Developing a parenting strategy that works
Paediatrician, entrepreneur and mother of two daughters, Dr. Whitney Casares is the author of The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting Without Losing Yourself. Here she shares her unique vantage point with the Today’s Kids editorial team.
Q) What does it mean to be a successful working mom?
Having a clear understanding of what matters most to them and spending the majority of their time, physical energy, and mental focus on the things that matter is essential. It’s about developing a strategy for dealing tactically with everything that needs to be accomplished in life so that extraneous tasks and responsibilities don’t overburden them. To be “successful”, they make time and space for taking care of themselves first so, when they are challenged by their child’s behaviours or needs, they can do it from a place of resilience and presence.
Q) The title of your book is intriguing. What does “winning at parenting without losing yourself” mean?
So many moms—especially moms whose kids have a deep well of need—are stretched too thin. I had a high-needs child, a full-time career, and a household to juggle. At first, I tried to handle it all myself. When I did, I ended up anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. It was only when I developed a sustainable framework that put me at the center of my own life, my goals and priorities around me, and the rest of life further out, that I found the inner confidence I needed and began to feel content, grounded, and centered throughout the day and week.
Q) You say you’ve learned the hard way.
True. At first, saying “no” to tasks—the ones driven by guilt or obligation—might be really hard and “yes” to more time connecting with ourselves and with our families. It brings more peace, and more purpose.
It’s likely that your child needs more of your time, attunement, and advocacy. You can only meet those needs without experiencing burn out and resentment if you’ve “filled you own cup” and established your overarching goals.
Q) What can moms do right now to take care of themselves?
Develop a practice of mindful self-compassion. As moms, we’re quick to be hard on ourselves and to become engrained in a negative cycle of nose-to-the-grindstone. Instead, when you feel conflicted or stressed, 1) name the feeling (i.e. I feel drained when my child requires so much attention, 2) validate it (i.e. It makes sense I would feel this way because ___), 3) humanize it and 4) decide what you need to do next.
Mindful self-compassion gives you the pause you need to break the cycle and respond to whatever situation you find yourself in responsively, instead of reactively. Maybe the thing you need to do next is drink a glass of water or go outside for some fresh air.
Maybe you need to give yourself a more prolonged period of physical space. The more you emotion-coach yourself this way, the better you’ll get at it, and the more effectively you’ll be able to teach your children to do the same for themselves.
Q) What are some practical ways working moms can build efficiency into their lives?
It all starts with building an intentional framework with priorities.
a) Streamline whenever possible.
b) For things someone else could do for you but you’re holding onto tightly (the swappables), let them go.
c) Automate and delegate to a trusted partner or friend.
d) Establish a habit of consistently auditing how you spend your time, eliminate clutter in your calendar and in your physical environment for work, grandparents, playdates and other social obligations (the heartstrings).
e) Set boundaries around your time. This is critical!
Q) Childcare can be such is an important factor for working parents’. What tips can you give us?
A childcare option that works for one family may not work at all for another. Evaluate the pros and cons of each option. Look for caregivers who are most concerned with developing a strong relationship with your child, and who are interested in fostering a love of learning and exploration. Amazing caregivers will keep your child safe, communicate well with you, provide opportunities for promoting age and ability appropriate development and activities and are confident as they interact with your child.
Q) Do parents damage their kids by working?
The research is clear. It’s much more important to spend quality time with
your child in discrete periods of time than it is to spend extensive amounts of time distracted and disengaged.
Q) You talk a lot about building equity with your parenting partner if you have one. What does that mean?
Building equity starts with two things: 1) having open, clear conversations and 2) dividing and conquering as business partners. Our partners are not mind readers and are often unaware of the mental loads we carry. Instead of assuming your partner knows what needs to be accomplished to manage your household, hold regular meetings to discuss what needs to be completed.
Maybe he isn’t aware your son’s medication needs to be picked up promptly every 28 days. Perhaps it’s not on his radar that your daughter has another specialist appointment this week.
Assign each chore and establish a standard each partner will hold to for that chore. Then, regroup in a week or a month to discuss with compassionate assertiveness what’s working and what’s not.
Q) What does truly taking care of yourself really look like? How does that make you a better parent?
Truly taking care of yourself means getting to know yourself and learning to trust yourself. It means taking five minutes a day to slow down and be still, be it in a prolonged shower, journaling, or completing a guided meditation. It also means you leave space in your weekly schedule to do something that brings you joy—a coffee date with a friend, an exercise class, an hour carved out to read a good book. It can be exceedingly difficult to do this when you have a high-needs child, but it’s worth it!
Finally, taking care of yourself means practicing mindful self-compassion, treating yourself the way a good friend would—with grace, understanding, and perspective.