From the category archives:

Amy Hackworth

Chores and Children

November 26, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

Teaching kids to help with household chores seems like the perfect primer on work and responsibility — to me, two of the most daunting and most important lessons I hope to teach our children. And research shows that involving children in chores teaches “a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives.” The same study concluded that young adults in their 20s were most successful when they’d participated in household tasks around ages 3-4. Fascinating!

One of my earliest attempts at working together as a family was cleaning our hallway bathroom with our two boys. I remember standing next to our six-year-old while he cleaned the mirrors above the sink. Only instead of cleaning, he was making silly faces in them. Many, many silly faces. And instead of teaching him responsibility, I was teaching him what happened when I lost my temper. I took deep breaths for as long as I could and then said through clenched teeth, ”Clean the mirror. Just clean the mirror!”

Better ways to handle the situation? Keep reading.


Be Yourself. Hand lettering by Emily McDowell.

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Emily McDowell.

I was inspired by my friend Christine last weekend as I watched her serving others: she helped with a fundraiser at our local elementary school; planned, prepared for, and executed a surprise party for a friend who needed some love; and volunteered to design, bake and decorate a three-tiered fondant-covered super fancy Tinkerbell cake for the nonprofit Cake Smiles. And that was just the weekend!

Her kids are in after-school gymnastics and piano and soccer and their serious allergies and asthma mean they’re visiting medical specialists several times a month, and quite possibly the emergency room, too. My point is that she’s got as much on her plate as anyone I know, yet she always seems balanced, calm and genuinely happy, and she’s consistently helping others.

I resisted the temptation to compare myself to Christine, but I was motivated by her example to think about how I could open my eyes, heart, and life to others more often. As I talked with another friend who’s a great example of reaching out to others, she taught me a new way of seeing service. Elizabeth shared that her kindness and help to others is rarely a conscious intention of “service”, but more an organic extension of her natural gifts. “I used to think I always had to do for people,” Elizabeth explained, but that led to stress and worry and feeling that she could never do enough.

More on this new way of seeing service.


The Moment of Commitment

November 12, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Ship blueprint available here.

A few days ago I attended a dinner at a business conference for entrepreneurs with my husband.  A man we sat near is happily working in a field he loves, but said that twenty years ago he would never have dreamed he’d be doing what he was doing now. It’s his third career, and his working life has been full of the unexpected, as many (most?) of our working lives are.

I love hearing about the paths people have travelled that have led to a perfect job or a dream fulfilled. It’s reassuring to hear happy endings when I feel I’m still in the middle of my own story. It seems that certain elements almost always emerge in these happy endings: a chance meeting here or a random connection there leads to a conversation that leads to a realization that leads from one opportunity to another. And somewhere on the journey is often a decision — seemingly simple but with far-reaching consequences— to pursue that work.

More on what it’s like to commit to a decision.



By Amy Hackworth. Images by Kirstin Roper.

Imagine your daughter’s flu-like symptoms turn out to be something much more serious and within hours, you learn she’s in heart failure and will need a transplant. Or your little equestrian is kicked in the head by a horse one afternoon at the trainer’s and suddenly you’re only thinking of the next minutes and hours of her life, questioning the hope of coming days and years. Or imagine that a sudden bulge in your daughter’s cheek turns out to be an aggressive Stage IV tumor, the thing you feared most when you took her to the doctor.

Now imagine that as your world is being changed forever, as you are sobered and overwhelmed and frightened, your child is being treated at a facility that’s specifically designed for pediatric care — a children’s hospital that can meet all of your needs, from the best possible care for your little patient to the most supportive and helpful environment for your thousand-and-one questions and fears. As medical protocols and procedures become part of your everyday vocabulary, the children’s hospital where your child is being cared for begins to feel like home, and the staff begins to feel like family.

These are the stories I heard a few weeks ago when I joined the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals on a trip to celebrate their Champions — a group of kids and their families (one from each state) who are heroes of bravery and courage. Morgan’s heart transplant was successful, and two years later she is the whirlwind of energy you’d expect any 5-year-old would be. Greer was fortunate enough to find the world’s foremost pediatric craniofacial expert at her children’s hospital, and less than a year after her accident she is literally back in the saddle, riding and competing again. And darling Jordyn is in complete remission now, looking forward to a baby brother in January and planning a career in medicine.

More stories ahead. Keep reading!



October 30, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Limited edition print by Aletha and Ruth on Minted.

After feeling kind of lousy for a few days last week, my energy was back over the weekend. I felt great, motivated, and determined so I created a to-do list a mile long and dove in for all I was worth. Full-steam ahead on yard work, personal work, family projects and housework! It was both exhilarating and exhausting, but by the end of the weekend… it was just exhausting.

I’d overdone it. I went full-steam ahead until I ran out of steam, and then, boy, did I run out of steam. By Sunday night I was so tired I couldn’t even think about the things I needed to prepare for a trip the next morning. I was beat. (Not surprisingly, Monday morning was a fairly unpleasant, hectic rush.)

This sparked a memory: a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago, an a-ha moment that I’m still trying to assimilate and live. She was life coaching me at the time, and she asked me a simple question about what’s really happening when I try to do too much.

Keep reading for the answer.


Little Artist. By Eugeni Balakshin.

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Eugeni Balakshin.

I’m fascinated by natural ability — how some people can expertly sketch from memory, or play a tune by ear, or instinctively understand math, or show seemingly effortless compassion, or handle a soccer ball with native skill and energy. I believe we were all born with these kinds of gifts, though some are more obvious than others. These innate gifts amaze me, and one of the most exciting things about parenting is watching them unfold.

I’ve always hoped to support our sons in developing their gifts, to help them find expertise and joy in learning more about the things that come naturally to them. But so far, I haven’t been terribly successful.

Click through for one of my attempts gone wrong!


The Myth of Worthiness

October 14, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

I’ve watched Dr. Brené Brown’s 2010 TEDx talk on the power of vulnerability more than once, and I imagine many of you have, too. With over 11 million views, I think it’s safe to say the issues she discusses have struck a chord that resonates with how we think about ourselves, our mistakes, and the need for authentic relationships.

I recently came across a series of clips from a piece she did with Oprah, and there are little bits of wisdom in each one. I’m especially interested in her ideas about how we perceive our “worthiness of love and belonging.” Do we believe we’re worthy of caring relationships? That we’re worthy to be loved, and to love ourselves?

Dr. Brown, here, asserts that we do deserve these things, not because of anything we’ve achieved or accomplished, but because we live and breathe. These are fundamental privileges that accompany living, not special favors we earn by being perfect or even by being great or good. “There are no pre-requisites for worthiness,” she says.

And yet. We often act as if there are. “Sure, I’m pretty worthy of love and belonging,” she suggests we might believe, “but I’d be super worthy if…” We can fill in our own blanks: “if I could lose that last five pounds”, “if I worked harder,” “if I managed work and family just right,” “if I didn’t waste so much time,” “if I could just meet this or that goal.” Often the x to which we assign our worthiness isn’t even an attainable or realistic standard, which ensures that a sense of being enough is continually at arm’s length.

But that’s a myth, friends. We don’t need to wait until things are perfect (because they never will be!) to feel that we are worthy of loving ourselves. We deserve that because we’re here. Now let’s enjoy it.

How do you nurture a sense that you’re enough?  How can we help each other embrace life as it is instead of an unrealistic perfection that isn’t?

P.S. Brené Brown’s 2012 follow-up TED talk is here. And we talked about her ideas of vulnerability and courage several months ago here.


Sweet Dreams. By Shop Homegrown on Etsy.

By Amy Hackworth. Sign by Shop Homegrown on Etsy.

My husband has been blessed with the gift of napping. He has the ability to nap at almost any time of day with both depth and length, and still get a full night’s sleep. It’s a trait he inherited, and among my favorites of his family stories is the time Justin’s aunt remarked that she didn’t know adults took naps until she married into the family. If you’ve ever felt a little guilty for sneaking an afternoon nap, vindication is yours.

Turns out, the gift of napping has significant benefits for productivity, performance, and overall health. Arianna Huffington extolls the virtues of the nap in this story on the growing presence of nap rooms in corporate America, pointing out that “sleep makes us more productive, creative, less stressed and much healthier and happier.”

Keep reading for more reasons to nap!


deep breath

By Amy Hackworth. Poster by Evajuliet on Etsy.

A few years ago I was working with a life coach who pointed out my tendency to notice a fact about my life and jump to a negative reaction about that fact. In the moment, I’d made a comment about how my house was a mess, and how annoyed I was by it. She helped me separate the fact (that my house was messy) from my strong negative reaction to it (that having a messy house was an annoying burden). A messy house isn’t inherently negative; the negativity was a judgment I chose that actually made the challenge seem greater than it was.

This was my introduction to the value of delaying judgment — of noticing first the fact or feeling or experience, and holding off on my propensity to immediately label it as good or bad. This non-judgmental approach is also a tenet of mindfulness, which is simply defined as “a state of active, open attention to the present.” If only it were simple to implement…

In her book called Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness (geared to classroom educators), Deborah Schoeberlein writes, “Purposefully taking a mental step back, in order to notice what happened without immediately engaging with intense emotions and reactions, provides a kind of protection against unconstructive responses and the self-criticism that can slip out and make a hard thing even harder.”

“Unconstructive responses” includes labeling ourselves bad mothers when we’re impatient with our children, or berating ourselves for feeling ungrateful when we’re less than appreciative for our good lives. These judgments and their negative feelings overshadow opportunities to learn about our ourselves and shortchange growth for frustration and irritation. When I untangle my self-judgment and instead notice what I’m experiencing, I’m more thoughtful, rational and definitely more effective when it comes to considering solutions.

Have you noticed that self-judgment makes “hard things even harder”? What helps you mentally step back before diving into emotional responses?

P.S. Some interesting research about how mindfulness can decrease burnout in medical professionals and interesting suggestions (pause, presence, proceed) that apply to more than just doctors here.


Expectations and the Unexpected

September 23, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

Our family went on a little road trip last week, and I had some pretty specific ideas about how we’d spend our travel time. Things didn’t work out how I’d planned. It was nothing big or tragic that waylaid my ideas, just some unexpected events that changed the outcome of our trip (and truthfully, only slightly).

And yet, it stung. It was difficult for me to let go of the hope I’d felt in creating my expectations for our time together. The altered prospects were nothing too challenging, and actually presented some lovely opportunities. But it took more than a few miles down the road before I felt like acknowledging those opportunities.

Expectations have value, certainly, and help us manage our own and our family’s lives. But holding onto them so tightly didn’t do me a bit of good. Not surprisingly, being upset that things hadn’t gone differently didn’t change my circumstances. In fact, as long as I begrudged the loss of my unmet expectations, those expectations crowded out the good that was right in front of me—until I let them go. Once I was willing to accept what was instead of what I’d wanted, there was suddenly space to enjoy our days as they unfolded.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your expectations and the unexpected?


Choosing How to Spend 168 Hours

September 16, 2013

Hourglass charm by Freshly Fig on Etsy.

By Amy Hackworth. Hourglass charm on etsy.

Do hourglasses give anyone else a little anxiety? Though I think they’re beautiful, I’m haunted by their relentlessness. Nothing can stop those little sandy seconds from turning into minutes and hours and days and years, and will I ever finish (or even start) all the things I hope to?

Perhaps it’s this anxiety that draws me to Laura Vanderkam’s work about time management. Among other things, she researches and writes about making the most of the 168 hours each of us has in every week. Her book is called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

Vanderkam’s first step to reclaiming some of that extra time is to keep a time log for a week. It’s the beginning of her “time makeover” (see all the steps in this pdf). Tracking a full week’s 168 hours can teach us a lot about how we’re using — and misusing — our time, she says. It’s the starting point to creating a life that includes family time, work, exercise, hobbies, creativity and leisure, plus a full night’s sleep!

What else does Vanderkam recommend? Keep reading.


Choosing Cheerfulness

September 9, 2013

New York Portrait sessions

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

We have a family friend who is effusively cheerful. Every time we see him, he is all smiles, eagerly asking about our projects and our family. When our children are with us, he kneels to their eye level and asks genuine questions about their interests. He is enthusiastic and engaged. I’ve watched him interact this way with a roomful of people, offering equal amounts of cheer to every person he speaks with.

There was a time in my life when I would have found this sunniness just a little too bright for my taste. Could he really be that interested in everyone he talks to? Could he really be that happy?

But it’s obvious he’s not putting on an act. He’s genuinely and enthusiastically interested in people around him, and the temptation to question his cheerfulness ended when I realized how talking to him made me feel. It was great! I felt important and valued. I felt like I had interesting things to say. And I couldn’t keep from smiling. His cheerful glow seemed to transfer to me after our conversation, and I was more inclined to see the world as a rosy place. I liked it.

Did I choose cheerfulness? Keep reading…


Being Gentle to Ourselves

September 4, 2013


By Amy Hackworth. Image: vintage Laura Ashley via The House That Lars Built.

In the past several weeks, we’ve talked about supporting our friends as they go through the hardest things. Some sorrows are deeply serious, but others are simply the sad moments of life. It might be the bittersweet milestone of kindergarten that’s got us down for a bit or a fractured friendship or an injury. Or just one of those inexplicable days when the odds seem decidedly against us.

For most women I know, a typical response to a sad day would be to soldier on, though that’s probably not the advice most of us would offer our friends in their times of sadness. I find I’m often disappointed in myself when I’m not feeling up to par; I feel frustrated and wish for the emotional energy to get off that rocky road as quickly as possible. When I’m feeling down, I often ask more of myself than I would on other days.

More on this topic ahead…


Successful Family

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

If you’re a software developer (any software developers out there?), you’re probably familiar with the philosophy of “agile”. I’m no expert, but I was introduced to the idea by Bruce Feiler’s book Secrets of Happy Families, when he reports on his visit to the Starrs, a family that applies the workflow philosophy to their family.

As I understand it, agile in the workplace takes decision-making and organization from executive management and puts both in the hands of the team doing the actual programming. It utilizes day-to-day personal and team accountability and sets small, incremental goals to move projects forward. Agile’s been incredibly successful in the business world, dramatically improving project completion rates and reducing workplace mistakes.

As I’m turning my attention toward establishing successful routines with our boys at the beginning of a new school year, I’ve been thinking about the Starr’s system. You can read about Feiler’s visit to the Starr family here, as well as in his book. And I recommend reading David and Eleanor’s own pdf paper detailing their family’s experience here.

There are 2 elements to the routine I like most. Keep reading…


Never Empty Handed - by Clare Elsaesser

By Amy Hackworth. Painting, “Never Empty Handed,” by Clare Elsaesser.

Although I’d always felt sympathetic when I heard of a child who’d passed away, my heart ached a little more fiercely when I heard about such tragedies once I’d become a mother. Before I had a chance to push it away, the thought of losing one of our children made my chest tighten and my stomach drop.

And then one of my dearest friends said goodbye to her almost-two-year-old, and I came a little closer to understanding the grief that comes with losing a child. I learned that the sympathy I’d felt for other parents before watching my friend Molly lose her little Lucy in 2008 had been wholly uninformed. I’d had no idea of the heartbreak, the emptiness, the despair, the reality of grief. And still, I don’t really know what a grieving parent feels, but I have watched from a closer distance now, and my sympathy has matured.

For this small series on supporting our friends when they are hurting (see previous posts here and here), Molly and her husband Vic shared some of the things that helped them most when their little Lucy passed away. The first thing Molly said was that it really is the thought that counts, but it only counts if the person knows you’re thinking of them. Reaching out in almost anyway helped Molly: Facebook notes, texts, cards, emails. Imagine how hard it must be to think that the rest of the world is going on with life while you are truly heartbroken. And then imagine how comforting it must be to know that friends have not forgotten you, but remember your suffering and send their love. A friend of Vic’s from law school whom Molly has never even met sent them a handwritten card every week for a few months, then once a month for two whole years, offering her support in a very real and very consistent way.

More thoughts on this tender subject. Keep reading.


On Hurrying Children

August 12, 2013

family portrait photography

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

When our oldest was two and we’d walk down the street to the community mailbox, he was in no rush to get there. He wandered, meandered, stopped, sometimes turned around. I realized then that he was definitely not destination-oriented. Most young children aren’t. In fact, the concept of hurrying baffles them. For little ones, an outing is much more than trip to the mailbox and back; it’s a wonder-full exploration of the world around them and they’re pretty much experts at taking their time to enjoy those wonders. There’s so much to admire about children.

When we first became parents my husband bought a book called Trees Make the Best Mobiles, and although I loved the title and the premise of simple parenting, I confess I didn’t ever read it. But an idea that Justin shared with me has stuck with me for years. It’s this, or something quite like this: hurrying children is a form of violence. Yikes. It’s stuck with me all these years because it’s a pretty bold statement, but I’ve come to see how true it is.

Hurrying as violence? Keeping reading.



By Amy Hackworth. Image here.

A couple of months ago we discussed what to say and do for our friends who are hurting, and I’ve thought a lot about the helpful and insightful comments you left. There was a general agreement that we’ll never be too far off base if we reach out in love, and it sparked an idea to share ideas about how we can help in specific situations.

My sister Lisa’s two-year-old son, the youngest of six, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January, and Lisa and her family have had first hand experience receiving kindness and comfort from many friends. Little Noah has responded well to treatments over the past six months and his prognosis is very hopeful, for which we’re so thankful. But it certainly hasn’t been easy, and Lisa and Dave recently shared with me some of the most thoughtful things friends have done for their family.

With Noah’s compromised immune system, extra clean hands for the whole family became a top priority, and knowing this Lisa’s sister-in-law sent a case of pleasant smelling hand sanitizer and soaps, with a note that she’d heard they’d be needing to wash their hands a lot. They’ve also received gas cards to help with travel costs to the children’s hospital four hours away, gift cards to the hospital café (a great idea when the hospital has good food), and a sweet note with money just for a date night. One of Noah’s favorite gifts was from a neighbor, who thoughtfully ordered a DVD just for him from the American Childhood Cancer Organization about a heroic boy with cancer. For any sick child, a stuffed animal is a sweet and cuddly gift, but for a child with cancer stuffed animals must be washable. If a child throws up or has an accident on a non-washable stuffed animal, it simply has to be thrown away. Just think of the heartache that can be avoided!

Keep reading. More helpful tips ahead.



By Amy Hackworth. Image by Hisaya Katagami.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero

One of our most consistent bedtime routines with our children centers around remembering our favorite things from the day. We each try to list three wonderful things that happened in an effort to cultivate that virtue of gratitude. Sometimes our sons prove their very short memories and seem to only be able to remember the previous twenty minutes. Other times they are more thoughtful and their lists stretch well beyond three items. Time with friends usually tops our boys’ charts and the best jokes of the day as well as family activities make frequent appearances.

Although our boys’ responses are sometimes casual or even flippant, I hope we’re helping them develop a mental muscle, teaching them the practice of feeling grateful every day for the good that happens in their lives. Our initial motivation for helping our boys develop gratitude wasn’t based on research, but there’s actually a growing body of scientific evidence on the benefits of gratitude.

Keep reading to find how why gratitude works.


Preparing for Joy

June 24, 2013

Alt Design Summit 2013 photographed by Justin Hackworth

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth for Alt.

In a series of tips about joyful living in July’s “O Magazine,” a little piece by Chef Thomas Keller caught my eye. He writes about the idea of being prepared, in the kitchen and in life, and uses the term mise en place. It’s French for “put in place” and refers to preparations and arrangements required for the night’s cooking: ingredients and tools, and even, Chef Keller suggests, a mindset that’s on the lookout for potential snags, fixing problems before they can happen.

He shares that this sort of habitual preparation in the kitchen has spilled over into his everyday, and he’s thinking ahead, double checking, and planning carefully in all aspects of his life. This way, he’s minimizing bumps along the way, and he’s as ready for the unexpected as anyone can hope to be.

Because “joy” connotes a sort of spontaneous delight, the idea of preparing to maximize joy is an interesting one. When I think of those occasions I’ve been unprepared—anything from last-minute birthday party prep to dashing around the house looking for my keys—I can certainly see preparation as the foundation for a less stressful life. Though I’m sometimes most brilliant (though most frantic) at the last minute, I’m up for the challenge this summer of developing the habit of mise en place.

How about you? Do you already have mise en place routines that fuel a sense of joy in your life? Do you think it’s true that careful preparation creates a space for enjoying life more fully?


Form & Function

June 17, 2013

Marie Watt's Blanket Tower

By Amy Hackworth. Image here.

When I happened upon Marie Watt’s Blanket Tower at the museum recently, I marveled at the 12-foot stack she’d created (how?!) of wool blankets. Blankets are universally functional, and I love that Watts created a piece of art celebrating such a meaningful staple of our homes.

I was struck with this homey feeling of comfort, which seems appropriate since blankets offer physical and emotional warmth. They’re utilitarian, but often develop a strong emotional component. More than just practical household items, blankets can be family treasures, too, and sometimes carry a sort of provenance the whole family knows and a nostalgia the whole family feels.

The tower is more than twice my height, and that’s a striking number of blankets, many of them contributed by families for the project. I felt a strong sense of community, thinking that each blanket represented a different family—their picnics, guest beds, sofa snuggles. Though each family is different, we all need and use many of the same practical items to create our individual lives and homes. They’re woven into our separate family histories, but also have meaning across our shared experiences.

So many things pass through our homes over the years. Which are the items that share both function and meaning in your family? Which are the keepers? And what other household items gathered en masse would make an interesting art exhibit?

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