7 Life Hacks My Seven-Year-Old Daughter Taught Me

You measure the world differently once you’re a parent. Time changes. Priorities certainly shift. There’s a fortitude that seems to appear out of thin air. You just do what needs to be done. It’s all so very primal.

But even as modernity turns us into these mostly tech-addicted post-primal addled humans, we still have this innate ability to nurture. But it’s not one-sided; as any parent can attest, like the saying goes: child is indeed the father (er, or mother) of (wo)man. They are our greatest teachers in ways most unexpected. 

And as we navigate these strange new times bogged by climate crises, pandemics, and turbulent political races, the cues from my nearly-seven-year-old daughter are coming at me in all the right ways. They’re so spot on right now I’m even willing to forego the pile of toys blocking our front door. For now, anyway.

1. Wake up early

Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds. I’m a firm anti-alarm-clocker (fodder for another story, I promise), which works well for a home-based writer. But kids have places to be, like all the time, even in lockdown—even if it’s just the backyard all by themselves, they move with urgency. You can’t sleep in much as a parent, and there are reasons that’s a good thing. Waking up early is better for our bodies. We’re not a nocturnal species, and getting as much daylight as possible can make for a more productive parent. Quiet time is for reflecting. And coffee.

I rise before my daughter, often before six. I’m not going to get all “me time” on you, but that Oatly oat milk latte does taste a whole lot better before the rush of parenting. On these warm summer days, I’ll sit outside in the yard, watching the birds and butterflies as the sun sparkles on the dew. These are precious moments of recalibration, focusing on what really matters—the inhale, the exhale, and the silent pauses in between. It makes me a better parent and a more effective one, too. 

2. Shower before bed

If you’re not bathing your kid before bed, you’re likely putting them to bed covered in layers of grime. Kids will find a way to be grosser than you think they possibly can be over the course of the day. And if your kids are anything like mine, this includes eating every meal entirely by hand, smearing most of it into hair and clothes, and rolling in the dirt like a happy puppy/with a happy puppy.

Pre-bedtime bathing isn’t just a necessity to keep the house (mostly) un-gross. It also offers that much-needed calm only warm water can bring. I add a few drops of lavender essential oil to necessitate the calmness. We prefer bar soaps in our tub, to minimize the soap-in-eyes trauma. Alaffia makes the Good bar soaps available at Whole Foods, and they’re both affordable and most effective. We’ve also been loving the Be Free shampoo and conditioner. They smell great and don’t sting when they (inevitably) get in the eyes.

3. Eat often, but smaller meals

Feeling stuffed is not a good feeling. Kids know this. They can’t do all the running, jumping, and general bouncing required in the waking hours if they’re weighed down by big, heavy meals. It’s the reason that kids (at least mine) constantly ask for snacks.

Don’t get me wrong, my daughter is a super-healthy eater. She started on veggies when she was just four-and-a-half months old. She eats generous servings of what we call her “growing” foods—fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. She’s got a voracious and healthy appetite. But with rare exception, she’s what I call a session eater. Ten bites here, another five a few minutes later, and so on, in between being a busy and energetic kid. If she sat and shoved a giant plate of food in her face like most of us do, she’d be miserable. The frequent small meal eating makes for a healthier and more organic relationship with food. She eats when she’s hungry. It’s that simple.

I’ve taken cues from my daughter here, too. You may think this kind of eating would lead to overeating or weight gain (or under-eating). But the opposite has proven to be true for me. The less I eat at any given time, the more I’m able to eat appropriately for my hunger level. Sometimes a few bites will do when the norm would be to double or triple that for a “meal.” 

We still have mealtime, and we prioritize the good stuff. But one thing you won’t ever hear me say to my daughter or myself: finish your dinner.

4. Connect with nature

If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that nature is essential for wellbeing. We’re fortunate to have yard space, and it’s been our saving grace. 

We have spent countless hours out back and some of our best moments have happened there; it’s a blessing in disguise amid the pandemic. We rescued an injured hummingbird; planted corn and tomatoes (don’t ask me about their survival though); watch butterflies, birds, and dragonflies daily; examined dead bugs under a microscope; marveled at the lotus flowers in our pond; discovered an abandoned wasp nest; juiced hundreds of oranges from our trees; watched crows and squirrels eat all the loquats; and ever-so-delicately avoided run-ins with our least favorite housemate: Stinky the Skunk. 

And a final word about outdoor time: invest in a hammock. You will absolutely not regret it. 

5. Play hard but rest harder

I was a world-class sleeper before becoming a parent. Like, it was my superpower. I could out-hibernate a bear. You get the picture. But parenting changes that. Not just the round-the-clock nursing schedule for newborns, but even as they get older, you sleep with one ear open. It’s just not the same sleep. 

You could argue (I most definitely will) that sleep is even more important once you’re a parent. Those waking hours are full-freaking-on, no matter what the age of your joyful bundle. You can truly live a lifetime in a single day seeing it through your child’s eyes. And that’s one of the greatest gifts of parenting. But don’t let it come at the expense of a solid 40 winks. 

If you’re like me and no longer the best sleeper, there are loads of natural supplements to help you get there. I’ve had the most success with melatonin. It helps me fall asleep, stay asleep, and I don’t experience any grogginess or other side effects the next day. I also maintain a very strict bedtime routine: no screen time an hour before bed, at least 15 minutes of reading, a noise machine, black-out curtains, and a little spritz of lavender mist before the lights go out. High-maintenance? Maybe. But without it, I’m a high-maintenance person to be around until the lights go out again. So ... totally worth it.

6. Keep going, even if something hurts

Oh, yes, it can be metaphorical in these strange and cryptic times—we all need to keep on truckin’. But I’m also talking about the eight-million Band-Aids I will go through by this time tomorrow. 

Kids injure themselves constantly because they’re playing constantly. It’s a numbers game. It may seem like a reason to wrap them in all that toilet paper you’ve been hoarding since March, but don’t do it. (And not just because we haven’t hit peak lockdown yet.)

If my daughter has taught me anything, it’s that the ouchies are essential. They clue her into a self-awareness that can often be swallowed up by the joie de vivre that is childhood. They make her pause, take stock in herself, and make a quick decision: is there a serious risk of bleeding to death, or will she survive this knee scrape and live to tell about it? 

In other words: sweat the small stuff, but not too much. And when the small stuff needs more TLC than usual: rinse it with peroxide and use Patch’s eco-friendly bamboo bandages. And remember all the super-secret healing magic in Mommy or Daddy kisses, too.

7. Be kind to all kinds

Kindness and compassion are guiding principles for most families. My daughter certainly has her off moments, which usually link to an unwillingness to share toys with her besties. But for the most part, she embodies the reality that compassion really is just following your heart to the truth. 

Whether she’s speaking to our cats like they’re having a legitimate two-way conversation, marveling at the nature in our backyard, or explaining with grace and kindness to our non-vegan friends why her family doesn't eat animals, she’s a constant reminder that kindness is our most sacred currency. 

Sometimes, books help clarify this conversation, and we’ve read quite a few that have made a mark on her (and me): V Is for Vegan by Ruby Roth; Whale in a Fish Bowl by Troy Howell; and The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With Chimps by Jeanette Winter

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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.