Category Archives: purpose

Alone Time

Of all of the proposals I make about how to use your time as a mother, this one is going to sound the most insane and pie-in-the-sky: Get some time alone.

We are going to bend the definition of alone to make it a bit more reasonable.

Being Alone Together

Zander and I went to the park the other day. Quiet and breezy, he crawled around the plaza and explored the world. Grabbing onto the side of the fountain, he tries to pull himself up. He is learning to stand.

For my part, I stretch out on the ground and check on him every few minutes. He’s always in my peripheral vision.

But instead of scrolling through my feed, reading a book, or listening to a podcast, I am just there. Laying. Being alone, with my thoughts. No intrusion of other’s ideas.

We are there for a bit over an hour and then I head home. I feel so at peace when I walk in. I pick up my copy of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I say thank you for finally making clear to me what’s been missing in my life.

The Importance of Solitude

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Albert Camus, my favorite philosopher, said: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Different figures throughout history have boasted the benefits of solitude, from Aristotle to Audrey Hepburn. They may say the practice boosts their creativity or mediates their sanity. East and West both agree that solitude is necessary for a well-lived life.

Modern science is, unsurprisingly, finding that this is the case.

When you spend time alone—not taking in the thoughts of other’s or meeting the expectations of your social group, you get a jumpstart to the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest-and-digest part of your nervous system. Lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and more relaxed muscles are all signs that your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated.

You also have time to reflect and flex your insight muscle. Taking yourself out of the social context allows you to see how you are being affected and how you are affecting in a way that you wouldn’t be able to when you’re in the thick of it. When your brain is in input processing mode, whether the input is books, podcasts, or friends, it can’t do the hard work of figuring out who you are and what you’re here for.

Shocking!

In a study done by the University of Virginia, researchers found that a quarter of women and two-thirds of men who were involved in the experiment would rather be subjected to an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts.

We are losing our ability to be alone. We haven’t analyzed its value—or maybe, like the participants in the mentioned study, we’re afraid to spend time with our thoughts.

And if we are, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves scattered, stressed, and burnt out.

Fancy Tech

Not being with my phone, I’d heard that. I knew you weren’t supposed to have it on you all of the time. But I forgot that books are another new-fangled technology that intrude sometimes on my solitude. And while I love phones, podcasts, and books, they aren’t as essential to the well-being of a human as blocks of quiet reflection sprinkled throughout the day and week.

Set an example for your children. Spend some time alone. Be bored. Teach them how to sit with boredom by not providing constant entertainment and noise.

While the perfect arrangement may not exist when you’ve got one kid strapped to you or four running around, make true solitude a priority. Go to the park without the phone. Ask the partner for a half an hour walk by yourself on Sunday. Find a way to make radical decompression part of your daily, weekly, or monthly ritual.

Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom guilt is a basic mom emotion, because guilt is a basic human emotion.

While unpleasant, it provides an important social and psychological function. It motivates us to behave differently than we have.

Shame, on the other hand, is a destructive emotion.

Brene Brown, a pre-eminent shame scholar and famous TED-talker, says that while guilt creates psyhcological discomfort, shame makes us feel fundamentally unlovable.

Motivation to Change

These are two wildly different things.

Mom guilt would be a feeling that tells us we aren’t behaving in line with our values, and it would nudge us in the right direction.

Mom shame motivates us to hide our behavior, not to change it. Since we become morally bad by our actions, it is important not to let people know. We cannot do without having other’s approval.

Mom shame is what most women are feeling, not mom guilt.

Or maybe something else entirely.

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Why do I think so?

Because mothers are largely doing the same things day in and day out. They aren’t feeling motivated to improve. Their conscious is not leading them.

Shame is a toxic emotion. We need to banish mom shame, and encourage mom guilt. Mom guilt would be when we feel discomfort because we have done something that we should not doing.

Mom shame about spending time away from your children would be ridiculous. It’s normal and natural in the context of a community, and spending time away from your childrenespecially young babies and toddlerscould help them with stress inoculation.

This would be useless shame. Not only do you likely have to spend time aware from your children, but it is neutral to helpful for your children. When you do it, you feel morally bad and alone, and you can’t change it. That is toxic.

Mom guilt is when you give your children food that you know isn’t good for them.

People are judging you for it.

And they should be.

The reason that you feel bad is because you are doing something that is against your core values.

Leveraging Mom Guilt

Does that mean that you cannot give your kid chicken nuggets every once in awhile?

No.

It just means that you need to be mindful, and realize that the emotions you’re are communicating to you.

I’m proposing that we want more mom guilt in our life. How can we get more?

Two things:

  1. Clearly laying out our priorities. When we know what we value, and in what order we value it, it is much easier to make decisions and much harder to feel guilty. “I value my children’s health enough to always have healthy food in the house, but do not believe that snacks will harm them. We can have snacks when we travel or are at a friend’s house.”

With this clearly laid out, I can feel bad when I bring some cookies into the house, and good when we eat a pie at Grandma’s. There won’t be low-level shame running through each day.

  1. Surrounding ourselves with people who share those priorities. Willpower doesn’t work. Changing your environment works. The people and things around you are what motivate you to do the things that you do. Call it triggers or associations, for better or worse, this is what ultimately dictates most of your decisions. Whatever your environment is geared towards will become your autopilot.

    People are a key part of that environment. If everyone around you is upholding the same values as you, you will feel deep, social mom guilt when you do not follow through—and the good news is that following through will be easier.

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Emotions Communicate

As our children grow, we want them to know that not all uncomfortable or negative emotions are bad. We don’t want them to run away from sadness or anger. We want them to rest comfortably in the fact that emotions are trying to alert them to some truth about themselves, the world, and how those two are interacting.

We want the same thing for ourselves.

Guilt does not need to be run away from. It needs to be acknowledged, and it needs to be dealt with. By forcing more mom guilt into our lives and forcing out the mom shame, we can let go of this low-level nag and move into action.

SAVERS and CHARMS

Each morning for several months now, I perform my SAVERS.

This is an acronym created by Hal Elrod that spells out things you need to do in your routine each morning to be at your best—to have your Best Day Ever. I have spoken about Hal Elrod on this blog before. I really enjoy his energy, and find his podcasts interesting. He has guests on to discuss family and business life.

I am a strong believer that a lot of work that applies to business and leadership also applies to the family.

SAVERS Stands For:

S- Silence: Sitting in prayer or meditation

A – Affirmations: Stating your goals and knowing you can accomplish them

V- Visualization: Visualizing the path to success

E- Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory

R – Reading: Take a glance at some kind of self-help or self-development book or article

S- Scribing: A word used for writing, because SAVERW didn’t look as good. This usually means journaling.

I think the way that visualizations and affirmations are done in this routine are far better than any I have heard of before. Visualization should not just be the end goal, but the process of getting there. Affirmations should not be passive–”Money flow to me”–and they should not lie–”I am rich.” Instead, they should be goals, with details on how to reach them, and the confidence that you can.

My TMM

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For instance, one of my morning affirmations is:

“I am worthy and capable of creating the life that I want. I have all the tools that I need to be an excellent mother. I will respond sensitively to my son’s cues. I will raise him to have balance, resistance, insight, and compassion. I will do this by helping him to identify his emotions in his body, helping him see them in others. I will be an emotional coach. I will create a secure attachment. I will be the calm in his storm.”

I have others for being an excellent partner, making friends, being a blogger, being fit, creating a warm home environment, etc.

On an ideal day, I do 20 minutes of yoga each day, followed by visualizations and affirmations. Then I do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I do a bit of gratitude journaling, and then write my daily goals and evaluate the previous day’s successes and shortcomings. a few minutes of gratitude journaling. I usually read a parenting, self-development, or entrepreneurship book.

Some days are less perfect. I wake up tired and feeling lousy. I put my son on my chest and do 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation so I can forgive myself. I get up and stretch. I close my eyes while I picture my future, and say my most important affirmation—the one about being a mother. I read one page of a book, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and get started with my day.

Some days are completely wonky and it takes me all day to finish my mourning routine.

Difficulties and Energy

It is hard for me to overstate how much better my life feels since I began doing this. I love having made a habit of it, and I have more energy each day. I started while I was 38 weeks pregnant because my energy levels were quickly declining, and I was so pleased with the results that.

Since then, I started my blog, have lost all of my pregnancy weight and more (four-month postpartum), made friends with new people—which I had avoided doing for the year previous in my new location—and began freelance writing.

I have remained calm and energized through all of the struggles of new parenting. My son is on his four-month sleep regression, so I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for over three weeks. But I feel fine.

Right after I finished doing the laundry, he pooped on the bed when I was changing him. I could breathe.

He wants mom and mom alone, all of the time right now. I can appreciate this short season of his life—even if it is sometimes a bit exhausting!

This is everything I wanted out of parenting, and I give partial credit to The Miracle Morning.

CHARMS

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TMM has many spin-offs to help different people in different areas of their lives, whether it is writers, entrepreneurs, or millionaires. Lindsay McCarthy created The Miracle Morning For Parents and Families

In it, she details a miracle morning routine more suited to children. Her daughter was three and her son was seven when they started the routines. Some people say that they have started with their two-year-olds.

Instead of the SAVERS, though, children perform CHARMS.

CHARMS stands for:

C – Creativity: Let your children engage each morning in some kind of creative activity. Whether that is drawing, painting, or playing instruments.

H – Health: This includes exercise, with an emphasis on diet. I think this HIIT workout for children is a great way to teach them exercise. Exercise and diet both contribute to our well being and ability to regulate emotions.

A – Affirmations: A child doesn’t have to be as specific in their goals. Help them think of ways that they like to be. “I am going to be helpful today by cleaning toys up with my sister,” or “I am going to be brave today by trying a new thing.”

R – Reading: Reading as a family is an amazing experience and one that is highly correlated with academic success. Try to carve out some time to read as a family. Older children may enjoy reading by themselves.

M – Meditation: This combines visualizations and silence. Some children might enjoy sitting and meditation. But many will not. Consider telling your children a calming story while they keep their eyes closed and picture it. Listen to the Peace Out podcast if you aren’t much of a storyteller yourself.

S – Service: Be of service to others. This could be doing chores (which Lindsay calls Family Contributions) or any other way your children or you can come up with that involves meeting the needs and desires of others.

You need to make this fun for your children, not a chore. Playfulness keeps children interested. It is also their primary way of learning, especially under seven-years-old. It can’t be something that mom and dad force on their kids.

The SAVERS and CHARMS will set you and your children up for The Best Day Ever so that you can have The Best Lives Ever.

Self-Care Isn’t Fun

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I am making friends.

I am making friends because they are something my children and I will need.

I am making friends even though it is draining and often feels like a waste of time.

I am making friends even though the results won’t start to really shine for a couple of years.

I am making new friends as a form of self-care.

What do you think of when you hear the term self-care?

If you think of chocolate covered strawberries and $150 massages, then you are thinking the wrong thing.

True self-care is not about what feels good in the moment. It is often the things that we don’t want to do. It is about restructuring your life so that you don’t feel you have to run away from it. It is about creating habits that make you a healthy, energetic, centered person.

Self-care is about reducing the influence of people who you love dearly who are unhealthy and unhappy. Even if they’re not toxic to you, personally. Because they are dragging you down physically and mentally. And it isn’t correlation.

It means delaying gratification. It means working 10 to 20 minutes a day on some project or skill and seeing no results for a long time. It means reframing your thought process and not being able to take a picture of it. It means focusing on immeasurables with little to no short-term payoff and no end in sight.

While meditation may some day feel good, you might hate it. But it doesn’t matter.

While exercise may some day feel good, you might resent it. But it doesn’t matter.

While journaling may some day feel good, you might look down on it. But it doesn’t matter.

Self-care is about doing these things that make you happier and healthier in the long run.

 

Many of the people who do them regularly do not enjoy them. Most of the people who work out 5 times a week are not thrilled to be going to the gym again; and many of the people who meditate feel like idiots with racing minds half the time when they sit down.

But they do it any way. Not because it is fun or because they’re disciplined, but because they know they need to in order to have a life that doesn’t scare and exhaust them. They do it because they’ve created automaticity for all of these healthy habits—they’ve set up a systems that make them feel odd if they don’t do these unexciting practices.

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Self-care is about creating those systems.

About adding extra steps between yourself and the easy, destructive thing you want to do; and creating fewer steps between the difficult, healthy thing you know you need to do. It means putting the soda in the garage and putting the toothpicks out right next to your toothbrush.

It means getting rid of things that clutter your house, the stuff that reminds you to be sad or to have a drink. It means setting upper limits on your sugar consumption and setting lower limits on how much time you spend walking each day.

Self-care is about recognizing the things in your life that matter and take work, and then working on them, even though you can let them slip by on any given day and it would be hard to notice.

It means putting work into your relationship each day so that you aren’t just coasting along on comfortable until your partnership succumbs to entropy.

It means seeing that you’ve addressed the healthy mind platter to make sure you’re getting all of your little mind-nutrients so that you can be fulfilled.

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Treating yourself can be nice. Go get the massage, have a piece of chocolate, take a vacation.

But this is not what self-care is. Self-care is making the decision to build up the nitty gritty habits that take away what makes you feel frazzled, hectic, and beaten down, and replacing it with things that make you feel full.

Something I’ll Teach My Children

I’m a woo-free natural mama. I don’t believe in the pseudo-science surrounding a lot of the prescriptions. I try to do my research, but I don’t “f**king love science.” I am not interested in raising my children to create a better, more caring world. I don’t care about the environment.

I am handling motherhood in a certain way and my son is being raised in a certain way so that I can feel good, and so that he can be strong and get what he wants out of the world.

I happen to have been raised without using much over-the-counter medicine and didn’t go to the doctor often because of who my mother is (thanks!) She isn’t anti-Western medicine—and neither am I. There are just a lot of things that can be done before you take antibiotics.

I am not pro or anti vaccine. I am not for “informed choice”. I am happy to be a free rider on the herd immunity that our nation provides. Nobody likes a free-rider, but everyone wants to be one. Our son will be getting some vaccinations; but that isn’t my point.

Whatever my choice, I will not be make it because I have a fear or autism or the heavy metals or cancer. It is because I can.

My children will be unschooled. This isn’t because, as many seem to think, because unschooled children are bastions of liberal ideology.

I am unschooling because I want my children to enjoy learning. I want to be the person to give them those opportunities. I want to influence their ideas more than other people. I want to have more say in their peer group.

I am unschooling because I want my children to be competent and confident in making their own decisions, and never have their curiosity taken way from them. I want them to remain in a growth mindset. I want them to compete on their own terms.

I am not unschooling because I want my children to take better care of the animals and the environment.

I want emotionally healthy children who are amicable, cooperative, and giving. To this end, I am raising them in the gentle parenting style, as advised by people like Dr. Daniel Siegel, the inventor of the field of interpersonal neurobiology, and Dr. John Gottman, one of the lead researchers in family systems, because I want my children to be able to get ahead in life. It just so happens that these skills are the skills of winners. While takers usually end up somewhere in the middle of the race of life, the givers end up at the top and bottom. I want my children at the top.

If, on the other hand, being at the top and being happy and fulfilled meant being ruthless and violent, then I would raise my children to be ruthless and violent.

While some might find this a dim view on why to raise my children in the way that I do, I find that ultimately, pragmatism towards one’s values carries you further than ephemeral ideas and reaching for the ideal. It is close to home that I want my son to be successful. It is much further away that I want Earth to be loved and respected so that it is a beautiful paradise for seven generations down the line.

The more abstract and idea, the less you get feedback from it in your environment. The less you get positive feedback, the harder it is to remain steadfast in your approach.

I will tell my children that we did all of these things because it is what felt good to us, and we thought it was the best way to make them strong and to want to continue a relationship with us in the future. I will make it clear that there is no shame in approaching things from a selfish angle, and the closer to home you make your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. These are a few among the many great lessons I choose to model—and later, discuss—with my children.

Self-Care, in the Name of Your Child

One of the most common complaints among parents and everyone else is that they can’t afford the time to do what they need to do, let alone extra time.

And one of the most common refrains of motivational speakers is, of course, “You can’t afford not to!”

The motivational speakers are right. But just saying that you need to make time doesn’t actually allow you to have that time. What you need to do is help you and your child build the skills necessary that time to yourself is possible with your children around.

It is great if you have someone around in the family, or have hired help, or a friend who is able to take your kids a few times a week. You are lucky and you should utilize the time you have wisely.

But making time for yourself while your child is under your care alone isn’t just about you. It isn’t even just about your relationship to your child. It is also about him and his skills and abilities.

Children need to learn how to entertain themselves. As adults, we know how to occupy our own time without having anyone telling us directly what we need to do. If we are lucky, we built those skills in childhood.

But robbed of this opportunity, many don’t learn until after they leave college and need to make decisions for the bulk of the day without anyone’s help. Some make it their whole lives, going from toddlerhood, to school, to college, to work, always having someone telling them to do, or worrying about what they will do in those hours, for a huge part of their day. They use their alone time only to recoup for the next shift.

Give your child the gift of self-entertainment. With this may come a possibility of boredom, but that is okay. Depending on which line of thought you adhere to, boredom can be (1) a healthy time to breathe, calm down, reorganize, and recoup; or (2) it can be a sign that you are not good at self-entertainment. In which case, this is the time in which your child can build that skill.

While setting goals for our children and our alone time, we need to be realistic about what is developmentally-appropriate as well as what is skill-appropriate. There are many 18-month-olds who are happy to play alone for 20-40 minutes at a time. There is not doubt that with the proper entertainment (A pikler triangle, crayons, pattern blocks, stacking cups, etc.) these toddlers can spend a chunk of time by themselves without needing our input—especially in a Yes! Space.

But what if your little one has never had to entertain him or herself. Will it work to leave an 18-month-old for half an hour who has never spent 5 minutes by himself?

It will depend on him and his personality, which only you know. But you don’t need to assume. You can just try.

Start with 5 minutes. I suggest taking this 5 minutes to do a meditation or some stretching, something to keep you grounded. See how this session goes. Maybe you thought he would cry and he’s fine. Maybe you thought he’d cope without a problem, but is struggling. Whatever it is, accept that it is his reaction.

But wait the 5-minutes. You can call out to him that you’ll be there soon. Look in the door real quick to assure him you’re still there.

5 minutes is not going to do long term damage to your baby or your relationship with him. Often, we project our fears and anxieties onto our children, and this is a disservie to everyone involved.

Continue these 5 minute increments until everyone is comfortable and you can move to 10 minutes.

Then 15.

Then 20.

I’ve known 4 month olds to entertain themselves up to 20 minutes. Your toddler can do it as he gets more comfortable with the fact that you’ll come back, that he is safe, that he has the skills he needs to be alone.

While this period of learning may be a bit painful—possibly more for the parent than the child—this initial investment into means that in the long run, you will have a space most days to do a little bit of self-care, and that will allow you to parent from the place that you want.

It will also give your child the important skills of coping with boredom, being alone with themselves, creating their own entertainment, and it will cultivate a sense of autonomy and competence in problem-solving.

These truly are things you can’t afford not to give yourself. Your child needs these skills to thrive, as well as a parent who is present.

The Ultimate Career

“All other jobs exist for one purpose one, and that is to support the [homemaker].” -C.S. Lewis

What would you say to a person who was working 98 hours per week?

You’re crazy! You need to relax. Take time off. Spend it with family.

What would you say to a person who was putting effort into something they deeply loved and wanted for 98 hours a week–that is 2.5 full time jobs?

I’m guessing your answers are quite different.

Frames are how information is presented to us, negatively or positively. For instance, 20% chance of rain and 80% chance of sunshine mean the same thing, but they resonate with us differently. We use framing any time we deliver information. I can say 1 in 4 homeless people are women, or 3 in 4 homeless people are men. While they mean the same, they clearly put the emphasis on different parties.

We often accept the frames that we are sold. We might accept that we have to do well in school in order to be successful people. We might accept that love asks nothing. Or we might accept that because motherhood takes effort, it is the same thing as work.

Motherhood is a gift.

Does that mean that it isn’t tiring? That there isn’t a lot to do? Of course not. All things in life take effort. The question is whether or not that effort is worth it. Framing things solely in terms of hours spent doesn’t give us much information.

Man spends 40 hours a week lifting!

Boy spends 120 hours sleeping a week!

Child spends 2 hour in front of screen per day!

Woman spends 168 hours a week breathing!

How old is the boy? For a one-month-old boy that would be a reasonable amount of time. Does the man “lift” 40 hours a week because it is part of his job? Without any way to put these times into context, they’re meaningless.

Reportlinker did a survey about time spent cooking meals at home. It found that 23% of people said they spend more than an hour cooking each night. This may seem a huge amount of time. But a great deal of the people report doing it because cooking is a passion. These people aren’t doing a chore; they’re participating in their own gratification.

The average person does not have a very fulfilling job. Gary Keller says, “Success is getting what you want. Fulfillment is giving what you’ve got.”

Hal Elrod, an author and speaker says, “The more value that you give to people, the more value that you get out of life.”

All signs point to motherhood being very meaningful and fulfilling. It is out of line to compare someone working at McDonald’s or even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company with a mother.

We have been sold the frame that mothering is a curse on our brows, that being a mother is a million jobs tucked into one.

It is not. It is not 2.5 jobs.

You don’t always have to be happy. Things are allowed to be difficult. Life is hard.

But we don’t need to compare our effort as mothers and wives to careers. And we certainly don’t need to be martyrs that are bearing a cross. Unmartyr yourself.

When you believe that motherhood is a burden, it will feel that way. Most of the time, people portray parenting as torture—funny torture, that is eventually worth it, but torture nonetheless.

In fact, parenting can be pleasant. A great deal of the time. If you come at it from the right perspective and with the right energy.

More than ever, the mothering community is putting an emphasis on self-care. As well it should. We cannot afford to not take care of ourselves. And not just for ourselves, but for our children. We have to have the mental energy to re-frame a culturally constructed narrative that tells us that this is unpaid labor, when it is really our unpaid purpose.