Ep. 85 – Dr. Christine Koh – The Goal Of Good Life Hacks
- Hacks for helping children flourish into more fully functional human beings around the home
- A simple tip for people who like (or don’t like) to bake
- How and why to prepare yourself for kids in the kitchen
Are the efforts and actions of your days bringing you joy and contentment? Or do you feel like you’re going through meaningless motions?
In this episode, we’re talking about large and small life hacks.
Our guest is the author of Minimalist Parenting, and Harvard-trained brain scientist, Dr. Christine Koh and she is helping us look at what we do, and why we do it, and encouraging us to edit and change.
Christine KohDr. Christine Koh is a Harvard-trained brain scientist turned multimedia creative and entrepreneur on a mission to help people edit the unnecessary from their life.
She’s the director of Women Online (a communications firm that specializes in using social media for good), founder and editor of lifestyle blog Boston Mamas, host of the Edit Your Life Show podcast, co-author of Minimalist Parenting (a book to help parents enjoy family life more by doing less), and designer for Brave New World Designs (a stylish, advocacy-oriented design collection).
Her writing is featured in The New York Times, Redbook, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, Woman’s Day, and more. She creates content and models with her own life and practices the art of living healthier, happier, and with elevated purpose and intention.
And she is the proud parent of two lovely daughters.
Ep. 85 – Dr. Christine Koh – The Goal Of Good Life Hacks
Dr. Christine Koh – Hello?
Rachel Cram – Hello, Christine. I’m just waiting for your video to come online. Can you see me?
Dr. Christine Koh – I can see you. Did you? Let’s see. Okay, wait. I can rotate because I have my USB mic plugged into my port, and I have a whole new configuration here, so sorry the angle’s a little funky.
RC – Oh, no, that’s no problem. Your audio sounds fantastic which is no surprise because your podcast has great sound.
CK – No, it is a relief when you record with other podcasters and they already have their gear.
RC – It really is. It really is. Thank you so much for doing this with us.
CK – Of course.
RC – Yeah, it’s so nice to meet you face to face now.
CK – Yeah. Thank you for having me.
RC – I actually feel like I have already spent a good part of the morning with you because when I opened my iPhone this morning onto my podcast app, I saw that your most recent episode on your podcast was with Tina Payne Bryson.
CK – She is amazing, truly amazing.
RC – And she actually was who first told us about you. Because we’ve done a couple of episodes with her as well. And so I felt like this is so serendipitous.
CK – Indeed it is. Well, she is a genius. And I mean, you’ve had a run of incredible guests on your show. So first, I’m honored to be here. And yes, I cannot say enough amazing things about her. I just felt like it was like a masterclass just interviewing her and hearing her perspective.
RC – Oh, she is wonderful. Well, and interestingly, she told us about you. But then how I actually really followed up with you was we did an interview with Dr. Ken Ginsburg, and on his site was an article that you had written, I think, on the developing brain, it was a really thought-provoking piece, and Ken said, “Oh, you should really connect up with Christine. She’s wonderful.”
And then Eden, who works with him, said, “I’ll put you in touch.”
CK – Oh, that’s, that’s so kind. I love the Center for Parenting Communication. They’re amazing and do incredible work. And, you know, they’re all about, as, you know, perspective shifting and reframing the narrative. And their work has helped me as a parent with a teen. So I’m grateful to them, too.
RC – Yeah. You know what I just love and I’m sure you experienced this as well. When you get into this core team of child specialists and teen specialists, everyone’s really supporting each other, helping each other. Sometimes you can feel like in the author world or in the podcast world, it’s really competitive and I just have not found that to be the case. I find people just so supportive and wanting to shine light on others and their work. It’s really wonderful.
CK – I agree. I agree. It’s amazing. And one of the great gifts during the pandemic was actually that I became part of an author group. Parenting authors, just incredible people. Had massive imposter syndrome when I showed up to my first meeting because all of these people are incredible and it became a real lifeline for me, both professionally, personally. And the funny thing is, still a majority of that group I’ve never met in person because we all met within the last couple of years. And so I think it’s just an incredible community, as you said, authors, podcasters, people who are creating content and just care, you know, we want to do good.
RC – Oh, that sounds like an amazing team. How fun.
CK – Yeah, super fun.
RC – Well, we’ve already kind of introduced you a little bit to our audience, but I would love to ask you a question that we often use at the beginning of the episode just to give people an understanding of who you are beyond your professional platforms. And I’ve kind of prepared you for it, but I’m really interested to hear what you have to say because through listening to your podcast, I do know little bits about your childhood already, but the question is, Aristotle stated, “Show me a child at seven and I will show you the adult.”
And I’m wondering, Christine, is there a story or experience from your childhood that shines a light onto the adult that you are today?
CK – Oh, boy. Well, you did send me this question in advance. And I have to admit, I think I got a little teary when I first read it. So then I closed my laptop and walked away. In a good way. In a good way, because I always invite self-reflection. But I would say that given what I grew up with, I grew up in a household with chaos and adverse childhood experiences and racism and all sorts of things. At seven, I was really a joyful kid and an expressive one. And then over the years I learned that silence and compliance was a survival mechanism. So I feel like as an adult, I have been working on finding the little tiny steps and the little ways out of that decades long training to become a more emotionally fluent person. And so I joke that I’m a recovering emotional robot because that’s what I am. I’m trying to find my way into a life that is more expressive and compassionate and that sees all sides. And so I’m a work in progress, but I feel like that spark at seven, I feel like I’ve come around full circle to that. So I love the question. It’s a great one. And I’m glad that you asked your guests to reflect back like that.
RC – When I listen to your podcast, you are quite open about that as well. And I think it’s so encouraging to listen to people who have had a lot of adverse childhood experiences to know that we can step into parenting and be strong and confident as parents, even if we didn’t necessarily have that as our own experience. You’re a huge encouragement with that.
CK – Oh, well, that’s kind of you. And since you started the episode referencing Tina Payne Bryson, one of the things that we talked about in that episode is the fact that our history is not destiny. And in the context of our conversation, we were talking about how we parent. So, her point was if you decide to make any shift in how you parent and do it in a more loving and relational way, that’s fantastic. How you’ve done it before is not the end all, be all. And I think it’s a similar thing. If you’ve grown up with trauma and hard situations, you can rewrite the story, you know? So I think it is hopeful and everybody’s situations will have different nuances and different levels of complexity. But I do feel hopeful always.
RC – Well, you just use the phrase ‘rewrite the story’, which is a version of editing, and that is what I want to step into talking about with you today; how we as parents, your podcast is called Edit Your Life Show, how we as parents can edit our life so that we are stepping into our days with our kids feeling like we have what we really, truly need.
You have done a lot of editing in your life. You’ve already talked about your childhood briefly, and I’d love to hear more about that if it comes naturally into the conversation. But you started your adult career as a brain scientist. You spent ten years in the academic world and you were awarded prestigious fellowships from the National Institute of Health to fund your Ph.D research at Queen’s University and Joint Appointment Postdoctoral Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. And you were just about to become a professor. And then just as all your hard work was coming together into this amazing sounding bundle of opportunity, you decided to hang up your academic spurs in favor of supporting people and families to flourish with less in the midst of what I see as ever, growing pressures to have more. Why did you make that big edit in your life? What propelled you to make that kind of change?
CK – Well, yes. Thank you for that question. It was in some ways a huge, difficult decision in that I had spent all this time getting to the arguably fanciest title I could have possibly had and finishing the training that would bring me to the culmination of what I wanted to do, which was ultimately teach and be a college professor. And I had been so inspired by my undergraduate professors that that’s where I wanted to be. The fantasy was that I’d go back to Wheaton College, my alma mater in Massachusetts, and teach alongside some of my mentors. That was the idyllic dream that I had.
But by the time that I was a postdoc, it was so fancy and wonderful sounding and it was absolutely miserable and so difficult and stressful that my hair was actually falling out, like there were physical ramifications. And at that time, towards the end of it, two things happened as often happens for parents stepping into the ring of life. And also if you’re a sandwich generation type of person.
RC – What do you mean by sandwich generation?
CK – Yes, so say, if you are a person who is taking care of children and also taking care of your parents, then you are a sandwich generation person. That’s a generally accepted term. And at that time I was a new mom. I had a little baby at home, my first child, and my dad got very sick and had died. And so I was really at a juncture where I was evaluating my life and thinking, I love work, I love being creative, I love doing things, I love accomplishing things and creating things. But I didn’t love what I was doing. And I figured that if I was going to work, I wanted to do something that lit me up and made me excited to go to work and made me feel like leaving my baby at daycare made sense.
And so, as I said, in some ways it was this hard, huge decision, and in some ways it was the easiest decision in the world because actually the stress of what I was going through personally with the job and my life in general, it kind of turned off my rationalizing brain and the intellectual side that would say, “But but, Christine, you’ve spent ten years and you just finished the postdoc.”
And it turned all of that rational stuff off. And for the first time, I 100% listened to my gut and just said, “I’m out.”
And I literally had faculty applications on my desk that I was ready to fill out and send. And I shelved them. And I had started a blog, a parenting blog just months before the end of my postdoc, and I had started to hear from people who were all of a sudden reading it. And I didn’t understand the Internet at all, and I didn’t know how they found me. But it was clear that I was able to help people think about ways to think about things in a different way. And I could do it in this platform with incredible immediate gratification. You know, if you’re in academia, the publishing cycle is very long. It takes a lot of work to get anything done with peer reviewed journals, if that’s the goal, which is all great. But for me to have an immediate impact and just hit publish on a blog post, it felt like magic.
Musical Interlude #1
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Dr. Christine Koh. If you have a question for Christine, send it to email@example.com. Christine will be addressing your questions in 3 Q-note episodes, over the next 3 weeks.
So please write in! We’d love to connect with you!
RC – Thank you for sharing that. I just want to say I love this so much. I think for myself, I’ve experienced this and I see it in so many people around me that we can get trapped into thinking, “I’ve spent so much time doing this. I’ve spent so much money on this. I’ve been talking about this certain thing for so long. I’ve made these commitments. I just can’t change. I can’t go a new route.”
We can think, “You know, I am 35 years old. It’s too late to change or I am 55 years old or I’m 65 years old. I’m on this path. It’s too late. I can’t do something new. I can’t edit my life.”
And your story is so inspiring. And the way that you’re helping people now is still so impactful. I’m sure it would have been if you’d stayed on your previous career as well. But to have made this switch. I want to even start by asking you, what does it take to be a life editor like that? What kind of thought? What kind of presence did you need to summon within yourself to change your mind? To stop in your tracks? To go in a whole new direction?
CK – Yeah, well, I should acknowledge that at that time I did have the privilege of a husband who said, “Okay, I know you’re going to figure something out.”
He had that confidence in me and he said, “I can carry us for a while, like a little bit,” you know, I mean because financially it was important for me to work. I needed a job. So that was huge. And I had had a lifetime of knowing, there’s no job beneath anybody, in my opinion.
RC – Where did that come from? That opinion?
CK – I mean, it’s funny, when I was in college after my freshman year, my parents called me to inform me that they were no longer going to be able to support me financially. So I’m 18 years old in the spring semester of my freshman year. I was on financial aid, but there was a considerable bill still. And I’m one of seven children. I’m the sixth of seven children. So they had a lot of expenses and a lot of things to deal with. And they were making an intentional choice to not support me, which I don’t begrudge them at all because when I asked them why and imagine me sobbing, freaking out, teenager completely freaking out. My mom said, “Christine, you always seem to figure things out.”
And they weren’t wrong. I mean, I had learned a very strong work ethic from my parents, they were immigrants from Korea. So I did have a lifetime built up at that point where I said to myself, “Okay, I just started this blog. People are responding to it. It’s not making any money. I didn’t even have advertising or anything set up. But I said to myself, I’m pretty scrappy and if I need to, I could go get a temp job.”
There was nothing I felt that was beneath me. So to refer to your question about what it takes to edit your life or think about your life in a different way, I think it goes back to really fundamental values around values.
You need to figure out what matters to you, to your family, to how you operate and show up in the world. And in that moment when I left academia, that was what it was all about. I was like, I want to be joyful in the work I’m doing. I want to be able to play with my kids. I want to be able to feel fulfilled and not beaten down every day.
I mean, there were some really simple core values it boiled down to. And values are tough or they feel tough to people because it feels like this big, lofty, scary thing. But they’re actually really quite simple when you think about them in terms of what matters to you. And then, okay, what are the little tactical things I can do to get there to be more aligned with my values and how I work and play and live during my days?
RC – Yeah, see, I wouldn’t call leaving Harvard Medical School, after a decade of working to get there, to write a blog with backing – no funding – a little tactical shift. Can you Christine, share in a little more detail the values that this boiled down to for you? That drew you to that shift?
CK – To the shift of leaving academia?
RC – Yeah. I’m asking because I think for many of us, we have values, we have things we care about and we also know that making shifts, and editing our lives, in big ways, like you’re talking about here, and I know you also have many small ways we can edit our life, and we’ll going to get to that in a minute, but big edits create big changes. So, I’m just wondering if it would be helpful for you to share some of the specific values you saw as worthy of such a big shift?
CK – Yeah, I wanted a life that involved connection with people. I wanted a life that involved compassion and an acceptance of wherever people were at. Which is interesting because I think a lot of people would like prescriptive, hard rules about things. And I think life is a little too complicated for that, and humans are a little too complicated for that. I wanted creativity. I really wanted joy. I just so desperately wanted joy at that point in my life because I was so tragically unhappy in this incredibly fancy sounding job that I had. And yeah, I really felt strongly that I wanted to flex a creative muscle that I was pretty sure that I had, but it just wasn’t able to come to light in the way that I wanted it to in academics.
And I was a good scientist. I was very good at it. I was great at designing experiments and doing things to the letter and then filling out paperwork and everything you need to be successful there. But it just wasn’t lighting me up the way I wanted to light up. And I have so many friends who are still in academia and they love it. I didn’t feel that way. And that was a real sign to me that I wasn’t in the right place.
RC – Over the weeks leading up to this interview, I’ve been thinking about our conversation, and one of the things that’s come to my mind is that you can’t edit until you have a script. You need to start living life before you can actually start editing it. And where I want to eventually go in the conversation with you is to ask you some of the best life edits you have discovered through your research and spending time talking to very brilliant people about this. The current term I think is life hacks. Family life hacks.
Edits on things like housekeeping and food and family and relationships, we’re going to get there, but I was thinking you can’t actually start making edits until you start living first. And often as a young parent, or somebody who’s heading into a new life stage, maybe it’s starting to head into having teenagers or you’re talking about that sandwich generation reality and maybe we’re stepping into aging parents. We can tend to think we want to know the edits so that we can step in correctly and do it all right and have the chaff already all off before we step in. And you really can’t do that. But it is certainly helpful to listen to stories of people that have gone before and hear what they have to suggest. So I would love to get into that conversation with you acknowledging really you have to live a story for a while before you really can start editing it. That is kind of the reality.
CK – Absolutely. And at the beginning of our conversation, you likened it to the writing process, and I think the living is a lot like writing. Think about how you might draft the very first words on a page and then you’re going to go over them and you’ll realize I made some mistakes here in the way that I presented this or this wasn’t clear, or I’d like to tweak this and make it this way. And it’s a lot like that. I mean, life is trial and error. Editing is trial and error. I think one of the big things that I’ve embraced as an adult that I really struggled with earlier and earlier in my parenting too, was that embracing of imperfection and realizing that every step means something, even if it doesn’t work out?
And that’s ironic because as a scientist and an experimental one at that, the whole scientific process is about trial and error and the mistakes. I’m using air quotes, but the things that don’t work out are as meaningful as the things that do.
We are so hard on ourselves as humans if we try to plot something out or do something one way and it doesn’t work out the way we envision. There’s always still something to be learned from that, even if it doesn’t go as planned.
RC – Yeah.
Musical interlude #2
We create a transcript for each conversation on family360, knowing that sometimes reading what’s been said is helpful. So, if you’re wanting a transcript of this conversation with Dr. Christine Koh, find it at family360podcast.com. It’s all there waiting for you!
RC – When I was listening to you this morning on the way to my car talking to Tina, you made reference to a phrase that your therapist has said to you many times. “We only know what we know.”
You’re talking about desperately wanting more joy. And, really, it’s only through trial and error and editing our life, that we can change and expand and shift what we know.
CK – Right.
RC – I just want to ask you, do you feel you found joy? Do you feel like your life now is giving you more of the joy that you want?
CK – Oh, for sure. I think what I’ve realized is that I am a creative person who does not overthink things. And I think that’s why when people ask me, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve launched two design companies and you’re a creative director and you have done blogs and podcasts.”
It’s not that I’m scattered, I just get an idea creatively and I’m okay tackling it without really understanding how to make it all work. That’s just how I operate and that’s what I find joyful is the nimbleness in the creativity and the fact that you can work on solving or addressing problems or answering questions in the immediate. I think that is so cool.
RC – And you don’t overthink things. I think there might be a parallel between joy and being a successful entrepreneur right in that statement. Maybe that’s our first edit. Don’t overthink.
CK – I know my husband often says he thinks it’s actually a benefit for me. I don’t overthink things, I just do it.
RC – That’s so good. Well, I would love you to share some of your best family life edits, or family life hacks, with us. I’ve been listening through many of your podcast episodes and each time I’m like, Oh, I wanted to share this one. I wanted to share this one. So I have so many in my mind, but I’m going to leave it to you to decide. Although I might step in and say, “Can you share this one as well?”
Food. I’d love to hear about that. Family. Relationships. But can we start with home? Do you have any fantastic, I know you do, life edits for keeping your home feeling like a home?
CK – Ok. So for family and home, and again, this is going to be a nice exercise in letting go of perfection and embracing mistakes. I think that the end goal that is mutually beneficial is to think of your experiences around the house with your kids as opportunities for them to learn how to be functional human beings. So the two quick examples I want to give you that were so simple, but so game changing for me; one was we have a closet in the kitchen area that is kind of a dumpster fire pantry. And I should say that I think in the words of the great organization and decluttering expert Rachel Rosenthal, who is a guest on my show.
RC – Yes. She’s very good.
CK – The goal is not to have everything perfectly declutter all the time. It’s impossible when you have a family but you want to have things organized so you know where things go and people know where things go. So things have a place. So we have a closet. It’s in the kitchen area. It’s like a pantry, but it also stores craft supplies and lunch boxes. And at one point I realized, “Hold up. These shelves are totally not organized the right way because what I need to do is put the snack basket and all the snacks that a kid might want on a lower shelf that they can reach. So I do not have to get them every time they need them.”
It’s such a simple edit, but once I reorganized that, I said, “Whenever you’re hungry and you want a snack, you can go to the fruit drawer or you can go here and everything you need will be in reach.”
And then I was no longer the gate holder to the snacks. And we all know how many snacks that children need. They need a lot of them. So that was a major edit that both helped them find agency, figure out what they want to eat, get their food. And then also, I didn’t have to do it anymore.
RC – So do you let your kids just get snacks whenever they want to throughout the day? Do they have to ask you first?
RC – My kids are now older. My younger one is 11 and my older one is 18 and at college, so she does whatever she wants. But, um, but yeah, we generally have always kind of let them have free rein. We have treats and stuff in the house, but we’re not an excessively junk foody type house. So I’ve never really worried about consumption and things like that. They know to balance things. We’re very pro vegetable and we have a phrase that I picked up, I think, for my husband’s family that my kids sort of roll their eyes at. But, when they were little, if they’d ask for another treat, we’d say, “Let your conscience be your guide.”
And they’d say, “Oh, we hate that phrase.”
RC – That’s from… ahh… Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinocchio movie.
CK – Yes
RC – And they felt confronted by that?
CK – Because they would know, ah, I probably shouldn’t have another cookie. I should probably have some fruit or something. So yeah, they self-regulate and it’s been fine.
RC – I remember years ago my family found a litter of kittens in some bushes on a cold and snowy night as we were coming home from a wedding. It was very exciting for us all. Anyways, the vet told us to leave out food for them to eat whenever they wanted and in doing that, the kittens would learn to self regulate, just like you’re saying, they’d learn to self regulate their eating times and amounts. He said that if we only put out food at certain times of the day, the cats would be more frantic to eat and would pester us for food when it was not out.
Even with preschoolers, if you have a low shelf of healthy snacks, even if they go to it right before lunchtime and eat a banana or some carrot sticks, or whatever you have out there, that’s ok. I like the idea of giving kids that freedom and autonomy in accessing health food when they want it. And from there, they’ll figure out pacing before meals and all of those other realities we want them to discover.
CK – Yeah, absolutely. And I think it is good when they know it’s there, too. I think it’s really important for kids to just learn generally when they’re hungry, what they might need. So I think it is really good and we just keep it stocked up with various things. And so there’s always something to access in there.
RC – Ok, so a fruit drawer or a pantry shelf kids can readily reach for a healthy snack. That was your first edit for giving kids opportunities to learn how to be functional human beings in our homes. What was the second one? What was the next family life edit or hack you were thinking about?
CK – The other one that was a huge shift is, at some point I realized that I had become the gatekeeper to all of my work and personal activities, all of my kids’ work and personal activities. They were all in my google calendar and it was completely stressing me out because I would see all of these appointments that were not mine. My kids would keep needing to ask me when things were. And so I started making on an old school piece of poster board, you know, like the kind that you would use for a school project. I now, regularly, every quarter, I draw out a calendar that can hold an entire quarter of a year. It can hold 13 weeks. Like if you size it something like two by three and a half inches for each day. Anyway, I draw this huge family calendar.
RC – Like, are you actually there with a ruler and a sharpie drawing the line? I’m loving this. Okay.
CK – Which I will say, you could buy things like that. You can buy stick on planner pages. But for me it’s very therapeutic and very joyful. So I do it. If that’s not your jam, you can probably order a monthly or by-quarter calendar view.
So the point is, once we started doing that, now all the kids’ activities live on that calendar so they can now go and see when they have things that they need to do. They can plug in their appointments and their soccer schedules and all this other stuff on the calendar. So I’m no longer the gatekeeper. So this helps them figure out how to manage time, look at their time, figure things out, and also frees me up from that role. So those two edits are so simple but mutually beneficial to helping my kids develop into functional human beings while also taking that management role off of me. Life changing.
Who thought poster board would be life-changing? But it is.
RC – Oh, absolutely. I feel like the therapy of drawing it up would be amazing as well. With the poster board, do you have your kids write their activities onto the board themselves? I can see myself trying to maintain a pinterest level of aesthetic order and beauty. Do you have to let that level of control go – do you have to not overthink this for it to serve as a helpful family life edit? At what age and level of proficiency would you start letting your children write on their own activities?
CK – Oh, I think whenever a kid can do anything. Like, when my kids were really little, if they couldn’t really form letters yet, I would let them doodle all over the margins and be part of the process with me, or add stickers or whatever they wanted. And then once they could form letters, yeah, just have them write it in. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And now, the favorite thing to do is, ‘Okay whose birthday is in this three month window? I’m going to decorate that day.’ It’s really sweet. It gives agency to them and a long view of what the next few months looks like, which is really helpful. I found that even me, like I need a little bit of a runway to know what’s coming versus the sort of monthly turned the page and then, oh, my goodness, look at all these things.
RC – Well, and I also think it’s just such a natural way for your children to start to understand what it means to schedule out your week. I know it wasn’t until I was in university that I realized how helpful it is to actually write into a calendar, you know, if I’ve got an exam happening on this date, well, backing up and going, “Well, then that means I need to study here, here and here, and I need to read this book here.”
And so just giving kids that understanding that you anticipate what’s coming up by looking onto that calendar and knowing what you need to do ahead of time. So I think growing up with a huge visual of that in your home, that you interact with, is so helpful.
CK – Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Absolutely.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to family360 and our conversation with Dr. Christine Koh. There is more to come.
Our next 3 releases will be Q&A episodes with Dr. Koh addressing questions from you! If you have a question for Christine, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. And then our next guest is adolescent psychotherapist, Dr. Katie Hurley and we are talking about kids and stress. From social media to peer pressure and demanding academic expectations, modern day kids are faced with obstacles that can feel insurmountable. From a workbook she created for her own clients, Dr. Katie describes strategies and activities families and kids can use to help children navigate the stressors of everyday life. It’s a conversation about Stress Busters For Kids. Join us!
And now, back to our conversation with Christine and some life edits around food and family relationships.
RC – Okay. So those are two really good household edits. Do you have others that you want to share?
CK – I have a food one that’s top of mind if you want to hit food, which is related to house. Because it’s funny, my listeners, they love talking about food. And I love when I get really granular. I just did a winter comfort food and beverage episode and you know, I don’t know if as a podcast but every now and then I have an episode I record and I’m like, “Was that any good?”
And, and then people were like, “Oh my gosh, I loved that latest episode. I got so many ideas.”
So one thing that I do, so this is for people who like to bake. We bake a lot and I do a lot of basic things like muffins, and I have some favorite stand by recipes. And when I measure out the dry ingredients for, say, carrot muffins or whatever, I have my mixing bowl, and then I set up three little containers and I measure out all the dry ingredients. So imagine flour, spices, salt, sugar. I measure four batches worth at the same time so that the next three times that I’m going to go bake this same recipe, these are for like favorite standbys, it makes the bake that much easier.
Actually, I was just tidying up my pantry today and I have pre-prepped dry ingredients for cornbread, which I make all the time, carrot muffins and then also superhero muffins, which are a gluten free muffin that I really like. And there are all these little containers in my pantry, but it just makes it so easy to knock them together because then all you have to do is add the wet ingredients and you’re good. It’s kind of like your own store bought Duncan Hines box of whatever. You’re just making it in advance. That’s genius. It’s so good.
RC – I was about to say, that is genius. I have been buying a bran muffin mix from the store and I keep thinking, “Why am I just not making this from scratch?”
And it’s because it’s just faster, because the dry ingredients are all there together. But the thing is, Christine, when you look at the store bought bran muffin mix, the first two items on there are words that I know like bran, but then it goes into all these chemically sounding things where I’m like, “Oh, gosh. What am I actually feeding my family?”
But I keep doing it because
CK – It’s easy.
RC – It’s easy. So that makes so much sense.
CH – Yeah, you’ve just got to find a recipe you really love. I mean, I’m not knocking box mix. I grew up on boxed mix, but if you if you find a recipe you like and you taste it and you’re like, “Wow, this is way better and I love this.”
Then the dry ingredient hack is really good because it just makes it so easy.
RC – Yeah, well, I imagine one of the reasons that so many of your listeners resonate with your food episodes is because thinking about feeding our families is exhausting.
CK – It is nonstop.
RC – It’s nonstop. You can’t decide you’re going to opt out of that option. Like you can’t edit feeding your kids and yourself out of your life. It’s got to happen. And we all know that feeling for ourselves as well. But our kids will say it out loud,“Are we having this again?”
Or just feeling like this isn’t a very exciting meal. Food is such a gathering place for a family. On the times when I’ve pulled off, or my husband’s pulled off a delicious meal, you just linger around the table longer. It connects us up. So you want to do food well, but it does take so much time and thought and prep.
CK – Yeah. Yeah. Well, I want to connect that to another thing, which we talked about just a little bit ago, but I am just such a huge proponent of bringing your kids into the kitchen early. It’ll be messier. It will no doubt be imperfect. Occasionally they might substitute a half cup of salt for a half cup of sugar, and then they’ll learn which ones the sugar and which ones, the salt. But I cannot recommend it enough because, again, it helps them become functional human beings with life skills in the world. And then also it helps alleviate your burden. So I will say that when both of my children were little, I was not a play on the floor with toys, kind of parent. Part of me wishes I was, but I just got so bored. I didn’t like it. I didn’t.
RC – Fair enough.
CK – I didn’t like playing with dolls. I didn’t like any of it. And so I said, “Let’s play in the kitchen.”
As soon as they understand commands, they can help. But at the beginning, when they were toddlers, it would just be like, “Okay, mom’s going to measure this and you’re going to dump it in the bowl and mix it.”
And over time, they have grown to know how to cook, how to make things. And, my teenager, I just saw her this past weekend and she made crepes for the whole family for one meal. My 11 year old this morning, I’ve been a little under some stress with some of the work that I’ve been doing, she with some directives from her dad, she made me a latte and brought it to my office desk. I mean, what is this life? But it’s because you have those moments where you’re letting them get experienced in the kitchen, letting them use knives. It’s going to be okay.
And so I just as a parenting sort of mantra, I always recommend that people let go of perfection in the kitchen. Let their kids play a little bit. Welcome them in. It’s also, I should say, a fantastic parenting tactic because sometimes if you just want to catch up with your kids about their day or maybe learn about something hard that’s going on, having a parallel activity where you don’t have to make eye contact, like cooking is actually fertile ground for conversation. So it’s just so wonderful. And then, you know, the pride they feel when they make something and present it. It’s pretty cool.
RC – Yeah. Thanks for that. Can we move on to family? What are some edits for family that you have found helpful?
CK – Okay. Family is complex, but when you said family, there’s one thing that came to mind. Well, I guess I have two things. If you’re thinking about your immediate family, one of the things I’ve learned to consider is that we’re in a family system, which again, is a joy and a privilege, right? And so we have to remember that every decision that we make impacts a bunch of other people. You know, if you’re living with more than yourself, you have other people to consider. So that’s been a really interesting exercise to teach our kids, and to think about myself.
Like, for example, if I’m going to travel for work, let’s all look at the big poster board that’s on the door because how is that going to impact all the other things that are going on? Is that even feasible at this time, that sort of thing? So that’s like one thing in the immediate family when you think about scheduling.
The other one, I started doing this and it changed my life, is really thinking about the type of person you are and how you feel like you best thrive in your relationships with your family when it comes to getting together.
So for example, I come from a large family. I think I said, I’m one of seven kids. We have a very large, immediate family. And yet I really find small talk and large gatherings exhausting. I don’t enjoy it. I will go, but I find myself very tired. I much prefer one on one or small group gatherings. So actually, the pandemic was perfect for me because when it was permissible to finally see people and you’d see them in really small clumps, I realized, “Oh my gosh, this is where it’s at for me.”
So one, I’ve been really clear with my siblings and said, sometimes for a holiday thing, yes, I’ll limit my amount of time that I need to be there in a big setting because it makes it easier. But I really am intentional in saying, “Let’s carve out something just you and I or in a small group, because I actually really want to find out how you’re doing,” which is a very valid thing. And I find those kinds of gatherings much more energizing, much more meaningful.
So again, this is kind of back to tuning in to what matters to you and how you are best able to show up in your relationships, is really honoring that and structuring your social commitments in a way that brings you joy and are not depleting.
RC – And that, like you are saying, is about thinking about the type of person you are and how you thrive in your relationships. Our last guest, Sarah Moore, talked about the temperament of high sensitivity. And as you’re saying this it brings into my mind, again, the importance of understanding that we all do have different temperaments. And I think when we understand that, it takes away some of the offense that we can sometimes feel, I really resonate. I am a one on one person as well. I do not enjoy large groups, but for people that do, they can feel like, Do you not want to be with us? Do not like being around us? Are we not good enough for you? Like can spin to all of these stories that are not true at all. It’s just that we all have different temperaments. And I think that’s a really key part of functioning as a family is realizing, if you have a partner, your temperaments can be so different. Our kids’ temperaments can be so different than our own.
CK – Yeah, it’s so important and it’s hard. You know, I think we’re brought up with so many shoulds around how we should be in our relationships, how we should be different scenarios and events in life. And I think these individual differences, even the conversations about really showing up and seeing people for who they are, it feels so new. And I can’t believe that we’re only now really circling around these conversations because they’re so crucial to who we are as human beings and how we’re able to find energy and joy to do things that we care about.
So, I mean, better late than never. I’m glad that people are having those conversations because they matter tremendously. And I always want to be present with people. So I think it’s some you know, even right before we hopped on to record, I was dealing with something very stressful. So for 5 minutes before hopping on with you, I watched some silly Saturday Night Live videos like humor videos, just to like kind of mentally flip my switch so I could just disrupt what was happening and show up and be present with you. And I think the more we can really be aware and honor whatever’s happening for us and how we’re feeling, the better.
RC – I’m sorry that has been happening with you. Thank you for thank you for still coming on. I really appreciate that.
CK – Oh, my gosh. Of course. I think I’m much more calm now.
RC – You are seeming very calm.
The word ‘should’ is such an indicator for me of slowing down and paying attention. When I start feeling like, “I should be able to step into this,” or I should be wanting this or I should be showing up like this.”
I think that’s a good word to go. Hmm. Just pay attention to that. Is that really true? Because when you look at them, should statements often put unreasonable demands and pressure on ourselves, which can make us feel guilty or like we’ve failed.
CK – Yeah, I agree. I mean, you didn’t ask for a communication edit but I’m going to give one, which is one of my very favorite ones related to this feeling of ‘should.’ One of the things I talk a lot about when I’m speaking or talking to people about how to edit their lives is ‘the art of saying no’. Especially when it’s things that you feel like you should do but you just don’t want to do. And my most simple tactic that people kind of are like, “Oh my gosh, can you do that?”
And I’m like, “Yes, you can go try it tomorrow,” is to simply decline gracefully without making an excuse. Because I think that one reason that people struggle to say “no” is that they don’t want to lie. They don’t want to say, “I’m sorry I can’t come because of X.”
And I say to people, all you have to say is, “Regretfully, I can’t make it. Thanks so much for inviting me.”
You don’t have to give a why. You don’t have to make anything up. And once you free yourself of this feeling of should around coming up with a good enough excuse it makes your life so much easier. You can just make your life a lot easier by responding really quickly with a, “No. But thank you for thinking of me,” and moving on, because also the longer that email sits in your inbox, the more it’s going to weigh on you. So just get it out of there. So that’s my top communication edit.
RC – That is a very good one. It is funny because really the immediate excuse is, “I don’t want to.” When people say, “Can you do this?”
You want to say, “No, I don’t want to,” but we never say that. I don’t know why we don’t say that. Like, why would we not want to honor that we just don’t want to?
CK – It’s hard. I mean, it’s kind of like the social thing. It feels kind of rude. You don’t want somebody to misinterpret that you don’t care. I mean, it’s complicated. I get it. I get it.
RC – I’m not about to start it, by the way. I’m not going to say the next time. “No, I don’t want to.”
It sounds like we should be able to do that. But I’m not going there.
I like “Just respectfully decline. Thanks for inviting me.”
The visual that comes to me with the phrase ‘edit your life’, is of someone looking over the script of their days, their relationships, their home, wanting to change what they ‘don’t want to do’ – what exhausts them – what has grown cold or old, even though we might be misinterpreted or ‘socially different,’ because we desire something better. Something new.
I know, whether it’s big edits, like leaving a 10 year career or small edits like putting food on a shelf where our kids can get at it, we all need editing. And it’s so good for us.
CK – It’s so good.
RC – Yeah. So, in our last minute of this conversation Christine, can I ask you, big or small, what would be the overall goal of a good life edit?
CK – Yeah, sure. And again, this is very much related to how we were talking about how our journey with editing our lives is very full of mistakes. It’s full of trial and error, it’s full of all these things. And I think we all do need some encouragement that it’s okay for us to do things the way we want to do them. And it’s a great thing to do things different than the way your neighbor or whoever would do them, and it’s really important to honor those values so that you can really live with joy and contentment and a feeling of ease versus this nagging feeling of why am I showing up to life like this? Why am I being driven by shoulds? That doesn’t feel good, right?
So the goal? The goal is contentment. The goal is joy. The goal is showing up the way you want to show up. And also recognizing that just as we all would like utmost grace when we’re not in our best space or being our best self, we should work on extending that to others.
RC – As they work on their own life edits.
CK – Absolutely.
RC – Christine I think that is a fabulous ending to this conversation.
CK – Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And your thoughtful questions really pulled me into a very positive place. So I appreciate you.
RC – Oh, thank you. So we will be opening up this conversation to listeners to ask you questions. And we’ll be back with you to hear how you respond. Thank you for being willing to do that.
CK – Great. Absolutely. That sounds awesome. And yeah, thank you for putting it together so thoughtfully. I appreciate it.
For A New Beginning
by John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
We're in the midst of a parenting climate that feeds on more. More expert advice, more gear, more fear about competition and safety, and more choices to make about education, nutrition, even entertainment. The result? Overwhelmed, confused parents and overscheduled, overparented kids.
In MINIMALIST PARENTING, Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest offer a fresh approach to navigating all of this conflicting background "noise." They show how to tune into your family's unique values and priorities and confidently identify the activities, stuff, information, and people that truly merit space in your life.
The book begins by showing the value of a minimalist approach, backed by the authors' personal experience practicing it. It then leads parents through practical strategies for managing time, decluttering the home space, simplifying mealtimes, streamlining recreation, and prioritizing self-care. Filled with parents' personal stories, readers will come away with a unique plan for a simpler life.