Enjoying the Simple Life
About the Guest
Feeling a little under the pile lately, Mom? Pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker, a mother of four, encourages moms to enjoy their little ones while they have them underfoot. Meg instructs mothers to find a way to live simply and to remember that a mother's goal isn't to make her kids happy or to get them in the right schools, but to teach them to be good, solid people.
Meg MeekerDr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who has practiced child and adolescent medicine for 31 years and is an author of six books including the best-selling book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters; Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers and more. She is a nationally acclaimed speaker on parenting issues and speaks at Dave Ramsey’s Smart Conference. She has appeared on numerous national television and radio shows including The Today Show, NPR, Today with Kathie Lee a...more
Dr. Meg Meeker instructs mothers to find a way to live simply and to remember that a mother’s goal isn’t to make her kids happy or get them in the right schools, but to teach them to be good, solid people.
Enjoying the Simple Life
Bob: If you’re a mom, you want to do your job right; don’t you? You probably have high expectations. In fact, Dr. Meg Meeker says your expectations may be too high.
Meg: A lot of mothers feel angst and stress because of their perceptions about what they should be doing. My mantra—to many of my young mothers with young children—is to say this: “Your job—your only job today is to keep your kids alive until they go to bed at night. [Laughter]If you do that, terrific!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Take a minute, Mom—look around really quick—are your kids still alive? Okay; then you are doing okay. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just have to say this, at the outset—we’ve been talking this week about how a lot of women feel like they’re under the pile / they feel like they are failing.
Of course, the guest we have is a pediatrician—she’s an author, she’s a speaker, she’s the mother of three—
Dennis: —and she’s a race car driver. [Laughter]
Bob: Honestly, I mean—and I think we just have to address this with her—there are a lot of women, who are listening and going: “See, that’s why I feel under the pile; because she’s a doctor, and an author, and a speaker, and a mother of three—and she does it all. So, I should be able to do it all too.”
Dennis: Right. Dr. Meg Meeker joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Do you do it all, Meg?
Meg: I certainly don’t. It’s interesting—first of all, when you read the list of different things, nothing in my life that I do compares with being a mother—absolutely nothing. That has always been my first love. I have a fabulous husband, and our family is the center of my life.
I could live without practicing medicine, I could live without writing books, I could live without whatever; but don’t take my kids away from me. They’re my great, great joy.
Here’s the way I did it. I think a lot of young moms forget about this. When I had small children in the home, I wasn’t practicing medicine. I’m one of these people that does one thing very intensely for a period of time; and then, I do the next thing. When our kids were quite small, I was home with them. Also, my husband was extraordinary and very committed to me finishing my residency. When I did my pediatric residency, he stayed home with our two kids. If he hadn’t have done that, I would have never finished my residency because my heart is in my home / my heart is with our kids. My husband and I worked it out.
As far as the writing books and things like that, people say, “How do you start writing a book?” and, “How do you do it?” If you like to write, you are writing in your mind, all the time.
That’s one of the things—if I’d be sweeping the floor or cooking dinner, I’d have thoughts—but I did many things over a period of time.
Many people feel they need to balance their life. Many people in their 30s and 40s feel they need to get everything done right now—like, “If I’m going to have a career, I better do it right now.” That’s not true. I’m an empty-nester. God-willing, I’ve got 15/20 more years of work ahead of me, hopefully. I have a whole lot of time to do that. Mothers, who are feeling overwrought and overburdened with small kids in their home, don’t listen to what the world is telling you: “You need to find value outside of those kids.” Because if you have children, whether you have a job or whether you don’t, you’re great value is in being those children’s mother.
If you do want to have a career / you do want to do other things, God will give you enough time. One pastor told me one time when I was worried about getting enough things done—he said, “You will die right on time.” I kind of squirreled my face up; and I said, “What does that mean?”
He said, “If God really wants you to get something done, He will give you the time on earth to get it done.” In other words, ten years down the road / fifteen years down the road. Take a big, deep breath. Don’t push too much into today or tomorrow, but let it work itself out over time.
Dennis: That’s easy for you to say. Barbara would say, “That’s hard for me to do.” I mean, Barbara, when she was a mom, the most oft repeated phrase, “I am so tired.”
Dennis: “I am so tired.” You’ve written in your book—and you’ve addressed this issue of busyness, and tiredness, and what young moms are facing today. You’ve written a book called The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. Habit number eight is “Find ways to live simply.”
Bob: I thought this was interesting—a Type A, Meg Meeker—talking about finding ways to live simply. Is this something that you needed to learn on your own?
Meg: Definitely. I will tell you—I perceive that I live a pretty simple life right now. One gal asked me on a radio program: “You know, you talk about solitude. How much time in solitude do you spend?” I said, “About two or three hours a day.” She kind of gasped! Well, I’m home; and my husband works a lot. I like to write, but I carve that time out because that’s what I need—to spend time with God. Any mother can simplify her life.
I think there are two things that you need to really think about here. A lot of mothers feel angst and stress because of their perceptions about what they should be doing. We have that huge list of: “I should do this,” “I need to do this.” Simplifying sometimes means approaching those thoughts, and batting them away, and saying: “I’m not going to believe that,” “I’m not going to believe that,” “No, I don’t need to do that.”
If you have small children at home, it’s extremely hard; but my mantra—to many of my young mothers with young children—is to say this, “Your job—your only job today is to keep your kids alive until they go to bed at night. [Laughter]
“If you do that, you are successful.”
Bob: You have won.
Meg: Now, if you add to that, terrific; but your job really is just to get by and to get through those very, very difficult days. Sometimes, there are some things you just can’t cut out. You know, you can’t stick your kids in the backyard and leave them there for an hour if they are two years old; but as kids get older, we really can simplify.
I encourage mothers to write down every day, for a week, what they do. Write down everything you do. Then, cross out the bottom three. Free up 15 minutes during the day. We really don’t need to do everything that we do. We believe that we need to do it, and we need to change those beliefs as well.
Bob: Well, you know, we look at kids going into young adulthood. We see kids who are headed in the wrong direction.
You’re raising your three-year-old; and you go: “I don’t want that to happen. So, I’ve got to get him into the right preschool,” or “I’ve got to get him into this,” “They’ve got to do that.”
We have these standards because, again, the goal is, “We want our kids to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and able to earn a living.” We’re watching kids who aren’t doing that and we think, “I got to make sure that my kids do it.”
Meg: We need to attack those thoughts, and peel that off, and say, “It’s all wrong,”—our goals are wrong. Our job, as mothers, is not is to keep our kids happy all the time. Our job, as mothers, is not to make sure that our kids go to the most expensive school. Our job, as mothers, is to love our kids very well, to keep them very safe, and to teach them to be good, solid people. If they have talents / if they have an extraordinary intellect, that will emerge on its own. It’s not our job to dig into that child and yank it out. That’s really what we’re all trying to do.
Our job is to really surround that child with a lot of love, protect them, take good care of them, and let them—who they are going to be will emerge before us. Really, focus on their character and teaching them great character. Teach them about faith, teach them to be humble kids, teach them to be courageous, and start going in that direction. Get off of the list that we have made for ourselves on what we need our kids to be and do.
Dennis: How many of your observations about these moms come from your practice as a pediatrician? I mean, are you watching them kind of come into your office? You can listen to the dialogue between parent and child. You’re hearing it escalating—busyness, hurriedness, frantic type of behavior. Are you watching that happen in your practice?
Meg: Oh, absolutely. I’ve watched it escalate, particularly, over the past 15 years. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the look in mothers’ eyes and the expression on their faces—just says to me: “I’m exhausted. I’m afraid. I’m not doing a good job. Please, help me! Help me! Help me!”
I will tell you—the self-esteem in mothers and their sense of value, as a mom, has plummeted over the past 15 years. It really has. Again, because we feel that we’re just not being who we should be to and for our kids. We’re really, really, really wound up. It’s very concerning to me.
Dennis: You challenge moms to take a step back, and carve out 15 minutes out of their schedule, and make their life simpler. If you had a couple of young dads across the table from you—these young dads can really help their wives, and these young moms, know how to simplify their lives. Coach a young man in helping his wife do this.
Meg: It’s a great question. I get a lot of dads who ask—they’ll come and say: “Help me. Help me. My wife is going crazy, and I don’t know how to help,” or “I’ll tell her, ‘Slow down’; and she won’t.” I tell them: “Physically, women do need help with work.
“Physically, men are stronger. In the evenings, pitch in and make sure you help out with the kids. Pitch in, and help out in the kitchen, and doing some of the chores, if you can, because a little bit of that goes a long way.”
I think the other thing to do—many husbands will say: “Honey, stop doing that,” and “Stop doing that. Why do you need to do that? Don’t you know you are driving yourself crazy?” I think a much better approach is to find the qualities in her that make her a great mom and applaud her for those. Show her that you appreciate them: “You are so patient with our kids. I love to see that. You are so calm around our kids. You are so tender and kind with our kids. I really appreciate that.”
Really, talk about and applaud her character as a mom. That will earn you her ear. Then, as you draw a little bit closer and you can open the conversation a little bit more—say: “I’m really concerned because you are so tired. I’m really concerned because I think your expectations of what you’re to do are too high. I’m worried about you.”
That’s how a husband can really start to encourage his wife to back off and to simplify. If he says he’s really concerned about her—those are really great ways to do that.
Dennis: Early in our marriage, Barbara and I—after we’d had a few children—we went to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. I believe this is the correct name of the balloon—it was called the Double Eagle II. It was an attempt to cross, as I recall, the Atlantic Ocean. We saw it there—had a little film on it. It kind of became symbolic of what we were trying to do, as parents, and what I tried to do with Barbara.
The Double Eagle II was losing altitude because ice developed on top of this three- or four-story tall balloon. It began to press it down toward the Atlantic Ocean as it neared the coast of Ireland. In order to make the flight all the way to Lindbergh Field, they had to throw things overboard.
They threw all their radio equipment, they threw a hang glider overboard, they threw books, journals—everything went overboard until finally the balloon gained enough altitude so they could complete the mission.
What Barbara and I would sit down and do on our date nights—we had a date night, Sunday night. This would be my coaching tip to a young dad: “Establish a date night where you develop the discipline—even look at it like a spiritual discipline—of stripping away the things that are pushing your balloon downward / that are going to cause you to miss the objective. Pitch them overboard, throw them overboard, get rid of them. As a couple, agree on what you need and what you don’t need. Be ruthless about your schedule because the schedule keeps on filling up and filling up.”
Even with our best efforts, Meg, many of those date nights—we would end exhausted because we’d have some pretty stimulating discussions over what we were going to pitch and what we were going to keep—and a lot of it was around the kids’ schedules.
Meg: It’s hard, particularly, when—you know, even take a single mom that’s trying to do that and saying, “I need to simplify,”—and she doesn’t have a husband to sort of bounce things off of. She feels that her job, as a good mom, is to keep her kids busy and doing all these things. It’s very hard for her to start cutting, and slicing, and dicing; but I think you are absolutely right.
Make rules. One of my rules when our kids were young, and even in high school, was I would have no meetings in the evenings. I never left the house in the evening—you know—no choir / no PTA. Even a lot of the great things that I could do, I didn’t do. Our kids were allowed one extra-curricular activity per semester.
There were many times my husband even told the kids they couldn’t go to youth group because we were going to be home, as a family, on a Wednesday night. You know, “Now, that’s anti-Christian;” but he felt that we needed to be together as a family.
On weekends, we always had two meals together as family. The kids, at the time, complained, “He is too strict,” and, “He was this.”
I’ll tell you—now, in their 20s, they are so grateful that he did that; but you absolutely have to make rules with your schedule. Take out your schedule, a pen, and a piece of paper. Start cutting off what you’re not going to do because so much of what we do—that we feel that we need to do—we don’t need to do it all.
Bob: In your practice, as a physician, do you see some moms—a few—who are doing it right?
Meg: Oh, I have some great moms—absolutely great moms. When I talk to them about starting down this path—and mothers will look at my book and go, “This is just too overwhelming. Ten habits—I can’t even…” I say: “Take little bites at a time. Work on one habit over six months. Work on finding a little bit of solitude. Work on just finding a little bit of silence in your day. I have some extraordinary mothers who are doing great jobs with their kids, and I try to write about them.
Bob: What’s an example of one that you’d look at and say, “Here’s the kind of mom I’d hold up and say, ‘Be like her’”?
Meg: Okay. I have one mom who has—I think she has a seven-year-old and a five- year-old. She had a very, very lucrative career. She quit her career when her oldest was two; and she decided to stay, full-time, at home. Rather than transferring the intensity that she used to put into her job onto her kids—because that’s what a lot of career moms will do—she decided that she wanted a sane, calm, wonderful home. She makes a point of taking her kids out two or three times a week, and they play. They do something—the three of them together. She goes out and literally plays with her kids at the park. She talks to me about how her kids can only do one thing at a time. They can only do gymnastics, or they can only do swim team. She really limits it. She makes sure that they have time at home as a family.
I will tell you—when I come into the room to see her, her kids are a delight to see.
There is calm in the room. The kids aren’t crazy. There’s a real calm. I think that’s the most extraordinary quality about her life—is that she is very calm and has made a point of making that the tenor of her home. I doubt, seriously, she was calm when she was working full-tilt.
Dennis: I want to pull the pin on a grenade and roll it out on the table here; okay?
Dennis: I have no idea how you are going to answer this question. I’m just curious as to what you’ll say. Do you think some of the diagnosis of children who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder is because they’re in families who are overdosed on adrenaline, running to and fro so fast? All they’ve ever known is they’ve been trained by parents doing more, going more places, trying to jam more into each day so that becomes the pattern of their brain.
Meg: Yes. Definitely; I think it’s dramatically over-diagnosed.
I put kids, in my practice, through a whole lot before I would start to treat them for ADHD. There is a common quality to a lot of kids who have ADHD. That is, if you look at the structure of their lives, there is chaos—bedtimes are different, their school schedules are different, and they are running around. There is no sense of order and rhythm to their day.
One of the character qualities I see a lot in home-schooled kids is that they are quieter, more patient children, who interact very well with adults. If you took—I’d love to do an experiment—if you took 100 kids from your typical school in the third grade and you took 100 home-schoolers, and you put them in a room together and you asked them to sit down for two hours—there is no question that the home-schoolers would have an ability to sit much longer than the other kids because the other kids are used to a much faster-paced life. That’s a deep concern of mine.
One of the things that I do—when I have mothers, who have, typically, boys with ADHD—is I say: “If we are going to use any kind of medication, you must make some changes in his life. He has to have a structured day. It cannot be a frenetic day. He has to have some down time. He has to learn to sit and read black words on a white page for 15/20 minutes / a half an hour a day. He has to get off of some of the video games and the electronics because the electronics and the video games are way too stimulating for a child with ADHD.”
Interestingly, a very high percentage of the boys, who have ADHD, are hooked on these games. So I think that the point that you’re driving at—which I think is a point that will probably emerge in studies over the next ten years—is that there is probably a strong correlation, maybe a linear correlation, between ADHD, and chaos, and frenetic life.
Bob: Now, just because we’ve got some moms, who are going, “Oh, you just put me under the pile in saying that I’m the reason my kids have ADHD,”—there are kids, who have got some neurochemistry going on. You’re just saying it is way over-diagnosed—
Meg: Way over-diagnosed.
Bob: —and we’re not helping.
Meg: ADHD is a very real phenomenon. There are plenty of kids with ADHD, who have fabulous mothers that are doing a whole lot, right in their homes. They’re just throwing their hands up. There are, also, a whole lot of kids, who are living very, very chaotic, frenetic, over-the-top lives, who don’t have ADHD.
Again, having ADHD is not a mother’s responsibility or problem. Moms don’t give it to their kids.
What I’m saying is—all kids across America need more order and calm in their lives, particularly, kids with ADHD—because, if you have a child who has a propensity towards it, a little too much chaos / a little too much freneticism in his life will tip him over the edge and make him appear as though he has ADHD.
Dennis: Well, I want you to know I really appreciate that you’re bullish on moms and that you’re for moms because, I think, they need a champion today. I think there are all these messages, in the culture, that just chip away at the value of these young moms. They need someone like a Dr. Meeker, coming alongside and saying: “You know what? It’s good to be a mom. It’s a high holy privilege and calling.” I think you wrote about it at the beginning of your book: “If you can get your arms around the value that you possess, as a mom, you would beam because of the assignment God has given you.”
Bob: Well, and not just the value of being a mom, but the confidence that you can do this and do it well. It just takes a little coaching to help you out.
It takes having, as you said, Dennis, somebody like Dr. Meeker come along and say, “Here; I can give you some suggestions that’ll help you thrive in this arena.” And that’s what you’ve done, Dr. Meeker, in your book, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is called The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, and you can order a copy from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, online, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity, by Dr. Meg Meeker.
You know, we have had a chance this year to acknowledge a lot of anniversaries. I’m always excited to share about somebody’s very first anniversary, but I also get excited when it’s anniversaries over 30 years because that says something in our culture today. And today Craig and Paula Meade, in Burlington, Iowa, are celebrating 31 years of marriage together. “Congratulations!” to the Meades—hope your anniversary day today is extra special.
In fact, you should know we’re trying to help everybody’s anniversary this year be extra special. We have some ideas we can email you or text you if you’d like to know how your anniversary could be a best ever this year. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Give us your anniversary date, and we’ll send some thoughts out to you on how to have a special celebration.
In fact, you should know, we’ve had some friends of the ministry, who are aware that this is our 40th anniversary. They’ve come and want to make sure we have a special celebration this year. They have agreed that, during the month of May, they’re going to match every donation we receive, here at FamilyLife, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $350,000.
Now, the thing that does for us is—that gives us more ministry fuel in the tank / more opportunity to do more ministry throughout the rest of this year if we’re able to take advantage of this matching gift. And to take advantage of it, we need your help. Would you consider going to FamilyLifeToday.com and making an online donation in support of our ministry? Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate; or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today, at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223. Again, any donation you send us in May will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $350,000. So thanks for supporting us and for helping us take advantage of this matching gift.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how families can thrive spiritually. Jason Houser’s going to join us. He’s the head of Seeds Family Worship. Some of you sing Seeds songs around your house. Jason’s going to be here to talk about what they’re doing at their home to try to implant spiritual truth in the lives of their children. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We hope to see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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