Print Friendly and PDF

I have always enjoyed productivity strategies. I eat up advice around how to best manage my time, tricks for getting more done, and how to set myself up to reach my goals.

But after I had my kids, when I was trying to raise two toddlers and be not just coherent but valuable as a leader at a fast-growing startup, I suddenly saw productivity advice in a totally new light.

Every time I read something about how you should get up at 5am to get an extra hour in or read a book a week to add to your skill set, I didn't feel inspired.

FEATURED VIDEO

I felt rage.

I suddenly realized the entire business world was built for someone who was NOT a parent. Almost all of those productivity hacks—with a few exceptions, like advice from Laura Vanderkam and the Lazy Genius—are offered by people who are not the default parent at home.

None of them share this fact. But you can tell by the way most of this advice is dished out that none of the people giving it have actually tried to apply it after not sleeping all night or dealing with an all-morning tantrum or losing half a workday to a sick kid.

Like, what would they do if their kid threw up all over the car on their way to work… two days in a row?

How would they get out of bed at 5am to practice gratitude if they hadn't actually gone back to bed after a 1am wake-up?

What if they had to dedicate 45 minutes three times a day at the office to pumping milk?

It's time to reframe business advice so it's not just for men without kids.

The truth is, many of the strategies the Internet suggests simply aren't possible while working and parenting young kids.

And yet here's a shocker: many parents are ambitious, just like we were before having kids! We love spending time with our families, but we also have dreams for growing meaningful careers, building companies and writing books that bring value to the world. Parents of young children want to be productive, too.

But the business and working world's mainstream advice simply doesn't fit. Which is crazy, because working parents aren't exactly a rare breed. Just like the traditional way of working is set up for employees who are childless or supported by someone who's the default parent, most productivity advice assumes you have full control over your own schedule. Ha.

So here's my productivity advice for ambitious, career-loving parents of young children.

And let's be real: this is just as much a pep talk for myself as it is for you. I struggle with these things every day. But now that I'm beyond the worst of the sleep deprivation (my kids are ages 2.5 and 4.5), I can at least think clear enough to remind myself of these things on hard days.

1. Ignore mainstream advice

It's not written for us. Instead of being helpful, it might make you feel worse about how much you're able to achieve.

You, my friend, actually do way more than the person who wrote that book, because you're taking care of human beings AND inching forward on your projects (even an inch counts). Which brings me to…

2. Count managing your household as an achievement

I am the worst at this. When I take stock of what I've achieved at the end of each day, I often only look at my "paid" work or work that will eventually bring revenue to our family.

I gloss over all the things I did that kept our family running: got the kids fed and out the door to pre-school, cleaned out the bathtub because our toddler pooped in it (my husband actually did this the morning I wrote this), ran a load of laundry because our other child's night diaper leaked, figured out what we're eating for dinner and what the kids are eating and whether we have all the ingredients we need to make those things, discussed medical codes with a health insurance rep for 47 precious minutes to sort out an unexpected bill… the list goes on and on.

When I list out these things, they are tremendous! I achieved a ridiculous amount! And yet somehow when I look at what I've done for the day, I treat these items like they don't count. Why? Perhaps because society tells me every day that unpaid work isn't valuable. So even when I remind myself that's not true, I can't get myself to believe it.

Let's work on this together, friends.

3. Prioritize sleep

When mainstream productivity advice tells you to get enough sleep, they make the assumption that doing so is as simple as deciding to go to bed earlier rather than staying up late playing on social media.

But what if getting even six hours of sleep requires climbing into bed 10 hours before you have to get up? What if getting enough sleep means literally not doing all the other things that get-more-sleep strategy was supposed to help you achieve? What if you have to choose between sleep and a shower?

I'm not making this stuff up; these are the realities for parents of young children. Being up half the night and then having to function the next day is hard. Really hard. And then many of us add a full-time job on top of it. If you haven't experienced this yourself, it might sound like I'm exaggerating, but this is exactly what it's like going back to work with a three-month-old baby (which is considered normal in America).

If you find yourself in this position, prioritize sleep above all else. Don't feel guilty about it for even a second. When you're exhausted, it's hard to make smart decisions. You're helping yourself out by sleeping first, even if that means accomplishing nothing else.

I had to give myself this pep talk for the first 18 months of my second baby's life. I was working full time in an office with a team that looked to me for guidance, and my kid was getting up a few times every night. Every weekend, when my husband or I put our two kids down for a nap at 1pm, I collapsed into bed. I slept through every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

I always wanted to use that time for something "productive," since both kids were sleeping. But the truth was, I was tired, and my body knew sleep had to come before everything else.

If you are at this stage, consider this your permission to sleep every second you can. You need it, and that's okay.

4. Remember this is temporary

That not-enough-sleep phase? It's temporary. I mean, it could be years-long temporary and feel like it lasts forever, but eventually it will get better.

I went through a period where I was busy at work and exhausted at home, and I literally wondered if I had lost my capacity to come up with good ideas. It sounds ridiculous now, but I actually thought it might be possible that I would never again feel like my brain was brimming with good ideas like before kids.

I remember the moment this fog began to lift and I thought, omg! It's still there! I can still think! I was so relieved. I just needed space in my brain and sleep in my tank.

5. Consider interruptions to be constant, not deviations

While most life phases are temporary, here's what's not: you will never again work without interruptions. Once you have children, things will almost never go as you planned, for better or for worse.

Once you start seeing that as the norm rather than a deviation, you will feel far less frustrated. If you expect something unexpected to pop up during your day that needs your attention for a few hours, you leave bandwidth in your brain for that unknown thing and better adjust when it comes along.

I'm telling you this because I believe it to be true, but I haven't mastered it myself. This is a hard one for Type-A parents.

6. Find your people

Talk to other parents about how they manage the juggle. Some of the best strategies tend to be invisible because we're not always comfortable talking about them (hiring help is a great example). But once you establish relationships with other ambitious parents, some of those walls will come down.

While in-person groups are great if you can find them, I've had more luck with online communities, like Facebook groups and podcasts, even a master class for entrepreneurial moms. Here are some of my favorite online resources that provide support.

We are here! You're not alone! But sometimes it can feel like that when everyone's tweeting about how they ran a half-marathon last weekend. You and I know the real hero is the woman who's running in the park alongside her dog while pushing a double stroller.

7. Communicate

This is one of the hardest things to do when you're sleep deprived and stressed. Especially when it requires saying things delicately in a way that will maintain relationships that are important to you.

But forcing yourself to do this is a productivity hack in itself, because it will make your life easier. Household management is the No. 1 stressor for my husband and me, and so far we've only found two solutions that work: 1) hiring someone else to do some of the work and 2) checking in regularly about what needs doing, who's doing it, and how we both feel about who's doing what.

This is best done during a regularly scheduled meeting with your spouse, and yes, put it on your calendar, just like you would a work meeting. These topics aren't easy to talk about, and we found if we don't have a pre-arranged time to discuss them, we simply don't do it.

Of course, not everyone has a spouse, and some people find themselves in the position of having to do everything as a single parent rather than having to negotiate who does what. Single parents, you amaze me.

8. Look at what you've built

No, I don't mean your most recent work project. I mean that little person you brought into the world and are now turning into someone who will contribute to society in a meaningful way, long after you're gone.

It feels good to build a company or a career, but it feels way more amazing to build a human.

This should be obvious, but for those of us who enjoy our work, it's not always so. I'm listening to Clayton Christensen's book, How Will You Measure Your Life? (audiobooks = parent productivity hack) and he talks about how high achievers tend to make the mistake of focusing too much on their work rather than family. We do this in part because it provides immediate returns, whereas the hard work of raising good children can take longer to yield positive results.

I feel kind of guilty admitting this resonates with me, but it does. While I love hanging out with my kids, our everyday two-steps-forward, one-steps-back dance is often at odds with my high-achiever mindset.

His point is that all that time and energy we put into children — it matters. It might limit our capacity for paid work, and it might mean we can't get up at 5am to meditate or read 52 books in a year. It might mean we're exhausted and just getting through each day, rather than "maximizing our potential." It might mean we want to punch the well-meaning childless coworker who suggests we "take care of ourselves first."

But raising kids is important work, enriching work. So, too, is filling our own cup by growing a rewarding business or career.

If doing just those two things is taking everything you've got, I'm with you.

This post was first published on AlexisGrant.com

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Thanks for subscribing!

Check your email for a confirmation message.

Things We're Loving

It was a historical moment for the world and a scary moment for a woman who had just become a mother for the first time. When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital on July 22, 2013, with her new baby in her arms she was happy—but understandably scared, too.

Kate Middleton recently appeared on Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast and when Fletcher asked her about her postpartum debut Kate said she felt a little freaked out when she stepped out with her newborn.

"Yeah, slightly terrifying, slightly terrifying, I'm not going to lie," Kate said.

During the podcast the Duchess opened up about her pregnancy and birth experiences, explaining how much hypnobirthing helped her and that she didn't know whether she was delivering a prince or princess until Prince George was born as she'd opted to be surprised.

She was surprised and thrilled when she met her son, and looked forward to post-pregnancy life after spending her pregnancy quite ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (a seriously debilitating form of extreme morning sickness). She was happy, but was also (very understandably) overwhelmed. In addition to all the pressure new moms feel, Kate had an army of photographers waiting outside the hospital for her.

"Everything goes in a bit of a blur. I think, yeah I did stay in hospital overnight, I remember it was one of the hottest days and night with huge thunderstorms so I didn't get a huge amount of sleep, but George did, which was really great," she explained. "I was keen to get home because, for me, being in hospital, I had all the memories of being in hospital because of being sick [with acute morning sickness] so it wasn't a place I wanted to hang around in. So, I was really desperate to get home and get back to normality."

Kate wanted to get home, but she also did want to share her baby boy with the public who had been so supportive of her young family, she explains.

"Everyone had been so supportive and both William and I were really conscious that this was something that everyone was excited about and you know we're hugely grateful for the support that the public had shown us, and actually for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important," she shared, adding that "Equally it was coupled with a newborn baby, and inexperienced parents, and the uncertainty of what that held, so there were all sorts of mixed emotions."

"All sorts of mixed emotions."

The now-iconic images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exiting the hospital with their firstborn have gone down in history, but so has Kate's bravery that day.

There's been a lot written about whether those pictures put pressure on other moms who might not feel ready for heels and blowouts right after giving birth, but one thing critics of the photos often miss is the positive impact it had on other young women.

Yes, Kate looked beautiful, but she also looked like a woman whose body had just given birth—and the iconic images of her in that polka-dot dress taught a generation of women that the female body isn't an elastic band and that recovering from birth takes time.

"I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George," Tina, now a mom herself and a model of postpartum realness in Mothercare's "Body Proud Mums campaign" explained last year.

Tina recalls how Kate's postpartum appearance showed her a reality society hadn't: "She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn't just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations."

Tina wasn't stupid, she just hadn't been shown the truth.

So thank you, Kate, for stepping out of that hospital in 2013, despite being terrified, and showing the world your beautiful baby and your bump.


News

Despite the encouraging growth of free or subsidized preschools in some American cities, the fact remains that preschool and daycare cost about as much as rent in many areas.

But there's some good news, which is that parents who pay for preschool or daycare while they're at work may qualify for a credit that can help you save money on taxes this year. Here's what all parents should know before filing their returns.

Is preschool tuition tax-deductible?

The sum of your child's entire preschool tuition is not tax deductible, but you may be able to get something better than a deduction: a credit called the Child and Dependent Care Credit, worth up to $1,050 for one child and up to $2,100 for two or more kids.

FEATURED VIDEO

How do I know if I'm eligible for the Child Dependent Care Tax Credit?

There are a few criteria to be eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit:

  • If you have someone take care of your child so you can work or look for work
  • Your child is under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year (no age limit if they are disabled)
  • You must be able to claim your child as a dependent
  • Your filing status must be single, head of household, qualifying widow or widower with a qualifying child, or married filing jointly.

Does preschool tuition count as dependent care?

Yes, it does count if you are paying someone to take care of your child so you can work or look for work. Day camps, such as summer camps and sports camps, count as well, but overnight camps don't.

How much could I potentially get back on taxes for preschool tuition?

If you are able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit, you may be able to claim up to $1,050 for one child and up to $2,100 for two or more children.

The great thing about credits is they are a dollar for dollar reduction of your taxes. So if you owe taxes of $1,050 and have one child, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 and wipe out the taxes you owe.

The credit is based on a sliding scale: Depending on your income, your credit is 20%-35% of your childcare expenses up to $3,000 (or $1,050), and 20%-35% of childcare expenses up to $6,000 (or $2,100) for two or more kids.

The bottom line: While this tax credit is unlikely to completely cover your child's preschool tuition for the year, don't miss out on this tax credit if you're paying for preschool or daycare for your child so that you can work. And remember to check your eligibility for other tax credits and deductions for families, including the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Credit.
Work + Money

Celestial baby names are flying high right now, and the brightest star of them all? Well, it's actually Luna, the name of the Roman goddess of the moon, and the Latin word for "moon."

At #23 in the US in 2019, Luna's rise has been, well, astronomical ever since it re-entered the Top 1000 in 2003, for the first time in almost a century. That was the year that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was first published, featuring the kooky but courageous Luna Lovegood.

The once-unique baby name has since been picked up by stylish celebrity parents such as Penelope Cruz, Uma Thurman and John Legend, and now ranks in the Top 100 in at least 18 other countries, including Australia, Chile, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and Slovenia.

FEATURED VIDEO

But if Luna's meteoric rise to the top of the baby name popularity charts puts you off, here are 100 more magical, moon-inspired baby names to consider.

Baby names that mean moon

Girls' names that mean "moon" include a multitude of attractive Turkish names containing the element ay, meaning (you guessed it!) "moon." These range from rising international star Ayla to popular picks like Miray, Belinay and Aysima, which are all in the current Turkish Top 50 for girls.

Boy names that mean "moon" include dozens of dynamic Japanese names like Michika, Reito and Tsukio, which can all be formed from different kanji combinations to give various moon-related meanings.

Moon-inspired girl names

  1. Aruna: This pretty Japanese name, which can mean "moon love" (depending on the kanji characters used), is a perfect underused alternative to popular A-sandwich choices like Aria and Aurora.
  2. Esmeray: A beautiful Turkish name with the evocative meaning of "dark moon", which might appeal to lovers of rapid riser Esme.
  3. Lusine: Also spelled Lucine or Lusineh, this sophisticated Armenian choice could make for an unexpected route to Lucy or Lou.
  4. Mahina: A moon goddess in Hawaiian mythology, whose attractive name literally means "moon" in the Hawaiian language.
  5. Sasithorn: This poetic word for the moon is also used as a name in its native Thailand, pronounced "sah-see-TAWN". Sweet short form Sasi also means "moon".

And here are a few more of our favorite lunar names for girls from around the globe:

  1. Adzumi
  2. Aysel
  3. Channary
  4. Hala
  5. Indu
  6. Livana
  7. Lua
  8. Mahrukh
  9. Miray
  10. Neoma
  11. Orana
  12. Quilla
  13. Runa
  14. Saran
  15. Sihana
  16. Tsuki
  17. Vinterny
  18. Volana
  19. Zira
  20. Zulay

Moon-inspired boy names

  1. Ainar: This strong-sounding Kazakh name is actually unisex, meaning "male moon", "fire moon" or "pomegranate moon" (what a great image!).
  2. Isildur: A literary lunar name from J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium, in which it belongs to a heroic king.
  3. Jerah: A rare Biblical boys' name with a contemporary sound, which could make for a great underused alternative to the likes of Noah and Jeremiah.
  4. Mani: Properly spelled Máni, this energetic mini name belongs to the personification of the moon in Norse mythology.
  5. Vikesh: A strong and striking Hindu name which is fairly common in India, but virtually unknown elsewhere.

And here's a selection of other great moon names for boys from around the globe:

  1. Asaki
  2. Aydemir
  3. Badar
  4. Chanchai
  5. Dal
  6. Ehaan
  7. Hilal
  8. Iyar
  9. Kamer
  10. Koray
  11. Luan
  12. Mahan
  13. Maziar
  14. Naito
  15. Nantu
  16. Qamar
  17. Rakesh
  18. Rua
  19. Zoro
  20. Zunair

Galactic moon names

We recently reported on the rise of planetary baby names, as well as of mythological names relating to the heavens, like Apollo and Zephyr: Greek gods of the sun and the west wind, respectively.

But how about the names of other moons? There are some stellar options out there, mostly drawn from myth, legend and literature—right on trend, but rarely used.

Galactic moon-inspired girl names

  1. Amalthea: A moon of Jupiter, named for the goat (or goat-keeper) who raised the infant Zeus. It would make a lovely longer form for the fashionable mini-name Thea.
  2. Calypso: A fun-filled name with a lively rhythm and musical links to the West Indies. Callie and Cleo could make for great nicknames.
  3. Leda: The name of the beautiful mother of Helen of Troy in Greek mythology is surprisingly underused, despite its simple, international appeal: it was given to just 17 baby girls in 2018.
  4. Thebe: Far rarer than Phoebe, but with the same light and simple sound, Thebe is another moon of Jupiter.
  5. Skathi: This tiny moon of Saturn is named for Skaði, the Norse goddess of winter and archery.

And here are a few more appealing faraway moon names for girls:

  1. Anthe
  2. Belinda
  3. Bianca
  4. Carme
  5. Cressida
  6. Despina
  7. Elara
  8. Galatea
  9. Helene
  10. Io
  11. Larissa
  12. Mab
  13. Miranda
  14. Ophelia
  15. Pandora
  16. Perdita
  17. Rhea
  18. Rosalind
  19. Thalassa
  20. Titania

Galactic moon-inspired boy names

  1. Ariel: This handsome Hebrew name may have become far more popular for girls in the US, thanks to a certain Little Mermaid, but it's a truly unisex choice in Israel: #4 for boys and #23 for girls in the last year on record (2016).
  2. Fenrir: The name of a monstrous wolf in Norse mythology, and of an evil werewolf in the Harry Potter books—but if Wolf itself can catch on…
  3. Hyperion: One of the Titans in Greek mythology, Hyperion lends his majestic name to another of Saturn's moons.
  4. Narvi: Also spelled Narfi, this quirky Norse mythology name belongs to the father of Nótt, the personification of the night.
  5. Umbriel: A moon of Uranus, named (along with Ariel and Belinda) for a character from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. The name was probably inspired by Latin umbra "shadow."

And here are more magical moon names for boys from myth and legend:

  1. Aegir
  2. Atlas
  3. Caliban
  4. Ferdinand
  5. Francisco
  6. Janus
  7. Loge
  8. Neso
  9. Nix
  10. Oberon
  11. Pan
  12. Prospero
  13. Proteus
  14. Puck
  15. Sao
  16. Stephano
  17. Surtur
  18. Titan
  19. Trinculo
  20. Ymir

This post by Emma Waterhouse was first published on Nameberry

Learn + Play

My son is terrified that he might win his school's reading contest. If he does, he'll be invited, with the other winners, to attend a special lunch at a local Chinese food restaurant. My son loves books. He hates Chinese food. In fact, he hates pretty much any food that isn't chicken fingers, french fries, ketchup, bagels and cream cheese, or cereal. Occasionally he'll eat a jam sandwich but only if the jam isn't homemade. He'll eat apples, but only Red Delicious. And carrots. Raw.

I know what you're thinking. I let our child dictate the menu for the entire household based on his sugary and basic likes. Except I don't. I just have a very picky eater.

FEATURED VIDEO

His fussiness over food has been something I've struggled with. I devoured articles on picky eaters and followed their advice to the letter. Did you know that if you present picky eaters with a certain food an average of 17 times they will finally try it because it seems "familiar"? Except he didn't.

I tried sneaking "good" food into what he would eat. Bran muffins harbored shredded zucchini. Pizza sauce hid pureed carrots. Chocolate cake was made moist with pumpkin. I felt like a cheater. And still, it didn't work. This kid has olfactory skills that would shame drug-sniffing dogs – assuming the drugs smelled like broccoli.

I model good eating. A plate loaded with organic veggies aside whole-wheat pasta, for example. Homemade bread teeming with hemp seed. Even my "bad" food is good—biodynamic wine and homemade tortilla chips.

Nope. He had none of it.

I felt inferior to friends whose toddlers nibbled shrimp or requested sushi with an adorable lisp. I envied their breezy sophistication. Their worldly and open-minded kids. I feared a life that precluded ever taking my son to a restaurant that didn't offer a kids' menu. I imagined the future people who would never date him, joking with their friends about his love of "nuggets." I imagined the jobs he wouldn't get because the executives, over lunch, would conclude he couldn't think outside the box, given that his food was served in one.

But most of all, I worried about what my son's narrow appetite said about me.

I was pedestrian. Parochial. Predictable. Picky.

It's with that realization that I was able to abandon my mission to convince, cajole, bribe, trick or otherwise coerce my child into eating food he refuses.

I ate pizza for the first time on my 19th birthday. Tried lasagna in my second year of college. And finally indulged in spaghetti and meatballs when, at 23, I was poor, studying in France and ordered the cheapest—and most recognizable—thing on the menu. I was 25 before I tried any type of ethnic food. Twenty-eight before I ate lobster. I still don't eat ketchup. Or mayonnaise. Or mustard. I'm not just anti-condiment. I also won't touch fish with their eyes intact. Liver. Tongue. The list goes on and on.

My own childhood menu consisted of bologna sandwiches (white bread, thank you very much). Saltines. Boiled potatoes. I ate hamburgers, plain. Chicken (white meat only) with no skin or sauce, broiled. Iceberg lettuce and carrots. Occasionally I would eat an apple. My brother refuses to accept I've ever been a child since I didn't eat peanut butter, "the official food of childhood," he points out.

What changed? Well, I grew up. Moved away from home. Spent time in another country renowned for its food. On my own, I began to experiment. To try, just a nibble. With no one taking inventory of what went into my mouth, I felt freer to explore and draw my own conclusions.

I'm beginning to believe my son will follow a similar path. Just the other day he tried red pepper. "Yuck," he said.

Will he someday meet me for sushi? I doubt it.

But I don't like sushi anyway.

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.