I have two kids, ages 4 and 6. I really struggle with being organized and leaving the house peacefully and on time and I feel like I am constantly playing catch-up. Do you have any tips on how to make mornings run smoothly and ideas for managing family routines?
I look forward to hearing from you!
Exasperated mom of two
Dear mom of two,
When my three children were all under the age of five, getting prepared and out the door by a set time seemed to require herculean effort! There were occasions when, upon arriving at events, I felt frazzled and disorganized. Other moms appeared to have it all together, reaching their destination in a calm and timely fashion, while I dashed in, out of breath, at the last minute.
Looking back, I recognize that I tended to be quite hard on myself. I somehow had the impression that other moms did not share my struggles. From my perspective, other caregivers planned better, were more organized and less forgetful. I envied the moms who always had the emergency supplies for situations I failed to foresee. Sudden rain might find me without umbrellas, boots and raincoats, although on other occasions I’d be the mom who lugged around umbrellas on a sunny afternoon at the zoo.
Fortunately, I soon understood that the other caregivers I was comparing myself to did not have secret super-powers, they had simply learned how to anticipate and plan better than I did. I needed to learn from my mistakes, to re-evaluate my preparations and adjust accordingly to move forward without giving up, resorting to defining myself by my shortcomings.
There are many small steps you can take that will help make your life and routines more manageable. Try implementing the seven tips listed here:
Stick to predictable and consistent routines. Naturally there will be variations from day to day, but for the most part, if your children know the order of events and what to expect throughout the morning and the rest of the day, transitions can become more seamless. Routines add form and structure to our lives that free our minds to think other more creative and interesting thoughts. Children appreciate routines as a way to mark the passage of time and routines give them a sense of security and predictability.
Clearly communicate expectations for individual family members and caregivers. Specifically articulate ahead of time exactly which person is responsible for each step of the morning routine. Who wakes up the children? Who decides what they wear and ensures that they are dressed? Who is watching the clock? Who packs the bags? When something new and unpredictable is on the schedule, explain as much as you know and can anticipate to the children. Brainstorm together about what you might need to bring and clearly outline behavioral expectations.
Practice backward design through reflection and adjust accordingly. If you had a particularly rough morning getting out the door, take time later in the day to reflect on the factors that derailed your plans and made the transition difficult. Anticipate ways to prevent a repeat performance. If 30 minutes is not enough time for all family members to wake up, eat breakfast and get out the door, perhaps you need to allow 45 minutes. If packing lunches and bags takes too much time and causes stress as you are leaving, perhaps they could be packed the night before. If the children are difficult to wake up and seem cranky from lack of sleep, modify their bedtimes to an earlier hour.
Avoid overscheduling and plan for down time and rest. Well-rested children and caregivers are more alert, have a more positive outlook and have increased energy to be flexible and patient with each other. When we operate on too little sleep, or if we are tired and over stimulated, we become impatient, frustrated, easily discouraged and unhappy. Spread out activities and special events across several days whenever possible and find time for relaxing activities such as playing and reading books quietly every day. Bedtime routines should be strictly adhered to in order to maximize time for sleep.
Choose your battles. Give yourself permission to occasionally lower your standards and to cut corners (without compromising consistency) in order to minimize stress for both adults and children and to save time. Perhaps sitting down to breakfast as a family could be skipped and the kids could eat in the car. If children are allowed to choose their own outfits, time could be saved (and perhaps a power struggle) and it really might not matter if they are mismatched, especially if the children are happier.
Make time for yourself in the mornings if you need it. For me this involves waking up earlier than the children in order to have some alone time with a hot cup of coffee and quiet reading. Some parents schedule an early morning workout at the gym, while others spend 20 minutes in mindful meditation doing yoga. When caregivers are awake and ready for the day, they feel better prepared and have increased mental capacity and patience to deal with the unanticipated occurrences that come their way.
Reflection, prior planning and clear communication between caregivers as well as with the children are all good ways to make mornings go more smoothly! Most of all, do not give up, but rather, learn from the past and keep looking forward. Tomorrow WILL be better!
Please let me know how these guidelines for managing family routines work for you!
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