last night. What typically is a night of conversation, teasing, jokes, and stories became a night of regurgitating and reenacting Vines, YouTube videos, and jokes they’d seen online. I felt as though my children’s minds had been hijacked by people I have never met.
So, this morning when I laid down the new rules, two of my three sons shrugged and made a feeble effort to put up a fight. They ended up deciding to head out to play a game of football. But poor Ricky. He spent the better part of the morning with his head buried in his pillow, making lists of why we are the worst parents on the planet.
Later, when Ricky was still buried deep in his cave of disdain, Joe asked me why I made the decision to ruin Ricky’s life. We talked about why I am actually a smart, caring mother contrary to what image I could feel developing in Ricky’s mind.
I explained that I consider our minds like a worm’s digestive system – garbage in, garbage out. If all we see, read, hear, and experience is offensive, sophomoric humor, then that’s what we’ll talk about, replay, and present to the world. I reminded him that he and his siblings are smart, talented, and compassionate. To water down their creativity with videos of kids twerking, adults falling into cakes, etc. wouldn’t be that much of a concern, except the time it takes to watch all of that. When can I expect them to practice their instruments, tidy their rooms, read books, play catch in the yard? Today’s iPods aren’t much different than the TV was in my youth. We can’t spend all day, everyday watching TV or eating Twinkies, or playing Clash of the Clans. That’s just not how we live life to its fullest.
So there I was, repeating the same conversation that I heard from my parents thirty years ago. Ugh. Which made me wonder what other Universal Truths in Parenting there were.
1. Garbage In = Garbage Out. Consider that what you put out in the world (via your athletics, academics, friendship) consists largely of what you’ve consumed.
2. A Smile for a Stranger Opens Many Gates. Is it so difficult to smile at someone? No. And believe it or not, your smiles create a sense of happiness that is contagious. Next time you are serving brussels sprouts, smile and see how much more accepting your kids are of your gourmet selection.
3. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others. The truth is that if your child faints while you are putting on your own mask, you will still be able to help them. But if you faint, then you will be of no help to anyone. As dramatic as it is, this rule applies for many other areas in life.
I’m sure there are others that are equally crucial to surviving as a parent and molding responsible, productive members of society. This is a good start.
Maybe I’ll add more after watching the season opener for The Walking Dead… just kidding!