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9 Ways Busy Parents Can Reignite A Creative Practice

“Me time” is a well-intentioned catch phrase that conjures in my mind a harried young mother whose weekly highlight is dishing with her parent crew at Chick-Fil-A while their kids run circles around the joint. I am not that parent, yet the sentiment behind the phrase persists in my life.


There’s nothing more infuriating than someone reminding me to “take time for myself.” I assume it means I look like I’m about to lose a grip on my life – that my bangs are sticking up and there’s grape jelly smeared on my jeans and my left eye is twitching. In other words: I look like my kids are kicking my ass and I’ve neglected my own needs.

While that may be an accurate summary of my appearance from time to time, it’s rarely because my kids have me stretched too thin and I’m in dire need of a champagne bubble bath with control + alt + delete potency. More likely, I’ve been entrenched in an intensely productive creative phase and have managed to emerge triumphant, albeit unshowered, despite the five-year-old who is learning to make his own sandwiches and the six-year-old who has been practicing braiding on my hair while I type at my computer.

Whether you miss your former, pre-kids creative self or you’re ready to retool your schedule to make room for a creative process, the following steps will help you make the most of your time and energy without sacrificing sanity or family.

1 | Ignite yourself first

Identify activities or patterns of engaging with the world that ignite your inner creative energy. These may or may not be directly linked to your particular medium. For example, contemporary art, live music, walking in the woods, eavesdropping on my kids’ conversations in their bunk beds, and late nights out with interesting people stoke my creative writing fire.

Ask yourself: what makes you feel most alive? Cobble up a list, and then work those things into your life. Harness the energy they produce and ride whatever waves they give rise to.

Meanwhile, cut activities that drain you. For example, I cut meaningless playdates with kids who have helicopter parents. Two hours of small talk with these parents was an excruciating waste of time.

I also decided that I don’t believe in living a life whose weekend hours are dictated by a five-year-old’s social schedule. So they were cut.

Outcome: more time for other, more valuable activities for the whole family. This summer, we spent our weekends exploring new swimming holes, catching crawdads with our bare hands, and listening to nature’s music. Consequently, I was able to do something that energizes me creatively and share higher quality time with my kids, who, frankly, will have plenty of social opportunities in the years to come.

2 | Be already ready already

There’s a 90s Tropical Freeze commercial in which two women are sun-bathing poolside while a third woman goes to the kitchen to make frozen daiquiris. Frazzled, the hostess chops fruit wildly and stuffs ice into a blender while her friends grow impatient. Cut to a bag o’ daiquiri poured smoothly into a glass and the tagline voice over, “Tropical Freeze: it’s already ready already.”

Make this slogan your own. Ensure that the moment you have an hour at your disposal, or the minute inspiration strikes, all you have to do is show up to your workstation and execute your idea. If you have to clean, organize, locate tools, or think about where to begin each time you sit down, you won’t get anything done. If you paint, keep your workspace set up and your brushes ready to go. If you write music or short stories, keep an index card handy that lists projects in progress and ideas to explore. If you write and don’t know where to begin, keep your pens and paper near your laptop along with a few writing prompts close by.

3 | Show up during quiet time

Yes, you could watch the new episode of “Scandal” after your kids go to sleep and no one would be the wiser. You could also match socks or replace the filter on the furnace or look for a new job or balance your checkbook or…well, the list goes on as always.

You deserve all manner of indulgences, and at some point, the socks will need to be matched. But I promise you that choosing instead to write or paint or draw or strum your guitar – however you choose to direct your creative energy – will pay dividends in a way that empty tasks and television simply can’t.

No sugar coating here: creative work won’t make itself. You must work at it and work at it often. Take yourself seriously. If you don’t, who will? Try cutting your unwind-time routines or busy work in half and replacing what’s left over with creative work.

4 | Leave the house

Whether it’s for an hour or a weekend, regularly claim some space outside of the home. A change of scenery invites a shift in thought processes and perspective, making it a great way to get creativity flowing. It also cuts down on distractions, guilt, and anything else related to home that might stand in the way of your burgeoning process.

Claiming space can be as simple as bringing a notebook to a café or doing sketches in an urban area.

A favorite generative activity of mine is sitting alone in a restaurant with a pen and notebook. I listen for the most interesting conversation within earshot, then write down what I hear. Absent conversations, I might sketch a character from a man sitting at the bar. I might sketch a woman’s tattoo, then guess at what her life might be like.  Often, I’ll read a supposedly complete essay over coffee at a new café and I’ll find it’s not quite right, or that it needs a slight reshaping.

5 | Find direction

So you’ve got all this creative energy, you’ve prepped your tools and workspace, and you’re ready to commit some time to developing a true practice. Now you’ll need direction.

At first, allow yourself to spend some time spinning your wheels and noticing your work habits, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and cycles. Writers can try working from prompts. Makers of all kinds can keep a visual or written record of observations or creative sparks, then look for patterns that can be developed further. Use of collage or found parts can help reveal connective tissues between disparate subjects.

The point is to first capture what grabs you, then allow it to grab you back. Once you get through this initial experimentation phase, identify a project for yourself that will take you a while to complete – say, three or four weeks. An actual commitment that will require you to optimize your time management and incorporate additional tips in this list.

This timeline is great because achievement is key. If you can’t push a creative practice into the end zone of completion, you risk feeling defeated and abandoning your work. So challenge yourself, but be realistic. Even if you don’t love the outcome, completion can establish the foundation of a life-long practice.

6 | Capture creativity on the go

Once you’ve got a project in mind, you’ll want to nurture it. But creativity, much as we might like it to be so, is not easily domesticated. It’s more like a feral cat you’ll start feeding and eventually grow used to, but that won’t stop it from revealing its wild nature from time to time.

This is to say, sometimes you’ll have epiphanies at inappropriate times and places. You’ll tell yourself you’ll remember them later, but trust me when I say you will not. Therefore, you’ll need coping strategies. I write notes to myself on my phone when I’m out and about. Over the years, I’ve learned that barebones notes often don’t make sense later, so I try to label or categorize them by topic or project. I also capture inspiring images or artwork on my phone and email those to myself.

I’ve learned I have three risk activities, or situations in which I’m both more likely to have a good idea and more likely to forget it if I don’t immediately preserve it. These situations are taking a shower, falling asleep, and driving. None of which are conducive to writing. These are times when my brain and body are most relaxed and open, which invites the mind to expand into areas it doesn’t occupy when, say, talking on the phone or working.

So I do what any logical person would do: I get out of the shower mid-shampoo to write down the fleeting thought; I scribble in the dark on a notebook I keep on my nightstand; and I speak my thoughts into an app I can access without risking my life on the road.

7 | Creative time for all

Make your creative practice a family thing. I keep several small plastic tubs filled with creative project materials for my kids and get them out when I need to write and solitude isn’t possible. (Examples: marshmallows and toothpicks for making sculptures.)

To encourage this separate-but-together-time’s success, give each person their own “space” to do their work. (And don’t call it work. Call it “maker time” or “creation time,” or something that sounds more fun than work.) Set a timer for a length of time your child can handle developmentally. When the timer goes off, invite each person to share or present their work.

This communal creative time allows you to develop your work, familiarizes your child with his or her own creative process, emphasizes completion, and encourages positive family bonding around the arts. It will also instill in them respect for creative time and space, especially if they can glimpse the final product during “share time.”

8 | Control screen time

Usually this parenting advice is offered with regard to children. But let’s be honest: the same rules apply to adults. You know the drill. Sign out of Facebook, turn off your phone. Remove any and all sources of distraction.

9 | Seek support

Keeping the momentum going once you’ve started is crucial. Just like with diets, accountability yields success. But how does accountability translate in a creative practice?

An Instagram feed documenting process and progress works for some, especially visual artists. For others, sharing work with peers in a workshop, critique, or discussion setting drives them on. For writers, even getting feedback and support from a single reader is enough. For still others, publication, presentation, and recognition provide the support and accolades needed to continue.

Find ways to hold yourself accountable to your process and projects outside of yourself. Whatever motivates you and helps push you to the next level, incorporate it into your process.

You may end up carving yourself a new career.

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Anyone who has had a baby with colic knows: It's not easy. But despite how common colic is, the causes have stumped researchers (and parents) for generations. Yet, the fact remains that some 5 to 19% of newborns suffer from colic, or excessive but largely inexplicable crying spurts.

Parents of colicky newborns are often eager for something, anything, that will give their baby comfort. The good news is that while we don't have complete confirmation on what causes colic, we do have generations worth of evidence on how to best manage and treat colic.

1. Use bottles with an anti-colic internal vent system that creates a natural flow

One of the most commonly cited culprits in causing colic is tummy discomfort from air bubbles taken in while bottle-feeding—which is proof that not all bottles are created equally. Designed with an anti-colic internal vent system that keeps air away from baby's milk during feeding, Dr. Brown's® bottles are clinically proven to reduce colic and are the #1 pediatrician recommended baby bottle in the US

Distractions and a supine position while feeding can cause your baby to take in additional air, leading to those bubbles that can bother their tummies. If you notice an uptick in crying after feeding, experiment with giving your baby milk in a more upright position and then keeping them upright for a while afterwards for burping and digestion.

2. Offer a pacifier

If your baby is calm while eating, it may be that they are actually calmed by the ability to suck on something—a common instinct among newborns. Offering a pacifier not only can help soothe colicky babies, but is also proven to reduce the rate of SIDS in newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some babies have strong opinions about their pacifiers, which is why staying with the Dr. Brown's brand can help you avoid the guessing game: Designed to mimic the shape of the bottle nipples, Dr. Brown's HappyPaci pacifier makes for easy (read: calming) transitions from bottle to pacifier.

3. Practice babywearing

Beyond tummy troubles, another leading theory is that colic is the result of newborns' immature nervous systems and the overstimulation of life outside the womb. By keeping them close to you through babywearing, you are helping ease their transition to the outside world as they come to terms with their new environment.

During pregnancy, they were also used to lots of motion throughout the day. By walking (even around the house) while babywearing, you can help give them that familiar movement they may crave.

4. Get some fresh air

Along with the motion from walking around, studies show that colicky babies may benefit simply from being outside. This is one thing for parents of spring and summer newborns. But for those who are battling colic during cold, dark months, it can help to take your stroller into the mall for some laps.

5. Swaddle to calm their nervous system

Unlike the warm, cozy confinement of the womb, the outside world babies are contending with during the fourth trimester can be overwhelming—especially after a full day of sensory stimulation. As a result, many parents report their baby's colic is worse at night, which is why a tight, comforting swaddle can help soothe them to sleep.

For many parents coping with a colicky baby, it's simply a process of experimenting about what can best provide relief. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be as much of a guessing game now, due to products like those in the Dr. Brown's line that are specifically tailored to helping babies with colic.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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Ah, the holidays—full of festive cheer, parties, mistletoe... and complete and utter confusion about how much to tip whom.

Remember: Tipping and giving gifts to the people that help you throughout the year is a great way to show your appreciation, but it's never required. Ultimately, listen to your heart (and your budget) and decide what's right for your family.

Here is our etiquette guide to tipping and gifting everyone on your list.

Teachers

You can decide if you'd like to do a class gift.

  • Ask people to contribute what they can, if they'd like to
  • Sign the gift from the entire class—don't single out the people that weren't able to contribute
  • Idea: a small gift and then a gift card bought with the rest of the money, and a card signed by all the children

...or a personal gift.

  • Amount/value is very up to you—you may factor in how many days/week your child is in school and how much you pay for tuition.
  • Anywhere from $5-$150 has been done.
  • Idea: a personalized tote bag and gift card, with a picture drawn by your child

Babysitters, nannies + au pairs

  • Up to one night's pay for a babysitter
  • Up to one week's pay for a nanny or au pair.
  • Homemade gift from the child

Daycare teachers

  • $25-70/teacher and a card from your child

School bus driver

  • A non-monetary gift of $10-$20 (i.e. a gift card)

Ballet teacher/soccer coach

  • Consider a group gift or personal gift (see teacher gift above)
  • Up to $20 value if doing a personal gift

Mail carrier

  • A gift up to a $20 value, but they are not allowed to receive cash or a gift card that can be exchanged for cash.

UPS/Fed Ex

  • A gift up to a $20 value, depending on the number of packages you get. Avoid cash if possible.

Sanitation workers

  • $10-30 each
  • Make sure you find out if the same people pick up the recycling and the trash—there may be two different teams to think about.

Cleaning person

  • Up to one week's pay

Hair stylist

  • Up to the cost of one haircut/style

Dog walker

  • Up to one week's pay

Doorman

  • $15-80 each depending on number of doormen

Boss/Co-workers

  • You are not required to give your boss a gift. In some instances, it may be inappropriate to do so—so you'll have to think about what seems right for you
  • Never give cash
  • Consider giving an office gift—bring coffee or donuts to the office for everyone, buy an assortment of teas for the staff lounge, replace the microwave that everyone hates, etc
  • Organize an office Secret Santa—it's a great way to boost morale and have fun, without needing to decide who to buy for. (Hint: We love Elftser for easy Secret Santa organizing!)

Neighbors

Hey mama,

It's the time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. From Halloween to New Years Eve, where all the sweets and treats come out in full force, and it seems like the universe is plotting to take you down.

You may feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. After all, history has taught you that you can't make it through the holiday season successfully.

Maybe you can't get by without eating all the holiday treats and feeling like a failure. Maybe you end the holidays vowing to be a better person and start the New Year on the latest detox diet. You are all too familiar with the guilt and shame that comes with holiday eating cycle and how this robs you of joy of the season.

You may have managed to contain some element of self-control over the year. Maybe you carefully avoid those treats that you know you can't simply eat one of, or maybe you've skipped dessert and stayed clear from all the sweets. Maybe you've felt like you're doing well on your latest diet and are worried about how this incoming holiday treat wave will sabotage your success.

Whatever you're worried about, the fear is real and paralyzing, taking up that precious mental space as your thoughts are consumed about food and your body.

It may be hard to think about anything else when you mind is controlled by the rules that dictate what you should and shouldn't be eating. Maybe seeing your spouse or kids eat those holiday treats creates more anxiety for you and sends you on the brink of losing your mind as these food issues become all consuming.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where is this fear coming from and why is it controlling your life?

Do you ever feel like a failure at eating because you inhaled that bag of fun-sized candy bars or scarfed through a dessert faster than anyone could say, "Trick or Treat?"

Are you embarrassed that something as normal as food feels like such a struggle?

Does overeating or an emotional eating episode send you on a downward tailspin in self-loathing?

How many times have you stepped on the scale, only to feel miserable about yourself for the rest of the day?

I want to let you in on a secret.

You are not failing, mama.

That desire to eat all the holiday foods or binge on sweets doesn't mean that you've screwed up or that you have no self-control.

You're not a failure for wanting to eat all the things you don't normally let yourself eat or for breaking all the food rules you've set in place to give you more "control."

You don't need more willpower, another diet or more ways to become disciplined.

What you need, sweet mama, is permission.

Permission to eat those foods that you crave every year, like a slice of your Grandmother's special holiday dish or the piece of pumpkin cheesecake everyone's eating at your office party.

Permission to decorate holiday cookies with your kids and actually enjoy eating one too, not pretend like you don't want one, only to eat a plateful once they've gone to bed.

Permission to actually keep food in its proper place, so it's not stealing your joy, energy and mental space.

And you know what?

When you've given yourself permission to eat, including all those sweets and treats that are normally off-limits, they suddenly lose their power over you. And when food doesn't have power over you, you will have freedom to live a life that isn't bound by what you can and cannot eat.

Let me tell you something else: feeling like a failure around food is NOT your fault. It doesn't mean you don't have enough self-control or will power. There is nothing wrong with you.

What's to blame are the abundance of food rules: unrealistic food rules that make you feel unnecessarily guilty for eating or shameful in your body. (i.e: "Don't eat sugar", "Don't eat carbohydrates", "That's not allowed on the diet", "Don't eat anything too high in fat", "Don't eat after 6pm", "Don't eat all day if you're having a big meal at night").

You are not the problem.

Food rules, diets, etc. THAT is what is wrong.

You weren't made to live or thrive under a list of rules of what you should or shouldn't eat. It's not an issue of self-control.

The truth is that trying to follow a diet or a rigid set of food rules is like trying to negotiate with your toddler—you just can't win. And it's not for lack of trying, it's that the rules of the game are created for you to fail. So why try to play a game where the odds are against you?

You can opt-out of diet culture NOW to enjoy a truly peaceful holiday season that doesn't end with self-loathing or a New Year's resolution to diet and start the cycle all over again. Because the truth is, there are no good and bad foods or rules you are have to follow. When you can let go of all those judgments and emotional hang-ups that you've attached to eating, you learn to trust yourself to make your own choices and view food for what is really is - just food.

So choose being present over being perfect with the way you eat (because no such thing exists anyway). Calm the food chaos by giving yourself permission to eat, taste, and celebrate.

Enjoy the treats, if that is what your body is craving. Take back for yourself what all the obscure food rules and dieting have taken away from you all these years. Take in the memories, the flavors of the season - because you deserve it.

This holiday season, commit to putting yourself on a new path, one that doesn't end in self-destruction.

Give yourself permission, not only to eat, but to embrace a new way of living that isn't defined by your body size or what you can or cannot eat.

You can choose food freedom over food rules, and by doing so, you are choosing to live. You are choosing to be present for your children and experience the moments and memories that might otherwise be missed when your mind is imprisoned by food rules.

It's never too late, mama. The time to start is now.

Remember—you are not failing. Start by giving yourself permission today.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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