6 Simplicity Hacks for Parents Who Would Rather Spend Time Doing Than Planning

Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

“How’s it going?”
“Busy. Good, but busy.”
We’ve all had this conversation. However you feel about busy-ness – whether it’s a badge of honor, something to be avoided altogether, or just an inevitable part of life – most of us do not enjoy managing the minutiae of the busy life. I know I’d rather spend my time tickling my kids, reading something without pictures after they go bed, or checking out the new yoga studio down the street than figure out how and when I’m going to actually do all that stuff.
I spent my childhood longing for the sweet freedom that adulthood promised. Now that I have it, I find I’m actually happier when I go out of my way to limit the number of choices required of me. That experience, it turns out, is not unusual. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, less is more when it comes to options. People tend to be happier when they have fewer choices.
Enter routines. We know they’re good for kids but they might be better for adults than we give them credit for. By creating “rules” for what, how, and when we are going to do things, routines limit or even eliminate the pesky choices that drain our time and energy, leaving us with more room to engage with the people and things that matter to us.
Creating routines takes some up-front investment, but once you have them dialed in they’re worth the hassle. Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

1| Divide and conquer

My husband and I have a deal: Until 7 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday I am free to “sleep in” or work out while he gets our kids dressed and fed. Monday and Wednesdays, we switch roles. This has been our agreement ever since I got the green light to exercise after our first child was born.
Kate Darby and Marc Neff, who are professors, parents of two, and avid runners, have a unique way of making sure they both get their miles in. On weekends, one parent drives the kids to the park and the parent runs to meet them. On the way home, whoever ran to the park drives the kids home, and their spouse runs home solo.
Katie and Daniel Westreich, parents of two, take the concept a step further. Every week, they grant each other an entire day off from parent duties of any kind, including even seeing their two children. Westreich jokes they have trademarked the arrangement “20 percent divorced.”

2| Schedule all the things

Savvy parents take the time to schedule all the things in advance. Jessica Ziegler, the co-author of Science of Parenthood, relies on phone alarms for everything: “One for Get The Kids Up, one for 10-Minute Warning/Brush Your Teeth, one for GTFO.” What did we ever do before phone alarms with customizable labels!?
Joy Jackson, a stay at home mom of three, has a phone alarm scheduled to ding three times a week at 9:45 p.m. after her kids are tucked in for the night. “It’s the sex alarm,” says Jackson. “It says, ‘Hey, reminder, you guys like each other, but have your busy days made you forget?’”
Lorin Oliker Allan is a stay at home mom who relies on a weekly delivery from a local farm for her family’s eggs, milk, and produce.
Elyana Funk’s two daughters have piano lessons every Thursday afternoon, which means Thursday is always pizza day. Says Funk, a non-profit administrator, “I order it earlier in the day and schedule it so that it arrives when we do.”

3| …And use a shared electronic calendar app to do it

My husband and I started using a shared Google calendar when our first child was born over five years ago. My husband had been trying to bring me over the dark (read: electronic) side for years, but as a paper lover at heart, I wouldn’t budge – until we had a child and I had to make sure someone was watching our kid every time I went to work on a Saturday, worked out, or met a friend. Now, I’m never surprised when my husband “invites” me to happy hours with men I don’t know, and he’s come to expect “invitations” to girls’ night.
Galit Breen is a mother of three and author of “Kindness Wins,” a guide for teaching your child to be kind online . Breen has had her kids enter their own events on the family’s iCalendar since her two older kids were 10 and eight. “We’re all on the same page,” says Breen. “They don’t need reminders from me because they’re the ones who put them there, they see double-booking instantly so that we can take care of it in advance, and it’s so much less busy work for me!”

4| Simplify your meals

Melissa Proia is a stay at home mom of three kids under the ages of six. She has egg frittatas every morning for breakfast. It may sound elaborate but it’s actually far simpler than even cereal or instant oatmeal. Once a week, she mixes up a nine eggs, a pound of ground turkey, and veggies, bakes them in a casserole dish, cuts and wraps them into nine squares, and all she has to do is grab one and heat it up each morning.
On Sundays, Sam Watts – a busy stay at home mom who juggles five part-time jobs – plans her family’s meals for the week, puts all the ingredients on her shopping list, and does her weekly shopping. Having this system dialed in means she never has to take extra time to think about dinner.
Amy Muller is a mom and project manager who volunteers for her local Boulder, Colo. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter and hits ballet classes in her spare time. Muller takes it a step further with a weekly dinner schedule featuring chicken Monday, taco Tuesday, and pizza Friday, that rarely, if ever, varies.

5| Batch process

Never do something one at a time when you’re going to need to do it every day, every week, or every month. Stay at home mom Meryl Hertz Junick does all her school lunch prepping at once. This way, she says, “I just need to refresh the containers in the insulated totes each night or morning.”
I make a double batch of just about every time I bake muffins or prep a meal in the slow cooker. Those items freeze well and my future self always thanks me.
With two children in elementary school, Elyana Funk says it feels like her family attends two birthday parties every weekend. She saves time by stockpiling birthday presents.

6| Do it the night before

I am the worst procrastinator. The more deadlines I have, the cleaner my house is. But even I swear by doing as much as I can the night before. I make my kids’ lunches while I make dinner.
Elyana Funk has her coffee pot prepped and ready to go before she goes to sleep.
Brittany Bouchard, a bank manager and mom of two girls, makes getting her kids dressed a breeze by putting entire outfits together on a hanger. So instead of helping her children choose a top, a bottom, socks, and underwear, each outfit is pre-planned and ready to wear. All her kids have to do is grab a hanger and go.
Jess Allen – the popular online trainer and fitness blogger at Blonde Ponytail – even preps her kids’ breakfast the night before to make mornings smoother.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was the freedom to be an adult and do whatever I wanted. Now that I’m an adult, that freedom can feel overwhelming and I find myself longing for some of the constraints I had as a child. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional Netflix binge, third glass of wine, or extra helping of dessert. But I am happier when I can put some of my adult responsibilities on auto-pilot and devote my limited mental energy to the areas of my life where it matters.

4 Ways to Encourage Happiness in our Kids

Let’s face it, we all strive to reach the elusive state of happiness, and from time to time wonder, how do we get there?

Let’s face it, we all strive to reach the elusive state of happiness, and from time to time wonder, how do we get there? We tell our children to be happy. But how do you become happier?
Much is written on the subject of happiness, with motivational websites offering all kinds of tips and secrets. How can you know what really works, and what you should do?
Research by neuroscientists has now confirmed there are four things you can do:

1 | Ask yourself an important question

There are times when worry and anxiety take over. Our brain insists on worrying about something or being anxious. According to neuroscience, when we worry or are anxious, the brain responds because we are actually doing something.
Dr. Alex Korb, author of “The Upward Spiral” says:
In fact, worrying can help calm the limbic system by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala. That might seem counterintuitive, but it just goes to show that if you’re feeling anxiety, doing something about it — even worrying — is better than doing nothing.
But worry and anxiety are ultimately unpleasant long-term solutions to our problem. So what do scientists suggest we do?
Ask “What am I grateful for?”
Apparently, gratitude is awesome on more than a purely language level. It seems that thinking about things one is grateful for increases dopamine levels (feel-good hormone).
Again, Alex Korb:
The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…
It might seem like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Some days can be that awful. Rest assured, it is the searching for something to be grateful for that activates the response you are after, even if you cannot think of a single thing that inspires gratitude.
How about thinking of, not what, but who you are grateful for? The act of telling someone you are grateful is as good as searching for something to be grateful for.
Remember, children learn by example; start telling them you are grateful they are in your life, and they will soon reciprocate.

2 | Label negative feelings

Sometimes kids feel yuck, but they cannot say what is wrong (some adults have the same problem). Work on trying to get them to label their feelings. Explain the different feelings, including, sadness, anxiousness, and so on. Understanding and putting a label on their feelings will help make them feel better.
Sound silly? It isn’t.
Alex Korb:
…in one MRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words”, participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.
Being mindful is about being in touch with your feelings, which includes labeling them. Once children are able to label emotions, they will feel better. It might take a bit of work, particularly for younger children, but it will work. Start today.

3 | Make a decision

You might remember wrestling over a problem for hours and hours, and once you made a decision, you instantly felt better. Apparently, this is no coincidence. Making decisions reduces anxiety and worry.
Research supports this:
Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.
But what kind of decision do you make? A good enough decision is all that we should aim for. If you aim for perfection, you will only stress and overwhelm your brain, which is not what you want. Settle for the best decision and you will instantly reap the benefits.
Further benefits on decision making include a feeling of empowerment. Once we feel empowered, we feel good and happy.

4 | Touch someone you care about

Physical contact is important. Make sure you give your kids a hug, pat them on the back, or wrap your arms around them. Interactions with peers can also be more personal. There’s nothing wrong with giving your friends a pat on the back or a hug.
When you touch someone, you increase levels of oxytocin, a feel good hormone. It does not have to be full-on hugging. Shaking another person’s hand or a light touch on the shoulder are enough to produce the effect.
Don’t underestimate the power of touch. It is not given enough credit. Obviously, children need to be wary of being touched by strangers or in inappropriate ways by any adults. However, teaching about the importance of touch can also be an effective tool in setting boundaries and explaining about inappropriate touching.
The brain thrives on relationships. Exclusion from relationships has a negative effect on the brain and our happiness levels. It pays to teach our children to try and be kind to others around them and include them in their play.
What are you waiting for? Hug someone today. Remember eight hugs a day keep the blues away.

How the Power of Touch Helps Kids Thrive

Touch heals. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that touch has more power than we could ever imagine.

Touch heals. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that touch has more power than we could ever imagine.
According to the Healing Touch Program, some of the benefits of healing touch therapy include pain and stress relief, faster recovery and mobility after surgery, a strengthened immune system, a deeper spiritual connection, and reduced trauma and chronic pain.
There is now evidence that touch affects the brain as well. When the neuroscientist, Jim Coan, subjected 16 married women to a very mild electric shock while they held either their husband’s hand, a male stranger’s hand, or no hand at all, he found that the subjects received immediate relief. This was clearly reflected on their brain scans.
While the touch from a stranger did help calm their nerves, the greatest relief was observed if the touch was from their husband, especially if the two shared a high-quality marriage.
Long-standing evidence reveals that touch is so deeply a part of being human that it affects our physical, social, and psychological well-being. It has been found to help in kids’ physiological and neurological development, to decrease anxiety, and deepen bonding. Ongoing research also suggests that premature infants gain much from the healing power of touch.
Following these findings, “kangaroo care” has now been implemented for premature and full-term infants in several hospitals. Kangaroo care involves holding a naked kid (wearing a diaper only) upright against the bare chest of the carrier.
One study, which examined the impact of at least one hour of kangaroo care daily over a period of two weeks, found that recipients of this care were more alert and showed less gaze aversion. They also scored significantly higher in development assessments in the first six months.
There have also been suggestions that more touching can help prevent violent and aggressive behavior, and that kids touched often display less aggressive behavior.
According to David Linden, the neuroscientist and author of the book “Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind”, there is no substitute for touch. Most forms of appropriate touch deepen bonding by helping build trust and cooperation.
Here are a few ways to harness the healing power of touch with your children:

Hug your kids every day

There’s no such thing as too many hugs. Hug your kids as often as you can. It will make you both feel better.
Hugging has also been said to calm kids down. The next time your child experiences a meltdown, draw her close and hug her. She might initially resist, but you’ll see that your touch will eventually help calm her down.

Try other opportunities to connect

There are so many ways to connect with your kids. Touch their arms when you’re speaking to them. Touch their heads. Cuddle. Caress them gently or give them a back or a neck rub. Hold their hands.
Affectionate touch helps strengthen your ties and conveys trust. Connect even when you’re reading a book or having a conversation by holding hands or inviting your child to sit on your lap.

Play together

Playing doesn’t only help kids’ social and emotional development. It can also provide an occasion for bonding. There are many contact games that both parents and kids can enjoy.

Make the first step

If your kid is anything like mine, she’s probably the one who comes to you for hugs. Instead of waiting for your child to come to you, go to him first. Give him unexpected hugs and kisses. Remember that even a gentle tap on the back can help strengthen your connection.
Touch sends a powerful message – perhaps the most powerful kind. A tender squeeze can do and say much more than words ever could.

An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

How we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.

We are all born with emotions, but not all those emotions are pre-wired into our brains. Kids are born with emotional reactions such as crying, frustration, hunger, and pain. But they learn about other emotions as they grow older.
There is no general consensus about the emotions that are in-built verses those learned from emotional, social, and cultural contexts. It is widely accepted, however, that the eight primary in-built emotions are anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. These are reflected in different variations. For instance, resentment and violence often stem from anger, and anxiety is often associated with fear.
Secondary emotions are always linked to these eight primary emotions and reflect our emotional reaction to specific feelings. These emotions are learned from our experiences. For example, a child who has been punished because of a meltdown might feel anxious the next time she gets angry. A child who has been ridiculed for expressing fear might feel shame the next time he gets scared.
In other words, how we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.
Emotional invalidation prevents kids from learning how to manage their emotions. When we teach kids to identify their emotions, we give them a framework that helps explain how they feel, which makes it easier for them to deal with those emotions in a socially appropriate way.
The emotions children experience vary depending on age:

Infants

Infants are essentially guided by emotions pre-wired into their brains. For instance, toddler cries are usually an attempt to avoid unpleasant stimuli or to move towards pleasant stimuli (food, touch, hugs).
Evidence suggests that, in the first six months, infants are capable of experiencing and responding to distress by adopting self-soothing behavior such as sucking. Other studies have found that toddlers develop self-regulation skills in infancy and are able to approach or avoid situations depending on their emotional impact.

How you can help

A recent study suggests that “listening to recordings of play songs can maintain six- to nine-month-old infants in a relatively contented or neutral state considerably longer than recordings of infant-directed or adult-directed speech.”
The study explains that multimodal singing is more effective than maternal speech for calming highly aroused 10-month-old infants. It also suggests that play songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” for instance) are more effective than lullabies at reducing distress.

Toddlers

By the time they turn one, infants gain an awareness that parents can help them regulate their emotions.
As they grow out of the infancy stage, toddlers begin to understand that certain emotions are associated with certain situations. A number of studies suggest that fear is the most difficult emotion for toddlers. At this age, parents can begin using age-appropriate approaches to talk to kids about emotions and encourage them to name those emotions.
By the time they turn two, kids are able to adopt strategies to deal with difficult emotions. For instance, they are able to distance themselves from the things that upset them.

How you can help

Situation selection, modification, and distraction are the best strategies to help kids deal with anger and fear at this age, according to one study. In other words, helping toddlers avoid distressing situations or distracting them from those situations is one of the most effective emotion-regulation strategies.
As they grow older, toddlers can be taught to handle those situations by themselves. Indeed, they are capable of understanding different emotions and of learning different self-regulation methods that can help them deal with difficult situations. Providing toddlers with an appropriate framework can help them learn how to manage those emotions by themselves.
Naming emotions also helps toddlers learn that emotions are normal. Every day opportunities provide occasions to talk to kids about emotions: “He sure looks angry.” “Why do you think he looks so sad?”
Toddlers also learn about managing their emotions by watching us.

Childhood

Kids experience many emotions during the childhood years. Many secondary emotions come into play at this age as a child’s emotions are either validated or invalidated, influencing future emotional reactions.
Children are able to understand and differentiate appropriate from inappropriate emotional expressions, but they still find it hard to express their emotions, especially if they haven’t learned to identify and name them.

How you can help

Emotion regulation is not just about expressing emotions in a socially appropriate manner. It is a three-phase process that involves teaching children to identify emotions, helping them identify what triggers those emotions, and teaching them to manage those emotions by themselves. When we teach kids that their emotions are valid, we help them view what they feel as normal and manageable.
Modeling appropriate behavior is also important during the childhood years. The best way to teach your child to react to anger appropriately is to show her how. Evidence suggests that kids pick up our emotions, and that those exposed to many negative emotions are more likely to struggle.
Ultimately, helping kids manage their emotions begins by validating those emotions and providing an environment in which they feel safe to express them. As several studies have shown, kids who feel safe are more likely to develop and use appropriate emotion regulation skills to deal with difficult feelings.

I’m Done Saying the Word “Busy” and You Should Be, Too.

By responding with the term “busy” I was pretty much summing up a pretty bleak and dreary experience. Let’s look at our days a bit differently.

Adults everywhere are infatuated with the word “busy.” Some flash it as a badge of honor, while others are at best misusing it.
Take the basic conversation, which could happen with family, friends, a spouse, or co-workers.

Conversation One

“How was your day?”
“Oh, so busy.”

Conversation Two

“Do you want to get together this weekend?”
“Sorry, I can’t. I’m just too busy.”
How draining is it to hear that response from someone? How do you even respond to that? The term elicits a sense of disappointment and exhaustion. You can’t help but feel bad for a person who says they’re too busy, they’ve been busy, or that they expect to be busy for the foreseeable future.
I have fallen into that trap, multiple times. I had a bit of self-reflection when I grew tired of hearing a friend talk about how busy she was. I knew I tossed that term around like a rainy day in Portland. I have been creating a grey outlook on my days. By responding with the term “busy” I was pretty much summing up a pretty bleak and dreary experience.
Let’s look at our days a bit differently.
A “busy” weekend may look like this: A birthday dinner for a friend on Friday night, family in town on Saturday, and church on Sunday, followed by lunch and football. You barely had time to tackle that laundry or binge watch your favorite show.
On Monday morning, when someone asks you about your weekend, instead of saying “busy,” try replying with “fulfilling.” Because to me it sounds like you had an extremely fulfilling weekend.
You are so blessed to have family and friends who want to be with you and fight for your time. There are some out there who aren’t lucky enough to have people and good times surrounding them. They look at your weekend and think, “Wow, that’s just incredible. They must feel so completed.”
But, wait, you just responded with a grim “my weekend was so busy.” Someone, quick – start playing some depressing music, and get me out of here. I am not interested in furthering this conversation!
This goes for the workday as well. The “busy” response is way too common here. There are chances that this is what you’re going to do for the rest of your life – do you really want to look back on your career as just a bunch of busy days? Why not add substance to your answer?
“I had a great morning meeting with a potential client. Laughed with Joan at lunch. Busted through a report before clocking out!”
Now, instead of feeling pity for you, I’m kind of wishing I were you. See how our responses can change the entire dynamic of our incredibly awesome experiences?
I invite you to choose a few different terms to explain your days.
“Hey friend! How was your weekend?”
“Fulfilling.”
“Engaging.”
“Lively.”
These responses are conversation starters. People will want to hear more and you will have the opportunity to boast about your accomplishments and social life.
Have you ever noticed that children don’t respond with “busy?” The term isn’t learned or ingrained into us until we are adults. Somehow, it’s become the shining star of how we describe our very full lives. I find that to be rather sad.
I want to remember my life as exciting and wonderful. If I continue to look at my days as busy, as opposed to fulfilling, life will pass me by and my experiences will have been mundane.
I now challenge you to exclude the word “busy” from your vocabulary.

You Don't Have to Ask Permission to Care For Yourself

I noticed that the questions are everywhere, like a reflex. Can I take a shower now? Can I practice yoga tonight?

“I was thinking of buying an actual lunchbox,” I whispered to my husband as I packed my lunch into an old grocery bag. “And maybe sunscreen? I thought I would also get a box of tea…it’s so cold at work.”

“That sounds like a great idea. Do what you need to do,” he replied. And then, “Um, you know you don’t need to ask me, right?”

“Yeah, but I…” I trailed off, unsure of how to finish that thought.

We let it go as just a funny little interaction, but it wasn’t quite finished for me. After that conversation, I noticed that the questions are everywhere, like a reflex.

Can I take a shower now?

Can I practice yoga tonight?

Can I go check my email?

 Can I draw tonight?

The answer is always the same, “You don’t need to ask.”

So, what’s with all the questions?

It’s not a husband thing. He’s never once expected me to ask for permission for things like that. Overspending? Probably not. A lunchbox is hardly breaking the bank. Frivolous? That doesn’t seem right. These seemed like pretty practical purchases. Greedy? Self-centered? Those weren’t it, either. So why did I feel so undeserving, and whose permission was I really seeking?

I decided to get curious and observe, and when I did there was no mistaking what this was about. This was about me and me. This whole asking-for-permission business was about what I think I’m worth, what I allow myself to do, and how I show myself that I care about me. It’s a self-caring problem, and it isn’t new.

Becoming a mom was like bringing home a bundle of all kinds of things. A bundle of joy, sure, but also a bundle of needs, pressures, and expectations. Five years ago, when I sat in my hospital room holding the tiniest person I’d ever seen, I had no idea what this all meant. I didn’t know what this would actually look like in real life, and I sure didn’t know who I was as a mom.

What I did have was a lifetime of input on what motherhood was supposed to look like without instructions on making it work for me. So I did everything I could to give my kids a happy life going by what I thought I knew. They have everything they need, but I guess I overlooked one thing. In an effort to be a good mom, I haven’t always been so good to myself.

Maybe it’s a phase all moms go through: the mom years. You know, the years when you’re figuring out what it means to be called “Mom.”

These are the years you don’t know how to dress your new body. When your time belongs to the tiny human(s) you just brought and keep bringing home. These are the years where days disappear to who knows where and you secretly fantasize about five minutes alone. I thought, Maybe that’s what this is. It’s being a new mom.

Then again, I just dropped my daughter off at kindergarten and I have two more at home. I’m not exactly a new mom anymore, but it sure doesn’t feel like I’m “seasoned.” Am I supposed to have this all figured out now? When do I get the official permission to take care of me?

Maybe it’s time to start looking at this differently. Permission isn’t going to fall from the sky. There is no self-care permission fairy. There’s just me. Honestly, I’m still learning what it means to be a mother of three and how I want this all to look, but I do know that it’s time to include my self in that picture.

There’s always a list of things to do, and the guilt is really compelling when you take that time for yourself before you’ve checked off that whole list. However, your health and happiness don’t come from to-do lists (and neither do your family’s). Health and happiness are cultivated in the decisions you make and the way you care about yourself, so they need to be nurtured.

When I get so caught up in the stress and daily details, I forget about that. I forget about happiness and my gratitude for all of this, and I stop nurturing myself. It’s like I disappear, and in my place is the critic, the complainer, and the hurrier. I cringe when I hear myself in that place.

The truth is that the less care I give myself, the less present I become. Here’s the hardest part to admit: the less care I give myself, the less care I can give to others. Caring about you is an essential part of caring for your family. (Have you ever noticed how essential you are to your family?) We’re moms today and will be even after the kids have safely flown from the nest. Let’s make the conscious effort to take good care of ourselves the whole time. Life is short and childhood is even shorter, there’s no time to wait for permission.

If you feel like you need it, consider this your permission slip to start caring about you. No guilty reflexes. No wondering if you’re really worth it. You’re allowed to give your children everything and you’re allowed to care about you. You are allowed to rest. You are allowed to be nourished. You are allowed to support yourself.

I do not take this lightly. For some of us, this might be a husband-thing or an income-thing. Some of us have children with disabilities or really challenging life circumstances. Even when everything’s perfect, this isn’t exactly easy!

There are real life barriers to even the simplest acts of self-care, and that’s why I think it’s so important to start with the permission to be caring toward yourself. Permission to care about yourself might look a lot different from the top self-care tip lists you see floating around these days. It might not look like an hour-long workout or a bubble bath and cup of tea. Maybe it does. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

Self-caring can be more subtle than that. It happens in the intangibles, like how you speak to yourself all day, how you feel about the decisions you make, and how you honor your special blend of talents and strengths. You have permission to feel good about all that, you know. So let’s start to be self-caring. If and when you feel guilty, remember that by lifting yourself up, you lift up your family. Remember what you want to model to your children if it helps.

I truly believe that when we speak to ourselves from a place of care, we foster caring for our families. When we make decisions that serve and excite us, we teach our children how to live by their own values. When we honor what makes us unique, we start our children on the path of sharing their own special something with the world.

In short, you are allowed to care about yourself, too. Are you ready to try it? You (and your kids) are worth it.

Could Drinking Together be the Secret to a Long-Lastingly Happy Marriage?

A recent study suggests when older couples participate in concordant drinking (drinking together), the negativity within their relationship decreases.

If you and your partner drink casually together, keep going. Your relationship may just withstand the annoyance of your spouse.
A recent study found in The Journals of Gerontology suggests that when older couples participate in concordant drinking (drinking together), the negativity within their relationship decreases. Essentially, partners get on each other’s nerves less. Their outlook toward one another is more positive and drinking together increases their ability to live harmoniously. They even have more in common outside of the home.
On the flip-side, those who participate in discordant drinking (where only one spouse drinks), suffer from an increase of negative feelings within their marriage. Simple offenses, like forgetting to empty the dishwasher, rarely go unnoticed.
Specifically, the study shows that this amicability is significantly greater among wives. The study went on to say, “Further, wives are often referred to as the barometer of the marital relationship and thus may be more affected by discordance or concordance in alcohol use.” If they aren’t in-sync, women tend to sense when things are “off” within the relationship. So, when a woman drinks with her partner, she is more likely to shrug off her partner’s daily blunders.
As we live with our partners over the years, it is no surprise that we start irritating each other. Sometimes it feels as though our best friend has evolved into a roommate – one who leaves the dishes in the sink, forgets to pick-up the milk on the way home, or throws his or her dirty socks on the family room floor instead of in the laundry basket. The study claims that drinking with your spouse can help alleviate all of these small grievances that have the ability to pile up – just like those dishes in the sink.
In result, concordant drinking couples may spend more time together and enjoy more leisure activities together. They take trips together, run races, take on watersports, and enjoy other pursuits that bond people together. Not to say that discordant drinking couples don’t share in these activities – it’s just not as likely.
Furthermore, the study says that “Discordant drinking couples may use more destructive conflict strategies.” They may banter on a more regular basis. So, if one drinks and the other doesn’t, the impact is not the same. This explains my parents, who have an imperfect, yet strong marriage of almost 46 years. My dad is 13 years older than my mom. Oftentimes, she plays the role of nurse and maid more than wife. She does not drink. My dad, on the other hand, drinks leisurely at 82 years old. My mother puts on that black and white referee uniform daily, nagging my dad for his fouls and wanting to eject him out of the house.
According to the study, maybe my mom should start drinking a couple glasses of wine in the evenings. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to blow the whistle at my father as often. And my dad, well, he should continue to drink his small doses of red wine and Scotch because it’s helping him live harmoniously with his wife of almost half a century – giving him the ability to shrug off his wife’s protests.
Neither I nor the study recommends picking up a heavy drinking habit with your partner, but if you enjoy a couple of light-hearted cocktails, don’t stop. It just may continue to toughen your marriage as you journey through the sometimes-murky years together.

I'm Thirty-Five Years Old and Finally Dating

We “hung out,” “hooked up,” and “did things with other couples,” but my husband and I never dated each other. Until now.

I know y’all opened up this post hoping for a juicy tidbit of suburban scandal. Prepare to be disappointed:
Yes, I am dating.
I am dating my husband.
We are 35 years old and we are just now getting the hang of “dating” each other. We have been “together” since we fell madly in love many moons ago, girating on a ratty old couch to J Lo and Ja Rule. I simply could not resist his bleached blonde, Eminem-like, spiky hair once we locked eyes across a smoke-filled frat house living room. From those initial alcohol-induced moments our budding romance moved along at warp speed.
We spent each and every second together, partying, studying, and hanging out with friends. We became friends, lived together, got jobs, moved into apartments, moved into houses, and moved around. We had four kids, saw less and less of each other, resented each other, recommitted ourselves to each other, worked on ourselves, worked on one another, had some more kids, got a dog, fell apart, and rebuilt.
All within the span of about 15 years.
Do you know what we didn’t do during those 15 years?
We never dated.
We “hung out,” “hooked up,” and “did things with other couples,” but we never dated each other. There was no getting dressed up and anxiously waiting to get picked up at the door for an evening out because those younger years were our broke college years. Neither of us minded though – we were having fun and enjoying each other’s company.
We got married straight out of college and our wedding was a bona fide party because that is what happens when you get married in your early 20s. Kids followed shortly after. We went to prenatal appointments, kids’ birthday parties, and school events, but still we didn’t really date.
A few times a year we managed a holiday party or anniversary dinner out, but these unicorn evenings were few and far between. Unfortunately for us – and probably due to the lack of dating practice – these nights usually ended in soaring expectations of wild sex and bellies full of booze and food. Of course fights and hangovers followed and the rare date nights faded out even more with intense work schedules and the addition of twin girls, which rounded out our total number of children to four.
Still we didn’t seem to mind the extinction of together time because we literally had no time to think. We have spent 10 years in “go mode” and I think that perhaps somewhere in the middle of this mode your brain turns certain parts of emotional consciousness off.
Then about six months back we hit a marital wall. I suppose that after so many years of sub-par communication and emotions locked into survival mode it wasn’t exactly a surprise that we found ourselves sitting on the couch having a come-to-Jesus talk about where we were and where we were headed. We needed to air out our years of pent-up grievances and lay out our needs simply, clearly, and concisely. Because we didn’t spend those formative years talking and communicating (Lord knows we spent it doing all sorts of other things), we maybe missed the whole “know what your partner wants” component.
So yes there was hurt, tears, feelings of betrayal and resentment, and all sorts of other things that you never really imagine yourself feeling when you fall in love at the tender age of 19.
But like a couple of middle-aged Phoenixes we seemed to rise from the ashes and rebuilt our marriage.
Along with The McCarthy Marriage 2.0 came dating. We are about six months into dating one another and I have to say a number of positive aspects have come along with this newfound addition to our marriage.
We talk. We go out and have dinner and talk for hours. We don’t always talk about earth-shattering things, but that is okay. Sometimes it is glorious to sit back and realize that for once you have nothing pressing to discuss.
We get the family management done. Date nights are not always filled with lipstick, cologne, and high heels. Sometimes we just need to leave the chaos of our home and get shit done. We have to organize our thoughts, sync our schedules, and figure out how our little jigsaw life is all gonna shake out. It isn’t sexy, but it sure is necessary and really so much easier to do over beers and fries.
We get dressed up … for each other! I won’t lie. It is kind of nice to look at one another and think to one’s self, “My, my we clean up nice don’t we?” How many times does that man come home to find me in baggy sweatpants with stains on my shirt and sporting a frizzy mom bun? Far too many to count. If I am being completely honest, which I am known for, I think there are entire months I don’t even look at my partner. It isn’t because I don’t love him or find him attractive, it’s just that I stop prioritizing the marriage.
Date nights seem to reset this sector of my brain.
Sometimes we go do things and find ourselves (gasp!) having fun. Man, it is far to easy to find yourselves in the trenches of life missing out on the fun. In our case we found ourselves having fun, but only having family fun. Our kids became the center of our universe and the epicenter of our fun. Watching them have fun was automatically our fun. While there is certainly nothing wrong with watching your little ones enjoy life, it feels good to have our own separate, partner fun.
Practice makes perfect. Now that dating is becoming a more regular thing the expectations for the evening are not outrageous. We now know that date night is going to happen more than twice a year and we can relax a bit and simply enjoy our time together without forcing ourselves to go overboard.
I have to say that I am enjoying the dating scene now that I am 35 and I hope that as the years go by we can keep it up. All that time I thought it served zero purpose, but it turns out I was gravely wrong: Dating your partner is important.

The Phone Setting That Helps Keep Me Present

I am easily distracted by every noise and flashing light on my phone. With a click of a button that can go away.

The alarm dings at 5:30 a.m. in our house. It is quiet. I don’t have to rush out the door to an office. The kids are sleeping. No one is pulling on me yet. I am able to think about the day, listen to God, exercise, throw in laundry, or take a shower uninterrupted.
The kids slowly come running in or dragging blankets down the stairs and the day has begun but I still have control. The day is only about my family so far. Breakfast, books, coffee, switching that aforementioned load of laundry. I don’t mind my family’s noise, the mess (usually), the needs, the wants. But, when my phone starts ringing and beeping, when there are messages to return, outside people’s expectations to meet, and appointments to get to on time, I start to feel the stress rising. My kids all of suddenly are now in the way. This is the opposite of how I want to see them.
It is not the demands on my family within the walls of my house that I can’t handle (well, on good days). It is the outside requirements that usually end up being too much for what I am realizing is a very small plate.
When I started having kids I was unaware that life needed to change. When they were babies it didn’t have to change much. We needed to be home for naptime and bedtime but other things I just brought baby along and did what needed or wanted to be done. That changed with toddlers and kids. They scream and yell, throw fits, refuse to listen, test boundaries, and demand independence which needs to be taught and triples the amount of time it used to take you to do anything. They also want to play with you, talk to you, and help you. They want and need more of your attention – not just your time.
A friend posed the question to me: “What if you had one week left to live, what would you change about your days?”
My immediate response was, “I would turn off my cell phone.”
I long for quiet days. I love the stillness of morning and the silence of night but it is because I know that before 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m. no one is going to call me, text me, or come knocking on my door. I love community. I want to be part of people’s lives and have vulnerable friendships full of honesty. But, I have to begin with being honest about how much I can take on.
Three kids, a house, a marriage, and a dog are probably my limit the majority of days. I want to be able to handle more. I want to be everything to everyone and so I try and try, day after day; and I fail and fail, week after week!
Recently, I discovered the “Do Not Disturb” setting on my phone (well, honestly, my husband showed it to me). I set it so that only my husband’s calls and texts will make my phone beep. With this setting I feel more engaged while playing playdough, reading books, or doing the dishes. Rest time in our house is my work and catch-up time and I am easily distracted by every noise and flashing light on my phone. With a click of a button that can go away. I still have to exert self-control and not pick my phone up every 10 minutes but it is a little easier when I don’t hear it or see it.
I am trying to be aware of what stresses me out and why. I am trying to make clear choices about saying “no” and saying “yes.” I am working at being honest about how much I can do in a day. It takes effort to be present with three kids vying for my attention. I am trying to teach them to be patient and wait on me to finish a task or a conversation but I am so easily distracted and going in too many directions to remember to come back to them when they are waiting on me.
I found that stress came when I always felt I could be interrupted and so I never completed a task or conversation. Creating “Do Not Disturb” times allows my kids to have all my attention or the dishes to get done more quickly because I am focused. Now, when I know my phone will be quiet, I feel ready for my kids to disturb everything and I am able to prioritize their needs, our house, and my time to give to others. A simple setting on my phone has brought me immense peace.

Why Your Teen's BFF Might Keep Them Happy for Years to Come

According to a recent study, bonds that kids form during adolescence might have a positive role in their mental health for years to come.

Teenagers spend a ton of time focused on what their friends are thinking and doing. This period can be filled with struggles due to puberty, school pressures, bullying, and popularity contests. And of course, teens drive their parents crazy with all this incessant drama.

It turns out that some of this drama is a worthwhile investment for their future emotional and mental health. According to a recent study at the University of Virginia published in the journal Child Development, bonds that children form during adolescence might have a positive role in their mental health for years to come.

Researchers followed 169 individuals for 10 years, starting when they were 15 years old. The participants were racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. The process began when the participants brought in their closest friends for one-on-one interviews. Then they were assessed annually and asked questions about their closest friends: how much trust there was, how good communication was, and how alienated they felt in the relationship. Additionally, they were given questionnaires to evaluate levels of anxiety, depression, social acceptance, and self-worth.

The strong friendships were evident in the interview videos. These teens asked their best friends for advice or support and talked through any disagreement. They were open with one another about difficult topics and overall quite connected. The study found that those who had close, emotional links with friends showed less anxiety and depression yet higher self-worth. In fact, their emotional state improved from age 15 to 25 at the times they were evaluated by researchers. On the other hand, those who did not have the same bonds with friends in their teen years did not show much change in symptoms of depression and anxiety or in their sense of self-worth throughout the study’s 10 years.

The scientists think that friendships provide critical support during the challenging adolescent years and also help guide emotional development. Positive experiences with friends help boost positive feelings about oneself during this stage when personal identity is being formed. For example, learning how to resolve conflicts with a buddy provides beneficial life-long social and emotional skills. Also, being able to make and keep solid friendships shows that they can trust another person in both good and tough times. This is a huge step in maturity, and an attribute necessary for success in life, whether it be at a job or in marriage.

The study’s coauthor Joseph Allen, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, points out that the study confirms the importance of forming strong close friendships during the teen years because these experiences stay with our kids and influence their level of happiness in the future. He warns that we must be careful with technology as it could hamper the ability for teens to build these close ties with their peers.

Here are a few ways we can encourage our teens to form strong friendships:

  • Talk about what makes a healthy, positive relationship: caring for one another, understanding, respect, ability to solve problems together, open and honest communication, similar goals and values.
  • Provide avenues for your teen to meet new people, such as joining extracurricular clubs and teams, attending camp, or getting a part-time job.
  • Teach them how to communicate kindly and effectively (without always relying on technology!).
  • Be careful not to judge their choices in friends too quickly. Of course, if you see a pattern of negative behavior, then it’s okay to step in and have a calm discussion with them about your concerns.
  • Support them in their requests to spend time with friends. Work together to set reasonable guidelines such a curfew and who they can get in a car with.