Seven Vital Ways to Nurture Your Happiness Before Bedtime

The kids are asleep and you have a small but precious window of time before you go to bed. Here are the seven powerful things I suggest doing with the last hour of your day.

Photo by Randen L Pederson, Creative Commons License.

Photo by Randen L Pederson, Creative Commons License.

  1. Prepare. Set yourself up for an easy morning. Whatever aspects of your morning routine can be done ahead of time are great to finish at night, so dedicate 30 minutes to set-up and prep tasks related to the next day. You’ll feel better when you lie down to go to sleep knowing that the morning is as organized as it can be. So finish tidying up the kitchen, start some laundry, pack your bag for work, plan or make breakfast/lunch, and so on. But don’t do endless chores – just the most essential for later ease.
  2. Declutter your brain. Sit down in front of your computer or a notepad for 10 minutes and update any to-do lists you maintain with whatever’s rolling around. Turn off any work computers or devices if you can, or set them up so that you are paged only in an emergency.
  3. Nurture yourself. Focus on yourself fully for 10 minutes. Do something peaceful and relaxing that does not involve accomplishing things, talking to other people, or exposing yourself to screens or books. Need some ideas? Take a bath, dance by yourself to a few songs you like, do some yoga or stretching, go for a walk, meditate, doodle, or write in a journal.
  4. Talk. Spend 10 minutes connecting with your partner, talking about your respective days. Focus on sharing and listening, not logistics or planning.
  5. Be grateful. Spend just one minute thinking about a few things, large or small, that you are grateful for in your life.
  6. Smooch. Give your partner a kiss that lasts at least six seconds.

Allow enough time in here to get started on all this before you begin your basic before-bed hygiene stuff and then actually go to bed on time. Remember that getting enough sleep also makes a huge difference to your happiness, health and energy. Although my little routine above has already gone one minute and six seconds over, but really, who’s counting?

What are some powerful acts of smart self-nurture that you like to end your day with?

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Finding 15 Minutes: The Art of the Busy Parent Mini-Date

What if that thing you keep telling yourself you can’t do, that means so much to you yet has been languishing undone, could be done in only 15 minutes? Would you keep putting it off… or would you find 15 minutes and DO IT?

Image by Louise Docker, Create Commons License.

Image by Louise Docker, Creative Commons License.

If the answer is that you would keep putting it off, that’s actually fantastic. It means you don’t truly want to do it. Yay for you for noticing! Celebrate your increased awareness of that choice and stop beating yourself up with should’s. You don’t have to do that thing at all.

But if the answer is that you would love to give 15 minutes to something, here’s how to do it.

First, create 15 minutes. I call 15-minute chunks mini-dates… they are dates with myself, with others or with projects. Here are some techniques for finding your 15 minutes.

  • Do less of something. Choose something that you do to fill time or distract yourself, and choose to do less of it. Decide that it’s okay for certain chores to wait longer or go undone.
  • Ask for help. Ask your partner to focus on your kiddos for those 15 minutes at a set time of day. Then use that small but magical chunk of time mindfully.
  • Parallel play. While your child is doing something absorbing that they can do independantly or semi-independantly, take 15 minutes to do something that truly matters to you.

Once you’ve found or created your 15 minutes, put it on your calendar. You can do this once, or create a daily 15-minute appointment for moving forward the things that matter to you.

Here are some things that you could do for yourself in 15-minutes… either once in a satisfying but sweet mini-version, or over time in daily 15-minute chunks.

  • Relax. 15 minutes is enough time to lie down on your bed or the floor with dim lights and mellow music, taking slow deep breaths.
  • Invigorate. 15 minutes is enough time to dance wildly to some fun music in your bedroom and get your blood moving. Or go for a brisk walk around the block.
  • Pamper. 15 minutes is enough time to do a bit of extra goodness for your body if you enjoy that sort of thing. Take an extra long shower and deep-condition your hair, give yourself a foot rub with some scented lotion before bedtime, or whatever little extra act makes you feel happier in your body.
  • Connect. 15 minutes is enough time for a short phone call with someone you love. It could be someone who lives far away, or even your spouse or partner. If you use this time to chat with your spouse, logistics, household chores and complaints are all forbidden topics of conversation; talk about something you’ve read, something you dreamed, something small but interesting that you saw or heard.
  • Nest. 15 minutes is enough to make headway on a cluttered space, dirty job or home repair project that is bugging you. Break the project down into tiny 15-minute work chunks and you will make headway on it faster than you think.
  • Beautify. 15 minutes is also enough to do some small thing to liven up your living space… hang up a picture, pick some flowers and put them in a vase, whatever makes your heart life when you enter a room.
  • Stimulate. 15 minutes is enough time to read an article that teaches you something you didn’t know about the world.
  • Create. 15 minutes is enough time to write, draw, craft or journal. Whether you are experimenting, playing or doing a craft you’re expert in, take a bit of time to open yourself to creative flow.
  • Manifest. Choose a project that you want to bring fully into being. What is one small thing you can do to move it forward? What next? Keep working for 15 minutes per day and you can make even big projects happen over time.
  • Breathe. 15 minutes is enough time to do nothing. Center yourself in your own breathing, let thoughts drift lightly across your mind, smile softly at the beauty of being here, present, in this world this very moment.

15 minutes might not seem like much, but sometimes it’s amazing how little time it takes to fill up our souls, move projects forward and reconnect to lost parts of your life or yourself. Tiny shifts can change your entire balance for the better.

What will you do with your 15 minutes? When will you claim that time?

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I’ll Be Over Here With My Monsters

I read a book once about how marriage is like a crucible… a container you heat up to a really high temperature, melting something in it before you pour it into a mold. To me, parenting has really been like being in a crucible. Turning up the heat and pressure forced me to pay more attention to my inner monsters.

The parenting role and its responsibilities help me contain myself as I melt. And in the melting (or meltdown?) process, I must confront every flaw I haven’t yet finished dealing with or didn’t know I had.

The high temperatures are the lack of sleep, the constant need for my time and attention, the 24/7 sense of being on duty or on call, the many many things to do and things to give up, having so little time for solo recharging and being with my husband and friends.

The bubbles and flaws that come up are leftover wounds from my own childhood, character flaws for which the workarounds no longer apply, a million billion new fears, my yearning to be the best parent I can be to LittleA, and an intense hunger for a clear, vivid sense of my identity… who I am right now other than mama.

All of these fears and pressures, I believe, ultimately come from the fact that being a parent tests you in new ways and makes you newly vulnerable and open to the world… almost like being a child again yourself.

The fear of failure that parenting opened up for me led me to do some work on my own inner demons and monsters. The image in this post is my own playing with a page from Havi Brooks’ Destuckifying Monster Manual and Coloring Book, in which Havi teaches us to open negotiations with our own monsters. Her book takes the perspective that our monsters are trying to help us when they sabotage us by yelling in our heads or otherwise acting out. This particular monster that I colored upon and wrote all over is all about my fears around further building my coaching business. Those fears turn out to tie back in with a lot of my fears about being a parent and somehow needing to be perfect and guaranteed-for-sure safe.

I have been working on talking to my monsters, understanding what they are trying to help me with, and trying to collaborate with them on healthier ways to get my needs met. The monsters often have interesting ideas if I can get them to brainstorm with me instead of just yell.

In recent weeks, I have felt a softly burgeoning feeling of hope, of a perspective gently growing within me which holds all of me… who I have been and who I am becoming, which includes being a parent but also many other things. I hope that letting go of the self-imposed pressure to Not Fail will make it easier to move forward and grow.

And of course, all the joy and giggles and cuddles and love and every other single wonderful thing I get to share and give and receive with my husband and son make this whole parenting thing more than worth it in every way. The hard parts… are my opportunity to grow and to mold myself again and again into ever-evolving new shapes.

Sometimes it feels like a crucible, or maybe a kiln in which I willingly place myself to be transformed. Or a fire which I must walk through, an act of initiation. And on the good days it feels more like a really awesome hot tub. A really awesome crowded hot tub with all my loved ones and all my monsters to keep me company as we sweat and purge and relax and let go.

Has parenting upped the pressure you put on yourself? Forced you to confront an inner demon or two? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Sleep Redux: Being Gentle With My Heart

My first Mother’s Day wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. We all had colds, and we were all exhausted. And BabyA still isn’t sleeping well at all.

heart cradled in hand

Image by D. Sharon Pruitt, Creative Commons License.

Just when we thought things were getting better… we went back to most of BabyA’s sleep out of arms coming in 5-40 minute chunks. Hence my scarcity of posts both here and on my other blog. Some nights are better than others, but most nights are pretty rough compared to what I hear from other parents with babies his age. It’s always a cold, or teething, or a phase of the moon. I keep being reminded that expectations are a bad plan when you are a parent. You never know what ‘s coming next… part of the beauty and part of the challenge, right?

When I finally launched this blog, I was hoping we were done with the worst of this phase of the sleep stuff. Now, I don’t know what to expect. There are so many things I want to be getting done right now that I cannot get done, because I am back to prioritizing the most basic of basics in terms of self-care: getting enough rest such that I don’t, you know, start hallucinating or something. Eesh!

When I am sleep-deprived, my moods are so very precarious. My heart is fragile and my shields against the world’s sharp edges are tenuous. The slightest mishaps and deviations from my routines distress me unduly, and my self-talk goes very negative. My body doesn’t heal as well and I don’t feel physically very robust.

I have always been sensitive to sleep deprivation and in my 20s started to become more self-aware about how much it impacted my moods and thinking. If I had a hard day where I felt unreasonably moody, I used to reassure myself that I would feel better after a long hot bath, some time with a good book, maybe a glass of wine and then a good night’s sleep, and only if I didn’t feel better after some rest was I allowed to take my mood too seriously. This tactic nearly always worked, unless there truly was something deeper at issue that needed action or processing, and I grew a lot emotionally once I developed this perspective. Now, an evening with that level of self-care is really hard to come by… especially the good night’s sleep part!

So I take gentleness for myself in small but frequent and vital doses. I remind myself frequently to take deep breaths. I drink plenty of water, I try not to ramp up on too much extra caffeine and sugar, I ask for help, and I do everything I can to straddle that line between kind self-nurture and faux-helpful self-indulgence. I take deep comfort and joy from the love I share with my husband and Baby A, and my larger circle of family, friends and community. I focus on the many things our family has to be grateful for. I draw upon my sense of humor and sense of play. All things considered, I feel like I’m doing pretty well. But it’s still super hard.

We have a plan in place, and we hope that we’ll be able to make some changes that will help in early June so that everyone is getting more rest. It helps to have a plan. And I hope that as everyone keeps telling me, this too shall pass.

And I promise myself that my next post here won’t be about sleep!

P.S. I beg of you not to give us baby sleep advice; we’ve gotten all the advice we need and then some, as I’m sure you can imagine…But I’d love to hear in the comments: how have you taken care of yourself through your own parenting rough patches?


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Efficient Inefficiency

I’ve found it dismaying and frustrating to discover that much of the time, efficiency isn’t very efficient anymore.

Oh, some of my favorite productivity ideas still apply, but others just no longer work. Being smart about how high I set my standards and making a start on big projects that matter by breaking them down into concrete steps… check. Prioritizing fiercely and taking on work only if it really matters… I’m still all about that.

But calendaring chunks of time for projects? I still do it, but the amount of time for which I can reliably do that is very scarce these days. Doing similar tasks in batches instead of separately? A much better idea when you aren’t being interrupted unexpectedly mid-task and forced to constantly find your place again or start over.

So these days I often find that I need to deliberately let go of my preconceived notions of the efficient way to do things. Rather than doing all my errands in one day, I do small short errands several times each week, with baby A in tow, in between his thrice-daily naps.

This approach takes more total time than it would take to do one longer run, but since I was able to use my scant baby-free hours on other projects, get something done sooner than I might otherwise have checked it off, and keep A happy by being mindful of how his natural flow works, in the long run I’m better off for having done it efficiently. And we do a lot of our errands by foot, so I get exercise and he gets fresh air. It’s inefficient by my old standards, but efficient by my new ones.

Writing projects take me longer when done in chunks that might be as short as 10-20 minutes if BabyA sleeps badly. A draft that would take me an hour and a half if done in one sitting can take me 10 or more 10-20 minutes chunks if things go badly, which is frustrating because it seems like such a long time. But if I keep at it I can usually finish such a project in a few weeks. The reality is I often don’t know how long I have to work, and if I wait for the perfect time when I know someone else is caring for BabyA, I might not finish my hour and a half project in months. I only have dedicated help with BabyA for five hours per week, and on the weekend when my husband and I are both home, we are often doing chores while the other is the main baby-minder.

For me getting things done as a work-at-home and stay-at-home parent has involved letting go of 90% of my plans and expectations. During the five hours per week that I have dedicated childcare or when my husband is home from work and is taking care of A for a while, I make the most of that time with great focus or if needed, I soak in the rest and self-care that I am giving myself instead of working just then.

The rest of the time, I make do as all parents must. I break projects down into tiny actionable steps with a level of granularity I never would have needed before, and I take baby steps when I can. I prioritize fiercely and keep my to-do list meaningful and clean. If I’m too tired to make progress, BabyA is refusing to nap or to cooperate with my plans for errands or chores, I take a deep breath and trust that I’ll get to it all later. Over time, I’ve increasingly revised how much I think is “reasonable” to accomplish. Some days end up more “reasonable” than others. And how good I feel about all of it depends in part on how much sleep I’ve gotten!

Of course, plenty of times I don’t try to “get things done” at all. I just get down on the playmat and sing silly songs, or breathe in the scent of BabyA’s hair while he nurses. I try to be fully present when I am doing things for and with BabyA, even if I’ve just shifted gears unexpectedly from something else.

It’s easy to get caught up in the lists and the projects, but the lists are only there to help make life easier, not to take on a life of their own. It’s hard to break down love into actionable steps, but if I somehow wanted to, those spontaneous moments with my son would take a central place in the project plan.

And yet still… so much stuff to get done, and it’s amazing how much longer things take now even when I know I’m being as productive and efficient as I can. This is the new efficiency, I tell myself.

How have your notions of efficiency and productivity changed since you became a parent and as your child has grown?


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Prioritizing Passion

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only new mama out there who misses having lots of time for creativity.

I see a lot of advice for new moms about life balance. When I was the super-newest of new moms, doing things like sleeping when my baby sleeps and being sure to hand off the baby to someone for an hour now and then to take a shower were important things to remember, and honestly about all I could manage in terms of life balance. Thankfully, though time and energy are still in short supply, I’m a bit beyond that point now.

I also see a lot of advice about the importance of nurturing your relationship with your spouse or partner by having dates and intimate time– also very important. And I see the occasional advice about being sure to take the occasional afternoon for some self-pampering, such as a massage or pedicure. And everyone tells new moms that they need to get enough exercise. And yet, I don’t see as much advice about nurturing my creativity or my intellect. I guess that it’s easy to deprioritize that in the midst of all the other self-care that’s already so very hard to find time for.

For me, a critical part of taking care of myself as a person is making time for both creativity and intellectual stimulation. Intellectual stimulation mostly comes from my work… writing and reading about productivity and time management and conducting coaching sessions with my clients. I do try to read stimulating things outside those areas, but it’s relatively easy to do that in small chunks. Also, my social media feeds generally provide me to links galore to intriguing articles about science, philosophy and other thought-provoking topics. I only read a few of them, usually while rocking A to sleep on my shoulder at night, but it feels like enough most of the time.

Feeding my creativity is harder. We are still having a lot of sleep challenges, and my creativity tends to wither up anyhow when I’m seriously underslept. Still, if I don’t immerse myself in the flow of music, dance or art now and then, I become sad. A subtle but increasingly draining feeling begins to seep through me, and sometimes it’s difficult to untangle that creative malaise from other kinds of exhaustion or stress. If I start to feel like that, I give myself the gift of ten minutes of dance downstairs in our rec room. Usually that peps me up. It can be terribly hard to get started, but once I do, it helps.

But for me the most soulfully rejuvenating creative act is to play my hand drum in a group with other drummers, musicians and dancers, and to dance in community drum circles. So, my husband and I make a point of prioritizing a solo outing for me once every month or two, and I go out on my own to drum and dance for a few precious hours.

My favorite drum circle happens on the first Saturday of the month, and unless BabyA has had a particularly awful night of sleep on the evening prior, I usually go. When I come back from drumming in community, I am filled with light and delight. Empty places in me that I hadn’t even fully sensed are filled and the energy of sheer joy can flow unimpeded through my body. I am giddy with delight for days after I go to a drum circle, and incidentally, that happiness bubbles up and flows over into how I interact with BabyA and with my husband. So while I do it for me, and feel no qualms about focusing on my self in that way, I know that it benefits us all.

I am also teaching BabyA to drum, sing and play maracas, incidentally… and he just loves it.  Taking a few minutes to play a djembe drum with him or shake some maracas to a beat is joyful for us both, and he loves getting to play with mama’s toys. Maybe someday he’ll share this interest with me, or even just learn from watching me how much creative pursuits can increase personal happiness.

Do you have a creative or intellectual interest that you make a priority for yourself, or want to start making a priority? How do you make time for creativity as a busy parent?


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