Recently, I found myself solo parenting for 11 days. It inspired me to write this post about shortcuts. As doctors and perfectionists, one might wonder: are short-cuts allowed? Are they forbidden? Sacrilegious? We live in a culture steeped in parental guilt, which upholds practices from helicopter parenting to Pinterest- perfect parties. So how does someone with a demanding vocation handle parenting in this milieu? I’ve embraced cutting corners as a busy parent, that’s how.
I suspect no one wants to hear about a doctor cutting corners, and it’s equally forbidden to cut corners in child-rearing, I’m told (by whom? society?). Nonetheless, I’m here to talk about it because I think we need to manage expectations if we want (and want to be) relatively happy, well-adjusted caregivers.
I was talking to a friend, Dr. Julie LaBarba, after recording a podcast together. She’s a pediatrician, nutrition expert, mom of 4, and most recently, a podcaster, as the creator of the Paging Dr. Mom platform. We clicked during our short virtual time together, which is unsurprising, considering she seems to absolutely exude positive regard for others. I enjoyed basking in it as we prepared for and executed our podcast interview. While I appeared slightly rumpled from a nap, Dr. LaBarba was coiffed and pulled together, looking like a gorgeous tomboy in a plaid top, from what I recall. My point is, that she exudes perfection. Not perfectionism, but perfection. And apparently, my imperfection inspired her. During our recording, I said something about embracing shortcuts as a way to thrive through the busyness of being a doctor, mom, creator, and so on. She perked up.
Days after our recording, she sent a sweet voice mail, saying I inspired her, or perhaps gave her permission to be a “drive-through mom” for once. As a lover of healthy cuisine, and as someone who educates others on the topic, she had not allowed herself to cruise through the drive-through for the quick fix, like… ever. If she was going to be “the fun mom,” fast food was not the way. But after our conversation on shortcuts, she did it, and to her surprise, she felt great about it. In a small way, she was embracing cutting corners as a doctor mom.
I’m all for it. First, I could hear the liberation in her voice. Her voicemail made me smile wide, as I rounded the corner on a walk with my little guy. How is this a good thing? Clearly, this is a lady with healthy boundaries in place- she just realized she could relax them every now and then. Hitting a fast food joint wasn’t something she planned to do on a nightly or even weekly basis. But when she hit the local mom-and-pop burger joint, it was novel enough for her and her kids, that they really enjoyed it. And she was taking a shortcut on feeding them dinner at the same time. That’s a win in my book. And sometimes, that’s what parenting is about. We are supposed to enjoy it! It doesn’t need to be an uphill slog, where you choose the “most correct” option every time, at your own expense. That’s my take, anyway.
That’s why I advocate for strategic short-cutting. If I didn’t, I definitely wouldn’t have the time to write these thoughts down or share them with you.
I’ll admit: I’m the kind of parent that will grab a go- container of rice and chicken from the hospital cafeteria for my kid sometimes. I’ll “pre-chew” it with scissors and feed it to my 4-year-old. What he doesn’t want goes in the trash, and there are no dishes to clean. Done! Could I make something myself? Sure. But I love cutting corners. My boy still gets to eat a variety of great foods, and I don’t have to make them. For myself, the shortcut is a pre-made meal from a healthy delivery service. It usually consists of something with too many ingredients for me to buy or chop. It tends to be something my little guy wouldn’t usually eat, but occasionally, he samples. With these shortcuts, we are both taken care of.
You see, I could go home and cook two meals, a healthy-ish one for me, and a toddler meal for him– or I could restrict myself to something he *might* eat, and cook one. But honestly, that would be a chump move after a long day. I mean, if shopping for groceries, cooking, and cleaning really soothed my soul after a long day, I’d do that. Or if I was one of these mythological types of people like my friend Anna (a busy surgeon) who finds doing dishes to be relaxing, I’d totally do that. But I’m not. There are preschool blankets to wash, lunches to prep, and superheroes to play with. There’s Pink Panther on Youtube. Being a busy parent can feel like having an unending list of tasks, yet we also need to relax.
So whenever I see a shortcut, I consider taking it. I don’t fold most of my kid’s clothes, and I don’t sort his sock drawer. Our babysitter might occasionally fold all his PJs. But it’s not something I’ll spend time on. That’s an intentional choice. I guess this is the other answer to the question I’ve commonly encountered, regarding how I “do it all.” Hint: I don’t.
I’m the Clinical Director of my practice, the newest of many hats I wear. I don’t seem to wear them, I seem to accumulate them. I’m on the Brand Experience Support Board for my national practice, in addition to being Chair of my radiology department at the local trauma center. Over the years, it has often made sense for me to take these roles since I’ve been around a while, and I know what I’m talking about. But it means less free time sometimes. And after the meetings and clinical work, do I want to cook two dinners? Nope. I know a lot of parents do this, and I’m not one of them!
I know I might sound like an underachiever, but it’s really more about strategy and flexibility. Some mornings, I will wake up to make my kid oatmeal from scratch, and fry chicken sausage that we picked out together at the store. The reason I do one thing one day and a totally different thing another day? I’m not an underachieving parent, I’m a strategic one. When I don’t have extra time for the fluff, I cut corners, or skip it altogether. My kid is exquisitely well cared for, and at the same time, my approach will (I hope) teach him the art of flexibility. Sometimes we have time to bake, other times we grab what’s left in the freezer. Mom is not going to sacrifice her sleep, sanity, or self-care to appease others. But you’re not going to go hungry, either.
I admit I’m highly privileged and grateful to say my food-related anxiety as it relates to my kid is near zero. He is healthy and thriving. I realize that’s not the case for all parents. We have to cut corners in a way that makes sense for us individually and for our families, too. That may look different in another family in which kids’ needs are different since these can obviously vary. I just use food as an example of something I could go nuts over but choose not to.
What do we prioritize? Driveway picnics. I’ll put our kiddie table and chairs in the driveway for a picnic when Wesley wants. We cherish these unique picnics because they mean time to eat together al fresco. It matters much less what’s actually on the table. It might be a smattering of snacks, like a handful of little cheese wheels, which I threw in my purse on the way out of work. Our having a whimsical moment outside is what really matters to us. It’s not someone else’s version of a perfect meal, but it’s ours.
So what? What if you don’t take shortcuts?
In my experience, taking shortcuts is about priorities. It’s a way to live according to your values. If my bandwidth is sapped by something I don’t value a ton, like meal prep and cleaning, I won’t have the energy to be the sweaty mom at the trampoline park, cackling with my kid over dodge ball. Because I cut corners where possible, I have the energy to chase him around the warehouse-sized trampoline park. I’m grateful for my energy level, but it’s largely a function of my choices– because often, I am willing to de-prioritize or even throw out the rest.
Running errands together. I’ve heard this is something some parents feel guilty over, but I think it’s educational. We go to the post office, and my child thumbs through the birthday cards, and marvels at the automatic doors. He takes in the life experience of running an errand, taking in the sights and sounds of the place, and interacting with the people there. When I need a new light fixture for my rental house, he’s there with me, blazing through the aisles. I teach him about the need to stay where I can see him, and to avoid knocking others over with his enthusiasm.
Taking my kid on errands is a shortcut for me, and it’s a learning experience for him. It’s teaching him about real life. It’s my version of perfect parenting. Why would I feel guilty about that?
The cutting corners philosophy means eschewing a life in which I contort myself around my child’s comfort or entertainment, just so he can be slapped in the face by life later on. Don’t get me wrong, his is a highly privileged life. But I’m not going to make it worse by over-momming or momming myself to death.
Here are some of my favorite short-cuts I’ve enjoyed:
Thistle meal delivery – $100 bucks off your first month when you use this referral link.
Getting a deep clean of the house every month or whenever I get around to scheduling it. I rarely scrub toilets anymore, because then I’d be cleaning mirrors and floors and all the other stuff that comes with it. I used to get a lot of pushback on this (from the other adult in the house, who thought we should do everything ourselves), but for people who employ short-cuts in order to enjoy life more, this is a great one.
Stockpiling hostess gifts for the next time someone invites me over, like a Primally Pure candle. Click here for $10 off. I’ve gifted this brand to discerning hosts with rave reviews. I love all their skincare too.
My shortcut to relaxation: audiobook on the Libby app (free listens or reads from the library without the fear of losing a book in the house!) I love to listen on my commute.
This is my shortcut to put myself to sleep when my mind is a bit too active. It’s accessible for free and a fantastic shortcut to relaxation as well!
Trips to the library. This is easy entertainment, and your tax dollars are paying for it anyway. I can take 30 books out at a time at my local library! Returning them all is another challenge… time to go look behind the furniture for those missing books. Still, it’s worth it! This is an easy shortcut for a parent who wants to feel good about entertaining his or her kids.
Having a stack of kid birthday cards around to grab at the last minute. Who needs extra little tasks to remember every time a birthday comes up?
Hand me downs. Having a friend who can give you hand-me-downs means almost never shopping for a growing kid. It’s made any clothes shopping I do purely supplemental. Hand me downs are an amazing way to cut corners in parenting! Similarly, toy exchanges work well too. Basically, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and what’s old is new again. Just because you make money as a busy doctor doesn’t mean you and your friends should flush it on the kids. Save it for a spa day or a worry-free retirement, both great gifts for your family, who benefits indirectly 😉
In short, take a shortcut. Cutting corners as a busy parent sometimes gets a bad rap, but I’ve learned to embrace it as a powerful strategy to get shit done so I can go back to enjoying my life. I hope you enjoy trying it yourself, and also, you’re welcome.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.