Daphne Oz has a message for beleaguered parents: You're all doing amazing, sweeties.
Yes, we're in month 728 of the coronavirus pandemic and, yes, a lot of us are still navigating the tricky waters of homeschooling while trying to maintain outside employment and, yes, there are days (weeks? months?) where it feels like maybe this stay-at-home business may never end. But however you're getting through it, you're getting through it and that's all that matters.
"When life gets complicated, it makes it all the more obvious there's no right way," the mom of four explained to E! News in a recent interview. "There's no perfect way of doing anything. We're all kind of just flying by the seat of our pants all the time."
So before doing anything else, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
That being said, the Masterchef Junior judge and author of The Happy Cook does have some learned-the-hard-way suggestions that can help weary moms and dads claw their way toward 2021. And we're eating up every last bit that she's serving.
Find the Fun.
Yes, we get it—that's a suuuuuuper tall order right now, but any time you can find a pocket of levity, it's sure to pay off. When a hurricane trapped the New Jersey transplants indoors at their new Florida home for a full weekend, Philomena, 6, Jovan Jr., 5, Domenica, 3, and Giovanna, 15 months, "were having these meltdowns and they were really just frazzled and frustrated and I was getting frazzled and frustrated," said Oz."They want to be able to expend all the energy that's been trapped all week and they're trapped inside."
Realizing she was this close to a breaking point, "I was like, you know what? We're going to spice it up, we're going to flip things on their head," she shared. "We're going to make pancakes for lunch, we're going to dive in on all the nitty gritty of the house we have not had a chance to get to because life just gets busy. We're going to make fun out of things that are actually kind of chores."
Admittedly, her kids are still at an age "where I can convince them that things like vacuuming are fun," but her overall point works even on children who have long figured out that dusting isn't a good time. "When we're really stressed and frazzled and frustrated, they know that," Oz noted. "They pick up on that immediately and they read a lot into that. And they also likewise take a lot from when we feel happy and settled and like we've taken the time we need to get our head in a good space to come back to parenting with the most positive potential. And I try as much as I can—without making it stressful—to get to that headspace as often as possible."
Try Not to Stress Over Self-care.
Ah, the buzzword of 2020. As nice as an in-home spa sesh or an hour of uninterrupted yoga sounds right now, trying to jam that into an already overcrowded day can leave you feeling overwhelmed, creating a fun vicious cycle of anxiety. "I think we all would have liked to have been able to structure our days more appropriately and with more intentionality," Oz admitted. "I'm going to do this for an hour and this for an hour."
But with kids at home and work shoved into any free pockets of time, that thought is almost laughable. "I've started really seizing these sort of 10- and 15-minute windows in my day where I will squeeze in a quick workout and it has made such a difference in my headspace," she suggested. "It has made such a difference in my strength and my body tone and just feeling good in my skin and feel like I'm giving my body that love in a moment."
She recommends anything "really good for yourself, that's not scrolling social or trying to frantically answer emails," though her go-to is a quickie, 10-minute yoga flow: "Just something that limbers up your body and makes you feel like you did something good really, I find, impacts the rest of my day. It also makes me feel really productive."
Create a Bedtime Routine
Even on those days where there aren't 10 seconds to spare, much less 10 minutes, Oz has a trick for making sure she's prioritizing her me time. A big fan of to-do lists ("I love crossing things off"), she schedules in 20 minutes to treat herself before bed time.
"Whether it's a quick face mask, or I want to read my book, or I want to write down my thoughts of the day, or if I want to watch TV in bed, I will schedule it," she shared. "In a weird way it psychs your brain into thinking about an obligation that's also really exciting, that you look forward to and then you don't miss. Because I do find at the end of the night things can just pile up and I'll be, like, plowing through work that I've missed during the day or trying to catch up on deadlines and things like that and you'll just work and work and work and crash to sleep."
Sound familiar? Same. But making it a point to step away from the computer, light a candle, pour a glass of red—"whatever it is that's going to make you feel like you gave back a little bit of what you put out during the day to rejuvenate yourself, I think it's really important," Oz said. "And it's no less valuable than all the other little appointments you have throughout the day."
Make Date Night Fun Again
Oz and husband John Jovanovic, for instance, recently leaned into Thai food and ball gown night. "Sometimes I will set the table and put a candle out and play music and it can just be takeout," she said. "I've given myself license to have a lot more fun and kind of quirkiness to the everyday things that we do to have fun together."
But don't feel like you're failing if you're not busting out the black tie to eat pizza on the couch. "Sometimes it's really fun just to relax and just keep it really simple and hang out together and sometimes it's kind of fun to elevate it a little bit," Oz noted. But even if "date night" means vegging out and finally finishing up the last episode of The Undoing, that absolutely counts.
"I think it's one of those things where it could be a quick walk, it could be coffee in the morning together," she said of her "energy-boosting" moments with her husband of 10 years. "Whatever it is where we're not constantly being interrupted and you're not constantly having the flow and the back-and-forth of your relationship being interrupted by all the other things that can get in the way. I find it to be absolutely priority number one a lot of the time. And it doesn't have to take a lot to feel that connection. It doesn't have to take a lot to feel prioritized by one another."
Give Yourself License to Indulge
Having lost 50-plus pregnancy pounds using WW's purple plan (with meals built around those trusty standards: fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains), Oz is pretty averse to the concept of dieting—particularly at a time of year when cookies are plentiful. "I think the holidays, the worst thing you can do is feel deprived and feel like you're missing out on experiences that you want because of goals that you have in mind," Oz noted, "because ideally these goals are long-term, they're lifestyles."
So each December, she makes it a point to "pay homage" to tasty traditions, much like when she and Jovanovic have date night, "I never sit down and order, like, steamed greens and a side of salmon," she explained. "I want a great, beautiful meal when we go out so the rest of the time when I'm eating at home and cooking for myself, I really can remember all the great indulgent moments and feel like the delicious lighter moments are keeping that in balance."
The concept translates to weeknight treats as well—Oz pairing homemade flapjacks with a bottle of Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc "because, why not? We deserve pancakes for dinner plus a delicious glass of wine," she reasoned. "Letting that moment feel celebratory means that the next day when I'm eating my oatmeal for breakfast and my salad with protein for lunch and my lighter dinner, I don't feel like I missed anything at all."
Don't Skimp on Traditions
With holiday gatherings much smaller this year, it can feel super tempting to ditch the sit-down dinner. But Oz decided to still whip up the traditional turkey breast with crispy pancetta stuffing, green bean casserole, roasted sweet potatoes and her beloved corn pudding for their six-person Thanksgiving. And the cookbook author got her whole brood in on the action.
"The kids, over the summer, perfected their corn shucking abilities, they're good at cracking eggs, they're getting great at tearing bread up for stuffing, they're going to be great at picking ends off of green beans, they can mix," she said of handing out jobs to everyone. "There's actually a decent amount of stuff that's easy for kids to chip in on here."
And while it can absolutely slow down progress, sometimes a bit of chaos is worth it. As the eldest of Dr. Mehmet Oz and Liza Oz's four children, "Every great memory I have growing up is in the kitchen with my mom and my grandma, we're cooking all these beautiful family meals," shared the chef. "My mom is one of six, I'm one of four, so there's always so many mouths to feed and the noise and just the chatter of the kitchen is one of my favorite sounds in the whole world and I desperately want that for my kids."
However, if the whole thing just feels like too much this year, there's no harm in starting a new tradition of ordering out and treating yourself. As we said, you're doing amazing.