Recently, as I dropped our boys off at school, amid the usual scramble of putting lunch boxes and homework folders in all the right places, I noticed that our kindergartener had his shoes on the wrong feet.
This is just how this child rolls. Up until kindergarten, no underwear, a backwards shirt, and shoes on the wrong feet were practically his daily uniform.
But now that he’s in school he suddenly likes to have things on the right way (which makes my heart a bit sad, to be honest), so I offered to help him quickly switch his shoes.
He ducked his head in embarrassment and tried to shake me off, but for some reason I persisted, following him a few feet into the classroom and asking again.
He sank onto the rug among the other children, ducking his head again and avoiding my eyes, while his classmates looked right at me.
I left that colorful room with my heart at the base of my stomach, feeling like I had called attention to him that he didn’t want.
The last thing I want is to make all-day kindergarten (and a host of new social interactions) any harder for him than it already is!
When Negative Thoughts Start Swirling
On the walk home, feelings of failure began to creep in.
I was discouraged about that exchange with my son, but it quickly snowballed into how behind I was on the housework and my online work… how little energy I have every night when my husband comes home… how I always seem to tend toward depression and how I never, ever remember to schedule our dentist appointments.
As you can see, my thoughts were going nowhere good—fast. (Renowned researcher Brené Brown would call this a shame spiral.)
Thankfully, I’m quicker now to recognize a downward spiral, so I shook if off, played a bit with my two-year-old sidekick, and started a load of dishes.
But sometimes, I know, it’s not that easy; sometimes our down thoughts persist. For years I’ve found it helpful when I’m in a negative spiral to write it all down in a journal. I make a quick list of all my thoughts. Seeing them (literally seeing them) seems to help me release them, and I find more space—more clarity—in my mind.
An Exercise that May Help
I recently heard this exercise given a name: a thought download.
Instead of letting your thoughts swirl around in your head like an ambiguous, looming cloud, why not write them down to help make sense of them?
4 Steps for a Thought Download
1. Write all of your thoughts—positive and negative—down. Don’t try to solve them or downplay them; just write.
2. Re-read the list and do some processing. Maybe you’ll notice that some of them aren’t as threatening on paper as they seemed in your head. Others may seem just as hard as you thought, but that’s okay. (You can do hard things.)
3. Choose ONE thing you can do today. Just one thing.
4. Shake it off however you need to, maybe with prayer or a mindfulness exercise, and move on with your day.
In case you were wondering, my son was bouncing with his usual enthusiasm when I picked him up from school that afternoon. I’m grateful I didn’t walk too far down that negative spiral.
Who’s got time for that when you have little hands to hold and people to love?!
If you’d like to go a few steps beyond a thought download, I think you’ll love my free resource for creating more peace and clarity inside that head of yours… I’d love to send it to you!
The more I move toward a simple life, the more I see how multifaceted it is.
I can donate under-used items throughout my home, but how are my donations impacting the economies of under-developed countries?
In this case, I’d like to buy less in the first place. Speaking of which, do you know what life is like for the people who work on overseas shipping barges?
How is my consumerism impacting the environment? What am I teaching my kids each time we donate a load of toys? How can I stay motivated to keep the white space in our family calendar when everyone around us is filling it with sports and music lessons?
How can I live a life of meaning?
The TED talks in this list speak to so many of these topics. If you want an introduction to an aspect of minimalism you didn’t know much about—or if you just need a heartfelt reminder of why you’re living simply in the first place—turn to one of these 10 outstanding TED talks.
10 Outstanding TED Talks to Inspire You to Live Simply
1. How Do You Maximize Your Tiny, Short Life? by Neil Pasricha (36k views)
How do you maximize your tiny, short life? | Neil Pasricha | TEDxToronto - YouTube
Don’t listen to this one while folding the laundry. Listen to this one when you want to think deeply—to breathe deeply. At first, the pauses between his questions are almost unsettling. But by the end, it feels like listening to it was a meditative experience, so stick with it… and enjoy.
2. Inside the Secret Shipping Industry by Rose George (1.4 million views)
A fascinating talk from journalist Rose George, who spent give weeks living on a container ship. Let’s just say that on the night I watched this talk, I decided not to make an online order I’d been contemplating.
3. How to Gain Control of Your Free Time by Laura Vanderkam (6.1 million views)
What I would give to have written this talk! It’s a message I’m passionate about. We all have more time that we realize; it’s a matter of using it with purpose.
4. Should You Live for Your Resume… or Your Eulogy? by David Brooks (2.4 million views)
As someone whose resume is impressive to say the least (He’s written for all of America’s biggest news organizations and is currently an op-ed columnist for the New York Times.), I love that his talk explores the merits of living for your eulogy.
“We live in perpetual self-confrontation between the external success and the internal value.”
5. A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit by Judson Brewer (9.7 million views)
Sometimes it’s our bad habits that keep us from living at the pace we feel we’re meant for. (For instance, the instinct to say yes… when maybe we should say no.) Psychiatrist Judson Brewer suggests we get… curious.
6. Wear Nothing New by Jessi Arrington (1.2 million views)
A delightful talk about stretching your creative muscles by buying used. I imagine this could be great to listen to with a teen whose interested in the fashion industry or personal style.
“I spent a whole lot of my life trying to be myself and also fit in. Just be who you are.”
7. How to Buy Happiness by Michael Norton (3.7 million views)
This list is all about simplifying—and many of the talks encourage spending less—but this? This is one smart way to spend your cash.
8. How to Find Work You Love by Scott Dinsmore (5.2 million views)
From the title, you’d assume the talk is about career, but it’s really about designing a life you love, not just a job.
9. Want To Be Happy? Be Grateful by David Steindl-Rast (6.4 million views)
It’s not everyday you get to learn about happiness from a practicing monk. It’s not as focused in subject as other talks, but who can resist Brother Steindl-Rast’s gentle manner and gems of wisdom?
10. In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honorè (2.6 million views)
I loved the humor that was threaded throughout this talk, as well as how Honorè touchingly begins and ends with what motivated him to study slowness in the first place—reading bedtime stories with his son.
(If you happen to watch TEDs with your kids, just know that this one has a one-minute segment about “slow sex.”)
Thank you for visiting, and I hope these talks inspire you to live simply and with greater purpose.
If you enjoyed this, I really think you’d also enjoy my top 16 resources, which includes four of my very favorite TED talks. Just sign up below!
Fully re-made for this session of the course—with new videos added as well
7 videos spread throughout the 9 lessons
One of the most valuable aspects of the course is a simple, printable PDF of the application questions that come with each lesson. Participants who print this packet off and wrestle with the questions on paper experience transformation that you can’t get just by reading and watching the material.
You’ll also get 3 printable art prints, as well as 2 other informational PDFs.
A private, members-only Facebook group just for participants!
Every day I hear from introverted women who say one of their biggest struggles is finding friendship. While I love that the members-only Facebook group gives us a place to discuss what we’re learning through the ecourse, I’m even more excited about the potential for this group to help you build some long-lasting friendships.
(We all need friends who physically live near us, but I would never, ever discredit the power of an online friendship too. Especially for introverts.)
Lessons will come out every Monday and Thursday for about six weeks. I’ll send you a short email each time reminding you.
The course costs $75, partly to cover my costs for creating and running it—and partly so that your monetary investment motivates your *personal* investment throughout the course. (Research confirms this!)
I pour my heart into creating and facilitating this course, and I can’t thank you enough for supporting my business, which allows me to contribute to my family and invest in creating new content for our community!
It’s time to finally feel the ease you’ve been looking for—to offer your family (and yourself!) a calmer, happier you.
I mean, I was physically exhausted, like all moms of young kids are, but I was living in a way that felt right for me as a person and for our family as a whole, and there’s peace and beauty in living a life that fits.
I enjoyed one hundred casual meet-ups at the park with my friends and their kids. I walked leisurely laps around our neighborhood, day after day, pushing a baby in a stroller while our toddler explored our little world by foot.
On rainy days, we played in the lobby of our building, just to get out of the apartment. We knew our mail carrier, pool guy, and UPS man by name (Fernado, Forest, and Ray, in case you’re wondering), and they knew ours.
We explored our greater world on the weekends, keeping sacred Saturdays free for family drives to the coast or hikes in the redwoods.
Life was small then, and it suited me to a T. As an introvert and—personality types aside—a total homebody, life near home base is where I’m comfortable.
Luckily, the lifestyle I’d picked for us was supported by current research and parenting vernacular, which pointed to the benefits kids gain from unstructured play, time to get bored, and open stretches of nature to engage with.
I was sold, hook, line, and sinker. I still am, actually.
All Good Things Come to an End
But lately I’ve been feeling the tides shifting for our family, and although I’ve been stubbornly (fine. vigorously) resisting, I’m starting to realize I need to follow the flow.
Our kids (our boys, in particular) are getting older… Most of their friends are active in sports and extracurriculars, which makes it hard for them to find friends and neighbors to play with after school.
They’re also not toddlers anymore; they’re less excitable now. Their eyes don’t light up with utter glee when we pull up to a park or when I pull out some construction paper and tape. A scooter ride around the neighborhood doesn’t quite have the appeal it once did. (I know. My heart’s breaking too!)
Plus, they’re expressing more interest in activities outside our home. A season of swim team is behind us, and a season of soccer is ahead of us. They’re joining band and scouts and talking about trying out for the school play.
Like I said, I can feel the tides shifting, and I know I need to follow the flow.
It’s time for me to start rallying. To start preparing myself mentally for a new stage of family life.
I know I’m not the only parent out there caught in the gentle tug of war between simple and busy, between life at home and life outside of home. As I make this transition, I’d love to hear your advice along the way. Until then, this is what I’ll be doing to help myself handle it with as few faceplants as possible.
Stages of Family Life: 4 Tips to Help You Transition to a New Pace
1. Accept. Accept. Accept.
This one might actually be hardest for me. And maybe for you? When you love a lifestyle as much as I’ve loved our low-key, home-based years, it’s hard to accept change. But until you do, you’ll just keep dragging your feet, making yourself miserable, and maybe even making your kids feel guilty for wanting a life beyond home.
Purposefully choosing to accept a new stage is essential; it’ll help you quiet the inner conflict.
2. Take it one step at a time, and protect pockets of white space.
I’ve always said I’d follow my kids’ cues and—when the time came—carefully balance their personal interests against the best interest of our whole family.
We don’t have to jump into a hundred activities all at once (or ever); we can take it slow and still protect pockets of free time. I know families who only do one activity per season or who opt out of Sunday games, keeping one day a week just for faith & family.
3. Ask for help.
So many of us are do-it-all-yourself moms. We know no one else is going to do it quite like we do, so we don’t ask. (Ahem, me.) Or we feel like we don’t have anyone to ask in the first place—no family in town, no supportive village.
My advice to myself and to you? Look closer.
Parenting wasn’t meant to be a solitary experience. We need each other.
Ask a fellow soccer mom if she’d like to start a carpool.
Ask your spouse to be in charge of all pickups that coincide with his drive home.
Ask your mom (or a friendly neighbor with a sewing machine!) to alter that dance uniform.
Yes, you won’t have the control you’re most comfortable with. Your kids’ll have to get used to riding in someone else’s car, and they might have to wait a few minutes after practice sometimes. It’s okay.
You don’t have to do it all alone.
4. Recognize the value of expanding your circle. For them and for you.
Recently, right before our son’s first band performance, I watched as he—a kid who usually leans shy—chatted happily with the other trumpet players on the back row. I met a couple of teachers from our school that I’d never met before and caught up with a fellow band-mom-turned-friend.
This is good for us, I thought. Both of us.
Then as the elementary band teacher stood and raised her hands for the first song, I saw our boy’s eyes darting around the audience instead of looking at his sheet music. I waved my hand and caught his attention. He smiled subtly—satisfied—and raised his instrument, turning his eyes to his music.
Yep, for the time being, this is where we’re meant to be. Both of us.
I asked on Instagram if any of you have gone through this transition, and it sounds like many of you have (or are!). You know I’d love to learn from you—
What helped you accept this new pace? And what are your tips for maintaining a degree of balance? Advice welcome! (And thank you!)
PS. If you’re interested in building a stronger family, check out my ebook on just that:
When my mom died, I was devastated. She was my safe space—the one person in the whole world with whom I felt completely safe and known. Her death woke me up and sparked in me a fiery determination to ensure that my own children received this same gift.
My mom saw me for the fullness of who I was and liked me. She didn’t try to change me or mold me into her image. She listened well and delighted in me. She was my best friend.
I was hurting and angry when she left 15 years ago. I still needed her. But the only thing I could control was my decision to pass along her legacy to the next generation. I had a lot to learn.
Parenting can feel like incredibly hard work at times, but it can help to remember that the parenting journey is not primarily about our comfort. It’s about learning to love, about helping our children identify the gifts they are meant to bring to the world, and about doing our own growing up along the way.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned over the past 15 years that can help us settle into the discomfort of parenting and enjoy the messy but beautiful ride:
1. Get Curious
Our children tell us who they are from a young age if we pay attention. We can listen to their dreams, support them in their interests, and remember we are each a messy tangle of strength and weakness. The Love Languages, The Four Tendencies, figuring out their primary learning style, the Enneagram or Myers Briggs are all imperfect yet useful tools we can use to become students of our children as they grow. Gathering knowledge and doing our best to honor each child’s wiring can go a long way to helping everyone feel respected, healthy and happy.
I’ve learned along the way the importance of allowing others to support us—it takes a village to raise a mom, after all. This is not a judgment on our abilities as moms but a strength when we can remember that we don’t have to do it all alone. Outside observers can sometimes see what we don’t see—and the help we most need might come in the form of a speech pathologist, a teacher, a grandparent who babysits while we sleep, a medical professional, or a teary coffee date with a compassionate friend. And if all else fails, put the kids to bed, climb into your jammies, and curl up with a good book.
When we capture our children’s hearts from a young age, even as teens they’ll know we are a safe-place. We need time to connect and have fun together; the rewards are great. We shouldn’t pour out until we run dry, but I do believe we need to enter into their world (even when it feels hard) instead of expecting them to just adapt to ours. Our kids need to know that we like who they are and that they matter. It was hard but essential in my parenting to learn to hold space for an upset child yet not allow them to push my buttons or dictate my behavior. And one of the healthiest shifts I made as a mom was to get clear on how I wanted these people to feel in our home—and then to very purposefully align my behavior and lifestyle decisions to this goal.
As physically tired as we may feel during some stretches of parenthood, it is the emotional challenges that can take us out of the running. Developing a healthy stress mindset, and learning to be the boss of our own thoughts instead of letting them run the show, is likely one of the greatest superpowers we can develop. We will be stretched. We need to let go of perfectionism and comparison with some imaginary mom ideal and choose to enjoy the messy process. But also, on a more literal note, making peace with actual physical mess will serve us well too.
We are often learning to do the work of growing up ourselves as we learn to parent. When we decide to be fully present for life, for the joy and all the painful bits without running or numbing… When we deepen self-awareness and self-compassion, this spills over into our relationships and allows us to show up with less judgment and more delight. We are the primary role models for our kids—this means demonstrating what it looks like to say sorry and forgive, to do hard things and rise above. It means modeling self-care and offering ourselves the very same kindness we wish for our children. Developing a mindfulness practice that reminds us to pull our thoughts back from yesterday and tomorrow so we can be all in today, is a helpful mom tool.
Our kids are amazing gifts, interesting humans hand-picked to help us grow. They delight us and change us in ways that we would never have imagined or chosen for ourselves.
Embracing the messiness and challenges—all of the discomfort along with the joy—inherent in parenting helps infuse our relationships with humor and compassion so that we enjoy this journey of growing up alongside our kids and so that they grow up knowing that they are truly loved.
And who knows, these people might just become our best friends one day.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means we make a small percent at no cost to you when you purchase an item through this post. Thank you!
A big welcome to Denaye Barahona of the Simple Families site and podcast.
Do you ever wash the sheets?
It was the question that started it all. One day while making the bed my husband casually asked me, “Do you ever wash the sheets?” It wasn’t a question of curiosity; it was a question of sanitation. You see, my husband doesn’t see me wash the sheets. He leaves early in the morning and comes back late at night.
I work from home and take care of our young children, so I do the laundry during the day. When it’s time to wash the sheets, I strip the bed, wash them, then put them back into place.
It’s almost like it never happened.
Kind of magic, really.
My brain has become adept at running our home and family like a well-oiled machine. This machine often works the magic of making it all look like it never happened. Planning it all, remembering it all, knowing it all, and worrying about it all—all within the confines of one tired, overworked brain.
This is the invisible mental load of motherhood.
There are many days when I feel as if my brain may explode. I must keep a constant supply of clean underwear in the drawers, a stash of emergency snacks in my purse, and ensure flu shots are administered before the peak of the season is upon us.
I do all this while trying to sustain some semblance of a career, sanity, and toned arms.
The Plan: How to Reduce the Mental Load
The mental load of it all consumed me. So I made a plan.
I knew I needed to wrangle my exploding brain and get a handle on this motherhood journey (of which I’ve only skimmed the surface). I am going to keep this simple, because if you are still reading I’m going to take a wild guess that you are also blessed with a very capable, yet nearly-exploding brain. So here’s how I reduced the mental load in four steps.
The vast majority of the mental load is invisible. It’s the planning, worrying, researching, and anticipating that consumes our minds. Therefore, the first step is to make it visible. That means, take everything out of your head and put it onto paper. I took the mental load out of my head and turned it into a pile of note cards. Each card earned a separate piece of the mental load.
Anticipate when we will run out of toothpaste.
Ensure that children use the toothpaste.
Make sure that Crest doesn’t cause cancer.
You get the drift. Every notecard holds a piece of the larger mental load. When executing this massive brain dump, I was stunned at how much of the mental load was invisible even to me. The sheer amount of material that a parent considers, processes, and executes each day is astounding.
It’s no wonder that we feel stressed out, right?
Step 2: Understand
Once the brain dump is complete, I worked to develop a better understanding of it all. I sorted and divided my mental load into three categories: planning, worrying, executing. This helped me to better understand where I was putting most of my energy and time.
Low and behold, I am a planner. I found “planning” to be the area that I spend most of my time.
Be sure everyone has an extra blanket in case the night gets cold
Remember to bring extra shirt for the baby when we eat Italian food.
Make sure the big kid pees before we leave the house.
Most days the mental load feels like a massive jumble in my head. Therefore, sorting it out and understanding exactly what my overwhelm really looked like was a huge learning experience.
Step 3. Reduce
Reduction was also a three-part sorting process: keep it, delegate it, or eliminate it. There were many no-brainers that I had to “keep” in my mental load, like packing lunches. The kids have to eat, right?
I’ve always struggled with asking for help and delegating. My husband is very helpful with the kids and our family, but he thrives when he knows exactly what he needs to be doing. So by handing off a physical piece of my mental load to him (i.e. a handful of cards) he appreciated having it all in written down.
The best part of this process was elimination–which was the biggest way I reduced my mental load. I became aware of plans, worries, and actions that weren’t necessary and weren’t serving me. Tossing those into the trash–once and for all–felt great.
Step 4. Maintain
Whenever we make big changes, it’s important that we stick with them. Reducing the mental load is vital, but also replacing many of those thoughts and worries with healthy alternatives is also necessary. I am on the journey to find a consistent mindfulness practice–dabbling in yoga, meditation, and generally just being completely present with my family.
Motherhood is a gift and I want to enjoy it as much as possible. That means reducing my mental load so that I can focus on being exactly the woman, wife, and mama that I want to be.
It’s a 30-day, digestible email series that I know will leave you with so much more clarity and relief by the end. (Erica note: The private Facebook group alone is easily worth the $30 cost of the series!)
Join us, and let’s reduce the mental load together! Learn more, right here.
We’d love to hear—Is the mental load something that weighs on you? (Tell us we’re not alone!)