Whitney Casares of Modern Mommy Doc: “Compartmentalizing our to-dos reduces our mental load, allowing us to be more mindful throughout the day”

Instead of spending all week thinking about what you need to get done to make your life happen, take a chunk of time to make a plan. A half hour should work just fine to organize your day or your week (maybe less once you get really used to this method). Then, set aside another […]

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Instead of spending all week thinking about what you need to get done to make your life happen, take a chunk of time to make a plan. A half hour should work just fine to organize your day or your week (maybe less once you get really used to this method). Then, set aside another hour or 2 to, in 1 sitting, try to move through as much as possible on your list. If you’re still not done once the timer goes off, plan another 2-hour chunk in a few days. Compartmentalizing our to-dos reduces our mental load, allowing us to be more mindful throughout the day.


As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, FAAP.

Dr. Whitney is a private practice pediatrician and founder of Modern Mommy Doc, where she guides professional women to find success in the workplace and at home. She’s the author of The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting Without Losing Yourself and The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One. As a Mama Mindset thought leader and coach, she teaches working moms how to go from conflicted to centered.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I was born committed. When I’m in on something, I’m all in. At the age of 9, I marched into my living room and announced boldly that I’d finalized my plans to open a business. Within weeks I had enough money cleaning horse stalls to fund three additions to my Barbie collection. High school, college, and medical school were all filled with passion projects and exercises in persistence.

I continued that commitment to diligence and focused energy as a practicing physician. I leaned in to the working world. Someone needed to stay a little late to see a toddler with a high fever on a Tuesday night? My partners could count on me. The group needed someone to lead a committee? I was their girl. An urgent email came through and needed to be answered immediately? No problem. I was happy to do what it took to be a team player and to advance my own career. I caught up on relaxation and rejuvenation on the weekends, hanging out with friends and sleeping in whenever I wanted to.

I went full-force professionally because I wanted to prove myself a worthy employee and because I wanted to succeed. I love my work and I wanted a seat at the table, as Sheryl Sandberg put it in her groundbreaking book, Lean In. I knew there were generations of women who paved the way in the working world before me with single-minded grit so I had the opportunity to even be a doctor in the first place. I respected that and wanted that for myself too.

Then I had a baby girl and everything changed when it came to being “all in.” My daughter suffered from severe colic. She struggled with potty training. She had the hardest time sleeping. She tantrumed all the way through her toddler years. She lashed out whenever she was emotionally dysregulated. She suffered from the very first month of her life under what I know now was an extreme level of anxiety.

My daughter and my family needed their mom’s full commitment, but my professional obligations at work continued to pull at me as well. In fact, the more senior I became in my job, the more pressure I felt to be “all in,” even when I really couldn’t be. We had another daughter and, as the 2 girls grew older, life got even more complicated. There were school supplies to buy, music classes to sign up for, playdates to join, laundry to fold, doctors’ appointments to schedule — times 2. Things got chaotic real fast being a working mother of 2.

Sure, I could do it all. I was a jedi at juggling everything: work, home, my social obligations. You name it, I could fit it in, make it happen, or mop it up. But I started to question if doing it all was worth it because, I realized, in trying to do it all one big thing was missing: joy and contentment.

I hardly ever felt centered and aligned. I was constantly conflicted — pulled every which way, all at the same time. I forced my career and my mothering to fit together in my life by doing more constantly — staying up late most nights to answer emails I couldn’t get to during the day, spending time on car rides in the passenger’s seat with my family ordering toothpaste and toilet paper for our home, fitting in responses to lingering personal texts on the way to or from a meeting or an after-school activity.

I was strong — fierce, even, in the eyes of the world — but I didn’t feel very solid inside myself. I had to make a change. I too was burned out to do anything else. Like so many other working moms around me, even those without such an extreme situation with their child, I started yearning for a better version of my motherhood experience. That’s when I started really diving into this idea of how to be more centered and less conflicted.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I decided I had to break the cycle of burnout I was experiencing if I ever wanted to experience more centeredness for myself, and that meant changes at home and at work. I had to figure out a way to navigate the working mom world with more intentionality, to move from overindulgence or small, stolen moments as my only form of self-care to a pledge to make space for myself and my needs in a sustainable, consistent way. From a lean in mentality at work to a decision to say yes when it made sense for me and my family and to say no when it really didn’t. From acting resentful and haughty when my partner didn’t share my mental or household duty load to actually working toward more equity between us. From operating out of guilt when my kids begged for me to spend all day, every day with them to showing up for them regularly with attunement and connection. I moved from conflicted to centered, and, when I did, it changed everything.

I started learning and talking with other moms. I realized I was not alone in my struggle. And, as I heard other moms’ stories and quandaries, it became clear that we all needed a better framework for sustainable motherhood. I founded Modern Mommy Doc in 2017 with a few blogs about common mindset issues moms face and it quickly took flight. I developed a social media platform, launched a podcast, and started speaking and writing extensively about how to make motherhood more about thriving than surviving. My new book, The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting Without Losing Yourself, gives professional women the practical tools and long-term strategies they need to go from conflicted to centered.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

I spend three days a week in my private practice pediatrics practice seeing patients — from newborns all the way up to 23 years old. My other two mid-week days are spent coordinating with my Modern Mommy Doc team to provide relevant content for our community, talking with industry experts for my podcast, writing, and working with like-minded brands who want to elevate motherhood.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

We know that our kids need our time and attention at regular intervals. When our kids don’t have enough focused face time with us, free of distraction or outside competitors for our attention, the research is clear that they suffer. They can develop emotional and behavioral problems if they don’t have at least one caregiver who is regularly attuned and responsive to their needs. The research doesn’t say, however, that we need to be with our kids all the time. In fact, studies show that it’s the quality of the time we spend with our kids that matters most, and that we’re present — not just for the big moments, but for the mundane, in-between times, too.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

Our kids need to know they are valued and loved and, most importantly, that our relationship with them matters to us. We can only build on that relationship if we spend enough time with our kids getting to know them well. Quality does matter most when it comes to strengthening our bond with them, but, if we don’t give them enough space within our schedules, there are fewer opportunities for that quality time. When I’m in a rush to get from appointment to appointment and only leave a ten-minute window for “quality time” with my four-year old, those few moments usually aren’t really very quality at all. I feel impatient and stressed. She doesn’t have the space to ask me questions or to the time to dawdle because I’m so urgent to move onto my next task. When we have a few hours, or even a full day together without the pressures of work, though, we both relax into being around each other and enjoying each other’s company.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

When we prioritize moments to intentionally focus on our relationships with our children, practicing special time is one of the best ways we can make the most of it. Special time can mean setting aside 20 minutes per day to remove distractions, get on the floor or sit at the table with our kids, and play. We let our kids lead us, refrain from using any judgment statements (good or bad), and spend time doing what they want to do. As opposed to a time-out, when you intentionally remove your attention for bad behavior, it’s a time-in with your child, when you intentionally focus on your child and your child alone.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. When my daughters were babies, this was as simples as me getting on my hands and knees next to their activity mats. When they were toddlers, it literally meant playing with building blocks on the floor. Most importantly, I set a timer, turned my phone off, and made the time only about me and my children. Now we love to go on mommy-daughter dates to get our nails done or to visit the new polar bear at the zoo. When we remove the distractions of the outside world and focus just on our children for discrete periods of time they can count on, we build a foundation of memories and mindfulness, ultimately building resilience and connection.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

There are times when taking time to be “fully present” with our children mean we just need to do less, but, the reality is, not everything can be brushed aside. Efficient professionals use these tricks to get it all done with the least amount of time and stress possible, leaving space in their lives to give their kids more quality attention:

They Batch To-dos

Instead of spending all week thinking about what you need to get done to make your life happen, take a chunk of time to make a plan. A half hour should work just fine to organize your day or your week (maybe less once you get really used to this method). Then, set aside another hour or 2 to, in 1 sitting, try to move through as much as possible on your list. If you’re still not done once the timer goes off, plan another 2-hour chunk in a few days. Compartmentalizing our to-dos reduces our mental load, allowing us to be more mindful throughout the day.

They Refuse to Equate Chores and Errands with Self-care

Sometimes I take a vacation day, and I spend every minute of it running errands for my family. Usually, by the time 5:00 pm rolls around, I feel tired and grumpy. I often wish I had just gone to work. At the very least, I feel disappointed and wistful about how I used my time. Errands are a necessary evil, but don’t get them confused with quality moments alone or with your loved ones. I manage to get most of my checklist items crossed off without lifting a metaphorical finger. You can too.

They Off-load the Tasks That Drive Them Crazy (or That They Don’t Do Well)

I’m not always good at cleaning my house. So, I hired someone who is to take care of the number 1 task I don’t need or want to do. Hiring a house cleaner reduced my stress, forced me to organize my house the night before she arrived each week, and gave me back my precious time, so I could spend it on more important things, like anything else. I’m also not great at cooking weekday meals other than spaghetti and meatballs or chicken teriyaki out of a freezer bag. I shine when it comes to holiday meal extravaganzas, but my husband is a weekday wiz in the kitchen. Since he and I both know I would probably succumb to takeout every night if he didn’t cook consistently (and because we keep working at being parenting teammates), he wears the chef’s hat in our home most Mondays through Thursdays.

They Automate

One way to reduce your mental load is to simplify the number of tasks you have, either by getting rid of them or by delegating them to someone else. For the tasks you have to attend to, reduce your time thinking about them by automating. Thank goodness we live in a modern world where, for a small fee, we can automate almost everything we do. I would wither on the vine if it were not for autopay and internet grocery and household goods delivery services. Diapers, wipes, sippy cups, household items like paper towels, hand soap, and toilet paper — I get them all from online ordering.

They Use the Car to Strategically Multitask

The car is your friend. Research shows that multitasking generally decreases our productivity, but, in the car, the same rules don’t always apply. The car can be a place to get a lot accomplished in a short period of time. Even when I’m the one driving, I use the car as a mini office. If I’m riding by myself for extended periods, I spend the time in the car listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

I love reading paper books, but I just know I would never have the time to get to everything I’ve had on my “meaning to” list if I relied on my evenings and weekends. That was especially true when I was a new mom. The car was a place where, when I was by myself, I knew I could get a lot done by listening. It still is. Especially when it comes to books in the parenting or self-help sector, audiobooks are the way to go.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

Good parents are intentional about creating a safe, stable environment for their children where they can develop resilience, grow physically and emotionally, and fail fearlessly. They balance warmth and support with firm limits. They also problem-solving, self-compassion, and a growth mindset by practicing it themselves. As a working mom, I get the chance to do this on the regular.

For example, my husband and I ordered a special celebratory dinner the night my first book, The New Baby Blueprint, was published. It was an important professional milestone for me, and I was proud of all the hard work it took to get to that moment.

My 6-year-old sauntered down our first flight of stairs and into the dining room, looking less than enthusiastic about her dinner options but very interested in the latest family news.

“Does that mean since you have the book out now you’re done with working, like for forever? Will tomorrow be a mommy-daughter day and all the days after that? Can you stop being a doctor now?”

It would have been easy to cave inward from the weight of that question. She was genuine in her ask and my reaction was sincere too. When she asked me to never leave her side, it fed into an ingrained belief I see so many women struggle with. It’s a belief that to be a good mom I need to be completely devoted to my children — above my work, above myself — above every other area of my life.

The next day at my pediatrics office, the opposite scenario ensued. At our monthly medical professional meeting one of my partners passed around a sign-up sheet with a list of committee and volunteer opportunities.

“I want to remind everyone that this is not a lifestyle practice,” one of my partners voiced to the room. “Our work goes beyond clocking in at 9:00 am and clocking out at 5:00 pm. We each have to pull our weight. We need every person to pick up the slack and, right now, we really need more committee members — as many as possible.”

With the book newly published and my daughter’s comments fresh in my mind from the night before, I hesitated to add my name to the list but knew it might draw criticism from my business partners. I felt the same pressure all the other moms I know feel to be a good worker — someone who’s fully committed to my colleagues and my corporation, the kind of person who takes care of my personal life on my personal time, who doesn’t let family considerations interfere with my professional pursuits or efforts.

I decided, in the end, to join 1 work committee — the one with the lowest time commitment and the least amount of energy required. When my kids are older and I’m in a different life stage, I’ll commit to more (maybe) and, if I do, it won’t be to fit a good worker ideal. It will be based on what my company needs and what works well for me at the time.

“Well,” I told my daughter that next night at the table. “Something interesting happened today. Mommy had to be strong so I could do what was best for you and for me. Here’s the thing, sweetie. I can’t stop working…but I also don’t want to stop working. I love you and your sister so much, and, at the same time, I love helping people. I want to use the special way I’m wired to help people who don’t live here with us too. What I can do is make sure we have plenty of opportunities to be together doing all the things we love and being connected with each other.”

“OK,” she said, taking it all in. Then, she brightened. “Actually, can I help? I know! I can make signs around the neighborhood telling new moms we can help them feel less scared about having their babies.”

My pride in her resilience puffed up like a balloon. See? I thought. Like me, she struggled initially with accepting that her vision of me connected at the hip all day, every day is unrealistic, but she was able to problem solve through it. By choosing a more middle road, I’m teaching her she can do the same when she’s older and in my shoes.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

My kids have so many career aspirations, I can’t keep them all clear in my head. One day, they want to be baristas. They next day, it’s an astronaut that tops the list. I’m most focused on letting them explore their dreams and passions, and teaching them that tenacity in the face of failure is the critical component to achieving great things.

My oldest daughter has a severe anxiety disorder. She wanted to attend a sleep-away camp and, while I was excited for her, I was also terrified she would end up sleeping poorly each night and a nervous wreck each day. For her, though, the thought of going on a completely independent adventure — playing with new friends, exploring in muddy creeks — sounded totally exciting at the moment. I could have squashed her dreams because I was afraid she will fail, but what would that teach her? She’d be less likely to pursue even bigger dreams she has — to be a scientist and an expert on Japanese culture. So, I gave her the green light, knowing that, if the week didn’t go perfectly this time around, we would learn from the experience and make it better the next time around.

Even more powerful, the more I demonstrate a willingness to pursue seemingly unattainable goals myself, the more my kids have the confidence to do the same. Thanks especially to the plethora of virtual meetings I’ve had during the pandemic, they’ve been present for most of my business team meetings this year. They’ve heard about my major wins and maybe even more about the times I’ve bombed. They’ve also watched me fall down time and time again, only to dust myself off and get going again.

“Mom? How do you just talk like that in front of people?” one of them asked me last week after I gave a virtual keynote. “Don’t you get scared? Why don’t you mess up?”

“Practice, practice, practice,” I replied. “Oh, and I’ve messed up plenty of times. The first time I spoke in front of an audience, I was completely petrified. But I know when I make a mistake when I’m speaking, it just means I have room to improve. I’ll do it better next time. And I know that the only way to not be petrified of something is to keep doing it.”

When I am vulnerable and human with my kids, they know they can be vulnerable and human, too. They also know that it’s safe to try hard things, no matter what the outcome.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success in the workplace and at home means that we are centered. We have a clear vision for our lives and our life goals. We make decisions that align with those priorities. We’re not bound by the pressures of societal gender bias, mom guilt, or outside agendas. We have a framework for spending the majority of our time and energy on the things that matter most to us, and for addressing the rest of the tasks and commitments in our lives that threaten to steal away from those precious resources.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I love Big Little Feelings (@biglittlefeelings on Instagram) and author Tina Payne Bryson for all things parenting with presence and skill. The communities at Working Mom Kind (@workingmomkind on Instagram) HeyMama, and Mindful Mamas Club are also amazing for working mom support. The book that most inspired me toward more inner grace and personal growth (which always makes me a better parent), is Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. When I learned to be more graceful to myself, I had some much more grace for my kids and pretty much everyone else around me, too!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you’re going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide” — Brené Brown

Everything I have to teach to other moms, I’ve struggled through myself. My darkest days as a new mom, my sense of complete hopelessness as a burnt-out employee with extreme family needs — those were the hardest moments of my life, but they also formed the person I am today and gave me perspective that there are always lessons to be learned in times of crisis. Sometimes, in fact, when you’re at your rock bottom is the time you’re vulnerable and open enough to take in what you need to learn.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My dream is for women to have support from their employers to lean in and out when they want to (and need to) from their professional endeavors and from their commitments at home. Workplace policies, paid parental leave for both moms and dads, and a culture shift toward seeing working mom professionals through a whole-person lens is what we need to make modern motherhood more manageable.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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