Morning chaos: In my house, it’s three sons, a husband, and a wife scrambling to get ready for work and school and out the door by 7:15am. And then 7:16am arrives. Most days, that’s when I breathe a sigh of relief. I turn up the music like a triumphant victory song as I start my drive to work. We did it . . .again. We got all five of us out the door on time, with backpacks, lunches or snacks, laptops, folders, jackets . . . whatever we need for the day. You’d think it would be easy by now, or that it would be completely routine. But somehow, it’s like a crowded obstacle course every day. Does morning chaos cause stress in your house, too? Here are 8 simple ways to make mornings easier and help you manage through the chaos to get ready and out the door on time.
Prep lunches the night before
Obvious, right? It’s easier said than done. After a long day at work, then home with the three boys for dinner, chill time, bath time, homework time, bedtime, and then often some additional work to get done after the kids go to sleep, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to pack lunches. But if I push myself hard enough, even laying out the simple things at night can help make mornings go more smoothly. So here’s how we roll: my husband (most of the time) cuts fresh fruit and puts it in little containers for the kids’ lunchboxes. I lay out, with their lunchboxes in descending order of the kids’ ages, a few other things: juicebox, spoon for yogurt, a salty snack, a granola bar — all the things that are easy enough to drop into a lunchbox the night before, rather than scrambling in a pantry to get it all in the morning. It takes less than 5 minutes at night, compared to 15 minutes in the morning when kids are hanging on me or fighting or calling my name. Then all we have to do in the morning is make a sandwich and put everything onto ice packs in the lunchboxes.
Lay out clothes the night before
If your kids are at an age where you still pick out their clothes, lay out outfits for the week on Sunday night. And if they’re old enough to choose their own clothes, then make sure there are clothes available in their drawers. In my house, I do a lot of laundry (don’t we all?), then I fold it (yes, I’m Superwoman), and it seems to live in laundry baskets for days (ugh). When the kids go to get dressed, if there are no shorts, shirts, whatever in their drawers, they come looking for me, asking for specific shirts or socks, and taking me out of my own get-ready routine. If I can find time on Sunday to actually put away clothes (again, this seems easy, but somehow is not always so!) or to have the kids help me with it, it is a lifesaver for during the week. (Note: I rarely lay out my own clothes the night before, and at least a few times a week, a morning outfit crisis (where are my favorite black pants? Did I remember to wash that sweater? I guess I’ll turn on the iron . . .) delays me at least 10-15 minutes, which is an eternity when my three sons are yelling for me to help them with something.) (Additional note: If you let your kids pick out their own clothes, you have to be OK with it. My head says blue shorts with a blue t-shirt make you look like a Smurf, but my heart says “You’re clothed and ready. Let’s go.”)
Create a checklist
My kids got into the habit of not doing anything in the morning until my husband or I asked them — told them six times in a row — to get dressed, brush teeth, etc. It was exhausting for me and annoying for them. So I sat down with them one day and asked them to list for me all the things they need to get done in the morning. Then I turned it into a daily checklist for them, where they get to cross off each thing as they complete it. A sense of satisfaction! It helps keep them from getting distracted by each other, or a game, or a half-constructed Lego scene begging to be finished.
Start the show!
Letting the kids watch TV in the morning? I remember when I thought I’d never do it. But now, with three sons who wake up around 5am, and with juggling a fulltime job and life in general, sometimes a little TV in the morning is just what we need to actually help us get out the door on time. When the boys complete their checklists, they can watch a show. And since we typically have about two hours between their wakeup time and when we leave, there is usually time for one whole 30-minute show without our mornings ending up rushed. I know, there are plenty of parents out there who will judge me for this. But it works for us.
Organize paperwork the night before
Yes, I know. Another no-brainer. So, I guess just think of this paragraph as a public reminder for me to do this. Sift through the PTO notices, the youth sports flyers, the homework, the field trip slips, the notices about how you can help the community, the letters from the room parents, and the schedule of activities for the week the night before. Put (or have your kids put) the necessary papers back in their folder and then in their backpacks the night before. Much like laying out stuff for lunches, this exercise saves us many minutes if we do it at night, but can derail us if we look through the papers in the morning. What do you mean you need to bring food for a food drive today? And you have to bring stickers to share with the whole class today? (scramble, scramble, looking for appropriate canned goods and stickers that are gender-neutral, appealing and appropriate).
Have ideas for other quick tasks to keep kids focused
Remember I said I let my kids watch TV in the morning, and it actually helps us get out on time? I should have said sometimes. Other times, my kids melt into the couch cushions like marshmallows over a campfire, and the chance of getting them off the couch and out the door seems quite low. So, even though the boys use and enjoy the new checklist I created for them, if they melt into the couch afterwards, I find that subtly assigning them new tasks can help. Have a mental list ready! Things like helping to put on a younger sibling’s socks, opening blinds in the playroom, carrying something upstairs . . . anything to keep forward motion going!
(Look in the mirror)
That’s a reminder for you. Or maybe for me. Look in the mirror, even if only for one second. I realize often when I arrive at work that I have no recollection of having looked in the mirror to make sure I’m presentable. Yes, I once presented to our CEO with a price tag hanging from my new blazer, and once I showed up at work looking like I had warpaint on my face because I had forgotten to rub in my blush. I’d like to think that spending one extra second on myself in the morning might have prevented those things from happening. But, you never know.
Lastly, remember you’re a family
Even with these tips and tricks, moods and obstacles can get in the way of a smooth morning. Sometimes, we end up yelling. Yep. It’s true. But no matter what, I try to get us out the door — frazzled or formal or flinging things — with a solid, comfortable, confident feeling so everyone is ready for the day. I always make sure to tell the kids I love them. Then we open the door. And we go.
How do you get through your morning chaos? Share with a comment here, or join our mailing list and let me know your thoughts!