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Written by Mama Monday

Advice and insight from real moms on cloth diapering, green living, and natural parenting.

Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a work-at-home parent, or a parent who works outside the home, it can be difficult juggling all the responsibilities of daily life, your overall workload, and to find time for the fun stuff that your heart (and kids) thrive on.

As a working mom of three who also writes on the side, I’ve had tons of experience feeling overwhelmed and like I wasn’t juggling ANY of it sufficiently, let alone all of it. Today, I’m sharing some ways that I make it through the highs and lows (and I’d love if you could read to the end)!

finding balancing

Sometimes survival mode is all you need.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If we constantly feel like we’re juuuuust keeping our heads above water (and never get that side stuff that’s hounding us completed), that’s far from ideal. But when your family has been constantly on the go, super busy, and you (and the rest of the family) are feeling exhausted and rundown, that’s the time to go with the flow.

So, grab pizza for dinner. Skip bath night and do it tomorrow (unless it’s, y’know, ESSENTIAL). Watch a family movie or play a game. Make a family day by escaping to do your favorite local things (for us that would probably be hitting the farmers’ market, taking a quick road trip to sight see, and hitting up my parents’ house on the way back). And if you have kids at school, let them buy a lunch on an unexpected day. Whatever you need to do to recharge your batteries, do it…then get back to the business at hand when you feel renewed.

And if you still don’t feel even a bit renewed, seek help – from your partner, your friends, your family, or your doctor. Don’t brush it off.

Lists, lists, and more lists.

I’ve touted the miracle of lists before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Just the act of writing a list allows yourself to heave a sigh of relief and to rest soundly, knowing that at least your thoughts are organized and the likelihood of juggling all the balls is better for the next day.

I can’t count how many times I’ve found an old to-do list and I reread it casually to find that, “oh, I actually finished all this stuff!” Lists are a game changer, seriously.

Fill your own bucket.

You know how they tell passengers (especially parents, ahem) to put on their own oxygen mask in case of an emergency before tending to the others around you? We’ve all heard it, but how often do we actually live by this rule? It’s really not a bad idea.

While you can take this to mean self care with bubble baths and massages, it can also just mean finding balance in your service. Don’t just “serve” your family (I think that term feels weird but is still kind of appropriate) and work, but serve your own needs, as well.

What helps you get through the day? Is it a simple coffee (that makes you somehow feel luxurious)? Is it 15 minutes of quiet time before the craziness of the day begins? Is it the guilty pleasure of scrolling through a social media feed during your lunch hour? Is it making a healthy meal for yourself with intention? Do what you need to feel human in order to bolster yourself up; it will make you less apt to snap at your kids or feel quite so drained at the end of the day.

And TRY not to feel guilty over getting a sitter while you go on a date with your partner. I recently did this with the husband and while it was weird to find the flow in our conversation (without the interruption of kids every 10 seconds), it was wonderful to feel like a wife as well as a mama.

Don’t fall into complacency.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get down in the dumps when it feels like life is on repeat, like Groundhog Day. But I have a couple of ways (aside from filling my own bucket) that I use to dig my way out of complacency.

Every day, no matter how busy it may be, I try to share a happy moment with the kids. Sure, it’s harder than others some days, but even a game of “what was good today?” at the dinner table or taking 5 minutes to play with the kiddos (or, in all honesty, even taking a simple moment like bath time or laundry folding to sit with one of them and talk about anything) can work. It also helps me to de-stress and forces me to be more intentional.

Another thing that works is to do just one chore. Ugh. But even one small chore is better than none and gets you closer to being done. So, while I’m still behind in my spring cleaning, each of my kids’ rooms got cleaned (bookshelves and toy purges notwithstanding) this weekend and I’ve got enough momentum to do my own room after work this week. The benefits of momentum can’t be understated.

Know that someone always has it worse.

This is pretty much my life philosophy. As a person who tried hard not to be a victim after my father died when I was small, I learned that a lot of people are suffering. While we all experience lows (very low lows, some of us), we should remember that someone always has it worse.

So, on those days that things go laughably wrong, I DO allow myself a laugh at the ridiculousness of it all…and remember that someone has it far worse.

Hug your kids every day and every night and hope (or pray, if you’re religious) that your troubles remain only so simple that you can still do that simple act – a hug and a kiss for your kids – since that’s the only thing that matters in this life, anyway.

Know when it’s time to lighten your load or change your focus.

Sometimes we parents have the tendency to just keep going and going, enduring a crazy level of stress (particularly with newborns) just because we think we must. Kids, home, work, hobbies (if there’s time), etc.

We find ourselves getting jealous of the sitter or grandparent who gets to snuggle with your little one while you’re at work. Or shaking your head while wiping away tears when you realize that your little ballerina grew up in what feels like the blink of an eye. There are countless moments that open our eyes to how fleeting the moments of childhood, the moments of neediness really are.

We really only have 18 years with them. Sure, our relationships don’t go away after that time goes by, but the requests for advice, the ability to hang out, the day-to-day sharing of personal lives disappears, as maybe it should. But it makes those little years all the sweeter.

So, that being said, I’ll mention my own connection to writing this list. I’ve decided to step back from writing my “Written by Mama Monday” posts here with Thirsties. I cherish the opportunity I’ve had to share my family, thoughts, and experiences here with you all. I will greatly miss the love and support, not only from the amazing mamas who share in the comments but from the Thirsties team as a whole – they are some of the best people I’ve ever “met” virtually and I honestly can’t say enough good about them. I’m biased, but when you buy a Thirsties diaper, know that there is pure love, care, and joy behind the creation of that product. Second to none.

I can never fully say “goodbye” to writing (I’m a school librarian by day and a writer by nature), so I hope to focus my attention to my own blog a little more again as well as picking up the odd writing job here and there, but the ultimate point of saying goodbye is to bask in the joy of my almost 6-year-old son, my two-naged daughter, and my almost 7-month-old daughter. I’m looking forward to summer vacation, day trips, picnics, movie nights…and reclaiming our weekends a bit! 😉

As a punctuation mark to this point, realize that it’s okay to say “no thanks” or step back from responsibilities (no matter how positive they may be) if you realize that your juggling act is getting too unwieldy. There may be sorrow or guilt in saying goodbye (I write this with tears running down my cheeks), but if you make the decision with your children in mind, it’s rare that you will regret it.

I wish you all the absolute best in your lives and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight – as amazing parents, as cloth diaper advocates, as all-around good people.

Oh, and feel free to share what struggle you’re currently facing in the comments! Maybe we can help you or we can come up with an action plan to get through it. You’re never, ever alone.

finding balance rocks

Now that spring has FINALLY come to stay (I’m looking at you, snow…no amount of embracing hygge has made your extended stay acceptable this year), I’m hoping to get out to local and regional spots to enjoy the outdoors with my family on a different level. This can be challenging juggling the energy of a 5 1/2-year-old, the “independence” of a 2 1/2-year-old, and the needs of a 6-month-old. (The trick to do ANYTHING with all three is to babywear our youngest.)

So, I’m hoping that the list I’ve compiled for our family might give you some ideas to get back out and about after being cooped up all winter long…

 

springtime activities for families

Find your local trails.

Of course, some trails aren’t the safest for families, but if you hunt for nature trails or even parks near you, you might be surprised.

For example, in our neck of the woods, we have the Adirondack Mountains within an hour or so, so we can check out the sites that detail short beginner’s paths. However, there are even far simpler, paved trails near the Erie Canal or by many local parks and playgrounds.

One of our favorite nature trails is actually located on a local college campus. Several of our colleges have nature trails that are free and open to the public, and the PERFECT opportunity for little ones to discover nature and get some energy out.

Hands-on museums.

Whether science/STEM, history, art, or good old-fashioned children’s museums, a lot of museums actually offer a fun opportunity to take in some scenery and make a day of it.

Within an hour’s drive in any direction, we have a science museum, a “farmers’ museum” (which is a mostly-outdoor living history experience with a fun farm tie-in), several art museums that house a broad range of artists and styles (and, often, a drawing opportunity for the kiddos), and even a close-by children’s museum.

And if a museum isn’t enough outdoor activity (it varies from place to place), I’d also suggest bringing a picnic lunch along to bring the conversation outside afterwards.

Farmers’ markets.

I’ve been itching at the chance to get back to the market. It’s not that we don’t have a winter market (we do), but with the cold weather, the crops are limited to root veg (and, honestly, anything that’s shipped in…which is disappointing).

Nope, it’s time to buy pints of berries that the kids down before we even get to the car and plan meals around the fresh ingredients. We know a good number of the farmers so it’s like seeing old friends again. It feels like everyone is coming out of hibernation so grabbing a fresh-squeezed lemonade and sack of produce in the warm sun is beyond refreshing.

Zoos.

This one can be a hot button topic, and I understand why. A general view of zoos as entrapment of wild animals is incredibly valid.

I’m lucky to say that while our local zoo is small, it’s dedicated to its impact on the world; namely, their animals are rehabbing creatures. So, make sure that you research the zoo before you go if its stewardship matters to you.

Parks and playgrounds.

This is a simple, obvious one, but for our kids, the first slightly-chilly, super muddy trip to a playground marks the start of the spring/summer season. It’s a must-do.

But, for fun, try to check out as many local parks as possible. Keep track of your favorite elements (whether it has a soft landing, if it was for big kids or little ones, the number of activities, if there was a splash pad nearby, etc) so that you can even pick a new favorite for the year. Our family is on the hunt for our new fave!

The beach.

If you’re lucky enough to have “summer weather in springtime”, this is an obvious one.

At our house, since we still aren’t safe to plant our gardens yet, I’m indulging instead by researching our summer vacation. While not everyone is a beach person in our family (I’m usually one of those “can we go to a historical site?” people but feel the need to stick my feet in some sand once a year), it seems that it’s a general consensus this year. Sometimes planning the vacation is just as therapeutic as going!

Just get in the yard!

Ha. This one is a chore veiled in play, but it counts in my book. Have the littles collect sticks and pine cones; the older ones can dig up your garden to prep for planting.

You can even turn it a tad more fun by allowing the kids to dig for worms or simply play and discover while you try to get things spring ready! Plus, you could also have a picnic or barbecue, fire pit (if your area’s not too dry!), or a backyard movie night to kick the season off right.

Find what makes your area unique.

Every area is special. Ask your local friends on social media to respond with their favorite kid-friendly outdoor activities and revisit the list often throughout the summer. This provides everyone with a fun resource, as well.

 

spring family activities

And while we’re at it, why don’t you chime in down in the comments with your favorite outdoor activity to do with your family? We’d love to hear and have you share your family’s ideas!

If you’ve lived with eczema, you know that it can consist of itchy, scaly outbreaks on your skin that can take some time to soothe and alleviate the condition.

Now, give those symptoms to an infant and you’ve got fussiness and skin scratched raw (and often bloody), plus an awful lot of feeling awful for your beautiful little squish.

At least, that’s how we feel for our 6-month-old, Hannah.

Our older son has dealt with eczema (it’s better now but conditions still pop up) and looking back at how rough his first year was, I’m wondering if some of his overall fussiness was linked to this condition. It’s strange how time away gives you that kind of perspective. (Plus, he was our first so we were all unsure.)

We’ve heard from our doctor and his nurses some suggestions to deal with it, but my husband recently consulted with a dermatologist who opened our eyes a little further to some realities of the affliction. In addition to our own additional research, we’re waterlogged with information! Gah. Sometimes overwhelming, y’know?

I thought that I’d share our experiences, what we’ve been told (and researched), and how we’ll cope with Hannah’s eczema moving forward. Now, I’m clearly not a medical expert (just a mom and a librarian with a pension for over-researching and over-worrying!), so I’m trying to be clear that you should see a doctor or dermatologist to diagnose and determine a treatment action plan moving forward (and that everyone’s situation is different so I could very well be proven wrong), but maybe our story will help you, at the very least, recognize signs in your own family.

eczema struggles lotion

What IS Eczema?

According to the Mayo Clinic, eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a relatively common red, scaly rash that often develops in childhood. It can be seen in the creases of one’s knees, elbows, etc but can occur anywhere on the body (our daughter gets it in her all of her “creases” but especially her neck, belly, around her mouth, and sometimes back).

It varies from very mild to severe and is said to possibly be hereditary.

What to Look For

Some rashes may actually be an allergic reaction, so be sure to see a doctor if your child is displaying signs to rule out something more serious. The main thing that we notice is a scaliness that you can feel when you gently touch the rash (or you can visually notice skin that’s raised a bit). It is also often accompanied by dry skin but should not be confused as merely dry, itchy skin.

We also tend to know when a flare has occurred when Hannah has spots where she has clearly itched that bring blood to the surface (not horrifically but it shows she’s been scratching a lot, even in her sleep).

 

What Causes Eczema?

This is the million dollar question. It’s not altogether clear what causes it but there are “triggers” that seem to make it worse or “flare.” As I mentioned earlier, our dermatologist informed us that it seems to be hereditary. And while there may not be a correlation, those with allergies or asthma are more susceptible to having it.

In our case, my husband has it. All of our kids have a level of eczema (our middle child has a spot that it tends to pop up but it’s very infrequent and relatively mild).

Funny story. Our doctor’s office recently told us to cut out some foods to see if it helps Hannah’s symptoms (since I breastfeed). Of course, we’d do anything for our child’s comfort, so I gave up dairy (cheese! Pizza! Yogurt! COFFEE WITH REAL CREAMER!!! Did I mention cheese?!) and nuts.

Given that she’s naturally sensitive to lots of things, she seemed better some days and the same on others. It’s still hard to say if there’s been any correlation to how she feels or her number of eczema flare-ups.

So, this is when my husband heard from the dermatologist who said that a change in diet may help with allergies…but generally not eczema. Again, heredity is the main culprit, followed by environmental factors (like dust, pollen, cold weather, dryness, etc). Now, because folks with eczema have a higher rate of allergies, this correlation is still being pushed.

There have been some days that Hannah has been happier and her skin still has sporadic, with no rhyme or reason, so we’re not sure currently where her issue stems from.

 

What Alleviates Eczema?

This, however, we’ve got down. We use cool mist humidifiers throughout the house all day to try today get rid of some of the dryness. 

I’m switching detergents for all of her clothes and bedding and have found a more mild bath wash, as well. We’re also trying to get on top of all the allergens in the house and treat it as if she DOES have an allergy, which is a tad daunting.

It gives me anxiety to simply purchase sunscreen, though, thinking that we’re adding yet another factor to the mix! (I know the importance of using it…but I still have anxiety, nonetheless, LOL.)

It’s not fun, but super regular cleaning will help with eczema breakouts that correspond to allergens such as pollen, dust, animal fur, etc. So will a change to spring/summer weather and your wash routine – super mild wash specifically for eczema and lather on mild lotion 2-3 times a day (as needed). I massage it in and let it dry a little before putting cloth diapers on.

Oh, and this is another one for the “all kids are different” storyline, but going a few days in between baths (which makes sense to avoid drying out) makes Hannah scratch MORE. She doesn’t get more moisture from oily skin; she gets drier. So, we do every other day baths to get rid of allergens (and we’ll probably do daily in the summer, but we’ll see).

Moving forward, I’m not sure whether my diet change has helped or not. I know I’ll eventually get cheese back in my life but if there’s no real change, I shouldn’t need to be on the diet in the first place. We’ll continue to treat the symptom of the eczema and be on heightened awareness for allergies and asthma in the future.

finger spreading eczema cream on skin

We’d love to hear your experiences with eczema, as well! Be sure to share in the comments just in case there’s some parent struggling with their own eczema story (and even conflicting medical opinions) to help each other our.

No offense to any dads out there reading this; many of the points made here are totally relevant to you and the overwhelm that you feel, as well. I’m simply writing this from the perspective of a mom.

frustrated woman dealing with stress

After a very long Saturday, as the kids slumbered in their rooms, my husband and I gave each other a hug to appreciate the solitary silence for a brief moment.

But, I realized I couldn’t. My brain was too busy hopping from one thought to the next. I couldn’t slow it or stop it.

I think it’s one of the reasons that I have a hard time reading anymore. Yes, I’m a librarian, so that’s hard for me to admit, but it’s how I’ve been rewired since kids came along. It’s also a central factor as to why, I think, when the kids are all settled for the night, that I tend to sit and allow myself to veg out with my phone. I don’t need my full brain to check out social media (or scour the internet for things I’m researching to buy or do). Shameful, I know. It also, I’m positive, adds to my brain’s constant state of movement.

So, with this state tends to come the overwhelm of never fully feeling like things are “done.” For example, I’m researching a new SUV and between finding a big-but-not-too-big one and a 3-car seat option (that I can find in my area – who wants to get a sitter and drive 40 minutes just to test one that you may not end up with?), my head is spinning. Multiply this with about 20 other jobs ranging from small to large, and the spinning is constant.

Here are some ways that I’m hoping to hit the reset button to both regain my mental well-being and enjoy those around me more while finding the motivation to complete the tasks I need to accomplish. Hopefully they can help you if you’re experiencing a similar situation!

stretching woman in peaceful scene

Make lists.

The act of writing can be soul soothing, but when you’re doing a brain dump, it can actually allow you to sleep at night – even without getting something accomplished. Having them written in words in front of you takes the tasks and to-do list from disorganized thoughts floating around in your brain that you’re constantly chasing, hoping you don’t forget, to real, tangible items that you can cross off as they’re accomplished. Lists work wonders.

Prioritize and use a planner.

Once you’ve made your list(s), look at the immediate “need to do” items; things like buying a gift for someone’s birthday or a deadline at work – anything that has a date set in stone. Fill those in on your planner (and pick a day/time to accomplish the task), then start to fill in other jobs to do per day.

I try to keep it to not TOO many extras per day. I generally try to put one “bigger” item from different areas per day. For example, aside from the usual daily cleaning tasks, I’ll add one job to help me get closer to having spring cleaning done (like going through a closet or wiping out drawers), and I’ll pick a larger task at job to chip away at rather than look at a huge, daunting list.

Pick a relaxation method and try it out (more than just once).

Whatever you pick, give it a solid effort. Use essential oils. Try a meditation app. Journal or write. Do yoga. Even just take a nap or go for a walk outside. Anything is better than nothing, and psychologically just knowing that you’re trying something with a sole purpose of calming yourself and DOING something for yourself gives it a deeper meaning.

Schedule family time, tech time, and relaxation time.

Just like scheduling your tasks in your planner or calendar, do the same for your positive moments. You can keep it more fluid by putting an asterisk and simple reminder for the day: “45 minutes of social media” and “Candyland day!” Then, stay true to it. If you’re relaxing, you’re not watching TV or scrolling through your Facebook feed; you’re doing whatever your selected relaxation activity for the day is.

Knowing that there IS time later for such things as social media or TV help you cut back without feeling totally deprived. It also helps you waste less time on it and be wiser in your overall use of time. It’s the direct link to being more present, as well.

Share the burden.

Look at your chore list and determine what you can “share” with your family. If your kids are old enough to do even simple things like carrying their plates to the sink, dusting, or putting scoops of food in your pet’s bowl, let them know that this is their responsibility. Even if your child is still a baby, talking with your partner about duties you each like or dislike can help you figure out who can do what.

Read something fun.

This could be categorized under relaxation techniques, but I think it deserves its own explanation. I think that we feel like there’s a book that everyone suggests or that we SHOULD read. But with how little time we have for ourselves, we shouldn’t let the obligations take over our choices.

So, read what you WANT to. A guilty pleasure romance or YA book. A reread of your all-time favorite. A short but funny or inspiring self-help book. Or even a magazine (I sometimes get as much out of a good magazine as I do a book, and the visuals and tips fill my bucket).

Just be sure to do it before bed to help you calm the craziness in your brain.

Equate the chores with something you relate to.

This is totally personal preference but by making a connection to the tasks you’re not a fan of, they may be less depressing and more (dare I say?) enjoyable.

For me, I think of old movies. I’m a nut for a good black and white film, especially if the “everyday” is shown. Or I imagine a different time in history (another thing I love). It’s probably why I make a pie or good old recipe every once in awhile.

For being a modern, pretty independent woman, I still like to relate to the strong women who came before me in my family. They swept the floors daily. They didn’t have all the easy tools that we have today (but, admittedly, most of them also didn’t work outside the home, so the “easiness” is split). But putting on big band music or an old movie helps me attack the cleaning with a bit of romanticism…and less dread! Is that weird??

Simplify.

Easier said than done, but by surrounding ourselves with less stuff, less responsibilities, and less obligations, I’m hoping to slow down the hamster wheel in my brain.

This could be as simple (pardon the pun) as cutting back on what social media you use (and using just your favorite) or buying some fun, gender neutral craft kits and games so you always have a birthday gift ready for your child’s classmate’s party. It could be as big as using a capsule wardrobe. Whatever you’re comfortable with!

So, do any of you struggle with trying to turn off the constant worry/planning/figuring going on in your brain? What’s your favorite way to slow down (and get on top of things)?

stash size doesn't matter

A question that pops up so, so frequently is regarding how many diapers you need to cloth diaper. There are guidelines for this (and I’ll share them a bit later), but I’ve come to find out that this is a flexible number.

Stash size can be a very personal thing.

There are those out there who want to #buyallthecloth. It’s almost like a collecting hobby as much as it is a diapering solution. In addition to the excitement of helping the environment and (in theory) saving money, these cloth diaper users also fall in love with the quality and, oftentimes, cuteness of the diapers.

And most of us have bought a certain diaper for exactly that reason. A cute design is everything.

Then there are those among us who choose to use cloth to simplify their lives as much as possible. These parents sometimes choose the cheapest option or sometimes the style that they think will give them the most wear over several children (even if the initial cost may be more). They also scour the buy/trade/sell groups and don’t mind a little cosmetic issue here and there if it’s a good deal.

This parent has a minimal stash size, in general. Their prideful point of contention is that they know exactly the (small) number of dipes that they need to get by. They’ve got it down to a science.

stash size doesn't matter

Personally, I fall between these two (as, I’m sure, many of us do). Because we are part-time cloth diaperers, our numbers are different than most. However, when I go full-time (when the girls are home with us for summer vacation and other breaks rather than at the sitter), I’ve got a large stash that I’ve built up over time. Like, I could (but don’t) go at least 4-5 days before washing…with two in cloth. Eek.

However, I like to compare it to our wardrobes. We all have our favorite clothes, whether for functionally or color or fit (or all three reasons), that we tend to wear over and over. We grab them first and wash them frequently just so that we can wear them again faster. We might as well create a capsule wardrobe just out of those favorites.

I do the same with cloth diapers. The solid colors are my favorites, and I’ll coordinate them to the girls’ outfits when I’m picking out their clothes in the morning. Certain colors just offer more versatility sometimes to fit those outfits better than others. (Although I get excited when a pattern works into the mix, too!)

I might as well have a cloth diaper capsule. I even have a second bin of my lesser favorites…and a third bin of old hand-me-downs that I know I should just sell, but I keep on hand just in case. Why do I keep them? Because my son was in them…? I purged his baby clothes, why don’t I purge his old diapers? Weird how we have psychological attachments like that.

Much like our wardrobes, our cloth diaper stashes say a lot about who we are – and our reasons for cloth diapering. Whether it’s small and perfectly chosen, huge and every color of the rainbow, or a hodgepodge of styles and colors, there is no one way to make a stash.

That said, there are some guidelines to help if you’re just starting your stash and don’t know where to start or are thinking you may want to pare back and aren’t sure how far to take it.

Put simply, Thirsties suggests 20-24 diapers for the newborn stage, 14-18 diapers for 6-12 months, 12-16 diapers for 12-24 months, and 4-8 diapers during potty learning. Every child is different, so this is just a starting point.

Create your stash for whatever needs (or wants) you may have; there’s no one right or wrong answer, just like with parenting itself. Don’t feel guilty for using pre-loved dipes vs. new or if you have five of your favorite print; if you overbought because you can’t get to the laundry as often as you’d like or you challenge yourself to make the fewest diapers work as possible. It’s all about the journey and what helps you reach the finish line easiest, not what works for everyone else.

What does your stash look like? A mix of styles and brands or multiples of your favorite? A perfect rainbow or a hot mess? Expansive or minimalist? We’d love to hear!