I’m a mother of 4, pediatrician, and yogi. I am passionate about taking care of children and the Earth, as I know ultimately we can not do one without the other.
What is your biggest strength as a mother?
This is a tough question for me. I imagine the answer changes as I experience the different challenges but right now I would say my biggest strength is holding space. When my kids are feeling stressed, scared, worried, sad- whatever the current struggle is for them, I focus on listening and truly hearing them with the intention of only that. I think I used to think I needed to fix their problems or line up with their feelings of struggle so they could feel my love and support. Now I hold the space of knowing that whatever struggle they are experiencing, it is “ok”. I mirror this back to them both with my words and my emotions, but mostly this is a non-verbal response–a heart centered, energetic response. I remind myself and remember they have the inner strength and knowledge to find their way. It’s freeing to know that they can do this (whatever ‘this’ is) — that they are more than capable and I am free to continue to see them as they truly are, strong, brilliant, loving, evolved spiritual beings.
How do you spend your time with your children?
I am a working mom so my time with my children is short but I cherish this time. I most enjoy playing with my kids, cuddling on the couch and hearing the stories of their day, foot rubs, swimming, reading, living room dance parties, and bedtime prayers.
What got you into working with children?
I was born interested in taking care of children! Honestly I don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t feel the passion for taking care of children. When I was very young, I played with dolls. Always the mother, rarely the doctor. I used to daydream about having children…LOTS of children. I would dream of how I would care for them and get lost in the details. I remember fantasizing about having a laundry shoot and organizing my 12 children’s lunches boxes…weird yes. My favorite book as a child was Baby Island- where a little girl gets stranded on an island with 4 babies!
When I brought home my 1st born son, Liam, from the hospital, I remember very much NOT feeling like an expert. I had studied pediatrics at that point for 3 years and was humbled by motherhood! Of course on a bigger scale, many times a day, I am learning new information, and am humbled by the complexity of our universe. The more I come to understand, the more I realize there is to learn! So multiple times a day, I don’t feel like an expert…more like a student.
What was your start to motherhood like?
My journey into motherhood started with some of my first memories, as I always dreamed of being a mother. As I went to college, then medical school and residency, I struggled with this inner pull. I was unclear how it was I was going to become a mother and it was definitely something I worried about. We started with fur babies, holding off during residency. It felt like the wait was forever! We had our first at age 30…and the fun began!
Do you have any advice for the working mom?
My understanding of how to be a working mom has changed over the years. I used to think I had to do it all…be there for everything. But that got me to the point of exhaustion. I realized the time I spent with the kids was more connecting and harmonious when I was rested, so I had to let go of being the everything to my littles, trust and be grateful for my community tribe. I also quickly understood that over-scheduling was easy to do, and although I am social by nature, time with friends was time not spent with the kids. I cherish the time I have with my children. My goal is to be as present as possible when I am home and above all be kind to myself when that balance I seek isn’t happening…a continual work in progress.
What is the most common advice you give to parents? Is it common for parents ailments to be related to their children’s ailments and vice versa?
Yes, very commonly children’s ailments mirror their parents ailments. It is often not directly recognized by the parents, as the symptoms of the same imbalance will evolve with age over time. For example, ADD/ADHD in children can have similar biochemical imbalances or nutritional needs as depression or anxiety in the parents. Additionally, as the body adapts to the imbalance, the symptoms change. A common example is microbiome dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bugs) in an infant may manifest as eczema/colic/GERD, then evolve in toddlerhood into constipation/diarrhea/tantrums/poor sleep, and in childhood into recurrent abdominal pain/headaches/ADHD, and finally, in adolescence or adulthood, into depression/anxiety/mood swings/addictions. It makes sense that because parents and their children share both similarity in genetics and –much more importantly–environmental exposures (in the form of food, toxins, stress), that their body imbalances would be the same.
The most common advice I give to parents is the same advice I give for the care of their child. Empower them with the tools to heal and optimize their well being with food, sleep, exercise and spiritual/emotional practices. Reminding them of the power of food and nutrition, as often by just changing the food we eat, we create healing. People can recover from conditions that traditional medicine has thought to be chronic and fixed, like depression, ADD, obesity, eczema, migraines, arthritis, chronic fatigue, Autism, etc.
What are some basics you believe all parents can practice with their children?
Dr. Kim John Payne, author of one of my favorite books, “Simplicity Parenting”, http://www.simplicityparenting.com describes how to use the power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids. Having predictable rhythms and rituals, decluttering our home environment, decreasing sensory overload, filtering media and ‘adult’ talk are other helpful ways to de-stress our child’s experience.
Parenting basics (adapted from Simplicity Parenting with Nicole’s thoughts)
1. Simplify. It sounds simple but it can be one of parenting’s hardest jobs. Parenting today poses a new challenge: How to navigate through the “hyper/super” everything to find balance between enjoyable and productive stimulation and stressful over stimulation. Children can be continually overwhelmed with too much stuff, too many choices, too many activities and too little time. In the past, sports, extracurricular activities, toys and parties were universally viewed as opportunities for enrichment and joy. Yet there can be too much of a good thing and we find ourselves functioning as a gate keeper of sorts. With too much “doing” and not enough “being”, our daily lives can become disconnected from the ideals we hold for our family.
2. Make room for play. Free, unstructured playtime is a critical piece to every child’s day. Down time or free play should be at least a third of a child’s day. Down time is not time watching TV or playing computer games! Free play is a child’s blank canvas, where their creativity is inspired and nurtured.
Nicole with her crew goofing off
3. Get outside and active everyday, rain or shine. We know when people spend as little as 30 minutes outside, it increases their cognitive function by 150%! Children especially need this release and if you can build it into your rhythm at least twice a day, that’s ideal.
into the woods
4. Choose healthy foods. I believe food is medicine. The kind we give everyday! Too often today our children are overfed and undernourished with a diet high in processed carbohydrates and sugar. We’ve all witnessed our kids bounce off the wall from sugar and then crash and burn 2 hours later. This roller-coaster is stressful to them (and me!). With colorful, fresh, whole foods, you can’t go wrong.
5. Create space and time for eating. When children eat while watching TV, in a rush or on the go, not only do they often over or under eat because they are too distracted to sense their body’s hunger or full cues, but their digestion function is inhibited. We need to REST to DIGEST. Being mindful of eating, taking our time to chew, and avoiding distractions increases stomach acid in a good way. Without appropriate levels of stomach acid, we can’t extract micronutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium or B vitamins from our foods, and children need these to feel good.
6. Provide consistent sleep rhythms with an age appropriate bedtime. Too often children go to bed an hour or more later per night than recommended and this lost sleep accumulates. Children have an internally set wake time and often will wake up at that time irrespective of what time they went to bed. This makes them especially vulnerable to sleep deprivation if they do not have early enough bedtimes. I have witnessed over the years that many children’s struggles with attention, behavior and moods, vanish when provided adequate sleep. Have the goal of 11-12 hours/night for most children.
7. Commit to special time. One of my most treasured tips for stress relief is the intentional daily time with mom or dad. I call this special time, and what makes it special is that during this time, nothing else matters, except your child. You commit to giving them your undivided attention for that pre-planned amount of time. No cell phones, computers, or even dishes! Now you probably think I’ve fallen off my rocker, but it is doable. The length of time can be as short as a few minutes and the benefits are so rewarding. I will often recommend this when children are having recurrent behavior problems or mood concerns, but every child benefits. It’s natural at bedtime particularly for children to need to decompress from their day, and having a parent willing to listen really helps. Actions speak louder than words and we send a strong message with this action–that they are worthy of our time, love and attention!
8. Nurture your children’s sense of belonging. Our child’s sense of community can be fostered by activities in schools, churches and sports but most rewarding can be the community of your family. Having fun and adventure as a family helps children feel secure and proud of who they are and where they come from. Make family time a priority– game night, living room dance party, bike ride, or creative spontaneous adventures!
9. Be aware of the emotional tone of your home. As adults, what we remember from our childhood experience is not what our parents said or specific conversations, but more often how we felt and what our home and family life felt like to us. What does your home feel like to you? Is it light and cozy? Or heavy and serious?
Children are excellent at deciphering a parent’s emotional state and it’s important that our feelings are congruent with our words. If we are angry or frustrated, it can be confusing and stressful to the child if we tell them we’re not. There is deep comfort for children to witness their parents recover from a struggle, modeling for them the truth that everyone experiences times of frustration, anger or sadness and that too will pass. That being said, it doesn’t help to tell them the details of the experience that is causing you struggle, as that will cause them worry.
Of course contrast and struggle are an important part of the human experience and we wouldn’t want to protect them from all of it, even if we could. Working through difficult or stressful experiences builds our children’s confidence, capabilities and character. Better our goal be to support them as best we can so they have what they need to overcome their challenges.
And finally, if we are less stressed, children will experience less stress. By taking care of you, you are taking care of them! I find taking a few deep breaths and a few seconds before I dive into what the moment has brought helps a lot. It’s important to have appropriate expectations about what good parenting looks like, since no one can make you feel more pressure than yourself. Parenting is messy, with times of chaos, sprinkled with times of greatness. Just like life in general, it’s a journey. We can never get it perfect and we’ll never get it done. We can only try our best, but that is enough!
snuggly snow cuties
Oh Mama, we are honored to have you share your words with us. Thank you for the breath of fresh air and parenting advice!