5 Ways to Take the Pressure Off so Joy Can Flow

Self-care is talked about so frequently that it almost feels cliché to even utter the words at this point. That’s a shame though, because self-care is vital to both our physical and emotional wellbeing. Without self-care, we become wrapped in stress and that stress trickles down to our loved ones. Without self-care, we become caught up in doing, going, and achieving, and that need to produce results becomes the baseline from which we launch our children out into this world. When they see us getting caught up in the culture of busy and running toward some inflated vision of success, they learn to do the same.


We need to do better. For ourselves, for our children, for our partners, and for all of our loved ones, we need to learn to slow down and tune back in. We need to stop chasing and start listening. We need to practice gratitude, spread kindness, and laugh often. We need to focus on what we already have.


I have fallen victim to insufficient self-care. I have lost my way once or twice, but I am lucky to have friends and family who support me and build me up when I need a little strength. I consider myself lucky to call Rachel Macy Stafford one of my friends, and I rely on her words of comfort more often than she even knows.


Please enjoy this excerpt from Rachel’s new book (a book I can’t put down!), Only Love Today.


5 Ways to Take the Pressure Off so Joy Can Flow


Admit your mistakes.


Imagine never hearing the words, “I’m sorry,” from someone you love. Imagine living with someone who never admits he messed up or she was wrong. Imagine how you would view your own mistakes. Remember this: Being human allows others to be human. Getting back up after you fall down gives others the courage to do the same. Asking for help, forgiveness, or a do-over invites joy to come back in.


Meet loved one’s mistakes with compassion.


Nothing blocks joy from a home more than exasperation, annoyance, or shame in response to mistakes or missteps. Watch the other person’s face when you say, “That happens to me too,” or  “Making mistakes means we are learning and trying.” Instead of fear, embarrassment, or frustration, you might see relief, hope, or determination on that face you love. You also become a trusted source for larger infractions in the future.


Use meaningful measures of success.


When it comes to school, sports, and extracurricular activities, it’s easy to get caught up in numbers, check marks, statistics, awards, and wins. But what about good sportsmanship, integrity, kindness, and honesty? What about the happiness felt when doing what they love? Placing less emphasis on grades, goals, and appearance to notice acts of bravery, effort, and courage will allow joy to be present, no matter the score.


Be less of a manager and more of a nurturer.


I’ll never forget the teenager who found my blog by Googling: “how to remind my mother I am a human being with feelings”. The young lady explained, “I could do a million things right, but my mom could still find the flaws, and that ruins the whole day.” She inspired me to lose the manager role I’d adopted and be the loving encourager instead.


Seeing my children as human beings with thoughts, feelings, ideas, hopes, and dreams motivates me to periodically consider my expectations: Are they reasonable? Realistic? Necessary? Are they age appropriate? This awareness creates a home where positives are noticed, strengths are nurtured, and unconditional love is abundant.


Love “as is”.


If nothing else, make it abundantly clear that you love your people AS IS – that they do not need to DO anything, BE anything, CHANGE anything to be loved by you. Make a point to say, “I love you just as you are. Exactly as you are. I love you because you are you.” Feeling known and accepted by the people in your home not only makes for a better day, but it also makes for a better future.

Today I want to say yes to listening and laughter.
I want remember what my heart loves to do and do it—even for just a little bit.

I want to close my eyes in gratitude.

I want to open them in wonder.

I want to read a book.
Plant a seed.
Say, “Take your time,” and mean it.

I want to give a good kiss.
Leave a surprise note.
Do a little bit of absolutely nothing.

I want to

I want to fill the spaces of my life with love.

So I can breathe …

and maybe laugh a time or two.
-Rachel Macy Stafford from ONLY LOVE TODAY

This is a small sample of what you will find in Rachel Macy Stafford’s highly anticipated new book, Only Love Today: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love (release date 3/7). With a unique flip-open, read-anytime/anywhere format, this book is soulful encouragement for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord. “Only Love Today” began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel Macy Stafford’s life. It can be a practice for all of us. Join Rachel and her supportive community at HandsFreeMama.com where you can also pre-order Only Love Today by March 7th and receive free bonus materials with your order.

It Takes a Village…


“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

-Abraham Lincoln 

The moment you bring a child into the world, you enter a social contract of sorts.  A mom contract, really.

You agree to love and nurture that child.  You agree that, to the best of your ability, you will teach right from wrong and help that child grow into an independent and responsible adult.

You agree to accept responsibility for that child along the way, because that child is yours.  Your choices, behaviors, and attitudes will shape that child as he grows.

But you also enter a village of parents.  The cliché is old and well worn for good reason.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.  And, as responsible parents, we all have the opportunity to pitch in and help out when another parent needs a hand.

We don’t, of course, sign any such contract or truly agree to any such terms upon leaving the hospital with our tiny, helpless, bundles of joy.  But wouldn’t it be great if we did?  Figuratively speaking, naturally. Let’s face it; leaving the hospital requires enough paperwork as it is.

But wouldn’t it be nice of we were all on the same page with this parenting thing?

Please stop by moonfrye to continue reading The Mom Contract

A Little Bit Me First


I have a confession to make:  I don’t like going to the dentist.


I know, I know, no one likes going to the dentist.  But I really don’t like it.  I avoid it at all costs.  I think about it often.  I know that the more I put it off, the worse it will be.  Thinking about how bad it might be causes my heart to race.  So I take a few deep breaths and think about sunsets on the ocean, because that keeps the intrusive thoughts away.


And then I continue to put my head in the sand and avoid the dentist.


But you can only avoid the dentist for so long.  You have to take care of yourself.  You have to show your children that taking care of your body is important.  You have to prioritize you sometimes.


So, the other day, I went to the dentist.


I was convinced that she would tell me that I needed 20 root canals and 5 caps.  Minimum.  That’s how long it had been.  I was prepared to shout, “Sedate me, please!”


But, I had to do it.  So I put on my brave face and entered the office with as much calm as I could possibly muster.


And you know what?  It wasn’t so bad.


I sat back on a very comfortable recliner and watched the news.  Sure, there were x-rays, there was poking, and my lips were stretched farther than I ever thought possible.  But it was actually (dare I say it?) kind of relaxing.


I stopped worrying about my prognosis the minute I entered the office.  For better or for worse, I was there.  All I could do was wait and see.


And for the first time in a long time, I prioritized my own health.  There’s something soul soothing about that, even if prioritizing me means sharp objects in my mouth.


And?  The prognosis was good.  No root canals.  No caps.  No big deal.


I walked out of there with a fresh clean smile and some pep in my step.  Who knew that a dental visit would provide such a boost to my self-esteem?  Not me, that’s for sure.


But the more I thought about it, the more that it made perfect sense…


Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading this post.

The Mom Code

“My husband and I shared a rare moment out today.  He happened to have the day off on the very day that our babysitter comes for a few hours.  I usually spend that time writing, frantically running errands (while calling all of my friends along my travels), and maybe fitting in some “me” time in the form of a pit stop at my favorite nail salon.

Today was different.  Today we took an extended coffee break together before running a few last minute holiday errands.

As we sat at an outside table enjoying the California sun, a familiar scene unfolded right before our eyes.  A mom of twin girls (who looked to be about four years old) pulled her car right up to the door of the Coffee Bean.  She jumped out of the car, locked the doors, and sprinted in and out of the Coffee Bean at lightning speed.  We had seen her leave with the two girls and three drinks just moments before.

As she ran back into the car our eyes met and she smiled and said, “at least I locked the doors, right?”  I laughed as my husband responded, “we have two at home, we’ve been there before”.  She smiled, looked relieved, and handed each daughter a straw as she got back into her car.

We chuckled as we recalled all of the times we’ve strapped the kids into the car only to find that our son has misplaced his precious “Giraffie” once again.  Often, I pull the car into the garage and run into the house to procure a missing item just so that I can leave them in their seats and avoid the unstrapping and re-strapping again.  Yes, we know about multiple kids and car seats, not to mention a complete lack of time on any given day.

That shared moment got me thinking about the silent mom code that exists out there.  While much has been made about the competition between moms right now (and for good reason), there is also the kinship that exists between moms.  The silent code that manifests as a smile during a public tantrum or a wink when a mom is caught “cleaning” the dropped pacifier by sticking it in her own mouth.

Yes, we’ve all been there at some point…”

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading The Mom Code.

“Mom-Esteem”: How Do You Rate Yours?

**It’s mom week at Practical Parenting!  Today I’m tackling the way we feel about ourselves as moms, and Friday I will provide tips for improving our “mom-esteem”.

Self-esteem.  Some people spend a lifetime working on it.  The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, defines self-esteem as:  (n.) respect for, or a favorable impression of, oneself.  I have counseled many children, and their parents, through periods of low self-esteem.  Recognizing your own unique greatness can be a difficult task.

People struggle with self-esteem for a variety of reasons.  Some internalize their feelings and feel compelled to compare themselves to others on a regular basis.  Others feel like they just can’t seem to catch a break and that life is out to get them.  Many have been the targets of bullies, either within their families or in the outside world.  Loss, traumatic experiences, medical conditions, and various disabilities can all cause people to question their self-worth.  There’s generally a trigger (or a series of triggers) that requires some working through in order to raise self-esteem.

Having spent the past four years at home with my kids (with a little work on the side), I’ve seen (and felt) how moms are on a constant ride on the emotional roller coaster.  It’s hard work being a mom.  In fact, I’ve come up my own term for how moms feel about themselves:  “Mom-esteem”. I would define mom-esteem as (n.) respect for, or feeling good about, the choices one makes as a mom.

When you’re raising kids, some days are great, some are ok, and some are downright difficult.  You never know what you’re going to get.  And at the end of the day, moms have to find a way to decompress and cope with whatever was sent their way that day.  On a good day, it’s easy.  On a difficult day, your mom-esteem can really plummet.

Trying to rely on the theory that you can’t control everything and it’s not always your fault is easier said than done.  While this is certainly true, moms are conditioned to feel like they need to be able to handle everything.  Moms are the ones who keep everyone healthy, well fed, and, above all else, happy.  Moms are running things from the control tower.  When something isn’t right, or a day is really difficult, it’s the mom who is left to internalize the resulting emotions.

Then there are the external factors.  The moms who insist on sharing their greatness at the park.  The moms who allegedly never let their kids have any sugar and cook everything from scratch every night using only organic ingredients (my two year old currently lives on bagels, yogurt, and fruit.  Does that make me a failure?).  The moms with impeccably dressed children with clean faces and perfectly coiffed hair.  The moms who found the perfect preschool with the perfect teachers and the perfect play yard.

Not long ago I was at the grocery store with both kids.  They were on foot, “helping” me pick out the groceries.  I’m sure it’s a familiar scenario:  Two items in, one back out.  It takes three times as long to shop this way, but the kids have a little more fun.  If I have to do it, I might as well make it fun.  The check out line is always the hard part.  They compete to see who can put the most items on the belt.  It gets a little hard to control.  And that’s when an elderly shopper shot me a dirty look and commented, “it would be easier if those kids were in a cart, you know”.  My defenses went up.  I bit my tongue (respect your elders) and feigned a smile to avoid a sarcastic reply.  But she got me.  When my defenses are up, my mom-esteem is down.  I tell myself to ignore the people passing judgment, but that can be hard to do.

Another time I picked up Riley at school to have a teacher make a comment about her hearing (while I was signing her out and Liam was running toward the parking lot unattended).  Hearing loss?  Impossible.  It never occurred to me.  I speed dialed Sean and then my sister, and then spent the rest of the day sneaking up on her to check her hearing.  She later passed the hearing screening with flying colors.  Low mom-esteem.  One questionable comment and I immediately assume that I’ve failed my child in some way.

And then there are the endless comparisons.  The race for developmental milestones.  Did you potty train him yet?  Does she get herself dressed in the morning?  Do they sleep through night?  Can she write her name?  Does he know his letters?  These are the conversations I quietly walk away from.  Sometimes even a compliment seems like an accusation, “wow.  He really talks in complete sentences at a young age”.  The subtext is there.  This conversation won’t end until the other mom is back on top.  It can really cause the mom-esteem to take a hit.

Forget about a public temper tantrum.  It can take a week to come back from one of those.  A few disapproving stares and the mom-esteem is almost non-existent.  I’ve learned to grin and move on, but I’ve had some experiences where I ended up emotionally exhausted after coping with the tantrum, the exhausted child, and the input from the passersby.  It’s hard to tune it out every time.

Do I need to mention the constant feedback and unsolicited advice from older (who might think they are wiser) family members?  They always seem to remember having done it just right.  Did they really?  Was their mom-esteem always a perfect ten?  It’s doubtful.

Great days are amazing.  You end the day feeling very connected to your children. You had fun.  They had fun.  Everyone ate something green and lots of fruit.  The stars were aligned.  Your mom-esteem is at an all-time high.

But the bad days are horrible.  The kids are tired, cranky, sick, and picking on each other every time you attempt to make a meal or clean a dish left in the sink.  The house is a mess.  The laundry still isn’t done.  You end the day in a state of complete emotional exhaustion.  You question whether or not you raised your voice just a little, and what impact that had on your child.  You wonder if that trip to the germy indoor play space caused the colds.  You might even start to envy someone who seems to have an “easier” time with this motherhood thing.  Your mom-esteem ceases to exist.  So you break out the chocolate and ice cream, because what else can you do?

The truth is that we all have hard days.  I’ve been told that I make it look easy.  More than once.  It’s not always easy.  Some people spend years working on their self-esteem, but from the minute your first child is born, you will likely spend the rest of your life working on your mom-esteem.

And you know those moms with the perfect kids who only eat organic everything?  Let me let you in on a little secret:  They struggle with their mom-esteem too.  Why else would they feel compelled to share their stats with unsuspecting strangers at the park instead of just enjoying their kids?  They strive to feel good too.

What causes shifts in your mom-esteem?  How do you cope with difficult days?

**Please remember to check back Friday for “Tips on Raising your Mom-Esteem”, and look for my weekly article at Mommy Moment on Thursday, where I will be talking about mom stress.