Rank #1: My Year Without Alcohol
Back in January, I joined the sober curious movement as I gave up alcohol for the year as a New Year's Resolution. It was an amazing year and I learned so much about myself. Today I'm sharing my month-by-month experience and Brooke Conley joins me for moral support.
- SFP 128: Living Coffee ’til Cocktails [with Brooke Conley]
- SFP 141: Q&A – Can you tell us more about your 2019 resolution?
- Recommended book to give up drinking: Annie Grace's The Naked Mind
- Reach Brooke Conley on Instagram + Her website
Full Episode Transcript
Hi, and welcome to episode 184. As some of you know, I gave up alcohol for my New Year's resolution way back in January, and today I'm sharing a little bit about my year without alcohol.
I hope you all are having a simple holiday season so far. I've had a few questions over the course of the year about how my year without alcohol is going and I've been pretty quiet on it. I felt like I wanted to let the year ride out and then give you a full recap, so this is it. Now, if you're new to this story, you can rewind. We started talking about this in episode 128, simplefamilies.com/episode128 and in that episode, Living Coffee 'til Cocktails, I talked with Brooke Conley.
Brooke is a member of the sober curious movement, and she's a mom and she shared with me more about what her journey without alcohol has looked like. If you're new to the sober curious movement, it's basically a group of individuals who are choosing not to drink, not because of alcoholism, just because they have decided that alcohol doesn't serve them well and doesn't play a place in their life anymore. In episode 128, I talked with Brooke about how I was thinking about giving up alcohol, and I was in fact curious about what it was like, and then in episode 141, that's simplefamilies.com/episode141, I talked more about my decision to give it up completely for the year 2019.
It's been an incredible year and I have learned so much about myself and I've invited Brooke back today. I'm going to share month by month what this journey looked like.
I'd suggest going back and listening to episodes 128 and 141 if you do want to get this full story, but here's the quick and dirty. I decided that I wanted to give up alcohol because I was drinking less and less, really about 2 to 3 drinks a week last year around the holidays, and I still felt like it was too much. I felt like I wanted less. I didn't really feel like it was taking a physical toll on my body, but it was really weighing on me mentally.
Ultimately, I figured out that alcohol had become a part of my mental load. When it came to the evenings and the weekends, I was thinking about it. I was weighing, "Should I have a drink? Should I not have a drink? Should I have one drink? Should I have two drinks? Are other people drinking?" There was a lot of mental clutter in my brain around alcohol, and frankly, I was just over dealing with that mental clutter, and I wanted it to go away. I didn't want to want it anymore, and I love this quote that Brooke shares with us today. She says, "I didn't want that glass of wine at the end of the day to be what I looked forward to the most."
I certainly don't have a problem with people drinking, and I drank for a very long time and pretty much everyone I know still drinks, so keep in mind that this is not a conversation about alcoholism or recovery, and I don't mean to undermine or underestimate that journey at all. This is just my story of what this year has looked like for me, and I have invited Brooke to give some moral support and to share a little bit more about her experience and how it relates, so thanks for tuning in and I hope you enjoy this episode.
Here's my chat with Brooke.
Hi, Brooke. Thanks for joining me again.
Hey, Denaye. Thanks for having me.
It's been, I think exactly a year since we talked. It was like mid-December when we had this conversation last year.
Right, so the last time we talked, I was contemplating giving up alcohol and I wasn't sure what that was going to look like or I wasn't even really committed to doing it. I wanted to hear from you because I had heard you talking about your experience giving up alcohol. For anyone that had missed that episode, episode 128, you can go to simplefamilies.com/episode128, and that's where Brooke shares her whole story. Brooke, can you give us just a little recap of what your relationship looked like with alcohol and what led you to give it up?
Yeah, absolutely, and I definitely recommend going back to listen just to give the full story, but also because it's important that people know that the story is always changing. You're always kind of re-examining and looking back to where you were from where you are now, and so where I am now is about three and a half years I believe, with no alcohol. I use the word sober, and that throws people off. I get a lot of questions about that. A lot of people think I'm in recovery. I am not. I have history of alcoholism in my family. I know a lot of people in recovery and I'm very careful not to speak to that because it's not my experience.
However, my experience is that I just found myself drinking a lot. I say this often that I was drinking like everyone else. Now I'm a little bit more hesitant to say that because I don't know what everybody else's perspective is. I don't know how everyone else drinks but even with that hesitancy, I think it's accurate. I see a lot of social drinking, especially among women and certainly in the circle where I was running. Drinking was the center of everything. It was the epicenter of every single thing I did and so when I was drinking I really enjoyed it. I really liked to romanticize it. It kind of was where I started all of my "fun."
I liked it to indulge and have a good time, that's kind of how I am, but it just felt like something in my life was missing. I describe it as having a fog and I felt like I wanted to do so much more. I didn't want that glass of wine at the end of the day to be what I was looking forward to the most. So I started to really examine why I was drinking, what I was doing. It took me a good five years to actually quit and it was a lot of thinking about moderation. It was a lot of trying to do it different ways and ultimately I just had to give it up and my experience has been that that's been the best decision of my life. I've never looked back. I don't miss it too much. We'll kind of get into that, I think today as we talk, but it just opened the doors for me to live a fuller life, to do the things that I really wanted to do and to have experiences that weren't coded in booze essentially.
That's kind of what drove me and I have found that the actual act of giving up alcohol has proven that a fuller life is on the other side of it.
Yeah and your story resonated so much with me because I was definitely not a heavy drinker last December when I decided to give up alcohol. I was probably having maybe two or three drinks a week and it didn't sit well with me. Like from a physical standpoint, I think the one thing that I did learn throughout this experience of giving up alcohol for a year was that I don't think it was really taking quite a physical toll on me because I thought for sure I'm going to give up alcohol, I'm going to have all this energy and I'm going to wake up feeling great every morning and that was not the case. I really wasn't drinking that much. I was only having like a drink or two at a time and I'd wake up, I still wake up in the morning feeling tired. I mean it's just a matter of like getting older and having young kids and reality.
That was one realization that I don't think that it was really taking a physical toll on me, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what the problem was and I'm like, so if I'm not drinking that much and it doesn't really have this huge physical impact on me, why is it that I can't stop thinking about wanting to quit and give it up all together? Why was this even on my radar? And after a lot of self-reflection, I realized that it wasn't the physical impact, but it was the mental impact that was weighing me down. It was really becoming this ongoing piece of my mental load. Like Friday night came and I was like, "Oh, I'm not going to drink tonight." And then like, "Oh, maybe I'll have one drink, maybe I'll have two drinks." And the constant thinking about it and weighing if I should do it or if I shouldn't do it or other people doing it, comparing and it just... it felt exhausting. The mental piece rather than the physical piece for me.
That's exactly how I felt about it. It felt like it was taking up too much of my brain space, and I think it's important that you bring that up because whether you're drinking three drinks a week or whether you're drinking six drinks in a sitting (and some of us I think having a different physical capacity than others). It's the brain fade and when I get contacted by people who want to quit or want to give it up, that is always really where the focal point is. This takes up a lot of my thought process. How much I'm drinking, when I'm going to drink, if I'm going to drink? And so to relieve that is really a breath of fresh air. Just to get it out of your head.
It has been, I have to say. I've listened to a lot of discussion and podcasts with people in the sober curious movement, which I feel like is a name for going sober or giving up alcohol when you're not quite an alcoholic and that's really become more popular and I've seen a lot more about it in the past year. I've listened to a lot of this discussion in the sober curious movement about the topic and a lot of it resonated with me and I kept thinking to myself that maybe I would in fact be better off. But one thing that never sat well with me when I was listening to these conversations was that people who had gone sober without being alcoholics often said that they loved not drinking, and that they were so happy not drinking and I was like, I just don't know that I'm ever going to feel like that. But I do! It's the weirdest thing. Like Friday night comes and I will literally in my brain be thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm so glad that I don't drink anymore."
Do you get that? It's bizarre but it happened.
It does and I don't think that way anymore now, but after three and a half years, it's just a non-issue. I don't think about drinking really at all unless I'm reflecting bigger. For example, just going through tough things sometimes I'll look back and say, "Holy moly, I would've really drank through that before." Now it's not on my radar much at all, but the first year was where I was really recognizing exactly what you were talking about. That it feels so good to have a different choice whether you're an alcoholic or not. I think people who are sober curious might even have an easier time of it.
If you're addicted to something you're looking at a battle to try to shake something that's a personal journey. However, those of us who give it up without being addicted are looking at a battle in the social world because it is all consuming and all prevalent. It's everywhere, so you do have to consider the choices that you're making and how it's going to affect your day to day.
Yeah and I think about how new year's Eve last year was the last time that I like really drank. We had friends visiting and we did karaoke and had several drinks and had an amazing fun time, like the best time! Going out with that experience made me reflect. Like, am I still going to be able to have this much fun with my friends without alcohol? That's something that I still... I feel like, fun looks a little bit different now, but I want to go through a month by month what my year looked like and hear if any of this resonates with you and your thoughts on this. What I've done, I've given up alcohol for a month before. I've done the whole 30, I've done dry January. That sort of thing has always been easy for me.
I've always very much looked forward to the end of the month so I could have a glass of wine, but a month never really was a big deal. January kind of came and went and being that it was after the holidays and I had had quite a bit of drinks over the holidays and that kind of thing, I was glad to give it up. January I feel like was like nothing. February came and we traveled and visited friends and went out to dinner with some of our good friends for the first time. That was my first sort of social event not drinking and I was the only one not drinking and I have to say that I felt a little bit left out and slightly uncomfortable. It wasn't that bad, but I did feel slightly uncomfortable.
Yes, so I experienced that probably for a good year. A good year and a half. I actually... a little bit different than you, I went into it having quit. I was not going to drink again and so I had to really weigh how I was going to experience that, what I was going to do and how I was going to tell people. I stayed home quite a lot and there were moments of bitterness where I was like, well, why can't I do this? This is a stupid thing that I've created. Why can't I do this? I am consistently and still the only person in my social circles that doesn't drink.
Actually I'll amend that. I was for a long time, the only person in my social circles that doesn't drink and now have found that I've created space for a whole lot of people to come into my life who have far bigger interests than alcohol. I go out with friends all the time who are non-drinkers. I shouldn't say that, that aren't non-drinkers but drink, but they don't drink when they're with me. It went from meeting in social circles that first year where everybody was drinking to now I'm regularly with friends and they don't order a glass of wine at all, but I do remember those early days where it was just me and you feel like you're the elephant in the room, and we'll get in later, I think about how people perceive your drinking versus how you perceive your drinking.
It's something you definitely have to examine. It's a whole different situation around the dinner table when you decide to quit.
Yeah and I didn't want other people to feel judged. Like I didn't want to be on this pedestal. I didn't want to be preachy and that was something that I felt like I really needed to kind of like just sit back and not even really tell my story. I just kind of wanted to pretend that nobody noticed that I wasn't drinking, which I'm sure they did.
Yeah. Well, most people will. I mean, most people that's the first thing they'll notice and especially as women, they'll assume, "Oh, are you pregnant or what is it?" Why, there has to be a reason that you're not drinking. When I had quit drinking for three months and we had moved to a new town and I was invited to a dinner out and it was probably 30 people and everyone was mingling before and a woman looked across the room at me and said, "Why aren't you drinking?"
I did not know her very well, but she asked me very loudly and everybody just stopped and looked at me like, "Oh yeah, why aren't you." And I was put on the spot and I kind of fumbled because I didn't want to tell my story. I didn't owe anybody anything and I didn't want to draw attention to myself and it wasn't about them. I didn't care if they were drinking and I kind of found myself fumbling and saying things just kind of drawing out making this long story. I vowed to myself, I'm not ever going to do that again.
I am never going to explain this to people again unless they're people that care and I also said I'm never going to put myself in this position again where I'm with a bunch of people that I don't know and they care about my drinking enough that they're going to ask me in front of everybody why I dare not have a drink. That was probably the only bad experience I ever had and then I kind of set myself up not to ever have one of those again and I think I would handle it differently now.
And that makes a lot of sense. I didn't have any experiences with anyone saying anything negative much. I mean, I'll get into that when we get closer to September, but, okay. March I went on vacation. My family and I met another family in Florida for a week and the other family is some good friends of ours and their kids. The wife who is my friend barely drinks. Like barely drinks at all. That was a little bit easier because I felt like our husbands are having a few beers together and we weren't drinking, but it was not such a thing. The one thing that surprised me was that we were in Florida and we had come from New York where it was cold to Florida where it was warm and we were walking around in the heat and we were walking through, I don't know what the... like the Downtown Disney areas outside Disney World. It's like a waterfront area, I can't remember what it's called.
We were walking through there and there were signs for Frose and it was like an 85 degree day and I'm like, I want a drink. That was this very distinct first time that I was like, wow, like the weather, the warm weather triggers me to want to sit down and have like a cold drink and relax in that way and I had never associated that before that I had this strong association with the weather change and being outside and drinking alcohol.
Yes and did you notice that that continued to happen throughout the year or was it just for that particular trip?
I think I noticed it most profoundly at that trip because I had come from somewhere cold to somewhere warm for the first time and I was just... I think that was my first really marked experience where I said that this is bigger than just a month. Like if you give up drinking for a month, you really haven't had a full experience to know what life is like without alcohol like this and that's when I really invested. I was like, I need to stay in this for longer to see what my real deeper associations are because I had no idea that I was going to feel triggered by the warm weather.
Yeah, and so that's absolutely my experience as well. Feeling those triggers of environment. It could be weather, it could be where you are. That's what I call romanticizing alcohol. That was my favorite thing to do. The weather would do that to me but also, if I was on a boat, I'd want a beer. If I was with friends, I'd want champagne. I started really examining what it was that I wanted and I noticed it was environmental. It's those habitual thought patterns and you're on vacation too, so you had a double whammy because vacations are highly associated with alcohol and letting loose, right?
You're in the warm weather, you're on a vacation, you're in Florida and that absolutely will trigger and the smart thing to say, hold on here, let me examine this a little bit more because what we usually do when we're triggered is go right into those habitual patterns. Well, it won't hurt. Let me just go ahead and do this because that's what I've always done in the past and I started noticing a lot of my drinking was like that. It was just so programmed. I was doing it because I had done it that way before because that's what I drank in the warm weather before. I don't know if you recognize that that kind of is how it might have worked for you.
Yeah, I definitely think that there were patterns that I had no idea about and if I had not promised to give up alcohol for a year, then I definitely would have had a drink sitting outside there. I would've had a Frose for sure, because that sounded good and why wouldn't I do something that sounds good and I'm on vacation and got no reason to say no, right?
That's right and that's where all of that mental chatter comes up. Well, why not? Why can't I have a drink right now? I'm on the beach. The kids are safe, everybody's safe. This is exactly where people should have a drink and I ended up even... in the three and a half years that I've quit, my vacations have changed. I'm going to Mexico the day after Christmas with my husband and that is our first beach vacation. Like not first beach vacation, but our first where we will just go and chill without the kids. We've started taking more adventurous vacations, hiking vacations, going to the mountains, going rafting because for so long our vacations were let's just go sit here and drink and then I-
Yeah, wine tasting.
Go to the wine testing, go do all of these things and when I took that off the table I was like, "Oh, there's all these different ways to vacation."
It's fascinating, because I was vacationing with alcohol every single time, every time.
And that absolutely resonates with me. We did a bike trip once and it was amazing. We spent five days biking and we were in France, so there was some wine but very, very little. Like we were still biking like 50 or so miles a day but that was our only active vacation that we'd ever really done and it's something I absolutely want to pursue too because I think that you kind of need an activity in many ways on a vacation and drinking can be an activity, sitting around and drinking.
It's often the activity and so... because I look forward to this trip to Mexico, I don't think I'm going to want to drink. That doesn't come up, but what I think is, "Oh, I might be bored." Because we're just going to sit around a pool and look at the beach all day long and that used to be my favorite thing and now I know that without the drink's being brought to me, that can be a long week. Like I want to go do something. That's what makes me so happy about not drinking is I wanted more, I wanted more and I always knew it was out there. I just didn't know how to access it and you start to discover those things, but first you have to recognize them.
First you have to go to Disney World and want that Frose, and think about why you want it and then you start to explore from there. At least that was experience.
Because sitting in the chair by the beach thinking about how you want to do something, that's an amazing thing. Thinking I want to get up out of this chair, not just like fill my body with booze. Like, I want to get up out of this chair and go on a hike or go scuba diving or do something. That's life, that's living and that's what I want to.
And that's what I found that alcohol does, is it really can get in the way of living a full life. It just can, and we're marketed that way. That's a whole different conversation but this is a billion dollar industry and we are taught that we need to relax. "Oh, you deserve it." And I've talked to this before, I think even on the last podcast. Like I deserve to go to the beach and sit there and drink and I had to really start questioning that. Is that what I deserve or do I deserve to go scuba diving and hike and have a really good night's sleep and feel fulfilled and refreshed after a vacation rather than like, I need another one.
Right. Yeah, so vacation... yeah, we took a vacation in September as well, and I had a slightly different experience. Again, I'll get to that. I feel like I'm like jumping all over. Even, I'm like, we're going to go through January through December but I feel like this is not a linear adventure in many ways, right.
There's nothing linear about it. It does jump around and so that's... sometimes that's how it's best explained for sure.
April was kind of a non-event. We came back early April from Florida. In May I got pregnant, so May and June and the beginning of July were sort of non events, because alcohol is just not a thing when you're pregnant and then in July I went to the doctor and there was no baby so that was my first experience with a big life event, like a big disappointment. What did I do? I was like, you know what? I quit, I'm having a drink and I did. I had a drink. That was July and... sorry, I haven't talked about this before, so probably shouldn't have done it for the first time on the podcast, right.
That's okay, so many people will relate to this.
Right. I was like I quit, that was exactly my thoughts but not the abbreviated version and I did. I had a drink and interestingly I didn't want another one and I was like, wow, like I didn't even like that. Maybe I can be one of those people who just like have one drink like once a month or twice a year and just like be a moderator. Maybe I don't even need alcohol anymore. I had one drink, didn't care for it and didn't want another one and I was like, okay, maybe that's what my life is going to look like and at that point I started to look to the next stage. Now we had been halfway through the year, right? I was six months in and I had started thinking like, well, what is the next step? Like what about after December, in January, am I going to drink again? Am I not going to drink again? And that's when sort of the mental chatter came back when I started thinking about the next step.
At this point in July, I'm thinking I had a drink I didn't want anymore. Maybe I'm going to be a moderator. Like I'm the person who just has one drink a couple times a year. September came and I had a friend with good intentions plant the seed that said, "Well, you've made it nine months, don't you feel like you've accomplished what you set out to do?" Like it's almost a year. It's nine months, right, and of course this was in a social setting where everybody else was drinking, but I wasn't. That left me wondering, what is my next step and the mental chatter came back hardcore at that point. Did you feel like you had friends that planted seeds like that kind of doubting you or making you doubt the relevancy of this?
No, I did not have that experience other than the one that I just mentioned with an acquaintance. I did not know that person and she didn't know that I didn't drink, the one that asked me kind of across the room. When I told all of my friends, it was kind of a finality. I never said I was moderating. That's where our story differs, where I was just done. However, I have found, and I think we talked about this, the last time on the last podcast. The thing with people asking about drinking is very interesting.
I have had a lot of people inquire. I've also had a lot of people, what I've noticed is I don't hang out with certain people and I can look back now three years in and be like, "Oh, they stopped calling me." Like, "Oh, that's what happened." I don't get invited anymore. Maybe they didn't overtly say something to me, but my overall experience with my friends is the people that were asking, the people that wanted to know the details, now maybe they weren't saying, are you going to drink again? But what they would say is, "Well, I don't drink that much." They would start to tell me about their drinking and what I realized to be true, and I had studied this a lot. It's like I had listened to podcasts, I'd followed a lot of women in the space who had said, people that care whether or not you drink care about their drinking and most people can care less if you drink or not.
The people that don't have an issue with drinking will never ever, ever ask you if you have an issue with drinking or about your drinking unless it's just out of support and I have found that to be absolutely true. I hesitate to bring that up because we all have friends that want us to be their drinking buddy. I had to really think about that too because I think I would have been that friend. I would have been the one saying, "How long are you going to not drink for?" And I would have done that because I wanted a drinking buddy. I like drinking. I wanted somebody to drink with me.
I would have totally been that friend too. Totally. Yeah.
And it would have made me feel self-conscious to have someone had made that big of a commitment and feeling like I wasn't able to do that and if there wasn't something in me that wanted to quit or worried about my drinking, I would have not cared at all if somebody else was drinking enough, and I think that's really what's going on usually with other people. It just depends on how they approach you but anybody that kind of is like, when is this going to be done? I don't feel like they are really concerned or interested at all in your path, your journey. They're kind of just ready to get you back and like be done with this phase so that you can go to the bar again or whatever you do. Does that make sense?
Yeah, and I think one of the things that you talked about when we chatted last year that really stuck with me was that alcohol had been a part of your celebrations and all the happiest times in your life. Like your college graduation, maybe your high school graduation, your wedding, champagne toast, like all the good times usually involved alcohol and that was very much the case for me and in June when my book came out, like that would have been the time when I would have earned my glass of champagne but I actually, I didn't even want it at that point but I had an interesting experience. I had a book launch party and had a lot of friends who came and I bought a whole case of wine and a good amount of beer thinking that it was a party and people wanted to celebrate, and I also bought two giant kombucha was mostly for me but nobody drank.
Like literally there was one bottle of wine that was like half consumed, maybe like three beers but nobody drank and I was like, well what the heck? Like I just bought all this beer and wine and nobody's drinking and my husband was like, well, it's because you weren't drinking and I'm like, really? Like is that... and I was a little bit surprised by that, but did you have that experience that if you were hosting people that they didn't feel comfortable drinking around you?
Well, I wouldn't say comfortable. I think I would urge you to look at it from a different perspective. This is kind of what I've seen. I will also host and have alcohol. I like my friends to have a good time. I could care less if my friends drink. Now, someone being drunk and obnoxious is something different but what I've found through all of this is the people I want to be around, I want to be around and if they're having drinks that doesn't bother me. It also separated and made me realize there were a lot of people that I only really liked when I was drinking with them, so they kind of naturally faded away, if that makes sense.
The people that I love and adore, I don't even notice if they're drinking or not. For my most recent birthday party, I wanted to go out and dance, and so we had a big group of people. All my friends took me out and I kind of was encouraging them like, don't you all drink? Like have a good time and I can now three and a half years, then go drink stone cold... I mean, go dance stone cold sober, right, so I didn't mind, they took shots. It didn't bother me.
That was kind of an exception though, because what I have noticed is that when I'm with my friends, the ones that I really care about, the ones that love me, they just drink less and it's not because they don't feel comfortable, it's because I'm giving them that space. That's not what... we're doing something else now and so I wouldn't look at it as your friends were there to support you. They weren't there to drink. They were there because they love and adore you and that's what I recognize. I recognize myself in that so much too. Like, I might've been the person at your book party the only one drinking and so to see in my personal experience, my friends say, "No, I don't need that right now. I just want to hang out with you." That's been the biggest gift.
I don't know if I would have given that gift to someone else, because I did always kind of center in on the alcohol and to see people wanting to come and hang out and alcohol not be the forefront. That's what life is supposed to be. That's when you're doing something right. That's when the real connections are happening. It takes a while to realize that because sometimes it's our discomfort, not theirs. You say they were uncomfortable but you might have been the one that was uncomfortable because you didn't want them to do anything differently, but really what they were doing was just coming to spend time with you and celebrate you with or without alcohol.
Yeah and I think that's a really good point. I think that it may have been more me being uncomfortable than them.
Yeah, because you want people to be happy. You want people to enjoy and you don't want people to say, "Oh, this is my thing." And then they're not drinking and then they're not having fun and they're going to say this is so boring and dah, dah, dah, dah but they aren't looking at it that way. The people that love you do not look at it that way. They just don't and the people that do look at it that way, well one, you might not ever know and two, they won't come maybe to your next book support and you're better for it. You're going to be so much better for it. Giving up alcohol really, really draw the line with who is there for you no matter what and who just wanted to hang out and have a good time with you.
Yeah, and I think that's all becoming more clear the further that I go into this and it really is a journey. Like it's definitely... it's not even a one year. I think that this is just like you said, ongoing over the course of multiple years learning more and more about yourself and how you react and what your underlying beliefs are and I think that I do still have this strong underlying belief that you have to have alcohol to have fun.
Yeah and so it is a journey. You have to sort through all of that. A lot of what I'm saying is hindsight and it's hard for me to talk about my first year experience because it's been rewritten because it's changed so much. I have to really tap back into that and say, yeah, there were moments like that. Yeah, it was uncomfortable. Yeah, that was awkward, but my perspective on it all, it's become so natural now that I have to really go back and find that. If that makes sense, and I did associate alcohol with fun for so long. There were so many times where I thought I will never have fun again.
I will never have... and then I would alter that and say, "Well, okay, maybe I'll have fun again, but I won't ever have as much fun as I did when I was drinking." And it takes a long time to realize that not only will you, but you'll have more fun, but it's an ongoing process. It's totally natural to think that way, that fun and alcohol are related. You have to have the experience. You've lived most of your life having the experience of fun and alcohol together so you have to have more than a year to realize that you can have fun without it too.
Kind of rewrite that story.
And that's all experiential and you have to have the experience of that.
Absolutely and that's been I think the blessing, the fact that I did commit to a full year and not just two months or that sort of thing, even though as my story will read, like I didn't actually not drink for the whole year because I had a drink in July. Decided that maybe I could be a moderator, had a drink in August. Also, interestingly, the drink, I had an August was at home and my husband was drinking some wine and I was like, "Oh, pour me a glass." And he was like, "Are you sure you want to do this?" I was like, "Yeah, just pour me a glass. Like, well I just want to see how I feel about it."
I had like two sips and then I walked out of the room and I forgot about it and I woke up the next day and I found it and I'm like, wow, like old me never put her drink down. Like old me never forgot about a drink. Like that actually showed huge growth in the sense that I like had a couple sips and walked right in and it wasn't even on my mind.
And I think in that case I never picked up a drink again but for you having one or two drinks over the course of the year, that's not a bad thing because you gain perspective from it. You were able to say, "Oh wow, look how different this was than it would have been in the past. I didn't even remember that I had it." That's super cool. That's growth and that to me says that it's not forefront on your mind anymore and so it's okay that you poured yourself a glass of wine. You learn something from it. Even had you drank the whole thing and then poured another, you would have learned something from it.
I think we make all of these rules about what we have to do and what we can't do and maybe I never drink alcohol again, but I've done all sorts of other things. That's what we do as humans and so the most important thing we can do throughout any type of journeys, throughout any major life decision is have grace for ourselves. Have grace, have grace, have grace, have grace. You pour a glass of wine and you see what happens, and then you can always begin again if you want to begin again in whichever direction you want to go.
Yeah. I went into September thinking maybe I'll be a moderator, maybe that's what 2020 is going to look like for me. I'm going to be a light drinker, moderator. It's not going to be a thing in my mind anymore. End of September, beginning of October we went to Europe and I was like, you know what? I'm going to have a couple glasses of wine. I'm going to Europe. Like, that's pretty much what you have to do in Europe. For some reason, I've got that association. Like that's what you do, right? Not only are you on vacation, but you're somewhere in a wine growing region.
I'm like, yeah, I'm going to have a couple of classes. I had probably a glass of wine each day with lunch for 10 days and then the last two days I had a couple of glasses of wine, and the very last day of vacation I felt exactly like I felt last December and I was like right back at square one and I was like, I hate this, I don't want to do this anymore and I was like, that was the point where I was like, I am done, done. Like that's what 2020 looks like. I'm not doing this anymore.
After that vacation, which was the first week of October, I got back and I have literally not had a single desire for a drink since then and I also don't feel sad about it. Like I don't feel like I'm missing it. I feel like my experience has kind of come full circle even though I didn't go a full year without alcohol technically, I'm really at peace with where I'm at with it right now.
That's wonderful and I think you happen to have set this goal. I'm going to go one year without alcohol but a lot of what you're describing is stuff that I did before I decided to quit.
...tried to moderate for a long time, right?
Yeah. I tried to moderate, I'd say, "Oh well, I'm not going to drink for the next few months or whatever." And then I would go on a vacation or I would do... have a couple of offers here and there and I would go right back to square one and be like, I hate this. I'd say, well maybe I can be a moderator. Oh yeah, this feels fun. This is great and then eventually I hate this. That went on and on for me for five years. I totally resonate with that and that's what led me to me saying no more at all, and so that's usually the path that you have to take.
It's not like you just all of a sudden wake up one day and you never drink again. You have to experiment with this stuff and most people want to experiment with moderation. They do and they will and then you see how that works. I actually know a few people who are moderate drinkers. They are beautiful at it. They're moderate at everything. I'm not a moderate at anything. I'm kind of a go big or go home. For me, that's what ultimately led to my decision of quitting completely, but everybody's experience is going to be different.
Right, and I don't think that anyone should feel judged or shamed by having glass of wine at night after listening-
...to this episode.
I don't in any way shape or form want anyone to feel like that, but I do want people to think about, if you don't feel good about the relationship that you have with alcohol, if for some reason it's just not sitting well with you, like you... I mean, you can explore other options. Drinking is not the only option, right?
And I think that's the people that are going to really listen to this and want to hear this stuff. The people who moderate and who have no issues and don't have it in their thoughts, they're not going to really have a lot of interest in this conversation. It's a non-issue but the people listening and wanting to hear what this is like probably are curious and they probably have that voice going in their head, and so these are the questions they're going to want to know, so yeah, it's not about judgment.
Everybody's different, but so many people reach out to me and they have these questions. What was it like? What will it be like? Will I want to drink on vacation? Will my relationship with my husband change? It's scary to make a big shift like this and the only reason it's scary is if you're not comfortable with it. If you are comfortable with it and your drinking is moderate and fine and no big deal, you're not going to have this question and again, it's not about quantity. It's not about how much you drink. I want to reiterate that it's about what your relationship is with alcohol and that can be one drink a week or it can be binge drinking.
Right. Absolutely and I have to ask, because there was no way last December that I was going into this as I'm quitting forever. Like I just... that felt way too big of a commitment for me. Now I feel comfortable saying that I don't even like to use the word forever because I don't know where I'm going to be at in my life 20, 30 years from now but for the foreseeable I'm not ever doing it again. I'm not going back to moderation even and for you, how did that feel just saying, I'm done forever. Like did it feel like you were worried you weren't going to be able to uphold it or how did it feel?
No, I mean, again, a lot of this is personal. A lot of it was just within myself. It wasn't like I made some grand announcement. I ended up posting about it on my two year anniversary and so people that knew me well were even like, what? Really, that's awesome. I have a belief that if we're going to make commitments that are really longterm you have to get right with those yourself first, right? I'm all about sharing my journey as it happens on all sorts of things but this was kind of a biggie. It was a real biggie and so I knew that if I let outside opinion in then maybe I wouldn't follow my heart so I can kind of just kept that close to the vest. Unless it was people that were actually sitting around having dinner with me that it would be a topic of conversation, and so it was wobbly. It was testing the waters.
I believed that I would quit forever, but who knew and what if I didn't and then what if I had told a whole bunch of people and so that was part of the experience for me too, is just saying I'm going to do the next best thing and I'm going to do what's best for me and I'm just going to give myself grace and I think by the time I'd gotten to the point where I decided to quit, I was so done. I was so done. You kind of just mentioned that like right now I can tell that I'm not going to drink for the foreseeable future. You kind of know that about yourself when you're done with something and I didn't know how it would turn out and I'm lucky that it became a non-issue for me.
I don't think that that's everybody's experience but the first year was a grind. It was a real grind and I have to remember that when I look back, it's easy for me to forget that.
It's interesting that you said that. You kind of kept quiet about it in the first year because I felt like that too. I did a podcast episode at the beginning of January last year, just saying this is my new year's resolution and why, and then I just dropped it the whole year and I had a couple people randomly message me being like, oh, hey, are you still doing that not drinking thing, but I didn't talk about it on the podcast or on Instagram or anything anywhere really and indeed it felt very personal.
It felt like I need to work through this and see what this is like and what this means to me before I can really start talking about this and I'm glad that I did because this was definitely a roller coaster journey for me and now I just... it feels so good and it's funny, I just listened to a podcast episode like two weeks ago with two women who are in the sober curious movement which is not something I listen to regularly. It's something I happened upon and they were like raving with one another about how great it is not to drink and I was like, I get it. Like I totally get it now and I just have to... like I never imagined that I would feel like this. I never imagined that I would be happy not to drink.
I would have not been raving about it my first year and now that's what I'm saying right now on a podcast. It's like the best thing in the whole world, but I had to find that out for myself and you don't know that it's going to be the best thing in the world until you go for it and even then you've got to trek up a mountain to get the view. You really do.
I've heard of this idea of a runners high where like if you run enough and fast enough, like you'll get this high and really enjoy it and I have run before, I'm a terrible runner, but I have run before. I did a half marathon. I never experienced the runner's high and like the enjoyment and the endorphins that come from running a lot and like making it part of your lifestyle so I never got the runner's high and I kind of imagined the appreciation for not drinking to be kind of like that, like this like oh, I've heard it exists, but I don't really think like it's definitely never happening for me but yeah. It felt kind of out of reach for me but I have to say that it's a real thing.
That's so cool. I love it that you've had this experience and that you can reflect and find yourself where you are now. I think it's a little bit... there are highs and lows. I've never gotten, even with the lows of me thinking, oh, I want to drink right now. What I have thought is, oh, I would have drank right now. What I have thought is I wish I can kind of numb this out. I've had a lot of hard experiences about alcohol and there is something to be said for drowning your sorrows a little bit or just checking out of life. That's probably been the hardest part for me. It has come with a high and I can wake up on Saturday mornings and say, yes, this is amazing, but there are times where I'm like, you know what? I'd really like to check out right now.
I would really like to feel like it felt when I had a glass or two of wine and that might always be the case. I don't know but it never leads me to actually want to drink and that's what life is. Life is a ton of highs and lows. It's a ton of highs and lows, that's all there is to it and I wanted to experience all of it, every bit of it and that in and of itself is exhilarating to be able to do that without a filter.
Yeah. This is kind of like making me think of all different things, but for some reason this reminds me of natural childbirth. Like I really wanted to experience it. Like I felt like as a woman I wanted to actually feel it. I didn't want drugs. I wanted that physical experience and I'm so glad that I did because for me that was like a huge life experience but it's not something that everybody wants, right.
Right. Well, look. It's a billion dollar industry for a reason. People don't want to feel a lot of the stuff and even the highs, we just talked about that. We associate it with fun, we associate it with a party, we associate it with celebration but we're really numbing that out too. That's what alcohol will do even though it's a depressant. It can make you feel like you're having more fun than you are and so I had to see was I really having fun, you know? And if I was, maybe I would have just had fun anyway, but there were so many times where it would have been something that I would never do now. Never, and I thought it was an awesome night because of the drinks I had. It was fake.
It was fake and so to have the experience, that's what I want. What's real and what's not. What's really high, what's really low but you're right. Most people will say, give me the drugs, give me the epidural. I don't want to find out what it's like and I don't... if this isn't fun, then I don't want to find out and certainly don't take away my ability to check out if I need it.
What do you do now when you feel like you want to check out?
It depends. I can absolutely get in the space of wanting to crawl out of my own skin. I am trained and experienced in meditation and yoga. That's what I do for a living. I teach meditation. I teach yoga. I'm a Reiki. I give Reiki, I do a lot of energy work, a lot of the calming practices. That's what I make my living off of but that is not how I am as a person. My personality is really fast. I love adrenaline. I can get in a place where I go so much that I don't want to stop because if I stop then what am I really feeling and so I found the slower practices to get better in touch with myself and while I love them, while they've changed my life, while I believe in them more than anything, they can still be uncomfortable for me, and so I will get into weird habits.
I'll go drive, like we live in Dallas and I'll just drive around the highway and my husband's like, "Can't you do something safer?" Drive, and I'm like, I just got to get... I've got to get the hell out of here. I can still see where I'm running from myself, but I can see it now. I can see it now. A lot of my practices, a lot of what I use is healthier but we can also bypass with the spiritual stuff, with the healthy stuff, with the meditation, with the yoga.
It doesn't really matter what I use, whether it's jumping out of an airplane or a meditation, I have to be incredibly cognizant about what I'm doing and why and I'm able to do that without drinking and that's all I can do is just... if I feel like jumping out of my skin, if I feel like I want to numb out sometimes some things work. I can go to yoga, I can go for a run or whatever, but sometimes nothing does and I have to be okay with that too.
And that's where that fog... that fog that's lifted, right, because if you are drinking and numbing out that way, like you think you're dealing with it, but you're not, you're just like…
And if you don't have the fog, then you really have to look at it and you have to deal with it and whether or not it's a healthy way or not that you're dealing with it, at least you can see it and you can learn from it.
That's the whole thing. Being able to see it and then making decisions. What will I tolerate? What won't I tolerate? Where can I do better? Where can I forgive myself? Where can I forget the others? It's tough. It has been tough to look at all of my stuff and to not be able to numb it out but it's been the greatest blessing in the world. It's a truer life. It's a much truer life but it can get icky and I will never lie about that. I will never lie about that.
Well, thank you so much, Brooke. This has been amazing and I'm going to put the links in my show notes to find you on Instagram and your website and anyone that wants to reach out and get more information from you because I think you're such a great resource. Thank you and I appreciate you for your inspiration and just sticking with me in this journey.
Yes. I'm so... I don't want to say proud because again we don't have to think about alcohol if we don't want to, but I am proud of anyone who explores themselves and so I am proud of you and not because you gave up alcohol, but because you wanted to do something and you did it and that's the beautiful thing about this journey, is staying true to yourself and constantly reflecting and looking and that's what you've been doing and it's a beautiful thing and so I'm really happy for you and I support you in every single bit of it.
Oh, thank you so much.
You're welcome. Thanks for having me. I always love talking to you.
Oh, thanks for coming on the show again.
Okay, we'll talk soon.
Thanks for tuning in today and listening to my story. If you want to get in touch with Brooke or I, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram. I put the links to get in touch with Brooke in the show notes. You can scroll up to the top of the page to see them. I also put a link for a book that I recommend to get started as well. I'll be out next week for a Christmas break, but I do want to wish you a happy holiday season. If you love Simple Families and you've enjoyed the content this year, I would love a simple little gift of leaving a rating or review in iTunes that helps the show to reach more people. I appreciate your support and I look forward to chatting with you in the new year.
Dec 18 2019
Rank #2: SFP 52: How much preschool does a kid need?
Jun 15 2017
Rank #3: SFP 79: SPECIAL EPISODE: How can I reduce the mental load?
The mental load in motherhood is overwhelming. In today's special episode, we are discussing why this matters and what we can do about it. Denaye also introduces a simple, 4-step plan to begin peeling back the layers.
The post SFP 79: SPECIAL EPISODE: How can I reduce the mental load? appeared first on Simple Families.
Oct 30 2017
Rank #4: Gillian's Story
In today's episode, I'm bringing you a Journey to Simplicity. I'm chatting with Dr. Gillian Goddard, a physician living outside of New York City with her husband and four kids. Although Gillian's life may feel anything but simple, she and her family have made strides towards finding the balance and rhythm that works for their family.
- 2019: Holiday Guide (NEW)
- 2019: These Are a Few of MY Favorite Things (NEW)
- Simple Families Toy Gift List 2018
- Simple Families Toy Gift List 2017
Photo by Alison Sheehy
Full Episode Transcription
Hello and welcome to episode 181. Today I am sharing a journey to simplicity. This is Gillian's story.
If you're new to the podcast, you might be new to this series as well. I love to share stories from the Simple Families community of people who are striving to make big life changes to slow down and simplify things within their own families.
Moving into 2020, I really want to spend next year focused on you. Simple Families is plural. It's not just one simple family, it's not just my family, I want to feature more of you. So whether it be your quotes and your photos on Instagram, your stories on the podcast, I'd like to make your voices heard loud and clear. Since I started Simple Families at the end of 2016, I have seen the community grow so much and I have absolutely enjoyed watching you all learn from and teach one another. So I'm going to be making more space for it.
If you have a story to tell or a little anecdote or a big win, feel free to email me (email@example.com). And I'm also going to be featuring this Journey to Simplicity series once a month. So if you want your story and your family featured, send me that in an email as well.
A couple of months ago, an Instagram friend reached out and told me that I have not yet featured any full-time working moms who work out of the home. I featured stay-at-home moms, I featured work-at-home moms, but not yet any work-out-of-the-home moms. So I put out a call to get some candidates and I got an overwhelming response, so many that it was hard to pick from. So as a result, I decided to do two. Today I'm sharing my chat with Gillian from New York, and next month I'm going to be sharing my chat with Marie from South Carolina. So let me tell you a little bit about Gillian.
Gillian is a full-time working physician. Her husband is a full-time corporate lawyer. They have four kids, three of which were born while Gillian was in medical school and doing her residency. So after I heard that, I was like, "I want to hear what your life looks like, Gillian, because that's a lot. That is a really full plate, managing two busy careers along with four growing children." Not to mention that Gillian and her husband work in New York city and live just outside. I think that there's something substantial about living in a busy city or working in a busy city that your baseline cortisol levels are just high.
Whenever I'm in a busy city, I feel like I'm on high alert and I'm sure that probably fades off the longer that you live there and the more time that you spend there. But nonetheless, I think that there is a certain amount of stress that comes with living and working in an environment like this. In her story, Gillian shares that she and her husband started off on the right foot with their first child and were parenting and buying very intentionally. However, as time went on, they felt like this was slowly slipping away. But despite that, they have been able to turn it around and to slow down and refocus on the things that are most important for themselves and for their four kids. And because she and her husband are not super humans, and they only have 24 hours in a day, many of which of those hours are working, they rely heavily on help. And as you listen to this discussion, you're going to find that the theme of asking for help and taking the help that you need is something that is prevalent and reoccurring.
And it's something that I, here at Simple Families, am a huge proponent of, finding the help that you need, whether it's a paid childcare provider, a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle, a friend that lives up the road. How can we move from the mindset that we are supposed to be the ones doing it all and being it all for our kids, and grow into a mindset that looks toward community and building up community to help support us? Because it's 100% okay and 100% necessary to ask for help. I hope you enjoy my chat with Gillian.
Hi Denaye, it's so great to talk with you. I'm really looking forward to it.
I'm excited to have you because I realize, actually I think someone brought it to my attention that I haven't had any full-time working moms do a Journey to Simplicity. So I put a call out for full-time working moms to chat with me more about their journey, and you reached out and I thought your story was so great and I wanted to hear more about it.
Oh, well I'm excited to share it.
So tell me a little... You live in Westchester County, North of New York, just like I do. It's a big county, so probably like 45 minutes from me. I'm like the northern point and you're in the southern point. So tell me a little bit about where you're from and who your family is.
Sure. So I'm actually from Arizona. I grew up in the Phoenix area and I moved to New York about 20 years ago right after I graduated from college for a job. And so I lived and worked in New York for a few years and then I met my husband. And right around the time that I met my husband, I decided to go from what I was doing, which was working in public relations for a firm, doing work for pharmaceutical companies, to go back to medical school. So I went to medical school-
So how old were you at that time?
I was 27 when I started medical school. And my husband's actually quite a bit older than I am. He was 39 when I started medical school.
And what type of work does he do?
He is a corporate lawyer and he's at a law firm in New York city.
Okay. So you went back to medical school at 27. Were you married yet?
We got married in April and I started medical school in August of that year.
Wow. That's a huge transition. Had you always wanted to go to medical school?
I had not. I was a journalism major in college, and I had actually never really thought about going to medical school until I started working in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. And I started going to medical meetings and got more interested in medical science and in clinical medicine. And actually I do 100% clinical practice at this point, I don't do research. But at that point I really decided that that was what I wanted to do. So I had not actually done any of the prerequisite courses for medical school as an undergraduate. Organic chemistry is definitely not a requirement for most journalism majors. And so I did a program at Columbia called Post-Bac Pre-medical Certificate program. And they sort of lead you through doing the pre-medical prerequisites to take the MCAT and apply to med school, and then they help with the application process.
Oh, okay. So this is funny. Because growing up I always wanted to be a pediatrician. It was like my job when you were in kindergarten and they ask you what you want to do, I always wanted to be a pediatrician. And got scared away from all the sciency stuff in high school and then ended up getting my PhD in Child Development, which I guess is kind of as similar to a pediatrician as you can get, but non-medical. But as soon as I finished my PhD I told my husband, "I think I'm ready to go to medical school now." And it's kind of been this ongoing joke that I was like, "That's going to be my next step." But that's only kind of half kidding because the idea of going back later in life was one of those things that is daunting. And even at 27 you probably felt you were later in life than most of the other students.
I definitely did. So I had been out of undergrad for about six years at that point. I was married, I owned an apartment, my husband had been out of law school for 10 years, and a lot of our friends were well into their careers. And when I started, the students who went straight from undergrad into medical school could have been like my husband's children.
So they were in a very different life stage?
Yes. So there was a big social divide. I went to Mount Sinai on the upper East side in New York City, and what I found was they really looked for students who had taken a nontraditional route to medical school. And so there was definitely a cohort of us. I was one of the older ones, but there was a cohort of us that were a little bit older who were married or in serious relationships. And so we tended to gravitate toward one another, and many of those people I'm still friends with now. So there was a group of us that kind of hung together.
How long did it take to get through that?
Medical school is four years, and then I did an adult internal medicine residency, and that is three years. So I am a practicing adult endocrinologist, and the fellowship for endocrinology is two or three years. The fellowship I did was two years. So I started medical school in 2005 and I graduated from medical school in 2009. I finished all of my training in 2014.
So what year did you have your first child?
I had my children throughout my training. I had my oldest son at the beginning of my third year of medical school. I had my daughter during my second year of residency. I had my third child, also a boy, at the very end, like the last week of the first year of my fellowship. And then my youngest child who's almost four, I had after I had joined my practice.
I think we could suffice it to say that this was a really busy season for you when you were having your kids and getting through this period of your life.
Absolutely. I actually always joke. My husband's a corporate lawyer and my son was born in the fall of 2007. And we were both so busy going into that, that we actually ran into each other in our entryway of our apartment at 4:30 in the morning. He was coming home from work and I was leaving for work, and we had an argument because we were supposed to have dinner with friends that night. And he kept saying it was tomorrow night. And I kept saying, "No it's tonight." But we were actually talking about the same day, he just hadn't gone to bed yet and I was up and leaving for work. And so I think if you had talked to us then and asked us how we were going to get through this, we would have shrugged at you and had no clue.
And then there was a huge recession, and no one was doing deals and my husband was underemployed. And I really think that helped get us through at least medical school and residency with kids.
From the time that your first child was born, did you have help with childcare? Or how did you manage two busy jobs and a baby?
Yes. So we had a full time nanny, and we actually got her from a friend whose youngest child was going to kindergarten and didn't need full-time help anymore. And because she was waiting unemployed for our job, we started having her come and help take care of my son when he was two weeks old. So we have had full-time childcare since my oldest child was two weeks old. And we have always had full-time childcare. We actually probably have more hours of childcare now than we've ever had, and we have gone through... That first nanny stayed with us for six years, and then we had another nanny for a little while. And now we have a sort of hybrid situation where we have a part-time nanny/housekeeper in the mornings, and then we have an au pair.
Okay. So tell me about these early weeks in motherhood. Were you on some kind of leave or were you still-
I did actually. My medical school leave was one of my two longest maternity leaves. I was off for 13 weeks. Basically, the way medical school works is the first three years are pretty intense and then there's a break built into the fourth year to allow people to travel to go to interviews for residency. However, we knew that we were pretty tied to New York and so I wasn't going to be traveling for interviews. So I pushed off some of my third year work and completed those rotations during fourth year, and instead took a 13-week break during my third year of medical school.
So what was that like for you, the early motherhood? How was your experience?
I think back to that first maternity leave and I don't think I realized how good I had it. My, my son was a little bit fussy and of course we were new parents, so everything seemed kind of big. And I think the first time you're a parent, every stage feels unending. So you don't have the perspective of knowing that pretty much all six-week old babies are fussy, and if by the time baby is three months old, they probably will not be so fussy. And so everything felt kind of big. By the same token, I had full-time help, and my husband actually got four weeks of maternity leave. And so for the very first month it was like we would take our baby out in the stroller and go have lunch sitting outside somewhere in New York. It was actually kind of lovely.
And then I went back to work, and my husband went back to work and I would say thank goodness for our first nanny, because she really made everything smooth. She never missed a day of work in the six years that she worked for us. She was always willing to stay late. So if we both got stuck and couldn't come home, she didn't mind. She was very social and so she met lots of other nannies and lots of other kids. Those were my son's very first friends. And so really she made the transition back to work a relatively smooth one. My husband wasn't working quite the types of hours he had been used to working and not the types of hours he's working now, and so he really took on a primary parenting role.
And I think that we had a lot of these ideas that first-time parents have. We were going to be very careful about the schedule, about what food my son was going to eat. I spent the second half of my maternity leave pureeing every vegetable and fruit you can imagine. I had a freezer full of baby food before I went back to work and he was only 13 weeks old. We had spoken to our parents about wanting to be very careful about the things that we brought into the house for the baby. We were living in a New York city apartment and so we wanted to be very thoughtful about the things that we brought into our home. And I would say we were sort of typical first-time parents really trying to do all the right things.
Yeah. And a lot of that really resonates with me too in the early days. So something that I'm really curious about is something I hear a lot from moms in general, but especially from working moms is mom guilt. Did you feel mom guilt early on, or have you ever, or when do you feel that kind of came into your life?
Early on I felt like my son was so well cared for and he so clearly was attached to us and he was very, very close with my husband. I didn't know then what I know now because he's 12, that he and my husband are very similar in their personality and they have always just gotten along really, really well. And so I felt like he was so well cared for I wasn't so concerned about it. When I started to get more nervous about it, was around the time he was two or two and a half. I started my intern year, which is typically the most intense year of medical training, when my son was almost two years old. He was 23 months old when I started my residency. And all of a sudden I went from being busy but being busy in a different way to really being in the hospital, working 80 hours a week on overnight calls, frequently working over the weekends, rarely getting home for dinner time.
And I saw him become very picky in his eating. So his tastes really changed. So he went from being a child who would eat anything. He would eat anything we put in front of him, he'd eat the things that we ate. And we really patted ourselves on the back about what a great job we had done, making our child a real gourmet. We were always into food and then all of the sudden, he became very picky in his eating and I really blamed myself for that. It turns out it was probably just developmentally him becoming more picky, but it coincided-
So what you have is that peak period.
But you don't know that as a first-time mom, right?
You don't, and it really coincided with my work ramping up. And so instead of him having these lovely meals all packed and ready for him and really watching what the babysitter was giving him, we became reliant on some typical kid foods because they're easy and he would eat them. And so all of the sudden he had a very white diet, and I really blamed myself for that. And so I think that's really how mom guilt manifested in me.
And was that around the time that your second child arrived?
My second child was born a year later when my oldest son was three, and I had just started my second year of residency, which I'm not going to say it was an easy year, but an easier year than the internship year.
Is there a breaking point that you felt like, "This life is more than I bargained for, I'm more overwhelmed, this isn't how I want the rest of our years together to be"? Or do you feel like this is a gradual realization that you came to?
It was a gradual realization. A couple of things happen that changed how we thought about parenting our kids. When I started my residency, I did my residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, and it was at that point that we moved from the city up to Westchester County. We moved from a thousand square foot apartment, which by New York standards is actually pretty big, but into a hundred-year-old house that had four bedrooms, a basement that was finished. So we suddenly had much more space, and I really didn't have the time to focus in the same way on the types of intentional parenting decisions that I wanted to make.
And then all of a sudden we had my daughter, and I only had six weeks of maternity leave after my daughter was born. And then I went straight back into working more than full time. And we were really in kind of a put-your-head-down-and-get-through-it point in our lives, which sounds really awful and it wasn't all like drudgery and terrible working and awfulness, but it was very much about, "This is a stage, we go through the stage, we get to the next step." And that is sort of how medical training is set up. Every step is like you get to the next step, you get to the next step.
You check a box and you move on to the next box.
You do, exactly. And even to the point where you don't have a lot of autonomy in even what job you take. So you go through a mutual selection process for residency and fellowship where you interview with programs, you rank them, they rank the candidates that they interviewed, and then an algorithm tells you where you're going for the next step. So it really is like, "This is the next step, I check that box, on I go." And in the process of doing that, we also had three kids and moved to the suburbs. And by the end of my fellowship, the economy was really recovering and my husband was getting very busy at work. And so it wasn't until we really came out of that, that I started to have the time and the mental space to sit down and look at where we had gotten, and think about whether that was where we wanted to be or not.
Did you ever think about quitting?
I never once thought about quitting, I don't think I even could, because I think if I had even allowed myself to entertain that thought, it just would have been so hard to keep going on. I just couldn't even contemplate it.
And some of this might be personality too, that like once you're on a path, you're going, going, going, and you're doing what you need to do until you reach that end goal, that last final box, right?
Yes. I would say that is definitely somewhat personality related for sure.
Looking back at this busy season, would you say this was your busiest season or have there been busier seasons since this?
No, no, no, no. This is like the busiest we ever were. When I had my third child, I was finishing the end of my first year of fellowship and then all of a sudden all the crazy, busy years sort of ended all at once when I went into the delivery room with him.
So would you say that you would do anything differently if you had to do it over again?
I would have asked for more help. I think when we first moved up here and I started my residency, we were very attached to our babysitter and we couldn't imagine making the transition without her. And I was so focused on trying to maintain some stability for my son, and quite frankly to deal with the fact that we were going in the hole to pay for the babysitter as far as my income was concerned. So I was making less than our babysitter when I was in my residency. And so it was costing us money. And so the idea of asking for more help just seemed like too much to ask for. And now looking back, that seems so silly. Because that time is really an investment in your future career, and having more help could have made that time less stressful.
I also feel like I was working so much that when I was home, I felt like I needed to do everything for my kids. I needed to be the person who did everything for them because I had so little time to spend with them. And I didn't want to waste any of that time doing anything for myself. Essentially I felt like, "Well, I go to work, and that's what I do for myself. And that I should really spend my free time focused on my kids." So the idea that I would get a babysitter to make life a little easier when I was home with my kids just seemed completely foreign. And I think that's a pretty common feeling among working moms.
Can you speak a little bit to the trials and tribulations of having an outside caregiver? Because I think a lot of people who are listening who are stay-at-home moms or maybe work-at-home moms who don't have outside caregivers, I mean it's not as simple as you just like pass off your kids and then everything's done, right? There's a huge piece of mental load that comes with handing off childcare.
Yes. I definitely think that that is true. I think the first place where you see that is in finding someone. It seems so easy, everybody has a nanny, all these working mothers have nannies, and they just poof, magically have these amazing reliable people who support their working life by taking care of their kids when they're gone. But I would say the very first and hardest thing is finding the right person. And I think one of the biggest things that I didn't realize when we started employing a nanny, was that the person who was right for us in 2007 when my son was born is not the same person that's going to be right for you later. And why would they be? Because taking care of a baby is very different than taking care of school-aged children. Our needs changed. My hours changed, my husband's hours changed. We moved from New York city, where my son's stroller was his major mode of transportation, to Westchester County, where despite the fact that my children walk to school, you really almost have to have someone who can drive a car, taking care of your children.
And so I think there's finding the right person and then there's this constant reassessment as to whether the right person is the person that you're currently employing who was the right person for you two years ago or five years ago. So I would say that my biggest mistake in our childcare journey was not reassessing on a regular basis whether the person taking care of our kids was still the person who best fit our needs. Our first nanny who was amazing and lovely, worked for us for six years, and four of those years were while we were living in Westchester and that babysitter couldn't drive a car. So I took on a huge amount of mental load arranging rides to activities, birthday parties, making sure the activities that my kids were doing were within walking distance. It was choosing schools, choosing a nursery school because it was within walking distance.
And so I think that is one of the big things that people don't think about when it comes to childcare. The other thing is you're employing a human being and their life changes during the time that they work for you too. So we have had nannies whose children have graduated and gone off to college. We've had nannies get engaged and get married. We have had nannies who've had family members pass away. The one thing we have not had, which is good for both us and for the nannies, is we've never had a nanny have a significant health problem. But I have friends who have, and it can be a real challenge for everyone.
Yeah. And I think one of the things that sort of took me off guard in paying a child caregiver for the first time was my need to make the child caregiver happy. Because I feel like their happiness plays a big role in the way that they take care of your kids. Do you feel that pressure at all to make sure that your childcare providers are happy?
Oh, absolutely. I often felt like I couldn't ever say no to something. So if someone was asking for a raise or for extra vacation, I felt obligated to say yes. And while I certainly support paying people who work in your home and take care of your children receiving a living wage and being supportive of them, and doing things on the up and up, I think that it does put you in a little bit of a position of feeling a little bit beholden. I think that's something I didn't expect.
That is, I would have said, the number one thing that I didn't expect. I just didn't expect taking on the mental load piece of having another human in our family really. And that that human is happy and well cared for so that here she can in turn take good care of my kids. I don't know why but it came as a surprise to me for sure.
So now we have both a part-time babysitter/housekeeper kind of, and then we have an au pair. And so we've had au pairs for about three years now. And I feel like that piece is even more predominant when you have an au pair because these are young people who are coming here to have a cultural experience and to be part of your family. And so I feel even more responsible for their wellbeing. And you have a young person living under your roof, and in the case of my au pair, taking the train into the city. Which I'm thrilled to have her do, but I've had au pairs miss the last train, and then get stuck sitting around Grand Central for several hours before the next train leaves, and I worry about them.
Yes, that all resonates with me as well. So as you moved out of the city and into a larger space, did you find that it filled up really fast?
Yes, it did. It fills up really fast. I remember when we bought our house thinking, "How are we going to fill up all these bedrooms?" Because our living space didn't get a lot bigger. We did gain a finished basement, but our living room, kitchen were similar in size. But all of a sudden instead of having two itty bitty little bedrooms that you could barely walk around the bed, we had four bedrooms. And two of our bedrooms are enormous. And feeling like, "How are we ever going to fill this space?" And feeling like we had this space that was a dedicated play room. I feel like we really took the brakes off the toy buying, and all of a sudden we had like every toy. Instead of having really great toys that my kids used, we just had every toy.
And with four kids, did you buy multiples of some?
There are very few things we bought multiples of luckily. Things broke, and so there are definitely some things that we replaced. Ironically, those are admittedly the things that were probably the good toys to begin with. The ones that our kids really played with. And we have not bought duplicates of things like the play kitchen. So we have had the same play kitchen in our house since my son got it for Christmas when he was two, so 10 years. And I would say that was one of my best purchases. But that one comes to mind because it was good and they played with it. So many toys have come and gone from this house that no one really ever enjoyed.
So when you were in the city, the toy buying and the stuff buying was really limited by your space, would you say? So when you went to buy something, you thought to yourself, "Well, where am I going to put this?" And then that helped you make your decision?
Well, there was a little bit of that, and then there was a little bit of... We started out wanting to be very intentional about our toy buying, not wanting to have a lot of plastic little bits and pieces, and really wanting quality toys that we felt like our kids were really going to enjoy over time. The space component was really useful when we were talking to our families about buying toys for our kids. So it was helpful to say to grandparents and aunts and uncles, "We would much rather you all go in together and buy one big thing." And we were thinking of an art easel versus everybody feeling like they could buy every little toy that came to mind. That they were like, "Oh, we really want him to have this particular toy, and you have room for it, right?"
And so that's where it was both in our thinking, but a little bit of that changed. But I would say the biggest thing is we stopped reiterating that message to our family. And I think because we had used the space as an excuse going into parenting when they saw us acquire more space and we didn't continue to reiterate the message of we don't want a lot of toys. They want to be generous with our kids and I think that's amazing, it just got directed into a lot of toys.
The other thing that happened is our kids started having and going to birthday parties. And I'm sure you've seen this with your kids too. When you have a two year old, they don't go to a lot of birthday parties and they don't necessarily come home with a lot of birthday party favors, but they start nursery school and they get friends and all of a sudden they're having birthday parties and their friends are all bringing them a toy from... Where we live we have a store called The Value Drug, and it's like a drug store. It has everything. It has a huge toy section, and every toy in our town that's given for a birthday gift comes from The Value Drug. So all of a sudden you've got 10 new toys coming into your house from The Value Drug because you had a birthday party.
Is it a pharmacy?
It is most like an old fashioned general store. So it is a pharmacy and they do have an actual pharmacy where you can fill prescriptions, but they also have toiletries and that kind of thing. They also have a huge toy section, they have clothes, they have holiday decorations. If you cannot buy it at The Value Drug, you do not need it. It doesn't exist.
I'm kind of grateful that I don't have The Value Drug in my life.
You really probably should be. It's a real double-edged sword.
CVS is my worst nightmare. When I have to take the kids into CVS because they have positioned the toys at the end of every single aisle, you can't walk like four feet without stopping to look at the toys on the edge of every aisle. It's funny the way that toys can pervade and come into our lives even when we're not taking them to the toy section of Target, it's easy to be surrounded by them.
My kids think that going to The Value Drug to just look at the toys is like an activity that you do.
Yes. It's like window shopping, right?
So the toys started adding up. And at what point did you feel pulled towards minimalism or starting to move back toward this intentional life of living with less?
I started becoming really interested in minimalism almost four years ago. I was on maternity leave with my youngest child and I decided that I was going to clean up our house a little bit. It seemed like things had just gotten a little out of sorts almost. And I started going through and I realized how much stuff we had. And so on that maternity leave, I picked a project every day and I started cleaning some things out. But when I started exploring minimalism, the roadblock that I came up against over and over and over again was I felt like it took me a while to find a community that was talking about being a parent and being minimalist. Because there's lots of people out there who just talk about, "Get rid of your stuff." But a lot of the stuff that needed to go from our house didn't belong to me technically, it belonged to the four other people who live here and my husband, so I guess the five other people who live in my house.
And I didn't even know how to approach it. And the toys were so overwhelming that I didn't even know how to approach dealing with the toys. And so a couple of times a year I would go down there into our basement where most of our toys are kept, and I would say at this point, 90% of our toys are kept in the basement, and it would make me so furious. I would be angry with my kids because they couldn't take care of their toys. I would be angry with whomever our child caregiver was at the time, because I felt like they weren't taking responsibility for the toys. And I felt like it was my job to go down there and sort everything back out into the bins where they belonged and put everything back together. It would take hours and then it would all be undone a week later, maybe, sometimes the next day it felt like.
It took me a long time to go from minimizing my own things to tackling the toys. I kept reading things like I needed to get buy-in from my kids and they should help me give things away. And I just knew that that was just going to create all kinds of strife and I couldn't face it. And so what really helped me to tackle the toys was your toy detox.
Oh, okay. So when did you do that?
I did that a little over a year ago.
For anyone listening, I don't offer that anymore, only because I think it's a great program, but I did it back in early 2017 and I haven't updated it. So I kind of pulled it off in hopes of maybe updating it and relaunching it again. But currently I'm not offering that. I'd love to hear your experience with it and how that helped.
It just gave me a different framework for thinking about how to do this without causing a great deal of strife in our house. I liked that it was so specific. In it, you talk about open toys and closed toys, and I had never really thought about that idea. We had a gazillion puzzles that I would just spend all my time like sorting the pieces back into the boxes that they belonged in. And so we had probably long unclosed toys, and very short... Not short, but maybe closer to being in the right place on open toys. I liked that it gave me hard numbers for thinking about like what is the right number of toys?
At the time, my 12 year old was just starting to transition out of really playing with toys to doing other things like reading, riding his bike outside, doing more homework. And so it was good for me to think about like, :"I need to pair this back to this number." So if I'm going to pair this back to this number of toys, which ones should it be? And it was easy. When I thought about like, which are the toys that get played with all the time? It was really easy. I kept the kitchen, I kept our building blocks, they're not unit blocks, but they're similar blocks. I kept Magna-Tiles, I kept Legos, I kept a marble run. And then my youngest son loves PAW Patrol, and so I kept his little PAW Patrol-like figurines and a few cars. And that was it. And well, I guess my daughter had some baby dolls. And when I got it back to those core things, they played with those, everything else was packed up in our store room and no one noticed that it was gone.
It's funny that you say that because overwhelmingly that's what I hear the most from people when they do the masterclass, which in the masterclass we have a unit on decluttering the toys and all the people that went through the toy detox. That is overwhelmingly the response that I hear that the kids receive it positively. And I think that there's so much fear around that transition.
Oh, I was so afraid that I was going to have four people, I would say little people, but one of them is almost my size at this point, chasing after me, because I got rid of a puzzle or a particular... I don't even know. It's so crazy because now I can barely even think of the things that I got rid of.
I feel like when you're making a big, big change, like when you're just getting started like this, just going for it and facing the consequences is the best way to do it. Because you could spend your whole life trying to convince your kids the value of this, but the reality is that the value is far beyond what most six, seven, eight year olds are ever going to be able to comprehend. If you ask them, "Do you love this? Does this spark joy? Do you want to keep this?" "Yes, yes, yes, yes."
I think that your intent behind this and the goals and the amazing potential that can come from making a transition like this is just not something developmentally and cognitively that young children or even a lot of older children are really able to handle. And it's kind of like a rip the band-aid off in many cases. And I know some people have successfully involved their kids in the process, and I think that if you can do that painlessly and efficiently, then yes, do that first and foremost. But if it's never going to happen, or if it's slowing you down by involving the kids, I do think then you should rip the band-aid off, get rid of a bunch of stuff and then just deal with the repercussions of that.
I feel like this is a sentiment that I'm hearing increasingly as this generation of parents is coming into the way that parenting is right now, is that we're really afraid of traumatizing our kids. And there's a lot of that fear around traumatizing kids in so many different ways, shapes and forms. But I've heard a lot of people say, "I'm afraid of traumatizing my kids by getting rid of their stuff without involving them." That sort of thing. And personally, I'm a pretty good mom, I'm there for my kids, I support them, they're well attached to me. They can rely on me for the things that they need. We have a strong emotional bond. They overall, have a really, really great life and if this change needs to happen, it's not going to ruin any of that. And any small trauma that comes from this change is going to be far outweighed by the benefits that result from it. And I definitely know that in my own life.
I also really thought about what are the things that they're attached to, what are their things that they really love? And I didn't get rid of those things of course.
Yeah. So you were being thoughtful in the process.
It's not like you were just giving away everything.
"It all has to go."
Right. I'm hoping that doing it from a positive point of view. This is a great change for our family…
It's not like, "You don't take care about this C-R-A-P. Get rid of all of it. It's all going in a box."
And it's funny because I felt like when I was trying to keep all this stuff, that's when I would get angry with them. That's when my frustration would come out in a way that was probably not productive. And that's not what I want my kids to think of when they're an adult. I don't want them to be like, "Mom was always yelling at us and bugging us to clean up our stuff."
Right. So by eliminating a lot of the stuff, you also eliminated a lot of that negativity that surrounded the dealing with the stuff, and it puts you, I would assume, in a better place emotionally.
Oh, absolutely. It is so much easier to interact with them in a positive way and do fun things with them. And I will do more with them than I used to in a different way. I'll sit down on the floor and build blocks with them in a way that I maybe wouldn't have done before because I was constantly thinking about cleaning everything up.
Yeah. And when that space that the toys are in is an enjoyable space to be in, not only do your kids want to spend more time there, but you want to spend more time there too.
Absolutely. And in fact our playroom is also where our one main TV is. And we don't use it a lot, but it's where we do like family movie night and those types of things. And so I feel much more willing to do things like all sit down together and watch a movie on a Friday or Saturday night, because it's a space that I want to be in and it doesn't take half an hour of nagging at them to clean up before we can go down there and do that.
Right. And your home doesn't feel like a place that you want to escape from. It feels like a place you want to spend time in.
So what about your calendar? Have you made any big changes in your calendar in the way that your family spends their time?
Yes, absolutely. And I have changed both my work calendar and I have changed our family calendar. So up until about a year ago, I worked five days a week. And so that meant I commuted into the city to see patients five days a week. I would say on average, and this was somewhat variable, but on average my commute was taking about an hour and a half each day. For a number of reasons, my practice decided to go to a model where each of the four of us work four days a week and have one day a week where we just do our administrative work. So reviewing lab results, calling patients with lab results, certainly we respond to people every day if there's something urgent. But the sort of non-urgent paperwork and that type of thing, we decided we all wanted to consolidate on a single day. And so now I see patients in the office four days a week. I see patients for the same number of hours, but I do it in four days instead of in five.
And then one day a week, Wednesdays, I stay home and I do all my administrative work from my desk in my bedroom. So I not only have compartmentalized the administrative work that makes life a little easier, I have also gotten rid of a commute, one commute per week. And so that's been really helpful in opening up some time. The other thing that we did, well certainly we opened up time by not having to pick up toys anymore or less often, but we decided over the winter last year, winter tends to be a little bit of a quieter season for us. My oldest son plays soccer, and so that's in the fall and in the spring. But we decided in the winter last year that we were going to limit each of our kids to two activities. It made it much easier to make choices about what activities they were going to do. So each of my kids has two activities that they do outside of school with the exception of my almost four year old. He goes to a half day nursery school program and that is all he does.
How did they receive that change?
In some ways I think it was really positive because it almost made it easier for them to think about what was the thing that was most important to them. They didn't feel like they had to say yes to everything. because if you ask a kid, "Do you want to play soccer this year?" They'll say, "Sure." "Do you want to play lacrosse?" "Yeah." "Do you want to be on a baseball team this year?" "Yes." But if instead you say, "You can have two activities, do you want to play soccer or lacrosse?" I feel like that's almost an easier question.
Yeah, less decision fatigue. And the other thing you think about activities when we're thinking about scaling back for kids is this idea that we really need to listen to their behavior even more than their words. Because a lot of times, like you said, they want to do all the things, but if their behavior's showing they're tired or they're not getting enough sleep, they're irritable, they dread going to the activities, whatever it is, if all of those things are showing you that they're doing too much, even if their words are saying, "Yes more, yes more", we have to really pay attention to those behaviors. Because like I was saying before about their developmental stage that cognitively, they aren't able to balance all the pros and cons and weigh the consequences of doing too much and how that impacts their overall wellbeing. And as parents, that's part of our role, is to step in and to notice when we need to start saying no or empowering our kids to make better decisions.
Absolutely. And one of the things that I've really seen in the last year that I think has been really beneficial is it has opened up some white space for my kids. So they don't feel like they come home from school, they do their homework, they rush to this activity, they rush home. It has really allowed them much more downtime, and it's really changed how they think about their time after school in a really positive way. They're doing much more creative free play, and they are interacting with each other differently.
I also think we reoriented our activities a little bit. Two of my sons asked to start taking martial arts, and that has actually been an activity that's been super beneficial for us because where we go, where our boys go to do martial arts, they also do a lot of focus, not just on the body but on the mind, on focus, on different values that you want to cultivate in your own self, obviously at an age appropriate level. And that has been really great to see too. There's the added benefit that they can go at the same time. So one activity for each of two kids becomes one activity, which is really nice for us.
I've actually been seeing an increasing trend of martial arts studios offering family classes too, which I think is so cool.
Ours does do that. We have not taken advantage of that. We have two kids who don't do martial arts at this point. Although my four year old or almost four year old asks on a regular basis when he gets to do martial arts.
He spends enough time in the martial arts studio that he probably feels like he should have a uniform already.
Yes. That's how my daughter is too. Because my son does martial arts and she's always standing off to the side, learning all of the sequences right along with everybody in the class.
Exactly. It's the curse of being the younger child.
Right. And I feel the same way. She is in swimming lessons right now, which she just recently started, but she does nursery school three hours, three days a week, and that's her activity. That's her social time, that's when she gets out of the house, that's for her. And I think I've had some temptations to put her into dance or whatever it is, but at this point that nursery school bit is more than enough for her at the age that she's at. And she's happy. Would she love to be in a little ballet class? Probably. But she also loves to dance at home, and she can dance at home for free, and I don't have to drive her anywhere. So for now she's going to dance at home, and that is going to be just fine.
That's definitely true. I think a schedule with four kids, even if each child is limited in the number of activities that they do, it can still fill up really, really quickly. So, we do try to be really mindful of that. We have also tried to encourage some diversity in the types of activities that they do. So we have tried to encourage them to do one physical activity, and then something that is music related or art related. For my daughter, that's not a problem, she only wants to do those types of activities. She doesn't want to do any sports or physical activity, so it's a different challenge. But I think my six year old chose as his second activity to learn to play the piano, and that has been a really nice balance too. So he does martial arts and piano, and he doesn't play soccer. And I have a six year old in the United States who doesn't play soccer and the world hasn't come to an end.
Something that we've been doing starting the summer, we don't have a regular Saturday commitment or actually any weekend commitments at all that we have to be at every week. But we've started kind of dabbling, I'm calling it, where we put the kids in a four-week clay class and then we took a few weeks off and right now they're in a six-week... It's called Meet the Instruments, it's at a Suzuki school where they're just going and like trying out instruments and learning a little bit about music. But I love the idea of it being short term. I don't have to feel like we're quitting. It doesn't feel like this ongoing commitment, but finding little things that when they're young, like dabbling is really important just to learn what's out there, learn what you're interested in, what you have natural talents towards. So finding things that aren't this ongoing, year-to-year commitment I think can be really great.
Yeah, absolutely. One of my children took a Meet the Instruments course or class. Two of my children are at a Suzuki school. My daughter plays the violin and then my son plays the piano, and I have really found some of those shorter classes that they offer to be really helpful, and just a nice way to experience something that they might not otherwise get to experience.
Yes, exactly. So tell me a little bit about partnership. It sounds like your hours are better at work or a little bit more manageable now. What about your husband's hours?
My husband's hours have really ramped up over the last couple of years. And so we have kind of switched roles a little bit, where I would say at this point I am a little bit more of the primary parent and he's maybe a little bit more of the secondary parent. But what I would say is, because he spent so much time alone with our kids when our kids were younger, I think we have settled into a little bit more of an equitable split than maybe a lot of couples find that they do when they both have jobs and a lot of young children. So my husband's actually in charge of the mornings. I'm not home in the mornings when my kids are getting ready to go to school except for the day that I work from home. And so I don't know how lunches get made in our house, I don't know what order you're supposed to pack your backpack, brush your teeth. That is not my purview. And I have found when I try to get involved, I get in trouble, because I typically do it wrong.
And then I am the one who is typically home more in the early part of the evening. So I do a lot more homework supervision. But we have also really made the choice to kind of keep things like homework in the purview of the child. As I tell my kids on a regular basis, "Your teacher knows that I passed the fourth grade, and so they don't want to see what I can do in fourth grade math. They want to see what you can do." So when I say supervising, I mean really like, "Did you do your homework today?" And that's sort of the extent of it. We do make a real effort to have dinner together a few times a week. That does mean that we tend to eat dinner very late for what people typically think of for kids. My husband will get home around 6:45 and we'll sit down with everyone to eat dinner between 6:45 and 7:00.
And then after dinner if he's very busy, he will often do more work, participate in conference calls. The one thing that he hasn't had to do a lot of recently, and the one thing I rarely have to do, is travel for work. And so that makes our schedules a little bit more predictable.
Right. So it sounds like you have found a good balance and partnership, which I think doesn't always happen when you have two working parents. But do you think starting out that you both have been fully employed outside of the home since the very beginning, do you think that has helped to keep things divided?
Absolutely. I think that neither of us feels like we are the one who knows how to do the various things that need to get done the right way. So neither of us are like the keeper of all of the processes for the house. We each have things that we're responsible for and the other one really does not get involved. So when I say I don't know how to make lunches, I mean it, I don't know how to make lunches. So I don't make lunches, I don't think about lunches, I don't worry about if there's food in the house for lunches. None of that falls into my purview. And so it's much easier to just take whole chunks of work completely out of the picture.
And the funny thing is that let's say your husband had to travel for a week and you did have to do the lunches, kids have a way of stepping up and doing their bit when they know it needs to be done. Your kids would probably be like, "Oh, this is how you make the lunches, mom." And then just show you how it's done, without any problems. Could you see that happening?
Oh for sure. My nine-year-old daughter is probably the person who is really the keeper of all the household information. If it has to do with how things get done for kids and you're not sure how to do it, you just ask her and she'll be more than happy to tell you how it's done in no uncertain terms.
Right. And I think that that's really great in many ways because it allows kids to take ownership and to feel like they are really an important contributing member of the family.
I think one benefit of having two parents in busy jobs has been that it has really forced our kids to be independent. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean they take agency because if they don't, it might be that no one else does. And I think it's really been good for them. They walk to school by themselves, with the exception of the three and a half year old. Everyone else walks to school by themselves. The older two are actually dismissed from school and come straight home by themselves. They are really responsible for doing the things that they need to do to go through their day pretty much on their own.
One of the things that I did after encountering a lot of your work was I rearranged our kitchen so that they could get their own snacks, and so that they could reach the glasses. And I rearranged the refrigerator so that they could reach the water bottle. And so that's really made it... even in the kitchen has made them so much more independent. And really that's the goal, right? The goal is to make your kids functional adults and they're not going to suddenly, at 18, wake up and be like, "Well, I know how to do this."
Right. Yes. To slowly help them grow their wings.
Exactly. Exactly. And so we really have sort of accidentally, and now more intentionally tried to foster their independence.
Great. And I love that. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today, Gillian. This has been really fun to hear your story and to hear how things have changed for you over the years, and it still feels like quite a journey I'm sure.
It does. We definitely don't have it all figured out yet, but I feel like we're in a better place than we were a few years ago.
Great. Well thank you. I appreciate your time.
Oh, it's been so much fun to talk to you Denaye.
Thanks so much for being a part of Simple Families. If you want to stay in touch, the best way is to join the email list. Go to simplefamilies.com and you can leave your email address at the top. You'll get all the updates, what's going on in the blog, on the podcast and in the community. Thanks again.
Dec 04 2019
Rank #5: SFP 121: Minimalism + Parenthood [with Kristen Puzzo]
This is my favorite podcast episode yet. This month we are exploring the journey to simplicity in four real-life families. Because minimalism just makes good sense for families. Today I am chatting with Kristen Puzzo. Kristen is an active member of the Simple Families Community. I have been following her journey as she has been lightening the heavy load of motherhood for over a year. In this episode she shares an incredible amount of wisdom and insight for aspiring minimalists everywhere.
The post SFP 121: Minimalism + Parenthood [with Kristen Puzzo] appeared first on Simple Families.
Aug 22 2018
Rank #6: SFP 70: What do you do when a kid bites?
Many children go through a stage where they bite, hit, or otherwise use behaviors that are undesirable. In today's episode we discuss how these behaviors typically aren't aggressive, instead they are primitive forms of communication.
Sep 14 2017
Rank #7: SFP 142: Organization for Everyone [with Rachel Rosenthal]
In today's episode I am chatting with professional organizer Rachel Rosenthal. If you are anything like me, you might struggle with complex organizational systems. Rachel is bringing her best tips to keep it simple and approachable--and maybe make 2019 your most organized year yet.
The post SFP 142: Organization for Everyone [with Rachel Rosenthal] appeared first on Simple Families.
Jan 16 2019
Rank #9: SFP 56: What are your tips on moving with kids?
Jun 29 2017
Rank #10: SFP 128: Living Coffee 'til Cocktails [with Brooke Conley]
Show Links/NotesStay in touch with Brooke and see her recommended resources:
Her website Instagram Online
- This Naked Mind — Annie Grace
- Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol — Ann Dowsett Johnston
- Drinking: A Love Story — Caroline Knapp
(books contain affiliate links)
The post SFP 128: Living Coffee 'til Cocktails [with Brooke Conley] appeared first on Simple Families.
Oct 10 2018
Rank #11: SFP 89: Soulful Simplicity [with Courtney from Be More With Less]
This week, I am excited to be talking on the podcast with Courtney Carver from Be More With Less. On the blog and podcast, I frequently discuss the "how" of minimalism. But in this episode, Courtney takes us one step further. She explains why simple living is good for your heart, family, and future.
I just wrapped up Courtney's brand new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More. Courtney shares her story in moving from a stressed out, cluttered life to minimalism as a result of a devastating diagnosis. Her story is beautifully written--it will both lift you up and bring you to tears--I am not sure if I can say I have ever cried about someone else's dog dying--but now I have.
Here's quick excerpt from Soulful Simplicity that spoke to me:
I’m confident that because I got lost, disconnected, and turned upside down, I was able to come out even better on the other side and experience the kind of gratitude you just can’t tap into unless you know what it’s like to live outside of your heart. Not being yourself is exhausting and breaks you down from the inside out.
Simplifying my life was the way I remembered who I was. When we hear about the benefits of simplicity, we immediately think of organized sock drawers, clean countertops, and tidy bookshelves, but it’s much more than that if you want it to be.
Courtney is currently on a 15 city book tour--she will be here in NYC next week and I look forward to meeting her there! If you can catch her in a city near you, I highly recommend hearing her words and her story in person.
The post SFP 89: Soulful Simplicity [with Courtney from Be More With Less] appeared first on Simple Families.
Jan 08 2018
Rank #12: SFP 55: Do your kids drink milk?
In today's episode we are talking about whether I give my children milk. I also discuss the transition from formula/breastmilk to cow's milk after the first year of life.
- How I Feed My Kids
- How I Feed My Kids (Your Questions Answered)
- Why My Toddler Doesn't Drink Milk (original article)
Jun 28 2017
Rank #13: SFP 67: How should I handle young children who masturbate?
Masturbation and genital touching in your children is a natural and normal part of development. In today's episode we discuss how to address this concern when necessary.
The post SFP 67: How should I handle young children who masturbate? appeared first on Simple Families.
Sep 05 2017
Rank #14: SFP 87: Simple Fitness in Motherhood [with Cari from Fit Mama in 30]
Fitness and nutrition are on the minds of many at the beginning of a New Year. As we transition into motherhood, our bodies change. I know for me personally, the way I view my body changed after babies. But the way I use my body changed also. Fitness in motherhood is about more than just looking good, it's about being strong. When we are strong it helps us to be the calm, present, engaged parent that our kids need.
In today's podcast episode, I chat with Cari Oschman from Fit Mama in 30. Cari is a fitness expert and mother of two young children. Cari and I dove deeper into a topic of which she's well versed--fitness in motherhood. We discuss the following questions:
- How does motherhood change our body image and the way we view ourselves?
- How can we inspire fitness and wellness in our families?
- Why do we need to be fit as mothers?
The post SFP 87: Simple Fitness in Motherhood [with Cari from Fit Mama in 30] appeared first on Simple Families.
Jan 02 2018
Rank #15: SFP 158: Practical Steps to Simple, Happy Parenting [with Desirae Endrees of Minimalish]
I get to be on the other side of the table today! In today's episode, I am being interviewed by the host of Minimalish, Desirae Endrees. I had the pleasure of being a guest on Minimalish last week and I loved our chat so much that I wanted to re-air this episode for you on Simple Families.
In this episode, I'm talking about how Simple Families got started (and about the other blog I had before Simple Families was born). Thanks to Desirae for having me on and letting me share this with you all.
- The Original Episode on Minimalish
- Minimalish on Instagram
- Minimalish Facebook Group
- PREORDER SIMPLE HAPPY PARENTING + CLAIM BONUS COACHING
- Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe
- Why I Got Rid of the Toys
- Un-Fancy (Caroline Rector)
- Courtney Carver - Be More with Less - Project 333
- Care/of - plus use coupon code coupon SIMPLE25 for 25% off
The post SFP 158: Practical Steps to Simple, Happy Parenting [with Desirae Endrees of Minimalish] appeared first on Simple Families.
May 15 2019
Rank #16: SFP 53: How should I handle sibling disputes?
The sibling relationship sets the stage for many relationships to come. We need to let our children use this dynamic to practice handling conflict. It will be anything but graceful in the early years, but this conflict serves a deeper purpose.
Jun 21 2017
Rank #17: SFP 137: Let's Stop Hurrying our Children [with Janet Lansbury]
I don't know about you--but my kids have the tendency to move slowly. They function on their own timeline. The result is that as parents, we often find ourselves "hurrying" them to speed up and get on our agenda. In today's episode I am chatting with Janet Lansbury about hurrying our kids through their days and through their lives.
- Simple Families: The Masterclass (30% off this week!)
- Janet's Website/Blog
- Janet's Podcast: Unruffled
- Janet's Books: No Bad Kids + Elevating Child Care
- Book mentioned: The Hurried Child by David Elkind
The post SFP 137: Let's Stop Hurrying our Children [with Janet Lansbury] appeared first on Simple Families.
Dec 12 2018
Rank #18: SFP 169: Too Many Toys?
Do your kids have too many toys? When it comes to toys, there is no perfect number. But in today's episode we are talking about why children don't need a lot of toys. Having an abundance of toys is not only unnecessary but could be harmful. We are talking about all that and more.
Today, we're talking about too many toys. How did we get
here? How did our kids end up with so many toys? Our intentions were good. The
grandparents, the aunts and uncles, whoever else is buying, their intentions
are good as well. But too many toys aren't just unnecessary, but sometimes they
can actually be harmful. I know harmful is a strong word to use here, but I'm
going to explain more about this. I'm going to explain why scaling back on the
toys is actually not only in your best interest, less cleanup time, less chaos,
but it's also in the best interest of your kids.
Before we get into today's episode, I want to bring you a
60-second ad from today's sponsor. Today's episode is sponsored by Cultural
Care. Now, Cultural Care is an au pair agency, and what is an au pair agency
you might ask? It's an agency that links you with au pairs. Many of you know
that we're in our second year participating in the U.S. au pair program and we
absolutely love it. Cultural Care is the name of the au pair agency that we
use, and the way that they define an au pair is a caring and committed,
adventurous, educated young person between 18 and 26 years old. They come from
many different countries worldwide. All au pairs have childcare experience and
undergo a multi-step screening and training process before joining your family
as a live in child care provider.
I was surprised to learn that an au pair actually costs
about half what a nanny costs in our area, and that was one of the first
reasons that led me to explore the process. Au pairs can provide up to 45 hours
a week of flexible childcare. That means you can use three hours in the morning
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As a host family, we pay a weekly stipend to the au pair.
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It is officially September and we are back in weekly mode for the podcast. That means you'll get a new episode every week, and I'm getting ready to launch a new round of the Masterclass. Now, if you're not familiar with a Masterclass, the Masterclass is my flagship program that focuses on simplifying the family. This will be the last time this year that I'm going to be offering the program and I would love to have you join me. It's an eight-week program. We spend four weeks focused on simplifying the home and four weeks focused on simplifying your parenting. If you want to learn more, go to simplefamilies.com/masterclass, and there's lots and lots of information there, as well as information about how to sign up. Each time I run this program, it's such an amazing group of families and the feedback that the program gets is incredible.
, and there's lots and lots of information there, as well as information about how to sign up. Each time I run this program, it's such an amazing group of families and the feedback that the program gets is incredible.
I'm going to read you a few words from Madison, who took the most recent Masterclass, and she said, "I guess I hadn't told my husband that I was taking the Masterclass and today he saw it up on my computer and said, 'I saw the class you're taking. Is that why you've been so chill?' Your class has changed my relationship with my children and my husband. I'm happier, calmer, more understanding, and apparently also more chill. I don't have much to simplify in the way of stuff, since I've always been the type to purge and organize and only keep what I need. However, I've simplified my routines, systems, and mostly my attitude and approach towards parenting and marriage.
I've slowed down and no longer rush out the door. I think
about what I truly need to pack for our outings with the kids and I keep it
simple. I'm spending more time at home playing and reading with the kids. I've
improved my communication with my husband and I feel like we're more of a team.
I have simplified my outlook on household chores and I've been able to keep up
with it, which means I'm less stressed about keeping the house clean. Denaye,
your class has drastically improved our family life and I am forever grateful.
Madison, I so appreciate you sharing your words with me. I can't tell you all how much it means to me to hear this sort of thing and to know that the work that I'm doing is actually touching people, and furthermore, actually improving lives. From a personal perspective, one of the reasons that I really love this program, and the other ones that I run, is because sometimes being a podcaster and putting out content online, I feel like I'm just talking at you a lot and it's not as interactive as I would like it to be. So when I run these programs I actually get to know you, the people out there who are listening. It's very reassuring that I'm not just talking to a wall, which sometimes it kind of feels like that. So again, Madison, thank you for sharing your very, very kind words and I am so glad to hear that the Masterclass had such an impact on your family.
The next round of the class is starting on September 16th,
and the early-bird pricing is going to go until September 12th. So I would love
to have you join me before that. You can get all the details that
simplefamilies.com/masterclass. I hope to see you there.
In the spirit of the Masterclass, we're going to be talking today about too many toys. We have a lesson in the Masterclass that talks about reducing the toys, how to do it, why to do it. I first want to talk about my own experience with toys. I found minimalism back in 2014, and back in 2014, I was wrapping up my Ph.D. in child development. When I became a mom the year before in 2013, I was already heavily invested on buying high-quality toys for my kids. I wanted to fill their lives and their bedrooms with lots of educational, durable, beautiful things.
I was thinking a lot about quality and never really
thought much about quantity, which means every single educational, beautiful
toy that I saw, I could make some excuse to buy it. So we had a lot of stuff.
It was good stuff, but we had a lot of stuff. As I moved through parenthood and
I wrapped up my PhD, I started to be able to bring theory to practice. What I
mean by that is the theory and the philosophies that I was learning in my PhD
program, I was really starting to put those into practice as a mother, and I
was really starting to look at the impact of my parenting and the way that we
were living our life and how that contributed to my children and their behavior
and their development. It didn't really take me long to realize that, yes,
quality is important when it comes to toys, but so is giving consideration to
quantity, because our kids do not need a whole lot of toys.
Now, many of us are going to see that our kids don't
actually spend a lot of time playing with toys. Now, a lot of kids are playing
in some way, shape, or form all day long, but the thing is they're not actually
playing with toys all that much. Now, you might have kids who don't even spend
that much time at home. Maybe they're in full-time daycare or they're in school
full time, and then on the weekends you're doing errands and you're out and
about doing things. So you find that they don't spend a whole lot of time at
home, but yet your house is filled with tons of toys. Or you might find that
you keep buying new toys, trying to look for things that are going to be the
perfect fit and they're going to be engaging for your kid because your kid
doesn't seem to care much about toys or engage much with the toys that they
Whatever the reason, most kids, at least here in the U.S.
have too many toys. How did we get here? Why do we have this problem? Because
it is absolutely 100% a first-world problem. There are two main reasons that I
see kids getting a lot of toys. The first is we do a lot of front-loading. Now,
when I say front-loading, that means we front-load the joy on our toys, and
some of you may have heard me talk about this before. We love, love to see the
joy when our kids get something new, the look on their face, the excitement, the
expressions. Now, not just us, but the grandparents and the aunts and uncles
and anyone else who's buying toys, they also love to see this too. There's
absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying seeing your kid light up about a toy.
The problem comes in when we consider the fact that the
things that get our kids really excited, the things that light our kids up
immediately, are often the things that also get set aside pretty quickly. Our
kids get really excited and enthusiastic about the toys that they see on TV,
they see in commercials on YouTube. The things that relate to the hit movie
that's out right now. The things you can press a button and they light up and
they talk and you know exactly what to do with them. Those are the things that
are probably going to be on the Christmas list. Those are the things that are
going to be on the birthday wishlist. Those tend to be the things that we buy
that get set aside quickly.
They also tend to be things of lower quality that break
and end up in the landfill, and toys are notoriously hard to recycle. Because
of how hard it is to recycle toys, pretty much every single toy that's ever
been purchased, ever been manufactured, is sitting in a landfill somewhere.
Now, of course there are exceptions to that. Let's say the vast, vast majority
of toys ever manufactured are in the landfill today, and take a second to
visualize what that might look like. 50-plus years of plastic toys from every
child from the past three generations. That's a lot of toys in the landfill.
So when I say front-loading, that's what I mean. We
front-load the joy. The kids get all the joy upfront, right? When they open it,
they set it aside, and often the toy goes untouched or isn't played with for
any significant amount of time or duration.
We've gotten away from front-loading the joy when it comes
to toys in our house. I do give my kids input on what sort of toys that they
want to get, what they want to put on their wishlist, that sort of thing, but
I'm also really mindful of the fact that the way that I buy for my kids is
teaching them. It's teaching them how to make decisions about bringing
materials into their life, and I want them to be intentional about it. So we
talk about the decisions. How often are you going to play with this? How many
different ways can you use this? How durable is this? How long is it going
last? What's gonna happen to it after we're done with it? Is this something
about we're going to be able to pass on to another family, where perhaps it
just won't be interesting to kids because it involves a character that is
losing popularity and is going to be pretty much unknown after your child is
done playing with it.
When you buy toys more intentionally, you can back load
the joy on the toys, and that means you might be buying something like a good
set of wooden unit blocks that aren't necessarily going to light your kid up
with joy when they open it on the morning of their birthday, but the joy is
going to come out slowly over weeks, over months, over years, as they learn new
creative ways to use these toys. I don't know about you, but that's what I want
to teach my kids about bringing new things into their life. I want them to buy
more intentionally. I want them to buy things that are going to be useful and
durable, to last for years rather than something that's just going to get them
excited and happy for a few moments. I truly think it's never too early to
start teaching that.
Now, that's just one of the reasons that we got where we
are today here in the U.S. We have an abundance of options when it comes to
toys, and we also tend to fear boredom in our kids. We fear when our kids have
downtime, because sometimes can be difficult during that window of time.
Because we fear boredom, we sometimes buy toys to try to ease that anxiety, feeling
like if you just provide them with enough stuff or the right stuff that they'll
stay busy, that they'll stay engaged, they'll play longer, when actually the
opposite is true. The more your kids have and the more that you buy them, the
less engaged they are, the less they take care of those toys, and the more they
suffer decision fatigue.
Our intentions are in the best of places. If your kids
have a lot of toys, don't be embarrassed, don't be ashamed. Just know that this
isn't a life sentence. You can change the way that you're buying. You can
change the way that the toys and the stuff are managed in your house. If you do
make a change, it doesn't mean that you're being mean. It means you're being
intentional and you're being thoughtful and you're doing something in the best
interest of your whole family.
If you're front-loading the toys and you are thrilled with
the joy that you see in your child's face, when they light up and they get
something new, that's okay once in awhile. But be mindful of the fact that
sometimes, or maybe even often, the toys that we are front-loading our children
are the ones that hold their attention for the shortest amount of time. If you
find yourself buying your kids toys because you fear boredom and you think
that's going to be the quick fix, it's not, because once the newness of that
toy wears off, the boredom is going to return. Instead of fearing the boredom,
we have to embrace it and let our children have the chance to work through it.
Having a lot of toys isn't just unnecessary, but I also
said that it can be harmful. Having a lot of toys is unnecessary because, like
I said before, a lot of kids just don't spend a lot of time at home. Whether
they're in school or they're in daycare, they're out of the house a lot. But even
the kids that are at home a lot and spending a lot of time within the home are
actually spending a lot of time engaging in regular stuff. Our kids need
imitation. They need to be able to spend a lot of time right next to us. They
need to be able to explore the things around the house. Maybe it's the vents on
the floor, looking out the windows, helping in the kitchen.
If you stop and pay attention, you'll notice that a lot of
the time that you spend at home with your kids, they're not even playing with
their toys. They're playing with other stuff around the house. It might be the
cardboard boxes or the bubble wrap. They might be reading books. The reality is
that most kids don't spend their entire days playing with toys. That's
completely normal. If you're feeling like you have a house full of toys that
nobody plays with, you're probably right and you're definitely not alone.
I had said that having too many toys can actually be
harmful, and I'm hesitant to use that word because it is such a strong word,
but I do truly believe, and the research is starting to show us, that there are
negative repercussions to having too many toys. There is research to show that
kids play more creatively when they have fewer things. It's not just your
sanity that is going to improve when you get rid of the stuff because you're
going to have less clutter, and we do know, research also shows, that our own
feelings of stress and anxiety go down when we have less clutter around. If
your stress levels are lower, you're going to be happier, you're going to be
more present, you're going to be calmer with your kids, but your kids are also
going to play more creatively. So you're going to be happier, your kids are
going to be more creative, and I'd venture to say that they're actually going
to be happier too, and they're going to get the opportunity to learn how to
take care of things.
I know, when I look back at my childhood, I never put
anything away. I had way, way too much stuff. My mom spent years yelling at me
to clean up my room, and I would go up to my room and look at all this stuff
and just really think to myself, "I don't even know where to begin. I
don't know how." It was overwhelming for me. So if you're looking at your
kid's toys and thinking, "Oh, this is overwhelming," if it's
overwhelming for you, it's absolutely overwhelming for them to manage and for
them to deal with. I'm pretty sure you don't want to spend their whole
childhood yelling at them to clean up their room, and I promise you don't have
to. There is another way.
Also reflect on how you feel when you're in the toy space.
Does it feel cluttered? Do you feel irritable? Is it a place that you want to
spend time? If it's a place you don't want to spend time, there's a chance your
kids probably don't want to spend a lot of time there either, and that might be
another reason why they are following you around instead of playing with their
toys. A space that is clean and orderly is going to be more attractive to your
kids and it's going to be more attractive to you too. You're going to want to
send more time in there with your kids if you feel good there, if you're not
stepping on things every time you walk through.
My kids do a really great job of cleaning up their toys.
Now, they are not perfect by any means, but everything has a place and they
know where things go. So once they're done with them, they can easily put it
back, they can easily find what they're looking for, and it has a big impact on
the way that they play and the way that their space functions for them to play.
When things are being put away, they're going to be taken care of. They're not
going to get stepped on, they're not going to get lost, they're not going to
There's an implicit lesson in that. We're teaching our
kids that the things that we buy, the things that we spend our money on, are
things that we love and things that we want to last and be a part of our lives
for a long time. When it comes to kids, we have such a throw-away culture.
Everything's disposable. We buy it cheap and don't keep it for very long. I
think we can start moving away from that, but we've got to be purposeful about
it, we've got to be thoughtful about it. That means changing the way we buy not
only their toys, but also their clothes and the other things that they have in
The last reason of having too many toys is I think that it
really implies this idea that kids are supposed to spend all their time inside
because that's where all the toys are. I often think about the kids who live in
tiny homes or who travel full time with their families. Those kids don't have
room for a lot of toys, but what they do have is access to the outdoors. They
spend most their time outside and they also probably spend a lot of time
engaged and imitating with what their parents are doing too.
So start watching, start paying attention to how your kids
naturally spend their time. If they're not playing with their toys a lot, maybe
they have too many. If you scale back, they're more likely going to take better
care of the toys, they're going to be more engaged, more creative. I'd venture
to say you're going to see a pretty big behavior change. I know this because
I've helped well over a thousand families do this, to reduce their toys and
reduce the stuff in the home. I've seen firsthand, not only in my own family
but in the families that I've worked with, the impact on the mental health and
wellbeing that it has, not only on the parents but also on the kids.
I know it can be overwhelming to think about cutting back on the toys, but you're not being mean. You're not doing this as a punishment. You're doing it for the betterment of your family. I hope you've enjoyed this episode and that you found it helpful. We're talking more about this in the Masterclass. I would love, love to have you join me and be a part of it. It starts on September 16th and the early-bird pricing is in effect until September 12th. Go to simplefamilies.com/masterclass to get all the information there and to get on board.
Thanks so much for tuning in, and I will talk with you
next week. Have a good one.
Sep 04 2019
Rank #19: SFP 165: Journey to Simplicity | Jane's Story
Today I'm chatting with Jane Monnier about her journey towards reducing mental and physical clutter. Jane is a longtime member of the Simple Families Community. She's also is a rocket-scientist-turned-military-wife-and-mother who has lived around the world with her family. I think you will enjoy Jane's wisdom in this episode!
(Full episode transcription below).
Denaye: For those of you have been listening to the podcast for a while, you'll know that occasionally I do these journey to simplicity stories where I follow members of the Simple Families audience, and they share with us more about what their journey towards a simpler life has looked like.
Today I am chatting with Jane Monnier. Jane has been a part of Simple Families pretty much since I have since the very beginning. And it's been a pleasure getting to know her through the Facebook community and through the programs that she's done. She's a veteran of The Mental Unload. She's actually done it with me three times now and she joined me this last round as the community manager. Which was so great to see her be able to take the tools that she's used and support other women.
So she's joining me today, and we're talking more about what her journey to simplicity looked like. Jane is a rocket scientist turned military mother and wife, and her family has moved all over the world. And they've definitely faced obstacles and their own share of stress and overwhelm, and the accumulation of stuff. So Jane is going to share a little bit about how she's been letting go of the physical and mental clutter. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Denaye: Hi Jane, how are you?
Jane: I'm wonderful Denaye. How are
Denaye: I'm good. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Jane: Of course. My pleasure.
Denaye: So Jane, I'll first say how I've gotten to know you over the past couple of years. You have been a part of the Simple Families community for how long has it been, do you know?
Jane: I can't remember exactly, but I
think it was before you even had your actual blog website up. You were doing an
Denaye: It was probably early 2017 maybe, I'm guessing.
Jane: So I know I only had one child I
think, and she was born in 2015.
Denaye: Okay. Wow, it's been a long time.
Jane: It's been a really long time.
Denaye: I've loved having you as a part of Simple Families and you participated in The Mental Unload. You've done a few rounds with me. I this last round you help to co facilitate it with me and I really enjoyed getting to know you better through that too.
Jane: Well thank you. I really enjoyed
it and I loved being bigger part of the community during that last Mental
Unload because there's some really awesome ladies that were involved. And I
always learn something new every round I do about myself. And every round I do
of The Mental Unload affects me in a different way because there's always
something new going on in my life. So it's wonderful.
Denaye: The Mental load doesn't go away, but you can learn to balance it better.
Denaye: Keep it a little quieter.
Jane: Yes. And I have.
Denaye: Good, good, good. So I am excited to hear your story. So tell us a little bit about you and where you started. Where'd you grow up? Where have you lived, because I know you've lived all over.
Jane: Yeah. So I'm originally born and
raised in Minnesota. And I was really excited to leave and do other things, and
went to college down in Florida to get an engineering degree at Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University, which nobody really knows about unless you're in the
aeronautical community. And then my husband and I actually reconnected. We went
to high school together but weren't high school sweethearts or anything like
that. And reconnected right after we graduated college in the same year when I
was living in Florida. ANd he joined the air force, and we were dating long
distance. I moved to Texas and then we got married in 2009. And shortly after
we got married, we moved to Japan, and were there for three years due to his
And then about 28 or 30 weeks into my first pregnancy in Japan, we moved to Arkansas where we were there for about three years. We added another child. I finished my master's degree in Arkansas and started working again as an engineer there after taking a few years off in Japan. And then he got a surprise assignment that we were super excited for, which required us to move to Italy, where we are right now. But before that, he had to go to language school in Washington DC. So we lived there for six months while he learned Italian and then we moved to Italy.
And we've been here just over two years now. That's my geographic story in a nutshell. We have two daughters. My oldest is almost six. Her birthday's at the end of May, so she's an almost six year old, and a three and a half year old, two daughters.
Denaye: Wow, that makes my head spin.
Jane: There was a lot going on.
Denaye: So much movement and change, and wow. So tell me a little bit about your career background. What type of engineering were you doing?
Jane: So I graduated in 2007 with a
bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, and I worked for Boeing at the
Kennedy Space Center for the space shuttle program back when we were still
sending us astronauts to space off of US soil. So that was a pretty-
Denaye: So does that make you a rocket scientist?
Jane: It does.
Denaye: I'm just checking. I thought.
Jane: Yes. Technically it does. And I
really liked saying I worked for the space shuttle program a lot, but my actual
day to day job wasn't super fulfilling to my interests, I suppose. So I
transferred within the same company to Texas and made airplane parts instead,
which is a lot guess more blue collar for lack of better words. I got dirty at
my job. I got to wear jeans and steel toe shoes and stuff, and work with some
really, really talented machinists that could build any part that you needed
for these really old cargo and tanker airplanes that the Air Force is still
using today that need to get basically completely overhauled with new stuff all
on the inside of them. And some of these parts, there's not a manufacturer for
them anymore. So we build them in our shop. And that was really fun, and I
really love that job.
Denaye: So was it just a coincidence that your husband was in the Air Force or was this all, was that one of the big pieces that you reconnected on?
Jane: So I would say it was a
coincidence because it wasn't why we met or anything like that. But having a
shared interest in aviation definitely helped us have a bond, and something
that we could talk about and enjoy. He had always wanted to be a pilot his
whole life. And so it was really easy to support his dream to do that because I
was also then still a part of the aviation community. Even when I quit my job
to go with him to Japan, I was still in this community that I found a lot of satisfaction
being a part of, even as a different role, which is military spouse.
And I kind of naively also thought, "I work on military aircraft. I'll be able to find a job at any military base." But that's not really how it works. There's different bases that do a lot of the work with contractors or companies like Boeing. And there's other places that they don't do anything. Only active duty people work on the aircraft. ANd I'm not in the military, so I couldn't have that sort of job. So I naively thought I'd be able to continue my career wherever we went. Which has not been the case at all.
Denaye: Now was this a career that you had dreamed of your whole life or is it something you stumbled onto?
Jane: I was always really good at math
and science, and I loved the movie Apollo 13. I thought I want to be an
engineer, but I negated the other types of engineering that I didn't want to do
because the job sounded more boring or I wasn't interested in. Robotics or
something like that. But I liked aviation and I liked space.
So I kind of went into it not really knowing what I was going to do in the career field, but just wanting that challenge to say that I have an aerospace engineering degree, I suppose.
So my whole joke has always been I don't know what I want to do when I grow up because I really like being a student, and I really like having a challenge, and I really like learning. Unlike my husband who's always wanted to be a pilot in the military, I haven't had that direct of a goal for my childhood or even my adult life.
Denaye: And I think that's so true of many adults that some of us know exactly what we want to do and we start down that path, and we stay on that path forever. And then others of us, I feel like we are a lot more open to learning new things, and to learning about new novel areas, and diving deeper into many different things. Sort of like a jack of all trades.
Jane: Right, right. Totally. I still
do love engineering. When I had to take a break from it while we were in Japan,
I decided to get my master's degree through an online program. So I also have a
master's degree now in mechanical engineering from the North Carolina State
University's online program, which was a really cool experience to do. And I
just always thought I was going to do that.
Denaye: So now you're home with your kids. Was that ever in your plans?
Jane: It was never in my plans. I grew
up with a mom who always worked. She worked part-time. She was home at three
o'clock, so I always had her home after school, but she always had a job. And I
just always assumed ... I've worked really, really hard for my degrees and for
my job. And why would I not do that anymore, I guess. And I always think I went
to daycare, I'm fine. So my kids can go to daycare and they'll be fine too. And
it never really crossed my mind that that was something I was going to do.
Denaye: I've talked to a lot of moms in the past year about this idea that when you're coming from a career where you have found success and moving into a new role as a mother, whether it be a stay at home mother or a working mother, that you come in with this idea that I've done this other job well, and I have succeeded and experienced success in this side of me. Motherhood is going to be easy. This is just going to be one more thing, one more box to check, one more thing that I can achieve and succeed at. Did you feel like that at all going into motherhood?
Jane: Definitely. And I also have had
a lot of experience with kids. My part-time job in college was as, I call myself
a nanny, but I didn't live with them. But I was regularly at their house for
three years, multiple days a week and saw these two boys grow up. I always
liked kids. I've been a camp counselor. I've done things even when I was in
Japan, one of the things I was doing there was teaching English to little kids
and substitute teaching at the high school on the base and things.
So I've always had kids as part of my life. So I always thought that becoming a mom would just be that natural next step. I've always wanted to be a mom and I've always liked kids, so I'd never really thought that I couldn't do everything.
Denaye: So tell me a little bit about your experience becoming a mother and your first years. What did those look like?
Jane: They were ... looking back at it
now, I can see that I was trying to do a lot. But at the time, it seemed I was
just doing my life, you know? We thought we were going to be staying in Japan
another year. So I expected to have my first daughter while living there. And we
actually had a really wonderful community there. So that didn't scare me. I was
happy to have my daughter there.
And then the military always has a mind of its own. So they decided that my husband needed to move back to Little Rock a year sooner. And so I moved seven months into my pregnancy which I was not expecting, and we had to find a house to live in, and buy new cars. And all of that is a lot when you're not hormonally pregnant and dealing with that, find a new doctor, choose a hospital to deliver in, all those things. Suddenly I had two months to do it in and not nine.
So that was a lot. My husband was in training for a new airframe, which is really demanding. So we always joke that our daughter was a good military baby because she was born on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, which means he got Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off of work. So he was back to training on Tuesday when I had a four day old child.
And that was just normal. That's what everybody around us had to do, so that's what I had to do as well. I took a break from my master's program that semester that I was moving and having her. I did know I couldn't do all of that at once. So I took a break for that semester. And then I finished my master's degree while at home with [Leah 00:18:12] is her name, our oldest. And around when she was nine months old, I started getting applications out, and finding a job, and I started full time as a design engineer for a cylinder company. Not exciting compared to airplanes and space shuttles and things. But I'm in Arkansas, so this is where I can get a job. And I was so excited, and I was going to do it all. We found a great Montessori daycare school for her to enter in once she turned a year old and everything was great, except I hated doing the job.
I did not like it at all and I really had some great coworkers, so that helped. But I missed my daughter. I missed her so much. And my husband was supposed to deploy. And I just was like, "I can't do this anymore." And I was visiting a friend of mine who I went through college with, and she doesn't have any children, but she's so supportive. She's one of those best friends who even if your lives are completely different, she's just always in your corner. And she told me, "Jane, when you talk about your daughter, your face just lights up. And when you talk about your job, you seem miserable."
And it was her that gave me that permission to say I don't have to do this. It doesn't define me being an engineer. So I decided to stop, and I quit, and I didn't have anything else lined up. I just said I need to be home right now. And I eventually found a variety of other things that I liked to do. One of them was writing for a online math program that I wrote tests and quizzes, and I wrote little stories to teach people about calculus, and the unit circle, and different things like that. And I really liked that little job, which I did while my daughter stayed in school. We kept her in Montessori school and just put her part-time, which was I found out a perfect balance for me. I loved having her home most of the day, but also having a break to do other things. And it was a really good balance for me, and I never tried to find full time work again after that.
I ended up finding a really awesome job as a museum educator for a children's science museum, which was so much fun. I got to bring in my passion for science education, but they were really nice about around my schedule with at this time now I had two kids. And it was really a great mix of both my family and the science world that I really liked.
So when we were in Little Rock for about three years, and I added two kids to the family in that one three year period. And I switched jobs twice. So that's a busy three years to go through. But at the time, it didn't seem that way. I guess I was just doing what I had to do.
Denaye: In retrospect, were you feeling overwhelmed at that point?
Jane: Yes. Yes. I was. I was
struggling to find some sort of meaning for myself other than just a mom. And I
kept feeling like I wasn't doing enough because I wanted my kids to go to a
preschool or to a Mother's Day Out. They call them Mother's Day Out programs in
Arkansas. I'd never had heard that until I moved there. But-
Denaye: They have those in Dallas. I always hated that name.
Jane: I don't get it. I hated it too,
that's what it was called. We said daycare. They thought I meant putting in a
home, which would have been fine too, but I didn't know anybody who did that.
Denaye: I just felt like it gave this perception that Mother's Day Out, go get your nails done.
Jane: It was like Mother's Day Out to
go to my job now at the museum.
Denaye: I was writing my dissertation. My son was at Mother's Day Out two days a week. And I'm just like, "No, I am not going to get my nails. Not that there's anything wrong with getting your nails done. But I think just the name of it like triggers, at least for me, it triggered me to think this is all moms have to do is have a fun day out." When there's a lot of us who do other stuff.
Jane: Yes. For me it really was a mean
sense of child care for me. That was where I expected my daughter to go so I
could go to have my job. It was my daycare, my childcare. But nope, it was
Mother's Day Out apparently.
But it was a great facility, and my daughter was very happy. My oldest was still at the Montessori. But that didn't start until a year old. So I couldn't have them both at the same place. But the other benefit of Little Rock was that childcare there compared to other areas of the country, was very affordable for us. So it meant that I could put them in a part-time program without a huge sense of financial guilt that my job wasn't bringing in a ton of income. It literally just paid for her to go to her childcare program. It did not pay anything extra. But it gave me a sense of happiness and I'm a good balance that I was craving. I was craving balance. I will definitely say that.
Denaye: So do you feel like having this outside outlet really helped with the mental overwhelm that comes with moving and having a second kid, and just the big life changes that you were going through?
Jane: Yeah, I definitely think that if
I would have either stayed at my full time job or stayed home completely, I
would have really struggled that I was missing something. But by finding a bit
of balance between working part-time and still being able to be home, allowed
me to feel like I was still doing something for myself as well as still there
for my children. And I was really lucky to find a work from home job writing
that math curriculum that I could do in the night, I could do in the morning. I
just had a deadline. It didn't matter when I wrote it. So that was really
flexible with young children.
And then also, the staff at the museum was so wonderful and so supportive. They really set a bar for what I expect my future employers to do as far as being a family friendly workplace. Because if I was sick or my children were sick, there was no guilt that I need to stay home with them, and my husband could travel for his job and be gone. And I didn't feel this doom of what am I going to do if I wake up tomorrow and my child has an ear infection. Which was really stressful when I was working full time because I don't live near family, so I don't have anybody that can just step in and help me.
So having just the stress of not having to give all of myself to a job but not also having to be fulfilled entirely by staying home with my kids, was a good mix of the two.
Denaye: So were you able to keep at least in your online job after you moved?
Jane: I wasn't, actually. There's some
really strange rules about when you move to different countries for the
military and how those countries are supported. An agreement and stuff. So
actually in Italy, I'm not allowed to work online because the rules haven't
caught up with the modern day life of 2019. So I'm a rule follower, so I didn't
keep that job even though I would have liked to. And I was a little bit
Denaye: Are you allowed to work at all, or just not online?
Jane: I'm allowed to work in a US
Jane: But we are in a remote place. So
there really isn't a lot of opportunity for me. I would be very underemployed
if I decided to work at the nearest military base, which is a tiny base that
doesn't have a lot of jobs at it to begin with. And definitely no engineering
or STEM education jobs for me.
Denaye: Got it.
Denaye: So within all these moves, were you hauling all your stuff around with you or were you putting it into storage? How does that work when you're moving so often?
Jane: We had it all Denaye. We had all
our stuff. And that was a huge catalyst in me saying enough is enough. I've got
to simplify my belongings and my home. Because it wasn't so bad when we move to
Japan, because we were a young couple. We were just a few years out of college.
We just didn't have that much stuff. But then we gathered more things while we
lived in Japan. And then adding a baby, your things just explode. You get so much
stuff when you have kids. And we moved into a three bedroom home with a den,
and a living room, and this big kitchen. And it's like we just had to fill it
up. And I love that house. It was great.
But when we found out we had six weeks to move from Arkansas to Washington, DC, and then from there onto Italy, it was a mad panic to try to get the house in order for a realtor to come in to try to sell it, and trying to decide what to pack and what not to pack, and are we getting rid of things? Are we just going to bring everything? But we have to downsize to this tiny apartment in Washington DC because we can't afford a big house there because it's a completely different cost of living.
And it was not fun. And when we finally got to Italy and we moved into an Italian style home, which does not have closets, that's completely normal here. We were lucky to have a tiny little garage, which I don't know if our car would actually fit in it, but we use it for storage. My laundry is out there and stuff. I got into this house and I said never again. I will never again panic to move like I panicked this last time. I will never feel overwhelmed with my house and my stuff ever again. And it has been a really, really good change since.
Denaye: So you brought everything with you to Italy. ANd did you get rid of a lot of it?
Jane: So we started the big purge. I
guess probably, we tried to get rid of a bunch of stuff before we moved to
Washington DC but we just didn't have enough time. So we got of a lot of little
things. But a lot of the bigger stuff, we had two shipments. One shipment was
going to storage to then go to Italy, and the other shipment was going to our
apartment in Washington DC. So I was scrambling trying to figure out what to
bring to DC and what just goes to Italy. So when we eventually made it to
Italy, they were unloading boxes I hadn't seen for six and a half months that I
thought I needed to bring here. And I'm like, "Why did I haul this across
the world? What was I thinking?"
And so yes, we've gotten rid of quite a lot of things since being here. We didn't have a lot of big furniture and stuff like that. It's just stuff. It's just the things in boxes, and bins, and closets. And when you don't have closets to store anything in you realize, well this was just going to sit in the back of the closet. So do I even need it?
And my girls are sharing a bedroom, and so I don't need to have a lot of things. All their things together, you know? Just things that living in a smaller home with virtually no storage makes you really second guess everything that you own and why you own it, and why did that go across the world with you?
Denaye: Yeah, I have to say when we moved from Texas to New York, I was like, "I got this. I'm a minimalist. I have barely any stuff. Our closets are pretty much empty. This move is going to be a piece of cake." I thought I had it all under control. And when that moving truck pulled up to our new house, I was like, "Holy bleep, what is in there?"
Jane: It's crazy. When you see all your things into these big wooden shipping crates, how do I own this much stuff? And in the thing is you get a set amount of weight for a military move based on if it's a single airman or if it's an airman that has a family. And we've always been well below the limit. So I always thought, "We're fine." We know people that can't move certain things because they're above their weight limit if they do. And we've never had that problem. We joked that we can put my husband's Mazda in the shipment and we'd still be underweight. That was one of our jokes when we left Japan.
But honestly, it's still too much stuff. And then I realized too I don't want the panic for myself, but then I don't want the daily panic, the daily clutter of finding a way, a place to put all this stuff. Because as you know moving into your house, it takes a while to learn how your new house works. How it functions best for your family, and just even things like how you're going to set up your kitchen. And when you're struggling to even find a place to put something in, you can't think in terms of how functional is this. You're just trying to shove a door over, or shove another Crock-Pot behind that cabinet door. I don't need three Crock-Pots. I don't.
Denaye: Yeah. And I feel like it's easy on a daily basis to disconnect the emotional impact that your stuff has on you. But during a move, it becomes so evident.
Jane: Yes. And I remember my landlord
is the cutest Italian old woman that you could have. When I had this dream that
I'm going to move to Italy and I want this Nona, Nona means grandma in Italian.
To teach me how to do things and take me under her wing. It was totally just a
dream. And when we found this house, I got that Nona. She is part of our family
now. I love her to death. Her name is [Silvana 00:33:28], and she volunteered
when my stuff arrived to help me unpack my house. And now this is a 70 year old
woman who doesn't speak a word of English.
Denaye: Did you speak any Italian?
Jane: I spoke very beginner Italian. I
had been studying for a few months, but now I'm fine. But when we moved here,
it was a struggle. And she kept looking around and she kept just saying
[Italian 00:33:56] which means, "All this stuff. All this stuff. There's
so much stuff." And I was so embarrassed.
Because if you grew up in a home like this from the beginning with no storage, I've learned in Italy how wasteful we can be. Even with things like doing your trash and your recycling, which was a big part of my original Mental Unload in your very first Mental Unload group. I didn't realize how stressed out I was about putting my trash out every day. But it's because I was used to hauling this trash out on every Monday or whatever it was in the states in this giant rolly container, and then I just had to remember to do it the next Monday. And everything would go in this huge container.
And here it's like Mondays is my food trash, and Tuesdays is recycling, and Wednesdays is paper, and Thursdays is trash. But you only get a little bag. You don't get unlimited trash. I don't know. Every day is a different type of waste, and you realize how much waste you create when you see it all every morning in its own category lined up, and you see your neighbors and how little they have compared to you.
Denaye: Do you feel like some of this is because there just isn't quite as much stuff readily available for purchase there? They don't have Target, right?
Jane: They don't have Target. Oh
Target. I know, for better or for worse. I mean yes and no. We live outside
Pisa, which is a good sized city. There is a, I call it Italian Walmart because
it's blue I guess versus Italian target. Because Walmart is blue and Target is
red. It has everything you would need in this one shop. But in general, in
other smaller towns especially, they don't have anything like that. And then if
you have a little car or no car at all, if you use public transportation,
you're not buying more than you need. And their food is also less, I don't want
to say less process because they sell plenty of processed food. But in general,
you go to the store multiple times a week to get your fresh food. And you don't
have one giant Costco trip and you bring it all into your house at once.
Because I think there isn't the space to put it all. So they go shopping every
couple of days and things.
It's opened my eyes to, there's other ways to do this than the way that I have been doing before. Which really wasn't working because I wouldn't have been as completely stressed out about my move, and my things, and my stuff if it was working. But now I know that when we get the next orders and we find out where we're moving beyond here, I'm going to be ready. I'm going to be welcoming those moving trucks to come in because I'm going to be ready. I will know that the things in my house are the things I want in my house.
Denaye: Yes. Now where did you start when it came to this stuff? Did you start with your clothes, with the toys, or what did you do first?
Jane: I started, I don't even know. I
did a lot of starting with the toys because when we moved from Washington DC, I
left a lot of stuff there and donated a lot of stuff because my daughter was at
that point, almost 18 months old, my youngest. And she was out of those baby
toys. We left her crib there. I was just like I can't bring and set this crib
up another time. We've set this crib up three times. I can't do it again. I got
rid of a lot of toys when we moved here. And then once we got here is when I
started doing a lot of my clothes because I didn't have a big closet. I have a
three foot wide wardrobe, and that's where all my clothes need to hang up.
So I got rid of a lot of clothes, and I have access to some pretty nice shopping here in Italy as far as clothes go. So I really went for quality over quantity. I really try now to be much more thoughtful about what goes into my wardrobe. It's really opened up a lot of just freedom in that because I wash laundry every day. And so I don't need to have a ton of clothes because the longest my clothes goes is maybe two days without being available to be clean. So I have most of my wardrobe available to me at all times, so it doesn't need to be that big.
And the temperature here is fairly mild. Most of the year it gets really hot, but it never gets extremely cold. And so it's easier to have less. I don't have to worry as much about a giant span of temperatures, so that's nice.
But yeah, I started with clothes and toys. Then it slowly has moved into other areas of the home. The kitchen, I did that more recently, which was a big help. And it's slowly trickled into some of my husband's things. I've not forced him to do his things, but I do have this master list of before we move again. And one of them is to go through his two bins of, they're just in the garage and they just say, Derrick's stuff on them. "We're not leaving this country without you opening those bins, and touching everything in them and saying if you really want it." He's like, "No, no, we'll do it. We'll do it." He's on board.
But it's nice because I see now with the children, they're not overwhelmed by their things. And everything has a spot for their toys, and it makes cleaning up easier. It makes them finding the things they need without my help easier. It's ingrained in them I guess now that my daughter said, because her birthday is coming up and she said, "Mom, maybe before my birthday I should go through the toys and pick out the ones I don't play with much anymore to make room for some new toys I might get for my birthday." And I loved that because though we don't try to just shower her with a million gifts, she does know that on her birthday she gets some new toys. But she didn't just automatically think I get all these new toys. She goes, "I'll give away the ones I don't play with so much anymore." And she just says it on her own now because I've had that be a part of her life the last two years that she thinks that way now. Which is great.
Denaye: Now are your kids mostly friends with other Italian kids or other American kids?
Jane: Both. They go to an Italian
school, so every day they're with their Italian classmates. And we do have some
American friends that are nearby that we're friends with as well. so they get a
mix of both, which is pretty cool.
Denaye: I kind of wonder, hearing about your life now and how it sounds so much lighter and simpler than when you were living in the US. Do you feel like the way that your house, the lightness of your house and of the lifestyle that you're living is almost similar to what most Italians are doing on most days? Or is it different?
Jane: That's hard to answer because I
feel like just like Americans, there's a lot of Italians that live different
lifestyles from one another. In general, sometimes I feel like our life is
actually a little bit slower in some areas. My daughters attend the same
preschool. It's a very small country school up in the countryside here. There's
about 20 kids in the whole school, ages three, four, and five. So they're together
in the same little school.
And it seems like many of their classmates are in a lot of activities, be it swimming lessons, or they go to a music class, or they have a sport that they do. And my kids aren't involved in any extracurriculars right now. But I also feel like a lot of the Italian families near me have a lot of family support. I see grandparents picking kids up from school, and they're the ones that are going to go take them to swim class, not mom and dad. They stick closer to home than we do. We travel a lot, and so we simplify our daily life at home so we can have that flexibility to travel without worrying about missing a dance recital or something like that.
Though I have asked my children if they want to do things and they tell me no, they don't want to. So that helps that I don't feel like I'm taking anything away from them at these young ages by not having them in an extracurricular activity. But I don't know, in some ways I feel like I'm a little slower than their lives. But Italian parents have definitely taught me how to slow down and relax when it comes to being with my kids.
So it's a back and forth. I can't say it's a blanket thing that all Italians have a slower lifestyle. But sometimes I definitely feel like I've learned a lot from the Italian culture and living here.
Denaye: Okay. And that makes sense. I guess that's what I was thinking because when I think about Italy and some other parts of Europe as well, I think about just having this slower culture where you can sit down and enjoy your cup of cappuccino or whatever it is that you're drinking. And really be present. I'm sure that that's not, to some degree that's true, but not necessarily across the board.
Jane: I think Italian moms can get
caught up in race to do everything, too. A lot of the women here have jobs, and
are trying to do at all as well. And I think just like any other parents, they
want to give their children opportunities. And the things that the American
mothers struggle with as well. But I do think that the way that they can sit
down at a meal with their family and friends at our restaurant for hours and
just let the kids play and be there and be a part of it, is something that I
had to learn to do. That was really hard for me when we first moved here to
just relax and let that time spent with others just happen. I always thought we
have to be doing something or the kids need structure, and what are they going
to do at a restaurant for two hours? And I figured it out, and it's not that
hard anymore. Yeah. So in that sense, you do have that slower pacing. So in
some ways, you do get that slower life.
Denaye: So now that you're in Italy and you can't work, how do you feel like that's impacted your emotional wellbeing? And have you found anything to give you that stimulation?
Jane: So I was actually really worried
about that because I felt that I had found a pretty good balance between
working and being a mom. Literally right before in the months leading up to our
last move, because we weren't expecting to move. It was a surprise thing. So I
was really worried about that.
So I knew I needed to do something to keep myself feeling challenged. So I really dove into language study, and we invested money as well as time into saying this is worth it for me to learn Italian, because we want our children to go to Italian school, which means I need to be able to talk to their teachers and the other parents to form a community. My husband's going to be using Italian everyday at work, and I want to be able to be a part of his community, and meet his friends, and not be on the side and stuff. So that was a big priority was getting me Italian lessons and the time to study. So that has helped a lot.
And then since we've moved here, we've been traveling a lot. Obviously with Italy at our fingertips for just three short years we have to see as much as we can. So I've really learned ... we've always loved to travel, but this was the first time we really were traveling with our little kids. And I've really learned to enjoy planning the trips and being on the trips of course. And then I've started a travel blog to share some of that. I had a lot of friends say, "Jane, you need to write some of this stuff down because people are going to want to know how to go to the places you've gone to with little kids. People think you can't take little kids on a wine tour," and things like this.
So I started a travel blog, which I've never been a writer. I'm a math and numbers person, and so this was a big, scary, new adventure I suppose. But it's been really fun and given me another outlet that I've enjoyed doing. And this is honestly the first time since becoming a mom that I feel like I don't need anything more. I'm very content, and it feels good, and it feels good to not be identified by what I do or what I don't do.
And that's a thing actually I love about the Italian culture. Is it might take you months to find out the job of the people that you talk to every day at your kid's school or the job of the spouse. I know what my husband's coworkers do for a job because they work together, but I don't even know what some of their wives do because you don't talk about work. You talk about everything else. work is just a thing you do. It's not who you are.
So that has been so wonderful that people don't ask me. Every once in a while they say, "Did you work in the states?" And then I'll go into my background a little bit. But oftentimes they don't. They just ask if I'm loving it here in Italy. There's so much you can talk about that's not your job. And so that was really nice to say finally, I'm not defined by what I do or what I don't do. I'm defined by who I am, and that's enough. I'm in a really good spot with that.
Denaye: Oh, I love that. So what is the name of your travel blog? I want to put that in the show notes.
Jane: Sure. So my website is
littletripstravel.com. And I also have an Instagram, which is
@littletripstravelblog. So yeah, littletripstravel.com for the website, and add
the blog to the name for my Instagram account. And I'm also on Facebook at
Denaye: Great. I'm definitely going to put those links in the show notes. Because I know that I'm always looking, whenever we're planning a trip, I always go looking for blog posts for people who've been there with kids, and the things that they've loved to do with kids. And I am definitely on board with you in the sense that you can take kids anywhere. But sometimes, having a little bit of guidance in some of the better things and better areas to lean towards with kids can be really helpful. And there's not enough out there.
Jane: No, for sure. And I definitely
try to focus. We went to Greece on a vacation. I'm not an expert on Greece. I
can tell you what I did and what worked for us, but I'm not going to write on
my blog that I know how to go see Athens with children. But what I do know how
to do with kids is see Pisa because I live here. I can really bring in, if
you're wanting to come to Tuscany and to Italy, I can bring in the half
tourist, half local approach because I'm a little bit of both when I'm here.
And I just enjoy saying hey, this is what I did in Greece, or in Paris, or
wherever I've gone. And it might not have worked great, but this is what I did.
So you can learn from it or not do what I do as well.
So it's just been fun. It's just a hobby blog, but for me it gives me that creative outlet and it gives me a sense of me sharing something I've learned with other people, because I usually like being the student. And so now I feel like if I'm putting in all this work to travel from my family, I can maybe help other families enjoy traveling with their kids more too.
Denaye: Good. I love that. Well, thank you so much Jane. This has been a lot of fun talking to you.
Jane: Thank you Denaye, I've enjoyed
talking with you as well.
Denaye: Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you've enjoyed this episode and my chat with Jane.
Mark your calendars for The Mental Unload. Enrollment opens next week, July 17th. Go to simplefamilies.com/unload for more details. Thank you for tuning in and for being a part of Simple Families.
Jul 10 2019
Rank #20: SFP 101: How I Feed My Family
In our house, mealtimes are pleasant. My kids eat well and we enjoy each others company. I don't have it all figured out, but I do have a Ph.D. in Child Development with a research background in child wellness. That means I use a combination of both research-based ideas and intuitive planning to help develop my kids into good-eaters. Not all these things are going to resonate with you and work for your family--but they have surely worked for mine.
Want to join in this discussion for the month of April as we talk all things food + family? SIGN UP HERE.
- We started out this way from Day 1
- The Cardinal Rule of Feeding Children
- The dinner table is enjoyable
- We keep "meal windows"
- Snacks are used carefully
- We don't talk about "likes and dislikes"
- Food preferences are considered dynamic rather than static
- There are no assumptions, other than that our children will eat well
- I use backwards meal planning
- We keep the food-prep and recipes simple
- There's no sugar
- Exactly How I Feed My Kids (a blog post)
- Your Questions Answered (a podcast episode answering all your questions on this topic)
- Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning
- Martha Stewart's One Pot Meals
- The Minimalist Kitchen by Melissa Coleman
Apr 03 2018