I want to preface this post by saying that my methods work for me, and work right now. This might not be so for everyone, at any or all times. Heck, next week it might blow up in my own face and all go to hell in a handbasket. But right now, this is the groove we are in and its working for us. I am in no way making a value judgement or advising anyone else on how to do things.
Parenting sometimes gets easier, but it’s never easy. It waxes and wanes and usually we think that the time we are in now is the most challenging, and wax poetic about when we had infants that didn’t crawl yet, or when we only had one kid to take care of, conveniently forgetting that during those times, we were often just trying to make it to the end of each day in one piece. Some day we will look back on today and wish it was still that “easy”.
I don’t claim to know how to make it all work or what the best way is. However, I have recently had a revelation that the thing I resisted so much, thought was not going to work for us at all, or would be too boring, was the thing that suddenly took a tremendous weight off me: Routine.
I prefer to say Rhythm, instead of routine, but routine seems to be more easily defined and rhythm is a bit more hippie dippy and I don’t want to lose you right out the gate getting all rainbow granola. But hear me out! If you’re scrambling at 5 pm for dinner, making emergency runs to the corner mart for milk at 11 pm, forgetting to pay bills on time, going for days without a shower and eating a smushed granola bar from the bottom of your purse at 330 because you spaced on eating lunch, mama, I have been there. I have also climbed the mountain, and I have seen the light.
I resisted schedules and routines largely because whenever I tried to make them I felt hemmed in by them, or was upset whenever a wrench was thrown in the gears. If we had a plan and something came up or skipped a day or there was an unexpected expense, I would just abandon the whole gig. But it wasnt that schedules, rhythms, routines, etc were bad or stupid, just that I hadn’t found a way to make one that worked with our life, or maybe it was just that my kids were too young, or whatever. But now? Now, its working.
If you had told me that I would be pinning printable schedules, monthly, weekly, hourly, etc and making a binder rather than using my phone of the future to run my life I would have rolled my eyes. But I have been pinning, and I do have a massive binder on my bar, and it works. The phone can’t hold my bills in envelopes on the page of the day I need to mail them, or let me scribble ideas in the margins, or keep me goal oriented. Maybe it could, but I have yet to find one app that is meal planning, shopping, bill paying, activity scheduling, journal, family calendar, budget, and work schedule all in one. Everything I need for a day on one page, in front of my face. Thats what is making this work.
Now, each day has a plan. I’m not type A or insane, so it’s blocked out in chunks not minutes. I have certain days every week dedicated to certain things. Monday is laundry, thursday is always soup night, on the weekends, we only eat leftovers. Wednesday is for horse riding lessons, thursday nights every other week are when I brainstorm meal plans , etc, etc. Even on the days when the alarm clock batteries died, or grandma cancels her babysitting, or my client asks me if I can work an extra hour or two, the rhythm holds everything else together. While my kids still trash the house and drive me bonkers, at least I don’t still have to figure out dinner after all that, and thats an enormous break on a crappy day.
So I recommend a few things, if you think you might want to give rhythms or routines a try.
Meal Rhythms Every two weeks, I sit down with my family and a note-book. I plot out 5 nights for each week where I will cook dinner, and weekends are for eating leftovers and/or going out. I usually make a huge piece of meat on Mondays, and use it to make other meals throughout the week. I designate Tuesday is always sandwich( tacos and hot dogs count as sandwiches) night, Wednesday is usually something easy because it’s a long day for us. Thursday is for soup. The kids and hubby get input on what soup, what meat, what sandwiches they want to eat. I try to have 20 recipes and eat each one once a month. We use what we have, and I shop based on the recipes, instead of just grabbing components and figuring out that I have 7/8ths of what I need to make x,y, or z but need to run to the store to actually complete a recipe. We also eat the same breakfast m-f. Every weekday my kids eat a hashbrown. No scrambling at 7 am for breakfast.No short order cook asking how you want your eggs. Eat the hashbrown. Get to school.
Another thing we do is give every single food in the house a job. Snacks are designated as snacks. There is bread for lunches. You don’t eat the lunch bread for breakfast. You don’t eat the little red cheeses for breakfast. Those are for snack. There is enough variety for everyone, but not any ambiguity. Eat snacks at snacktime, and like it, dammit.
Lastly, CROCKPOT. SERIOUS. If you are taking kids to school, running here and there, and then picking them up for karate and ballet and then dropping off library books, and knitting circle and…, you don’t use a crockpot? You are missing out.
I think some of us were raised to think slow cookers are something that you use when you want to dump 6 canned food items in a pot with some velveeta and ground beef and get something resembling food out of. Ew. No. Its 2014. Slow cookers are lifesavers. Just google things like “vegan slow cooker” or “gluten-free slow cooker” and see how times have changed. There is nothing better than coming home from hike day to smell dinner is all ready cooked. Add a side of leafy greens or quickly steam some veg and dinner is on.
Budget Give every dollar a job to do. If you get paid on friday and your accounts are empty by saturday, that can actually be a good thing. If you designate and assign each penny to an expense, and then pay them, so what if your balance is 5$ if you have a fridge full of food, all your utilities on, and your car is gassed up? Always pad the budget, round up, and if you have “extra” at the end of the budget either sock it in savings or forget it exists.
Time Pad your time. Pad Your Time. If something takes 45 min, tell yourself it takes an hour. Schedule it for an hour. If it takes 15 min, say 20. You’ll never be late, overscheduled, or rushed. If shit happens, you can handle it. If shit doesn’t happen, good thing you have a magazine or some knitting or candy crush on hand, just take that moment to chill. You are allowed to chill.
Nighttime Sure, you could try to keep your kids quiet an out of your hair while you email so and so, or work on this or that. Or you could do it while they’re asleep! I also pack tomorrows lunch, and set out tomorrows clothes at night-time. In the morning, I don’t have to bolt out of bed to get 90 min worth of tasks done in an hour before we leave for school. There is no arguing about what to wear to school, there is no “Mom I can’t find my other shoe”. When I work at night on my commissioned handwork or my freelance writing, I don’t get constant interruptions that drag a 20 minute task into an hour. I start, and I work until I’m finished. Its amazing and the feeling I get from efficient productivity is its own reward.
Plan downtime How do I have the energy to run from 7 am to 9pm every day with two little ones? Because I can see the finish line ( sometimes the finish line gets moved and that sucks, but life happens.) and I know that I can get through the day because I have built into the schedule time to sit on my butt and veg out. And if something we usually do gets dropped or cancelled, I don’t fill it back up. I take it as a sign to chill. That said….
Plan something every day. I don’t like a blank square on my calendar. It means my kids are going to be bored and ornery and in my hair. Every day, we have either a home based activity or somewhere to be. Open ended days are wasted days. We don’t get dressed until 11 and by the time we are ready to get in the car we are hungry and then once we have eaten the time we have to spend at wherever we finally agree to go is waning before its time to go home and do the dinner/bath/bed thing. Some times we don’t even make it out of the house at all and then the house just gets trashed. Bored kids like to dump stuff on the floor. Fighting with my kids about cleaning up is not how I want to spend my time, but I also can’t let stuff just slide, so ….
Anyways. Have a plan for each day. Even if its only one hour of something, have a thing that you do each day.
Do you see a recurring theme here? Give each day a job, each dollar a job, each meal a job, each person a job, each hour a job. Find that happy medium between overbooked and loosey goosey. There is a pocket there, and it is comfy.
Here are some actual tangible items I think will make life easy. While you should use what works, this is what works for me. I like pen and paper stuff over google calendar and grocery store list apps.
- Slow cooker. Get one and feel the freedom of not having to stand in front of the stove for an hour every night.
- A family binder. With tabs for monthly, quarterly, daily, and weekly tracking. Put your meals, bills, and schedule on it. keep it open where every adult in the house can see it, often. Pinterest has tons, for free, for you to print.
- A whiteboard calendar. A big one. Write all the things on it. Even duplicates of the stuff in the binder. TRUST.
- Baskets like a mofo. Plastic baskets in the fridge for lunch items. Baskets in the pantry for snacks. Baskets for tomorrows outfit. Baskets for library books to live in. Baskets for everything. ( or bins or whatever) We have a basket for each type of toy. Farm basket, marble maze basket, finger puppet basket.While I know that I have oversimplified a lot here, it’s because I can only tell you what I am doing and how it has panned out. I can’t make choices or decisions for you. But I feel like when things are not so squirrely, my kids and I are less stressed, and I can look up from the craziness and see the horizon clearly instead of feeling like I’m in quicksand every day. If this helps you, I’m glad. If it only works for me and my situation, well, at least there is that.
Here are some other things that make life really click