In the recent, bestselling manifesto “Lean In,” author Sheryl Sandberg laughingly tells the story of a Palo Alto executive and mom of two who, when asked how she balances work and family, started her response by saying, “I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, but…” prior to confessing that she dresses her children in school clothes rather than pajamas before going to bed to save 15 glorious minutes from their hectic, morning routine. Sandberg went on to admit she considers this unnamed hero of the a.m. rush to be a genius, while acknowledging that the harried mom probably shouldn’t have shared that TMI tidbit about her family’s morning crunch time publicly.
All parents strive to streamline the very first rush hour of the day without losing a child or their sanity in the process. These weekday-morning tips may not save you much money on children’s pajamas, but will help to streamline your hurry-up-and-go family time in the a.m., plus get all of you off to a calm and well-fed start.
‘Twas the Night Before School Time… – And all through the house, kids were struggling with homework and mom feels like a, well you can figure out the rest. Despite the insanity of the nighttime homework rush, the key to a stress-free, streamlined morning begins the night before. Some go-to nighttime tips that will ease the morning rush include:
- Have your kids establish and stick to a homework routine.
- Check their backpacks every night before lights out.
- Older kids who need to burn the midnight oil studying will hopefully have this skill down pat, but many will need support keeping track of keys, bus passes and student ID cards.
- Support your kids’ organizational skills by working with them to create a backpack check list, making sure they are done at least a half hour before bed so they can wind down and let go of the day’s tasks. This will help to assure them of a good night’s sleep and an easier morning.
- Have your kids choose and lay out their next-day outfits, from undies to shoes, and check their school schedules to determine if gym clothes need to be washed and stowed into their backpacks or if signed consent forms are due.
- It helps to have a family calendar that reflects each child’s requirements for the school year. This way you can make sure that science projects, school trips and extra-curricular activities are on everyone’s radar and prepared for.
- Having fully-prepared backpacks laid out and at the ready by the front door will be a huge, time-saving plus. Eventually, these good habits will translate into easier night, as well as morning, routines.
Make Time For You – The alarm clock always seems to go off too early in the a.m. and it can feel impossibly hard to resist the lure of the snooze button and those cozy, warm sheets. It may seem counter-intuitive, but getting out of bed 15 or 20 minutes before the rest of your household can actually help you stay more alert, centered and organized by the time your family opens their sleepy eyes. Use this time to have a deliciously silent cup of coffee, take a five-minute facial or read the paper, but whatever you do, don’t use these precious moments to check email or do anything else that will up your blood pressure or catapult you into the day’s responsibilities.
Make Food for Them (And For You, Too) – Don’t stress if you can’t get the whole family to sit down to breakfast at the same time. It is, however, important that everyone get a good dose of nutrition before they head out the door. The best way to accomplish this goal is to prepare healthy, easy, grab-and-go options in bulk once a week and let your family get at it in the a.m., buffet style.
- Hard-boiled eggs or egg salad, whole wheat toast, sliced fruit and Greek yogurt are nutritious, easy options.
- Keep the sugary cereals out of reach (or out of the house completely) and opt for high-fiber whole grain options instead.
- When snow begins to fall, packets of unflavored, instant oatmeal can nuke up quickly and provide an empty canvas for flavorful add-ins, like raisins, bananas or Nutella, sure to warm hungry bellies in minutes flat.
It’s 7 a.m.: Do You Know Where Your Lunch Boxes Are? – Packing your kid’s lunch the night before can be a huge time saver in the morning, and is relatively painless if you piggy-back this task onto the evening meal’s clean-up. It’s also a tidy way to turn dinner’s left-overs into nutritious sandwich stuffers (think sliced meatballs, chicken cutlets or turkey chili morphed into gooey manwiches).
- Prepping sandwiches ahead of time is bound to create a little extra mush factor, which some kids really like, but if your child is a purist and prefers their bread clean and pristine, keep sandwiches crisp by adding a lettuce leaf to both the top and bottom sides before spreading on things like tuna or chicken salad.
- If PB&Js rule the day in your house, choose a hearty bread that won’t sog easily, or go for a sweet other than jelly, such as bananas, figs or apple slices.
- Pop each lunchbox into the fridge and you’re good to go in the a.m. Avoid ready-made options as much as possible. They may be convenient, but are also higher in salt and additives than the foods you make yourself.
Pick Your Battles – The stress of the day ahead can permeate the morning at home, despite your best efforts and desire to have your family enjoy this safe space. If your child wakes up with test-taking jitters or a serious case of the “I don’t want to go” complaints, you have to put your foot down and gently, calmly and sternly let them know that skipping school is not an option. If, however, your five year old begs to take a favorite stuffed animal to school, or your third grader absolutely insists upon wearing a cozy sweater that would be better served spending time in the washing machine, consider letting them have their way. Giving in to the small battles may be better than adding stress to an already stressful situation or wasting time fighting about it. In the scheme of things, it’s really unlikely that your daughter’s desire to wear a tutu to the second-grade spelling bee will diminish her ability to get into Harvard. Pick your battles wisely and try to determine why this choice is important or soothing to your child (or teenager, or spouse).
Some mornings are bound to be more stressful than others. A looming project at work or a final at school is almost guaranteed to layer the day with some level of anxiety. Creating routines your family can count on will help to diminish a lot of unnecessary stress, plus give you a chance to enjoy each other’s company. No matter what the morning throws at you, don’t forget to share “I love you” as the most important people in your world race out the door.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.