With the craziness of everything going on in 2020 and being at home with your little ones more than ever, things can seem overwhelming to manage as a new parent. We decided to ask Executive Functioning Coach Rachel Levey (PsyM Doctoral Candidate in School Psychology, Rutgers University) to give us a rundown on ways to improve your executive function as a parent. We hope you enjoy!
Executive function is the part of the brain that enables us to plan, focus, manage time, stay organized, set goals, control impulses, etc. As a school psychologist, I was working with students with executive functioning challenges, often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and observed that many of them also had anxiety. It is stressful to constantly be behind with work, lose or forget materials, and have difficulty achieving goals. I decided to become an executive functioning coach so that I could help students gain control of their lives – not just academics, but their social-emotional well-being too. To be perfectly honest, I have struggled with areas of executive functioning myself (pulled a few all-nighters in my day!) It wasn’t until I was in graduate school learning about this stuff that I realized there are tools out there to turn a naturally disorganized person into an organized one.
When we become parents, the demands on our executive functioning increase DRASTICALLY (Do I have enough diapers? Who is going to watch the baby while I work? How can I schedule that appointment without interfering with baby’s nap time?. Simultaneously, becoming a parent creates a lot of factors that make executive functioning that much more challenging (tired, stressed, enough said!). Just like my students, when parents feel behind on their parental tasks, it is overwhelming and can cause a great deal of shame and frustration.
Arguably, feeding is the area of caretaking that requires the greatest amount of executive functioning. I never thought I would be one of those parents that would make my baby’s food. I did not think I was capable of that level of planning, time management, and focus. But with the right mindset and the right tools, I have been serving up my 7-month-old daughter some delicious homemade meals! Here are some tips to being a Carol Brady, even if you’re really a Peggy Bundy.
Write things down. I cannot stress this enough. Even at the ripe old age of 32, I cannot remember anything unless I write it down. I keep a whiteboard in the kitchen so that I can jot down notes about the baby’s food. For example, if I look in the fridge and see that I have a pear that is about to go bad, I jot down a note to use the pear later that day when I am making food. Otherwise, I forget and end up wasting food.
Have tools ready and accessible. The day my Beaba Babycook Neo and Multiportions silicone trays arrived, I knew I had the tools I needed and that got me feeling motivated and excited to start. In addition to having the tools you need, think about where to keep them in your kitchen. For someone who is not naturally organized, having added steps to achieve a goal can sometimes derail focus. If I keep my Beaba cooker in a high cabinet and need to grab a stool just to get it down every time, I may lose my motivation. You are way more likely to use something that is easily within reach.
Use resources when making a plan. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is so much great stuff out there about homemade baby food, including Beaba’s recipe database. When making a grocery list, it totally calms my mind to write down ingredients, so that I am not walking back and forth down the aisles trying to come up with recipes in my head.
Be realistic with goals. There are some fancy recipes out there that sound delicious, but if a recipe involves an ingredient that I don’t usually buy, I skip it. It is much easier to plan adult meals and baby meals when I am buying items that can be used for both. It is also important to be realistic about the meal prep. While it seems awesome to make meals for a whole month at once, that may end up being too time-consuming and overwhelming. Find the amount of prep that works for you. I usually pick three different recipes and make around 16 oz. of each.
Set a time to make the food and make it fun. For some people, it works better to set an exact time (I am going to make food on Sundays at 9:00 am). For me, I prefer setting a goal (I will make some food before Sunday night) because it gives me some more flexibility. While preparing the food, I will sing out loud to music or have a guilty pleasure reality show on in the background. We are way more likely to engage in a task if we know it will be enjoyable.
Be kind to yourself. Some weeks I fall behind on my prep and end up giving my daughter some store-bought pouches. That is okay! Instead of beating myself up, I remind myself that I am doing my best and use it as a growth opportunity. How can I plan better next week? Social media influencer parents can be great for learning about new products and being inspired, but do not compare yourself to them! It is their job to capture themselves with smiles on their faces and make everything look easy. When we get into that spiral of falling behind and feeling shame, we often want to avoid the task altogether. When you fall off the baby food making wagon, don’t judge yourself. Have some self-compassion and gently get back on.