Gillian's Story

In today's episode, I'm bringing you a Journey to Simplicity. I'm chatting with Dr. Gillian Goddard, a physician living outside of New York City with her husband and four kids. Although Gillian's life may feel anything but simple, she and her family have made strides towards finding the balance and rhythm that works for their family.

Show Notes/Links:

Photo by Alison Sheehy

Full Episode Transcription

Denaye:
Hello and welcome to episode 181. Today I am sharing a journey to simplicity. This is Gillian's story.

If you're new to the podcast, you might be new to this series as well. I love to share stories from the Simple Families community of people who are striving to make big life changes to slow down and simplify things within their own families. 

Moving into 2020, I really want to spend next year focused on you. Simple Families is plural. It's not just one simple family, it's not just my family, I want to feature more of you. So whether it be your quotes and your photos on Instagram, your stories on the podcast, I'd like to make your voices heard loud and clear. Since I started Simple Families at the end of 2016, I have seen the community grow so much and I have absolutely enjoyed watching you all learn from and teach one another. So I'm going to be making more space for it.

If you have a story to tell or a little anecdote or a big win, feel free to email me (denaye@simplefamilies.com). And I'm also going to be featuring this Journey to Simplicity series once a month. So if you want your story and your family featured, send me that in an email as well. 

A couple of months ago, an Instagram friend reached out and told me that I have not yet featured any full-time working moms who work out of the home. I featured stay-at-home moms, I featured work-at-home moms, but not yet any work-out-of-the-home moms. So I put out a call to get some candidates and I got an overwhelming response, so many that it was hard to pick from. So as a result, I decided to do two. Today I'm sharing my chat with Gillian from New York, and next month I'm going to be sharing my chat with Marie from South Carolina. So let me tell you a little bit about Gillian. 

Gillian is a full-time working physician. Her husband is a full-time corporate lawyer. They have four kids, three of which were born while Gillian was in medical school and doing her residency. So after I heard that, I was like, "I want to hear what your life looks like, Gillian, because that's a lot. That is a really full plate, managing two busy careers along with four growing children." Not to mention that Gillian and her husband work in New York city and live just outside. I think that there's something substantial about living in a busy city or working in a busy city that your baseline cortisol levels are just high.

Whenever I'm in a busy city, I feel like I'm on high alert and I'm sure that probably fades off the longer that you live there and the more time that you spend there. But nonetheless, I think that there is a certain amount of stress that comes with living and working in an environment like this. In her story, Gillian shares that she and her husband started off on the right foot with their first child and were parenting and buying very intentionally. However, as time went on, they felt like this was slowly slipping away. But despite that, they have been able to turn it around and to slow down and refocus on the things that are most important for themselves and for their four kids. And because she and her husband are not super humans, and they only have 24 hours in a day, many of which of those hours are working, they rely heavily on help. And as you listen to this discussion, you're going to find that the theme of asking for help and taking the help that you need is something that is prevalent and reoccurring.

And it's something that I, here at Simple Families, am a huge proponent of, finding the help that you need, whether it's a paid childcare provider, a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle, a friend that lives up the road. How can we move from the mindset that we are supposed to be the ones doing it all and being it all for our kids, and grow into a mindset that looks toward community and building up community to help support us? Because it's 100% okay and 100% necessary to ask for help. I hope you enjoy my chat with Gillian. 

Gillian:
Hi Denaye, it's so great to talk with you. I'm really looking forward to it.

Denaye:
I'm excited to have you because I realize, actually I think someone brought it to my attention that I haven't had any full-time working moms do a Journey to Simplicity. So I put a call out for full-time working moms to chat with me more about their journey, and you reached out and I thought your story was so great and I wanted to hear more about it.

Gillian:
Oh, well I'm excited to share it.

Denaye:
So tell me a little... You live in Westchester County, North of New York, just like I do. It's a big county, so probably like 45 minutes from me. I'm like the northern point and you're in the southern point. So tell me a little bit about where you're from and who your family is.

Gillian:
Sure. So I'm actually from Arizona. I grew up in the Phoenix area and I moved to New York about 20 years ago right after I graduated from college for a job. And so I lived and worked in New York for a few years and then I met my husband. And right around the time that I met my husband, I decided to go from what I was doing, which was working in public relations for a firm, doing work for pharmaceutical companies, to go back to medical school. So I went to medical school-

Denaye:
So how old were you at that time?

Gillian:
I was 27 when I started medical school. And my husband's actually quite a bit older than I am. He was 39 when I started medical school.

Denaye:
And what type of work does he do?

Gillian:
He is a corporate lawyer and he's at a law firm in New York city.

Denaye:
Okay. So you went back to medical school at 27. Were you married yet?

Gillian:
We got married in April and I started medical school in August of that year.

Denaye:
Wow. That's a huge transition. Had you always wanted to go to medical school?

Gillian:
I had not. I was a journalism major in college, and I had actually never really thought about going to medical school until I started working in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. And I started going to medical meetings and got more interested in medical science and in clinical medicine. And actually I do 100% clinical practice at this point, I don't do research. But at that point I really decided that that was what I wanted to do. So I had not actually done any of the prerequisite courses for medical school as an undergraduate. Organic chemistry is definitely not a requirement for most journalism majors. And so I did a program at Columbia called Post-Bac Pre-medical Certificate program. And they sort of lead you through doing the pre-medical prerequisites to take the MCAT and apply to med school, and then they help with the application process.

Denaye:
Oh, okay. So this is funny. Because growing up I always wanted to be a pediatrician. It was like my job when you were in kindergarten and they ask you what you want to do, I always wanted to be a pediatrician. And got scared away from all the sciency stuff in high school and then ended up getting my PhD in Child Development, which I guess is kind of as similar to a pediatrician as you can get, but non-medical. But as soon as I finished my PhD I told my husband, "I think I'm ready to go to medical school now." And it's kind of been this ongoing joke that I was like, "That's going to be my next step." But that's only kind of half kidding because the idea of going back later in life was one of those things that is daunting. And even at 27 you probably felt you were later in life than most of the other students.

Gillian:
I definitely did. So I had been out of undergrad for about six years at that point. I was married, I owned an apartment, my husband had been out of law school for 10 years, and a lot of our friends were well into their careers. And when I started, the students who went straight from undergrad into medical school could have been like my husband's children.

Denaye:
So they were in a very different life stage?

Gillian:
Yes. So there was a big social divide. I went to Mount Sinai on the upper East side in New York City, and what I found was they really looked for students who had taken a nontraditional route to medical school. And so there was definitely a cohort of us. I was one of the older ones, but there was a cohort of us that were a little bit older who were married or in serious relationships. And so we tended to gravitate toward one another, and many of those people I'm still friends with now. So there was a group of us that kind of hung together.

Denaye:
How long did it take to get through that?

Gillian:
Medical school is four years, and then I did an adult internal medicine residency, and that is three years. So I am a practicing adult endocrinologist, and the fellowship for endocrinology is two or three years. The fellowship I did was two years. So I started medical school in 2005 and I graduated from medical school in 2009. I finished all of my training in 2014.

Denaye:
So what year did you have your first child?

Gillian:
I had my children throughout my training. I had my oldest son at the beginning of my third year of medical school. I had my daughter during my second year of residency. I had my third child, also a boy, at the very end, like the last week of the first year of my fellowship. And then my youngest child who's almost four, I had after I had joined my practice.

Denaye:
I think we could suffice it to say that this was a really busy season for you when you were having your kids and getting through this period of your life.

Gillian:
Absolutely. I actually always joke. My husband's a corporate lawyer and my son was born in the fall of 2007. And we were both so busy going into that, that we actually ran into each other in our entryway of our apartment at 4:30 in the morning. He was coming home from work and I was leaving for work, and we had an argument because we were supposed to have dinner with friends that night. And he kept saying it was tomorrow night. And I kept saying, "No it's tonight." But we were actually talking about the same day, he just hadn't gone to bed yet and I was up and leaving for work. And so I think if you had talked to us then and asked us how we were going to get through this, we would have shrugged at you and had no clue.

Gillian:
And then there was a huge recession, and no one was doing deals and my husband was underemployed. And I really think that helped get us through at least medical school and residency with kids.

Denaye:
From the time that your first child was born, did you have help with childcare? Or how did you manage two busy jobs and a baby?

Gillian:
Yes. So we had a full time nanny, and we actually got her from a friend whose youngest child was going to kindergarten and didn't need full-time help anymore. And because she was waiting unemployed for our job, we started having her come and help take care of my son when he was two weeks old. So we have had full-time childcare since my oldest child was two weeks old. And we have always had full-time childcare. We actually probably have more hours of childcare now than we've ever had, and we have gone through... That first nanny stayed with us for six years, and then we had another nanny for a little while. And now we have a sort of hybrid situation where we have a part-time nanny/housekeeper in the mornings, and then we have an au pair.

Denaye:
Okay. So tell me about these early weeks in motherhood. Were you on some kind of leave or were you still-

Gillian:
I did actually. My medical school leave was one of my two longest maternity leaves. I was off for 13 weeks. Basically, the way medical school works is the first three years are pretty intense and then there's a break built into the fourth year to allow people to travel to go to interviews for residency. However, we knew that we were pretty tied to New York and so I wasn't going to be traveling for interviews. So I pushed off some of my third year work and completed those rotations during fourth year, and instead took a 13-week break during my third year of medical school.

Denaye:
So what was that like for you, the early motherhood? How was your experience?

Gillian:
I think back to that first maternity leave and I don't think I realized how good I had it. My, my son was a little bit fussy and of course we were new parents, so everything seemed kind of big. And I think the first time you're a parent, every stage feels unending. So you don't have the perspective of knowing that pretty much all six-week old babies are fussy, and if by the time baby is three months old, they probably will not be so fussy. And so everything felt kind of big. By the same token, I had full-time help, and my husband actually got four weeks of maternity leave. And so for the very first month it was like we would take our baby out in the stroller and go have lunch sitting outside somewhere in New York. It was actually kind of lovely.

Gillian:
And then I went back to work, and my husband went back to work and I would say thank goodness for our first nanny, because she really made everything smooth. She never missed a day of work in the six years that she worked for us. She was always willing to stay late. So if we both got stuck and couldn't come home, she didn't mind. She was very social and so she met lots of other nannies and lots of other kids. Those were my son's very first friends. And so really she made the transition back to work a relatively smooth one. My husband wasn't working quite the types of hours he had been used to working and not the types of hours he's working now, and so he really took on a primary parenting role.

Gillian:
And I think that we had a lot of these ideas that first-time parents have. We were going to be very careful about the schedule, about what food my son was going to eat. I spent the second half of my maternity leave pureeing every vegetable and fruit you can imagine. I had a freezer full of baby food before I went back to work and he was only 13 weeks old. We had spoken to our parents about wanting to be very careful about the things that we brought into the house for the baby. We were living in a New York city apartment and so we wanted to be very thoughtful about the things that we brought into our home. And I would say we were sort of typical first-time parents really trying to do all the right things.

Denaye:
Yeah. And a lot of that really resonates with me too in the early days. So something that I'm really curious about is something I hear a lot from moms in general, but especially from working moms is mom guilt. Did you feel mom guilt early on, or have you ever, or when do you feel that kind of came into your life?

Gillian:
Early on I felt like my son was so well cared for and he so clearly was attached to us and he was very, very close with my husband. I didn't know then what I know now because he's 12, that he and my husband are very similar in their personality and they have always just gotten along really, really well. And so I felt like he was so well cared for I wasn't so concerned about it. When I started to get more nervous about it, was around the time he was two or two and a half. I started my intern year, which is typically the most intense year of medical training, when my son was almost two years old. He was 23 months old when I started my residency. And all of a sudden I went from being busy but being busy in a different way to really being in the hospital, working 80 hours a week on overnight calls, frequently working over the weekends, rarely getting home for dinner time.

Gillian:
And I saw him become very picky in his eating. So his tastes really changed. So he went from being a child who would eat anything. He would eat anything we put in front of him, he'd eat the things that we ate. And we really patted ourselves on the back about what a great job we had done, making our child a real gourmet. We were always into food and then all of the sudden, he became very picky in his eating and I really blamed myself for that. It turns out it was probably just developmentally him becoming more picky, but it coincided-

Denaye:
So what you have is that peak period.

Gillian:
Exactly.

Denaye:
But you don't know that as a first-time mom, right?

Gillian:
You don't, and it really coincided with my work ramping up. And so instead of him having these lovely meals all packed and ready for him and really watching what the babysitter was giving him, we became reliant on some typical kid foods because they're easy and he would eat them. And so all of the sudden he had a very white diet, and I really blamed myself for that. And so I think that's really how mom guilt manifested in me.

Denaye:
And was that around the time that your second child arrived?

Gillian:
My second child was born a year later when my oldest son was three, and I had just started my second year of residency, which I'm not going to say it was an easy year, but an easier year than the internship year.

Denaye:
Is there a breaking point that you felt like, "This life is more than I bargained for, I'm more overwhelmed, this isn't how I want the rest of our years together to be"? Or do you feel like this is a gradual realization that you came to?

Gillian:
It was a gradual realization. A couple of things happen that changed how we thought about parenting our kids. When I started my residency, I did my residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, and it was at that point that we moved from the city up to Westchester County. We moved from a thousand square foot apartment, which by New York standards is actually pretty big, but into a hundred-year-old house that had four bedrooms, a basement that was finished. So we suddenly had much more space, and I really didn't have the time to focus in the same way on the types of intentional parenting decisions that I wanted to make.

Gillian:
And then all of a sudden we had my daughter, and I only had six weeks of maternity leave after my daughter was born. And then I went straight back into working more than full time. And we were really in kind of a put-your-head-down-and-get-through-it point in our lives, which sounds really awful and it wasn't all like drudgery and terrible working and awfulness, but it was very much about, "This is a stage, we go through the stage, we get to the next step." And that is sort of how medical training is set up. Every step is like you get to the next step, you get to the next step.

Denaye:
You check a box and you move on to the next box.

Gillian:
You do, exactly. And even to the point where you don't have a lot of autonomy in even what job you take. So you go through a mutual selection process for residency and fellowship where you interview with programs, you rank them, they rank the candidates that they interviewed, and then an algorithm tells you where you're going for the next step. So it really is like, "This is the next step, I check that box, on I go." And in the process of doing that, we also had three kids and moved to the suburbs. And by the end of my fellowship, the economy was really recovering and my husband was getting very busy at work. And so it wasn't until we really came out of that, that I started to have the time and the mental space to sit down and look at where we had gotten, and think about whether that was where we wanted to be or not.

Denaye:
Did you ever think about quitting?

Gillian:
I never once thought about quitting, I don't think I even could, because I think if I had even allowed myself to entertain that thought, it just would have been so hard to keep going on. I just couldn't even contemplate it.

Denaye:
And some of this might be personality too, that like once you're on a path, you're going, going, going, and you're doing what you need to do until you reach that end goal, that last final box, right?

Gillian:
Yes. I would say that is definitely somewhat personality related for sure.

Denaye:
Looking back at this busy season, would you say this was your busiest season or have there been busier seasons since this?

Gillian:
No, no, no, no. This is like the busiest we ever were. When I had my third child, I was finishing the end of my first year of fellowship and then all of a sudden all the crazy, busy years sort of ended all at once when I went into the delivery room with him.

Denaye:
So would you say that you would do anything differently if you had to do it over again?

Gillian:
I would have asked for more help. I think when we first moved up here and I started my residency, we were very attached to our babysitter and we couldn't imagine making the transition without her. And I was so focused on trying to maintain some stability for my son, and quite frankly to deal with the fact that we were going in the hole to pay for the babysitter as far as my income was concerned. So I was making less than our babysitter when I was in my residency. And so it was costing us money. And so the idea of asking for more help just seemed like too much to ask for. And now looking back, that seems so silly. Because that time is really an investment in your future career, and having more help could have made that time less stressful.

I also feel like I was working so much that when I was home, I felt like I needed to do everything for my kids. I needed to be the person who did everything for them because I had so little time to spend with them. And I didn't want to waste any of that time doing anything for myself. Essentially I felt like, "Well, I go to work, and that's what I do for myself. And that I should really spend my free time focused on my kids." So the idea that I would get a babysitter to make life a little easier when I was home with my kids just seemed completely foreign. And I think that's a pretty common feeling among working moms.

Denaye:
Can you speak a little bit to the trials and tribulations of having an outside caregiver? Because I think a lot of people who are listening who are stay-at-home moms or maybe work-at-home moms who don't have outside caregivers, I mean it's not as simple as you just like pass off your kids and then everything's done, right? There's a huge piece of mental load that comes with handing off childcare.

Gillian:
Yes. I definitely think that that is true. I think the first place where you see that is in finding someone. It seems so easy, everybody has a nanny, all these working mothers have nannies, and they just poof, magically have these amazing reliable people who support their working life by taking care of their kids when they're gone. But I would say the very first and hardest thing is finding the right person. And I think one of the biggest things that I didn't realize when we started employing a nanny, was that the person who was right for us in 2007 when my son was born is not the same person that's going to be right for you later. And why would they be? Because taking care of a baby is very different than taking care of school-aged children. Our needs changed. My hours changed, my husband's hours changed. We moved from New York city, where my son's stroller was his major mode of transportation, to Westchester County, where despite the fact that my children walk to school, you really almost have to have someone who can drive a car, taking care of your children.

And so I think there's finding the right person and then there's this constant reassessment as to whether the right person is the person that you're currently employing who was the right person for you two years ago or five years ago. So I would say that my biggest mistake in our childcare journey was not reassessing on a regular basis whether the person taking care of our kids was still the person who best fit our needs. Our first nanny who was amazing and lovely, worked for us for six years, and four of those years were while we were living in Westchester and that babysitter couldn't drive a car. So I took on a huge amount of mental load arranging rides to activities, birthday parties, making sure the activities that my kids were doing were within walking distance. It was choosing schools, choosing a nursery school because it was within walking distance.

And so I think that is one of the big things that people don't think about when it comes to childcare. The other thing is you're employing a human being and their life changes during the time that they work for you too. So we have had nannies whose children have graduated and gone off to college. We've had nannies get engaged and get married. We have had nannies who've had family members pass away. The one thing we have not had, which is good for both us and for the nannies, is we've never had a nanny have a significant health problem. But I have friends who have, and it can be a real challenge for everyone.

Denaye:
Yeah. And I think one of the things that sort of took me off guard in paying a child caregiver for the first time was my need to make the child caregiver happy. Because I feel like their happiness plays a big role in the way that they take care of your kids. Do you feel that pressure at all to make sure that your childcare providers are happy?

Gillian:
Oh, absolutely. I often felt like I couldn't ever say no to something. So if someone was asking for a raise or for extra vacation, I felt obligated to say yes. And while I certainly support paying people who work in your home and take care of your children receiving a living wage and being supportive of them, and doing things on the up and up, I think that it does put you in a little bit of a position of feeling a little bit beholden. I think that's something I didn't expect.

Denaye:
That is, I would have said, the number one thing that I didn't expect. I just didn't expect taking on the mental load piece of having another human in our family really. And that that human is happy and well cared for so that here she can in turn take good care of my kids. I don't know why but it came as a surprise to me for sure.

Gillian:
So now we have both a part-time babysitter/housekeeper kind of, and then we have an au pair. And so we've had au pairs for about three years now. And I feel like that piece is even more predominant when you have an au pair because these are young people who are coming here to have a cultural experience and to be part of your family. And so I feel even more responsible for their wellbeing. And you have a young person living under your roof, and in the case of my au pair, taking the train into the city. Which I'm thrilled to have her do, but I've had au pairs miss the last train, and then get stuck sitting around Grand Central for several hours before the next train leaves, and I worry about them.

Denaye:
Yes, that all resonates with me as well. So as you moved out of the city and into a larger space, did you find that it filled up really fast?

Gillian:
Yes, it did. It fills up really fast. I remember when we bought our house thinking, "How are we going to fill up all these bedrooms?" Because our living space didn't get a lot bigger. We did gain a finished basement, but our living room, kitchen were similar in size. But all of a sudden instead of having two itty bitty little bedrooms that you could barely walk around the bed, we had four bedrooms. And two of our bedrooms are enormous. And feeling like, "How are we ever going to fill this space?" And feeling like we had this space that was a dedicated play room. I feel like we really took the brakes off the toy buying, and all of a sudden we had like every toy. Instead of having really great toys that my kids used, we just had every toy.

Denaye:
And with four kids, did you buy multiples of some?

Gillian:
There are very few things we bought multiples of luckily. Things broke, and so there are definitely some things that we replaced. Ironically, those are admittedly the things that were probably the good toys to begin with. The ones that our kids really played with. And we have not bought duplicates of things like the play kitchen. So we have had the same play kitchen in our house since my son got it for Christmas when he was two, so 10 years. And I would say that was one of my best purchases. But that one comes to mind because it was good and they played with it. So many toys have come and gone from this house that no one really ever enjoyed.

Denaye:
So when you were in the city, the toy buying and the stuff buying was really limited by your space, would you say? So when you went to buy something, you thought to yourself, "Well, where am I going to put this?" And then that helped you make your decision?

Gillian:
Well, there was a little bit of that, and then there was a little bit of... We started out wanting to be very intentional about our toy buying, not wanting to have a lot of plastic little bits and pieces, and really wanting quality toys that we felt like our kids were really going to enjoy over time. The space component was really useful when we were talking to our families about buying toys for our kids. So it was helpful to say to grandparents and aunts and uncles, "We would much rather you all go in together and buy one big thing." And we were thinking of an art easel versus everybody feeling like they could buy every little toy that came to mind. That they were like, "Oh, we really want him to have this particular toy, and you have room for it, right?"

Denaye:
Yes.

Gillian:
And so that's where it was both in our thinking, but a little bit of that changed. But I would say the biggest thing is we stopped reiterating that message to our family. And I think because we had used the space as an excuse going into parenting when they saw us acquire more space and we didn't continue to reiterate the message of we don't want a lot of toys. They want to be generous with our kids and I think that's amazing, it just got directed into a lot of toys.

Gillian:
The other thing that happened is our kids started having and going to birthday parties. And I'm sure you've seen this with your kids too. When you have a two year old, they don't go to a lot of birthday parties and they don't necessarily come home with a lot of birthday party favors, but they start nursery school and they get friends and all of a sudden they're having birthday parties and their friends are all bringing them a toy from... Where we live we have a store called The Value Drug, and it's like a drug store. It has everything. It has a huge toy section, and every toy in our town that's given for a birthday gift comes from The Value Drug. So all of a sudden you've got 10 new toys coming into your house from The Value Drug because you had a birthday party.

Denaye:
Is it a pharmacy?

Gillian:
It is most like an old fashioned general store. So it is a pharmacy and they do have an actual pharmacy where you can fill prescriptions, but they also have toiletries and that kind of thing. They also have a huge toy section, they have clothes, they have holiday decorations. If you cannot buy it at The Value Drug, you do not need it. It doesn't exist.

Denaye:
I'm kind of grateful that I don't have The Value Drug in my life.

Gillian:
You really probably should be. It's a real double-edged sword.

Denaye:
CVS is my worst nightmare. When I have to take the kids into CVS because they have positioned the toys at the end of every single aisle, you can't walk like four feet without stopping to look at the toys on the edge of every aisle. It's funny the way that toys can pervade and come into our lives even when we're not taking them to the toy section of Target, it's easy to be surrounded by them.

Gillian:
My kids think that going to The Value Drug to just look at the toys is like an activity that you do.

Denaye:
Yes. It's like window shopping, right?

Gillian:
Yeah, absolutely.

Denaye:
So the toys started adding up. And at what point did you feel pulled towards minimalism or starting to move back toward this intentional life of living with less?

Gillian:
I started becoming really interested in minimalism almost four years ago. I was on maternity leave with my youngest child and I decided that I was going to clean up our house a little bit. It seemed like things had just gotten a little out of sorts almost. And I started going through and I realized how much stuff we had. And so on that maternity leave, I picked a project every day and I started cleaning some things out. But when I started exploring minimalism, the roadblock that I came up against over and over and over again was I felt like it took me a while to find a community that was talking about being a parent and being minimalist. Because there's lots of people out there who just talk about, "Get rid of your stuff." But a lot of the stuff that needed to go from our house didn't belong to me technically, it belonged to the four other people who live here and my husband, so I guess the five other people who live in my house.

And I didn't even know how to approach it. And the toys were so overwhelming that I didn't even know how to approach dealing with the toys. And so a couple of times a year I would go down there into our basement where most of our toys are kept, and I would say at this point, 90% of our toys are kept in the basement, and it would make me so furious. I would be angry with my kids because they couldn't take care of their toys. I would be angry with whomever our child caregiver was at the time, because I felt like they weren't taking responsibility for the toys. And I felt like it was my job to go down there and sort everything back out into the bins where they belonged and put everything back together. It would take hours and then it would all be undone a week later, maybe, sometimes the next day it felt like.

It took me a long time to go from minimizing my own things to tackling the toys. I kept reading things like I needed to get buy-in from my kids and they should help me give things away. And I just knew that that was just going to create all kinds of strife and I couldn't face it. And so what really helped me to tackle the toys was your toy detox.

Denaye:
Oh, okay. So when did you do that?

Gillian:
I did that a little over a year ago.

Denaye:
For anyone listening, I don't offer that anymore, only because I think it's a great program, but I did it back in early 2017 and I haven't updated it. So I kind of pulled it off in hopes of maybe updating it and relaunching it again. But currently I'm not offering that. I'd love to hear your experience with it and how that helped.

Gillian:
It just gave me a different framework for thinking about how to do this without causing a great deal of strife in our house. I liked that it was so specific. In it, you talk about open toys and closed toys, and I had never really thought about that idea. We had a gazillion puzzles that I would just spend all my time like sorting the pieces back into the boxes that they belonged in. And so we had probably long unclosed toys, and very short... Not short, but maybe closer to being in the right place on open toys. I liked that it gave me hard numbers for thinking about like what is the right number of toys?

Gillian:
At the time, my 12 year old was just starting to transition out of really playing with toys to doing other things like reading, riding his bike outside, doing more homework. And so it was good for me to think about like, :"I need to pair this back to this number." So if I'm going to pair this back to this number of toys, which ones should it be? And it was easy. When I thought about like, which are the toys that get played with all the time? It was really easy. I kept the kitchen, I kept our building blocks, they're not unit blocks, but they're similar blocks. I kept Magna-Tiles, I kept Legos, I kept a marble run. And then my youngest son loves PAW Patrol, and so I kept his little PAW Patrol-like figurines and a few cars. And that was it. And well, I guess my daughter had some baby dolls. And when I got it back to those core things, they played with those, everything else was packed up in our store room and no one noticed that it was gone.

Denaye:
It's funny that you say that because overwhelmingly that's what I hear the most from people when they do the masterclass, which in the masterclass we have a unit on decluttering the toys and all the people that went through the toy detox. That is overwhelmingly the response that I hear that the kids receive it positively. And I think that there's so much fear around that transition.

Gillian:
Oh, I was so afraid that I was going to have four people, I would say little people, but one of them is almost my size at this point, chasing after me, because I got rid of a puzzle or a particular... I don't even know. It's so crazy because now I can barely even think of the things that I got rid of.

Denaye:
I feel like when you're making a big, big change, like when you're just getting started like this, just going for it and facing the consequences is the best way to do it. Because you could spend your whole life trying to convince your kids the value of this, but the reality is that the value is far beyond what most six, seven, eight year olds are ever going to be able to comprehend. If you ask them, "Do you love this? Does this spark joy? Do you want to keep this?" "Yes, yes, yes, yes."

I think that your intent behind this and the goals and the amazing potential that can come from making a transition like this is just not something developmentally and cognitively that young children or even a lot of older children are really able to handle. And it's kind of like a rip the band-aid off in many cases. And I know some people have successfully involved their kids in the process, and I think that if you can do that painlessly and efficiently, then yes, do that first and foremost. But if it's never going to happen, or if it's slowing you down by involving the kids, I do think then you should rip the band-aid off, get rid of a bunch of stuff and then just deal with the repercussions of that.

I feel like this is a sentiment that I'm hearing increasingly as this generation of parents is coming into the way that parenting is right now, is that we're really afraid of traumatizing our kids. And there's a lot of that fear around traumatizing kids in so many different ways, shapes and forms. But I've heard a lot of people say, "I'm afraid of traumatizing my kids by getting rid of their stuff without involving them." That sort of thing. And personally, I'm a pretty good mom, I'm there for my kids, I support them, they're well attached to me. They can rely on me for the things that they need. We have a strong emotional bond. They overall, have a really, really great life and if this change needs to happen, it's not going to ruin any of that. And any small trauma that comes from this change is going to be far outweighed by the benefits that result from it. And I definitely know that in my own life.

Gillian:
I also really thought about what are the things that they're attached to, what are their things that they really love? And I didn't get rid of those things of course.

Denaye:
Yeah. So you were being thoughtful in the process.

Gillian:
Absolutely.

Denaye:
It's not like you were just giving away everything.

Gillian:
"It all has to go."

Denaye:
Right. I'm hoping that doing it from a positive point of view. This is a great change for our family…


Gillian:
Absolutely.

Denaye:
It's not like, "You don't take care about this C-R-A-P. Get rid of all of it. It's all going in a box."

Gillian:
And it's funny because I felt like when I was trying to keep all this stuff, that's when I would get angry with them. That's when my frustration would come out in a way that was probably not productive. And that's not what I want my kids to think of when they're an adult. I don't want them to be like, "Mom was always yelling at us and bugging us to clean up our stuff."

Denaye:
Right. So by eliminating a lot of the stuff, you also eliminated a lot of that negativity that surrounded the dealing with the stuff, and it puts you, I would assume, in a better place emotionally.

Gillian:
Oh, absolutely. It is so much easier to interact with them in a positive way and do fun things with them. And I will do more with them than I used to in a different way. I'll sit down on the floor and build blocks with them in a way that I maybe wouldn't have done before because I was constantly thinking about cleaning everything up.

Denaye:
Yeah. And when that space that the toys are in is an enjoyable space to be in, not only do your kids want to spend more time there, but you want to spend more time there too.

Gillian:
Absolutely. And in fact our playroom is also where our one main TV is. And we don't use it a lot, but it's where we do like family movie night and those types of things. And so I feel much more willing to do things like all sit down together and watch a movie on a Friday or Saturday night, because it's a space that I want to be in and it doesn't take half an hour of nagging at them to clean up before we can go down there and do that.

Denaye:
Right. And your home doesn't feel like a place that you want to escape from. It feels like a place you want to spend time in.

Gillian:
Absolutely.

Denaye:
So what about your calendar? Have you made any big changes in your calendar in the way that your family spends their time?

Gillian:
Yes, absolutely. And I have changed both my work calendar and I have changed our family calendar. So up until about a year ago, I worked five days a week. And so that meant I commuted into the city to see patients five days a week. I would say on average, and this was somewhat variable, but on average my commute was taking about an hour and a half each day. For a number of reasons, my practice decided to go to a model where each of the four of us work four days a week and have one day a week where we just do our administrative work. So reviewing lab results, calling patients with lab results, certainly we respond to people every day if there's something urgent. But the sort of non-urgent paperwork and that type of thing, we decided we all wanted to consolidate on a single day. And so now I see patients in the office four days a week. I see patients for the same number of hours, but I do it in four days instead of in five.

And then one day a week, Wednesdays, I stay home and I do all my administrative work from my desk in my bedroom. So I not only have compartmentalized the administrative work that makes life a little easier, I have also gotten rid of a commute, one commute per week. And so that's been really helpful in opening up some time. The other thing that we did, well certainly we opened up time by not having to pick up toys anymore or less often, but we decided over the winter last year, winter tends to be a little bit of a quieter season for us. My oldest son plays soccer, and so that's in the fall and in the spring. But we decided in the winter last year that we were going to limit each of our kids to two activities. It made it much easier to make choices about what activities they were going to do. So each of my kids has two activities that they do outside of school with the exception of my almost four year old. He goes to a half day nursery school program and that is all he does.

Denaye:
How did they receive that change?

Gillian:
In some ways I think it was really positive because it almost made it easier for them to think about what was the thing that was most important to them. They didn't feel like they had to say yes to everything. because if you ask a kid, "Do you want to play soccer this year?" They'll say, "Sure." "Do you want to play lacrosse?" "Yeah." "Do you want to be on a baseball team this year?" "Yes." But if instead you say, "You can have two activities, do you want to play soccer or lacrosse?" I feel like that's almost an easier question.

Denaye:
Yeah, less decision fatigue. And the other thing you think about activities when we're thinking about scaling back for kids is this idea that we really need to listen to their behavior even more than their words. Because a lot of times, like you said, they want to do all the things, but if their behavior's showing they're tired or they're not getting enough sleep, they're irritable, they dread going to the activities, whatever it is, if all of those things are showing you that they're doing too much, even if their words are saying, "Yes more, yes more", we have to really pay attention to those behaviors. Because like I was saying before about their developmental stage that cognitively, they aren't able to balance all the pros and cons and weigh the consequences of doing too much and how that impacts their overall wellbeing. And as parents, that's part of our role, is to step in and to notice when we need to start saying no or empowering our kids to make better decisions.

Gillian:
Absolutely. And one of the things that I've really seen in the last year that I think has been really beneficial is it has opened up some white space for my kids. So they don't feel like they come home from school, they do their homework, they rush to this activity, they rush home. It has really allowed them much more downtime, and it's really changed how they think about their time after school in a really positive way. They're doing much more creative free play, and they are interacting with each other differently.

I also think we reoriented our activities a little bit. Two of my sons asked to start taking martial arts, and that has actually been an activity that's been super beneficial for us because where we go, where our boys go to do martial arts, they also do a lot of focus, not just on the body but on the mind, on focus, on different values that you want to cultivate in your own self, obviously at an age appropriate level. And that has been really great to see too. There's the added benefit that they can go at the same time. So one activity for each of two kids becomes one activity, which is really nice for us.

Denaye:
I've actually been seeing an increasing trend of martial arts studios offering family classes too, which I think is so cool.

Gillian:
Ours does do that. We have not taken advantage of that. We have two kids who don't do martial arts at this point. Although my four year old or almost four year old asks on a regular basis when he gets to do martial arts.

Denaye:
Yes.

Gillian:
He spends enough time in the martial arts studio that he probably feels like he should have a uniform already.

Denaye:
Yes. That's how my daughter is too. Because my son does martial arts and she's always standing off to the side, learning all of the sequences right along with everybody in the class.

Gillian:
Exactly. It's the curse of being the younger child.

Denaye:
Right. And I feel the same way. She is in swimming lessons right now, which she just recently started, but she does nursery school three hours, three days a week, and that's her activity. That's her social time, that's when she gets out of the house, that's for her. And I think I've had some temptations to put her into dance or whatever it is, but at this point that nursery school bit is more than enough for her at the age that she's at. And she's happy. Would she love to be in a little ballet class? Probably. But she also loves to dance at home, and she can dance at home for free, and I don't have to drive her anywhere. So for now she's going to dance at home, and that is going to be just fine.

Gillian:
That's definitely true. I think a schedule with four kids, even if each child is limited in the number of activities that they do, it can still fill up really, really quickly. So, we do try to be really mindful of that. We have also tried to encourage some diversity in the types of activities that they do. So we have tried to encourage them to do one physical activity, and then something that is music related or art related. For my daughter, that's not a problem, she only wants to do those types of activities. She doesn't want to do any sports or physical activity, so it's a different challenge. But I think my six year old chose as his second activity to learn to play the piano, and that has been a really nice balance too. So he does martial arts and piano, and he doesn't play soccer. And I have a six year old in the United States who doesn't play soccer and the world hasn't come to an end.

Denaye:
Something that we've been doing starting the summer, we don't have a regular Saturday commitment or actually any weekend commitments at all that we have to be at every week. But we've started kind of dabbling, I'm calling it, where we put the kids in a four-week clay class and then we took a few weeks off and right now they're in a six-week... It's called Meet the Instruments, it's at a Suzuki school where they're just going and like trying out instruments and learning a little bit about music. But I love the idea of it being short term. I don't have to feel like we're quitting. It doesn't feel like this ongoing commitment, but finding little things that when they're young, like dabbling is really important just to learn what's out there, learn what you're interested in, what you have natural talents towards. So finding things that aren't this ongoing, year-to-year commitment I think can be really great.

Gillian:
Yeah, absolutely. One of my children took a Meet the Instruments course or class. Two of my children are at a Suzuki school. My daughter plays the violin and then my son plays the piano, and I have really found some of those shorter classes that they offer to be really helpful, and just a nice way to experience something that they might not otherwise get to experience.

Denaye:
Yes, exactly. So tell me a little bit about partnership. It sounds like your hours are better at work or a little bit more manageable now. What about your husband's hours?

Gillian:
My husband's hours have really ramped up over the last couple of years. And so we have kind of switched roles a little bit, where I would say at this point I am a little bit more of the primary parent and he's maybe a little bit more of the secondary parent. But what I would say is, because he spent so much time alone with our kids when our kids were younger, I think we have settled into a little bit more of an equitable split than maybe a lot of couples find that they do when they both have jobs and a lot of young children. So my husband's actually in charge of the mornings. I'm not home in the mornings when my kids are getting ready to go to school except for the day that I work from home. And so I don't know how lunches get made in our house, I don't know what order you're supposed to pack your backpack, brush your teeth. That is not my purview. And I have found when I try to get involved, I get in trouble, because I typically do it wrong.

And then I am the one who is typically home more in the early part of the evening. So I do a lot more homework supervision. But we have also really made the choice to kind of keep things like homework in the purview of the child. As I tell my kids on a regular basis, "Your teacher knows that I passed the fourth grade, and so they don't want to see what I can do in fourth grade math. They want to see what you can do." So when I say supervising, I mean really like, "Did you do your homework today?" And that's sort of the extent of it. We do make a real effort to have dinner together a few times a week. That does mean that we tend to eat dinner very late for what people typically think of for kids. My husband will get home around 6:45 and we'll sit down with everyone to eat dinner between 6:45 and 7:00.

And then after dinner if he's very busy, he will often do more work, participate in conference calls. The one thing that he hasn't had to do a lot of recently, and the one thing I rarely have to do, is travel for work. And so that makes our schedules a little bit more predictable.

Denaye:
Right. So it sounds like you have found a good balance and partnership, which I think doesn't always happen when you have two working parents. But do you think starting out that you both have been fully employed outside of the home since the very beginning, do you think that has helped to keep things divided?

Gillian:
Absolutely. I think that neither of us feels like we are the one who knows how to do the various things that need to get done the right way. So neither of us are like the keeper of all of the processes for the house. We each have things that we're responsible for and the other one really does not get involved. So when I say I don't know how to make lunches, I mean it, I don't know how to make lunches. So I don't make lunches, I don't think about lunches, I don't worry about if there's food in the house for lunches. None of that falls into my purview. And so it's much easier to just take whole chunks of work completely out of the picture.

Denaye:
And the funny thing is that let's say your husband had to travel for a week and you did have to do the lunches, kids have a way of stepping up and doing their bit when they know it needs to be done. Your kids would probably be like, "Oh, this is how you make the lunches, mom." And then just show you how it's done, without any problems. Could you see that happening?

Gillian:
Oh for sure. My nine-year-old daughter is probably the person who is really the keeper of all the household information. If it has to do with how things get done for kids and you're not sure how to do it, you just ask her and she'll be more than happy to tell you how it's done in no uncertain terms.

Denaye:
Right. And I think that that's really great in many ways because it allows kids to take ownership and to feel like they are really an important contributing member of the family.

Gillian:
I think one benefit of having two parents in busy jobs has been that it has really forced our kids to be independent. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean they take agency because if they don't, it might be that no one else does. And I think it's really been good for them. They walk to school by themselves, with the exception of the three and a half year old. Everyone else walks to school by themselves. The older two are actually dismissed from school and come straight home by themselves. They are really responsible for doing the things that they need to do to go through their day pretty much on their own.

One of the things that I did after encountering a lot of your work was I rearranged our kitchen so that they could get their own snacks, and so that they could reach the glasses. And I rearranged the refrigerator so that they could reach the water bottle. And so that's really made it... even in the kitchen has made them so much more independent. And really that's the goal, right? The goal is to make your kids functional adults and they're not going to suddenly, at 18, wake up and be like, "Well, I know how to do this."

Denaye:
Right. Yes. To slowly help them grow their wings.

Gillian:
Exactly. Exactly. And so we really have sort of accidentally, and now more intentionally tried to foster their independence.

Denaye:
Great. And I love that. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today, Gillian. This has been really fun to hear your story and to hear how things have changed for you over the years, and it still feels like quite a journey I'm sure.

Gillian:
It does. We definitely don't have it all figured out yet, but I feel like we're in a better place than we were a few years ago.

Denaye:
Great. Well thank you. I appreciate your time.

Gillian:
Oh, it's been so much fun to talk to you Denaye.

Denaye:
Thanks so much for being a part of Simple Families. If you want to stay in touch, the best way is to join the email list. Go to simplefamilies.com and you can leave your email address at the top. You'll get all the updates, what's going on in the blog, on the podcast and in the community. Thanks again.

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Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.