Kate Tulenko, MD
Dr. Tulenko is a mom of four- and one-year-old girls and pediatrician and global health specialist with IntraHealth, in Washington DC.
What’s your favorite parenting tip? When my older daughter turned three I started to have her clean up the playroom and her room before bedtime. We sing the cleanup song and make it fun. I checked out a book from the library about cleaning up and we read it together. I find my daughter is more likely to accept new ideas when it comes from a third source such as a book in addition to hearing it from me. When she turned four, I started having her put her clean clothes away and help me empty the dishwasher. Sometimes it takes longer to have her help, but I see this as an investment. I don’t want to be her servant when she’s a teenager. Plus there’s a practical side! I went to college not knowing how to wash clothes—what a pain!
What surprised you most about parenting? It amazes me that as a pediatrician I take care of a so many critically ill children, but now I’m having trouble taking care of two well children. As a doctor, you go off shift. But as a mom, your shift never ends. The level of emotional fatigue also surprises me. You always have to be emotionally available to your children. I find that draining.
How do you get your kids to eat healthy food? My advice on cooking is to get as much help as you can. Many people like cooking. I am not one of them.
When I got pregnant with my second daughter, I gave myself a gift: I hired a woman to come to my house once or twice each week to cook our meals for the week. In two hours, she can knock out all of our suppers for the week! I’ve hardly cooked since. Each week, I set out the recipes I’d like her to prepare, and I shop for the ingredients. Then she comes and prepares the meals and puts some in the refrigerator and others in the freezer.
I found her on gonannies.com. You can search there for different types of help, such as nannies, cooks, and housekeepers. The woman I hired isn’t a professional chef. She’s just a woman who likes to cook who needed a job. She doesn’t prepare gourmet meals, just simple healthy recipes. It’s not expensive at all: I pay her $13 an hour, and she usually works only two hours each week. It’s far cheaper than take-out, and it’s much healthier to boot.
How do you work exercise into your family’s life? Right now, my goal is to fit in 5 to 10 minutes of exercise a day. I know that’s not a whole lot, but at least it’s something! I work out on my elliptical machine in the basement while my girls nap. Our basement isn’t finished, so it’s not a place for toddlers to play! I’m close enough that I can hear them if they cry. Also, I do sit-ups in the living room while I talk to them.
How do you recharge your batteries? I learned early on that I needed to pay attention to my own emotional needs. I set aside a little time each day for myself. I try to get in 5 to 10 minutes of exercise each day. When my kids are older, I’ll have more time, but for now I do the best I can. Also each night before I go to sleep, for instance, I read about 10 minutes of a Dilbert comic book or some Mommy Lit.
I’ve also learned it’s important to adjust my expectations. My life isn’t going to be the way it was before! I don’t spend too much time pining for my pre-kids life. (My husband does though!)