13 Wellness Hacks from a Busy Mom with Five Kids

13 Wellness Hacks from a Busy Mom with Five Kids

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ESME founder shares tips for staying healthy

My life is very busy and fulfilling. As founder of ESME, I’m inspired every day, but it requires lots of energy to make sure we’re doing our best on behalf of Solo Moms. My five kids range in age from 11 to 21, so I’ve been juggling work and child-rearing for a long time. I also live on a farm with 350,000 bees, 50 chickens, four big dogs, and two cats. It can get a little wild, trying to make sure everyone’s needs are met! I’ve learned that lack of sleep, little exercise, poor food choices, and unhealthy habits sap my energy and make the juggling act impossible. Instead, I make sure that wellness is a priority so that I can keep enjoying everything that I do. Here are 13 ways that I fit wellness into my life.

1. Put fitness on the calendar. I play tennis, spin, and do Pilates. All are scheduled for certain days and times of the week. My family and coworkers know that on Mondays from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., I’m in a Pilates class, so don’t call. If I don’t schedule fitness, it tends not to happen—it’s so easy to say I’ll start tomorrow. A regular fitness routine will keep you strong and sane.

2. Tackle all your medical appointments in one day. I plan all my annual doctor’s appointments on the same day. I bounce around to get a checkup, blood drawn, a mammogram, an eye exam, and a skin check so that I’m set for the whole year!

3. Eat healthy, most of the time. Aim to eat healthy on weekdays (this means meals without white flour or white rice that are high in protein, vitamins, and antioxidants). On weekends and holidays, enjoy! It’s easier to be regimented during the week when you know that, on the weekend, you can eat for pure pleasure.

4. Make lists. I love lists! For example, stick to a grocery list to save time and decrease the chance of impulse shopping, which leads to unhealthy choices. Everyone knows the danger of food shopping when hungry, but shopping with kids is equally dangerous because they clamor for sugary, salty food. If I have to shop with my kids, I send them after items on the list and reward them with their favorite healthy food if they behave and find the stuff quickly.

5. Swap caffeine for more water. Because dehydration is a main source of exhaustion and headaches, it will impact how much you can get done in a day. Even though you may feel like you need an extra boost, water is always better than tea, coffee, or soda.

6. Set aside time to maintain connections. Every morning, my kids and I spend half an hour in the car together. We talk about their teachers, friends, and school gossip; sometimes the topics turn serious. I so appreciate this daily ritual. After drop-off, my Bluetooth gets a workout because that’s when I check in with my close friends and family. By the time I get into the office, I’ve connected emotionally with the people I care about and can dive into work.

7. Snack sensibly with small rewards. Keep fresh, easy-to-grab (and already cut up) vegetables and nuts around for snacking. They’ll help you maintain your energy, making you less likely to eat ravenously. I also use small pieces of dark chocolate to reward myself for unpleasant tasks. I’m quite passionate about chocolate, so the hard stuff gets done!

8. Be prepared to work out. Create strategies that help ensure that you accomplish what you set out to do. I keep exercise clothes and sneakers in my car and my office so I’ll never be able to use the excuse that I can’t work out because I forgot my gear.

9. Let go of the little things. Don’t waste your time worrying and being annoyed by situations you can’t change, such as a judgmental neighbor or encroaching crow’s-feet. Let that stuff go. Be proactive about addressing situations that you can change, such as a work or family issue that can usually be handled with a candid conversation. Don’t let small stressors pile up and stop you from appreciating all that’s wonderful in your life.

10. Use your daily tasks to get stronger. We all know that we should be pushing ourselves when we work out, but there are small adjustments we can make outside the gym to prioritize fitness. On top of playing with my kids, I try to always take the stairs or park a little further away from the store.

11. Make space to breathe. Carve screen-free, kid-free, and phone-free moments out of your day. I’m literally talking moments here. I will find a space to sit and breathe for two minutes. Taking in oxygen through deep, focused breaths will relax and invigorate you. If you have five or 10 minutes, even better: Lie down, and be aware of your breath moving down into your stomach and then exhaling until it’s all gone. Sometimes I get so hyped up that I forget to breathe. Making space to be conscious of my breath informs my whole day.

12. Commune with nature. Create opportunities to see, smell, and listen to nature. Some of my most creative ideas arrive on short walks in the woods. It feels good to move and appreciate the beauty around you. My dogs are a great excuse to get outside and see that there’s more to the world than my house and office.

13. Multitask while cooking healthy meals. Restaurant food, particularly fast food, usually doesn’t contribute to our health. I’ve organized my home so that I can cook while helping my kids with their homework. They usually have after-school activities and then pour into the house famished. Our house is small and open, so instead of a standard living room, I’ve set up workstations for each kid where they can access a small collection of nuts, fruit, and vegetables while they do their homework. This avoids the pathetic, glazed stare into the refrigerator waiting for the perfect snack to miraculously appear. While I chop vegetables, spice, and marinate, I field questions about ratios and the Magna Carta. Weekends are reserved for more elaborate preparation, takeout, or a well-deserved restaurant meal, but during the week, I sauté, broil, and stir-fry for quick and healthy results.

I hope that some of these tips work for you and that you are inspired to make wellness a priority in your life!

An earlier version of this article was published on mindbodygreen.

Dr. Marika Lindholm founded ESME.com to ignite a social movement of Solo Moms. A trained sociologist, Marika taught courses on inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University for over a decade. After a divorce left her parenting two children on her own, she realized Solo Moms lacked much-needed resources, support, and connection. She built her social platform, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, out of this combination of academic and personal experience. Marika is also the coeditor of We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor, a frank, funny, and unflinchingly honest anthology—written by 75 Solo Mom writers, including Amy Poehler, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Alexander—that celebrates Solo Moms: their tenacity, courage, and fierce love for their children. Marika can be reached at marika@esme.com.

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