If you struggle with ongoing stress that feels like too much to handle at times, I can relate!
I’m Diane Moca, founder of MomSub, the app that delivers affordable, trusted, neighborhood childcare through a community of moms helping moms. I want to give you more calm, confidence and clarity by reducing your stress, mom guilt and self criticism through help and inspiration from others.
That’s why I’m sharing these 12 Hacks to Master Family Life, which I shared through three different videos in my Facebook “Dose of Inspiration” series. I’ve developed these hacks over years of listening to thousands of hours of audiobooks about topics like success, self-improvement, and making money as well as interviewing more than 100 different moms about their successes and failures relating to kids, relationships, work and everything else we juggle in life. In addition to learning about all of this, I implemented strategies I picked up from others to see how they did — or didn’t — work for someone like me, a mom who thought of myself as both a working mom and a stay at home mom because I worked part time and still expected I could do all the things a stay at home mom could do. (Note to self: That actually does not work.)
I’m proud of you for wanting to learn more about improving your life, and I hope you join other like minded moms who want to do the same in our community of moms helping moms at MomSub.com.
These hacks are especially timely during busy and stressful times. I often find myself a week away from a big event when I thought I would have everything finished in advance, yet I have not bought all the gifts, haven’t yet planned out the meal, and haven’t wrapped anything. I used to stress about all that, but not anymore. In fact, after learning some tricks from other moms and mentors, I figured out how to hack my way to get through it all even when I’m way behind on my to-do list. I’m not disappointed in myself, because I know I plan my life around my priorities. And while my family is of course a big priority, it’s not my only priority.
I want to share 12 areas of life where I have used the following hacks to reduce my stress and self criticism. Since I incorporated these hacks into my life, I have increased my calm, confidence and clarity. You can use these hacks to master each of these critical aspects of life by understanding where you are in your current journey.
We all want the same things for ourselves, our kids and our families. There are 12 areas that are important to us as moms:
- Self Image
- Financial Security
While efforts to improve these areas are universal and worthy, remember that the goal is not to get to one particular destination. No one reaches a certain place, relaxes, and decides they are done. They see someone else at the next level, and decide they must attain more. The slim woman works out to get toned. The college graduate attends webinars to learn new skills. The well paid executive invests to build passive income. We often spend so much time striving to achieve the next goal, we forget to notice how much we already have. So start by embracing your current baseline, even if it’s far from where you want to be. It will help you tremendously to be grateful for what you have today, right now, before you begin to measure progress on your way to improvement.
Here are my perspectives and specific examples for each of the 12 areas based on 20 years of research, testing, recognizing victories and learning from mistakes during my motherhood journey.
Some days we feel lousy, pushing through headaches, nausea, or sore joints. Other days we glide around with ease. If most days you don’t need to lie down and you have no pain throughout your day, then you are healthy. Be grateful. Revel in the knowledge that you do not face each day with discomfort or worry you will need insulin or an inhaler. Many of us are lacking in energy because we just don’t get enough sleep. Isn’t that what coffee is for? There are better ways to feel more energized.
If more than half the time you are battling colds or a chronic condition or feel run down and tired, then you can take simple steps to improve your health. You can feel better by adjusting three main things: what you eat, what you do, and your mindset. Okay, those are three BIG things. But did you know our habits control those three things more than anything else? Buy vegetables and fruits and nuts and keep some with you at all times. Don’t buy snack foods like chips and candy. Move every day, even if it’s chasing around a toddler or parking at the edge of the parking lot. Forget work and chores and go to sleep in time to get 7 to 8 hours of rest. That one is tough. You have to let go of the tendency to have your house and career in order. And when you feel aches and pains, jot them down to share with your doctor and then focus on something else. Distraction works as well for your health as it does for a baby.
These are not easy fixes, but they are simple. You can grasp the idea and then take small steps each day to adjust bad habits by replacing them with good habits. Change one bad habit at a time by replacing it with one new habit. It takes 30 days for a new habit to stick. Be patient. Give yourself time, and stick with it. You’ll be so glad you did!
We feel stressed when we are doing so much for others that we don’t have time for ourselves. Studies show we experience more joy when we make time to do something we want to do, even if it’s one small thing each day. How can a busy mom find that time? By asking for help. Remind your husband to do the dishes. Order groceries online. Drop off your kids with a friend for an hour. When you delegate one of your tasks to another person every day, and use that time to do something you enjoy, you’ve invited happiness into your life.
Everyone has their own level of tolerance when it comes to cleanliness and order, and you have to find yours. But you can’t demand perfection in all areas. If you are super uptight about messes but not about nightly baths for your kiddos, don’t feel bad when you hear about other moms who never miss a bath. Their house may not be as tidy as yours. Figure out the most important area to you, take pride in how well you maintain that, and let everything else go. It takes practice, but keep reminding yourself that you are doing well in the aspect of life that matters, and the rest is a lower priority.
My top effort was put towards guiding my children’s education and extracurriculars. I spent many hours every week planning and attending all kinds of activities for my kids. It meant that my house was not as clean and organized as I wanted, that my financial life had more debt than savings, that my career was not progressing. But I finally accepted that it is a myth you can have it all, all the time. I focused on the one thing that I wanted more than the others and accepted that I would change my focus as my kids got older. And I did. It worked for me.
The biggest threat to your child’s life is not someone abducting him or some disease crippling him. If your child is under 5 years old, then drowning and suffocation are the top dangers they face. For kids ages 5 to 19, car crashes are the top killer. And suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers.
During the majority of his childhood, your kid is most at risk by something you do with him regularly — drive. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drive, or you should worry about driving your kids. But you should put all the other fears in perspective. If your child is strapped into the proper car seat every time he is in a vehicle, then you can take solace in knowing you are taking the right steps to keep him safe. So buckle up yourself and your kids every single time you are in any vehicle, no matter how short the drive is, and your family has achieved a critical level of safety.
Drowning and suffocation are the leading cause of death for kids under 5. If your baby sleeps on her back in a crib or bassinet by herself with no pillows or blankets, then you are practically eliminating the biggest risk in her life. If a responsible adult is supervising your child at all times he is awake during his first five years of life, then you are minimizing the chance he will wander towards a kiddie pool, bathtub, toilet or other source of water when no one is looking.
For teens, if you notice a change in behavior, it’s time to seek help from a therapist, psychiatrist, or other professional. While it is normal for teenagers to be moody, it is a sign that something is wrong if they are consistently sullen and withdrawn. Never take anything your teen utters about hurting themselves or suicide lightly.
Though my daughter mentioned suicidal thoughts on and off for two years while battling depression, I never thought she would attempt such a drastic step because she had never harmed herself. She had never cut herself and said she never had a plan to kill herself. I was wrong. She made a very serious suicide attempt one day when she “couldn’t handle it all,” as she told the doctor later. We are lucky she is alive, and I don’t ever want any parent to suffer the fear and panic we did when my daughter left home one morning and turned off her phone and didn’t come back. We found out later she took a large amount of pills. For nine hours while she was missing, I was worried more about other people in the world who might have tricked her and harmed her than I was about her hurting herself. I was in denial. I later discovered the biggest threat she faced was herself. Now I make sure to monitor her mood and get to know her friends, and I stopped discussing anything that stresses her out — from school to work. I let her bring up those topics to minimize the pressure she feels about always trying to meet everyone else’s standards.
Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, and it is more common than you may realize. Validate your child’s feelings, no matter how insignificant their problems may seem to you. Get them help. If you are having trouble getting in to see a mental health professional, then take your child to the ER. If you are communicating with a teen every day and reaching out when your instinct tells you something is not right, you are reducing one of the main dangers in their life.
As moms, we’ve all faced crises. Mine was a huge and scary one, because my daughter ended up in the hospital for two weeks. I worried about her mental health every day for months and months after that. But eventually she showed signs of managing her illness in healthy ways on her own. I found out my constant worry was causing her anxiety, which could be a trigger to make her situation worse. So I learned to control my fears and pay attention to true warning signs and not every little problem.
Life can be challenging. We can go all day without laughing or feeling relaxed. Sound familiar? If you feel like you’re on edge all the time, find a sanctuary. I discovered one way to find some solace and be relaxed even for a small part of the day is to have just one room in your house that you make sure and keep reasonably tidy. You can make a rule to keep the toys out of that room. You can do your best to straighten it up and relax in that room at the end of the day after the kids go to bed. Even if everything else in your home and your life feels like a disaster, you have that one room where you can feel comfortable and not be reminded of all the things you think you should be doing.
Another method that helped bring more comfort to my life was to finally let go of some of the things that used to bother me. I hated disorganization, but I just couldn’t keep up with everything coming into my life when I had kids in a variety of activities and I had multiple businesses I was running. The clutter around my house was constant. Even when I barely slept, I couldn’t sort through and categorize everything the way I wanted. I shoved groceries in the frig and cabinets as quickly as I could and hated that they weren’t neatly stacked up. But I made a choice that the kitchen organization wasn’t as important as saying yes to my kids who wanted me to sit down to play a game with them in the short window of time after getting home from the store and before leaving for karate class. I got comfortable with far more chaos than I used to tolerate, so I could enjoy spontaneity with my kids and even relax for a few minutes without the stress of feeling that I had to fix everything.
I want you to realize that other moms’ houses don’t look as perfect as the pictures they post on social media. A photo is a snapshot in time. Life looks like that for a second. By the next hour, her kids may be spilling juice and crying while she’s trying to sort laundry on the couch. It’s hard to be comfortable when you are uptight that other moms have it all under control, and you don’t. Remember that other moms aren’t as put together as you think, and that’s okay. It takes practice and affirmations, but you can be comfortable with imperfection in our lives, our homes, our appearance. Most days I’m not wearing makeup. I’ve even taken Zoom calls in my pajamas. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that since my pajama top looks like a shirt?!) As Queen Elsa sings, learn to “let it go.”
You also bring more comfort into your life when you help others, because sometimes they reciprocate the favor. Doing things for others makes us feel good, and then it gets us closer to another person. It develops that connection, and that connection adds to your comfort because the more people we feel comfortable around, the more often we can be our authentic selves and the more comfortable we are overall in life.
For many of us, our primary focus is on our kids’ school. We want them to get the best education, and we spend a lot of time worrying about this and often helping them with homework and organizing their assignments and supervising their learning. It’s important to keep all of this in perspective. While there are studies that show certain degrees and certain universities increase chances of success, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the kids who go to those schools and get those degrees already started ahead in many cases, coming from families of wealth. If you’re not in that 1%, you want your kids to grow up to be productive and enjoy their work. So many people make a good living who don’t go to college. So many people go into fields that are not lucrative and become successful. Education is not just about school. If your child struggles in school, then academics should not be their only focus. Find something they are good at to boost their confidence and have them educate themselves about that — it can be sports, crafts, gaming, anything that makes them happy as long as it is safe and legal. But the education piece is not just about your kids. We all can improve our lives if we believe that there is always more to learn. I listen to audiobooks almost every day. Some people read. Some watch webinars or documentaries or get new certifications in their fields. Education should be something that you and all members of your family consider a high priority — but it doesn’t have to be schooling and classes and degrees. It could be learning about gardening or a cause you want to promote. For both you and your kids, think outside of the box when it comes to education, and you won’t feel so much pressure to conform to some societal standard of what it means to be smart or accomplished.
6. Self image
This may seem similar to success, but it’s not. We usually define success by things we have — like a good career, a happy marriage, a big house. But we define self image by who we are. I am a short Italian who annoys people because I talk a lot. I am also a petite sassy woman who communicates well. The first description is a negative self image. The second one is positive. They both describe the same attributes of me. There are things we can’t change about ourselves, and we not only should accept them but embrace them. Even if we change our outward appearance and lose weight or get a new hairstyle or get cosmetic surgery, it won’t improve our self image in the long run if we don’t love ourselves no matter how we look or who criticizes us. It’s not easy, but keep remembering that what others think of you should have no influence on what you think of yourself.
7. Financial Security
If you are struggling with debt and financial insecurity, I have definitely been there, done that. This hack is especially timely right now because so many people are facing money problems due to inflation. I’ve been through tough times like these before. During the last recession, my husband and I both lost our jobs, which were not high paying to begin with. So we didn’t have savings. We did have a side business we had started that also took a hit during the economic downturn. Thanks to mentors and books and courses, I figured out how to hack my way out of my financial mess and my emotional breakdown.
Financial security is an area that can do the most emotional damage when you are in the midst of dealing with it. The first step to dealing with financial insecurity is to admit the problem and the extent of the problem to yourself. When I was struggling financially, I was trying to make money in different ways from different sources as a freelancer and business owner, so I didn’t really know how much was coming in and out. I had credit cards to pay for any expenses that came up, whether they were for business or personal. When it got to the point where I was adding more to my debt every month because my expenses were exceeding my income, I kept telling myself it was temporary. I was maxing out credit cards and thinking I would catch up later. It finally hit me hard when I was at the grocery store and couldn’t take my cart full of groceries home because my last available credit card stopped working. That was the day I realized I needed help.
This is hard for a lot of us. Many moms like me believe we can do it all ourselves. I didn’t know where to turn. I had family who could lend me money for groceries that week, but what about next week? And the week after? I had to find a long-term solution because my problem had gotten worse over time and was going to take time to get better. I did something I never thought I would do, something a lot of people in this country do who never expected to do. I went to a food pantry. I didn’t even know if I would qualify. I did. I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself. After leaving there with a full load of groceries, I felt the release of a huge burden. The people there all wanted to help me. They didn’t judge me. I cried on the way home. It’s not something I wanted to do, but it was such a relief knowing I could feed my family no matter if I made money that week or not.
When you have major money problems there are three main things you HAVE to do — reduce expenses, increase income and change your mindset. I know this is a theme for a lot of my hacks, but it is a big factor. It’s not the only factor, but it makes a difference. I am proof of that.
Of course you should stop spending money on frills like restaurants and entertainment. You still eat, but it’s cheaper to cook yourself. You still have fun, but you play games you have and watch free movies. And if you still don’t have enough money to cover basic necessities, you have to be resourceful. There are lots of other ways to be resourceful. For years, I got my kids free clothes and books and toys and sports equipment and even big gifts like a swing set from freecycle.org. There are other communities like this where people offer to give away items for free to anyone willing to pick them up. Check them out and appreciate the givers. People love to give when it is appreciated.
In terms of increasing income, that is very tough when it’s a hard time to find good-paying work. When you can’t find a job — and we looked for months and sent hundreds and hundreds of resumes with very little results — you have to take side gigs. At one time I had seven part-time jobs.
No matter how much you decrease expenses and increase income, you will continue to have money problems if you are approaching the world from the perspective that you are lacking. Your mindset makes it so much harder to escape your money problems. For years I heard the experts tell me I had to approach the world from a place of abundance, that there is plenty of money out there for me and everyone else. It’s just a matter of knowing it will come to me. That is so hard to do when you have more bills to pay than you have money coming in. It doesn’t make sense, but it is true. I was only able to turn around my finances after I turned around my attitude. It is not easy, but it is possible. But remember you have to do that while you are working on the other two ways at the same time – decrease expenses and increase income. They all work together.
Success is tricky, because when you feel you are struggling financially, you feel like a failure. But money doesn’t define your success. And success is not a destination. It is a journey. You may have certain goals that you don’t reach, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t successful. I worked for years as a television reporter and always wanted a job at a network station in my hometown, but I never got one. I finally learned that I shouldn’t be disappointed in myself, that I should be proud I worked in a position I loved at a network station in Milwaukee. I know many former classmates from college who wanted to be TV reporters and never even got that first job in the industry, or moved up after their first job at a small station. Celebrate your wins and remember how far you’ve come. You can always find people who have done more, but you can also always find people who envy where you are. Be your own cheerleader. I am proud of where you are because you are here, trying to improve yourself and your life. That is a HUGE step. Moving towards success shows you are already successful and have a success-oriented mindset. So congratulate yourself for that.
We hear about passion a lot and hear we should nurture our passion. You may even preach it to your kids, to find something they love and pursue that as their career. It may seem noble to encourage this, but it should be tempered with realism. It’s exciting to watch kids get involved in sports and music, but few people ever make a living that way. Los Angeles is filled with out of work actors, singers and screenwriters. I know. I lived there and saw friends struggle for years who never made enough to pay the bills doing what they loved. Our family suffered financially as well because my husband and I followed our dreams to go into the music and media industries, which is a very tough way to try to support a family in the suburbs in the 21st century.
Yet I’m talking about passion because it is critically important in life. We are all happier when we find something we are passionate about and love to do so much that we get caught up in the zone and time flies whenever we’re engaged in that activity. But it doesn’t have to be your career. It doesn’t even have to generate revenue. It can be something you do for money or for fun or to benefit others. So pursue your passion with gusto, or try different things until you find it. But keep your day job and keep your options open. Financial stability is critical when you’re a parent. If you worry that you won’t have time for a passion unless it’s your job, find a way to get your kids involved. If you love to paint, get them an easel too. You’re more likely to spend time on something you enjoy if you don’t have to sneak away to do it every time. And it’s always great to be a role model to show your kids that even adults love to play in our own way.
Sometimes your passion becomes more than a fun hobby. It can become a guiding light in life that is even more important than a career — and I’m talking about purpose, which is separate and critical too.
For many moms, our purpose is our children. And that is a beautiful thing. But it shouldn’t be that way for the rest of our lives. Our kids will grow up and move out and get lives of their own.
Even if that seems so far in the future for many moms, it can add a sense of resolve to our lives if we recognize that there is more after our kids have left the nest.
I didn’t think much about this until my kids were teens, and then I started to realize there would be a whole new future in front of me that I could embrace rather than fear. So I started to write more, something I’ve always done as a journalist, but this time my writing became more personal. I started a blog and began detailing my experience as a mom, both the ups and the downs, so I could share all of the lessons I had learned with other moms.
And I realized my purpose was to find a way to bring calm and confidence to the lives of stressed out and self critical moms. You might already have a strong purpose — maybe as a lawyer who represents victims poisoned by tainted water or a chef who brings home-cooked meals to shelters for battered women or someone who designs home remodels to bring beauty to people’s lives. Whatever your purpose is, it’s okay to know that you are or will be enlightened by something beyond your kids that will fill you up in ways you never imagined. That’s how I feel every time someone tells me one of my blog posts or videos gave them insight, motivation or inspiration that resulted in more happiness in their life.
Contribution doesn’t require you to have extra money and time. It’s about opening up your heart, which moms are great at doing when it’s a natural part of everyday life. We want to show our kids it’s important to give back, but it often feels like another thing to tackle on our to-do list. The best way to contribute to your community is to do something that easily fits in your life.
If you know you’re going to be helping your kids with their math homework a lot this semester, it wouldn’t take much extra effort to offer to tutor another child in the same class at the same time. Think how grateful that mom will be when she sees your email inviting your child’s classmates to soak up your expertise during a joint homework session. Imagine the lesson you’re teaching your kids about helping others.
Contribution doesn’t mean you have to spend an afternoon cleaning a park. The volunteering I did at my kids school was to coordinate the activities for the class party because I loved event planning. Contribution also doesn’t mean you have to give money to charity. My kids had so many great books and clothes and toys when they were young because I was part of the freecycle.org community of parents who donated their discards instead of throwing them away. Now I pay it forward by giving members of that community my kids’ clothes from when they were younger. Donating to nonprofits is wonderful, but sharing your cast-offs with your neighbors and your talents with your acquaintances can be just as heartfelt — and helps build your tribe of friends too.
The best part about including this kind of contribution in your life is that you can pick something that you really enjoy. Blend your contribution with your passion and purpose, and you’ve got a winning combination.
If you are feeling isolated, lonely or lost, it’s time to make a change! You can cope with a craving to connect that you can’t seem to conquer. Community is something scientists say all humans need to survive. Many of us question if we have it — even when it may be more accessible than we realize. We don’t reach out to those we know often enough — when we are struggling we don’t want to burden others or seem weak, when we have a big win we don’t want to seem like we are bragging when others may be facing problems, and when we feel alone we think we may be bothering others who are busy.
Forget all those “reasons” not to connect with moms you already know. They will be happy when you reach out, even if they can’t text back right away. Try to schedule time to meet in person or at least on Zoom. It’s a lot more personal than texting or emailing or even talking on the phone.
I was greatly comforted by my friends during a very tough time when my daughter was struggling with mental illness. I was actually pretty blown away that eight different mom friends reached out by text after seeing a social media post my son created when his sister was missing. I’ve known these moms since my kids were little, but now that my kids are grown, I rarely talk to or see these moms these days. Sometimes I used to feel like I didn’t have any close friends anymore, but I realized that tribe is still there for me. Just hearing that they were thinking about us and checking in to see how my daughter was doing meant a lot to me.
Since I’ve been in touch with those moms I hadn’t talked to in years, I found out so many of them are confronting a similar kind of crisis that I was with a teen or young adult child who has mental illness. It saddens me to know so many parents are dealing with this, but it is important that I don’t think our family is the only one, because we’re not. This is especially timely right now because mental illness has become an epidemic. It can have such a detrimental impact, but it lessens the blow when there others in our lives who can truly relate to our challenges.
Did you know that humans are pack animals who are not meant to survive alone? When our kids are all over us all day, we often just want some peace and quiet away from everything and everyone. But what soothes our soul even more can be talking to another mom friend who could relate to our exhaustion, our worries, and our dreams.
Friends have always been my lifeline. I moved back to the Midwest to start my family here because I wanted to be around my tribe of high school friends. It was great when my kids were little, and I was working part-time. But I created unrealistic expectations that we would continue to see each other often and forge deeper bonds as our kids got older. The opposite happened. Our kids went to different schools in different suburbs and got involved in different activities, and my life became dominated by people and places that didn’t include my old friends.
Instead of reaching out to become part of the mom cliques around me, I clung to the idea that my old friends were more important. But we grew apart, especially when I began working more and had less time to socialize. I finally realized I needed to put in more effort to get to know the moms who were around my kids’ activities — the moms in the bleachers at the soccer games, in the auditorium at the band performances, in the gym at curriculum night. It was as simple as sitting next to them and jumping into the conversations to commiserate as I heard them complaining about the piles of laundry and dishes that never end.
During the pandemic, many of those opportunities got snatched away. Thankfully most in-person events are back. But even if it happens again, there are virtual opportunities for socializing, and some of you might have tried attending meetup groups on Zoom like I have. Even better is a one-on-one call, where you can both have a glass of wine and catch up and laugh. Try to get someone else to watch your kids. Even if you only do this once a week for an hour with four different friends in a month, it forges those friendships that are so important in life.
I also find that getting a side gig you enjoy can force you to get out and build new relationships. I started hosting trivia a few years ago, and during that season in life, that night was the only time I put on makeup and got out of the house. My family knows I have to leave because it’s a “job,” but it’s just as much a social event for me. I’ve gotten to know the regulars at the pub, and spend time with them after my shift is over — not to mention I get paid too. There are so many things like this you can do — as an employee or a volunteer. The best way to meet new people is to do new things, and that includes joining our community of moms helping moms by downloading the MomSub app you can get when you click the pink button here.
I put all this together because I want you to find a better quality of life. I know you can find that as you meet more like-minded moms and contribute to each other — even in simple ways, like admitting our struggles so the other moms know they are not alone in theirs. We all face adversity more than we let show, and we should stop trying to project the image of perfection. It’s a myth, no matter what you see on social media. Perfectionism is actually dangerous, and social media is not real life. Every mom out there should have a regular reminder that she’s doing a great job, that she shouldn’t be comparing her worst day to someone else’s best day that she sees on social media, where we all share only our highlight reel.
One of the ideas behind MomSub is we don’t have to be perfect mothers who never take a break. We need and deserve a break, and you can find a way to get that break by joining our Naperville Area Moms Support Group on MeetUp or our larger community of moms helping moms. You can join that community by going to MomSub.com or joining our Moms Helping Moms Facebook group. We support each other emotionally and connect moms who need childcare with moms who provide it. We give moms a chance to earn income while they are with their kids. You can spread joy to others by giving them time to do something they want to do. When you offer childcare in your home while you’re watching your own kids – basically a playdate – you’re giving someone else a little free time and building a tribe that will reward you with an ongoing feeling of security and comfort.
We’re all about sharing — our ups AND downs, our expertise AND our understanding — in a non-judgmental way with love.
So spread a little of your own love to another mom who needs it. I’m doing it my own way by sharing these hacks with you!