My kids are 12 and 14, and I still have days when I feel like the joke’s on me. But nothing compares to those first few years as a parent. Early on, I was in survival mode. I just wanted sleep and ice cream. But eventually, I started to wonder if my old self would ever matter again and how to find her.
Looking back on my transition from practicing as a family physician to becoming a harried new mom and then eventually a seasoned household CEO, I’ve pinpointed some tactics that helped me through the hard years:
1. ROUTINES: In our working lives, we had schedules, deadlines, a framework. I developed a routine to ensure I’d accomplish one major task each weekday: Monday, market; Tuesday, towels and sheets; Wednesday, wash clothes; Thursday, the bills; etc. I can’t be trusted to do these things routinely unless prompted. Choose an afternoon for play dates and make it happen weekly. Schedules give our lives rhythm and mark time.
2. RITUALS: Give yourself unconditional rewards for staying in the game. That warm, delicious, sweet cup of morning coffee is a treat I always enjoy. Drink a glass of wine while cooking dinner. Get a fun magazine subscription and really read it when it comes. These things remind you that what you like matters, too.
3. START THE BEDTIME ROUTINE WITH A FULL STOMACH AND EMPTY BLADDER: Nothing tries my patience like hunger or a full bladder. If your house is like mine, bedtime is a monumental exercise in patience. Eat and go potty before you start. Trust me. It’s major.
4. EXERCISE: I know you’re tired. Hear me out. This isn’t about your pre-baby bikini. To improve your mood and stamina, you don’t have to heave weights or run a marathon. Take two laps around the the grocery store before you shop. Load the kids in a stroller and walk around the block. Some is better than none. You’ll think more clearly and sleep better which makes everything easier.
5. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH FRIENDS FROM WORK: I hang out with one of my doctor girlfriends every Thursday. She shares interesting cases with me and isn’t judgmental if I’m rusty. This combines adult friend time with a link to the old days. And if we exercise, it’s a trifecta!
6. KEEP PERSPECTIVE: I believe this earth isn’t our final home but a place to learn to love God and each other. When I’m stressed about plastic containers or food dye, remembering this helps. I try to do what’s best for my family, but if I mess up, I remember that our eternal life is what really matters and plastics and toxins don’t play into that. And perfect is impossible. Wear your imperfections with pride. They might be what another mom needs to see.
7. FIND INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION: When my daughter Bailey was 2-years-old, I served jury duty and loved it! I used my brain, interacted with adults, and dressed professionally. It reminded me about parts of myself that get buried under diapers and dinners. Join a book club. Learn something new on SkillShare or YouTube.
8. COMPLAIN TO OTHER MOMS: I’m serious! My sister regularly gets an earful. It’s not a spiral into negativity. We encourage each other and troubleshoot. Sometimes voicing your situation makes you hear it differently and the solution pops out. I also joined a “Mothers of Preschoolers” group. Being around other moms in the same boat was life-giving.
9. PAIR MUNDANE TASKS WITH SOMETHING FUN: I never do dishes or laundry without listening to a podcast. It passes the time, entertains me, and sometimes I learn something I can’t wait to tell my husband about.
10. GET EARPLUGS: This is important! When you get a rare chance to sleep in and let someone else deal with the kids, plug your ears. We had custom earplugs made, but the foam earplugs work too.
11. TRY TO GET A LITTLE OF WHAT YOU MOST MISS ABOUT WORKING: I miss alleviating my patients’ concerns, which is hard to come by. But I also miss the clothes. Whether it’s a meeting or a date with my husband, nice clothes make it feel special—and they are all new. Nothing I wore working fits anymore, just in case you were wondering.
12. REMEMBER SMALL JOYS: If you love to decorate, spruce up your main room. Love plants? Create a window garden. But also, forgive yourself if you don’t want to decorate or grow plants. (I didn’t think I could keep more than four beings alive when my kids were babies, so I didn’t have plants for years.)
13. LAUGH!: I love listening to stand up comedy when I drive without my kids. Laughter is rejuvenating!
14. FIGURE OUT YOUR LOVE LANGUAGE AND TELL YOUR HUSBAND: We all have a way of receiving love that resonates most with us. The five love languages, as discussed by Gary Chapman, are quality time, words of affirmation, gift giving, acts of service, or physical touch. Here’s a quick quiz to determine yours. As a couple, you will meet each other’s needs more effectively if you know what they are.
Being a mom of young children is so, so hard. Hear me. What you are doing is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. When I was in residency on my surgical month, we worked 36 hours on, 12 off. I was stretched thin physically, emotionally, and intellectually. But being a mom of young children is harder! Take care of yourself and do what you can to make your responsibilities more manageable.
These strategies aren’t magic, but they might be the difference between feeling buried and feeling better. Putting one foot in front of the other, life does get easier with time. I promise. Hang on, mama!
QUESTION: What has helped you get through the hard years that might help other moms?
CHALLENGE: Choose one suggestion above and implement it this week.