Weekday mornings can suck.
Sometimes the stars align and you all get out the door in clean clothes, sans yelling. And sometimes that hour between waking and leaving the house can be the most stressful part of the day.
Weekday mornings are a special kind of torture for working moms who are getting themselves and their littles ready, all on a tight schedule. When I traded full-time for part-time work, mornings were a huge part of the reason. After stressful mornings, of which there were many, I would drop my daughters off at school or before care feeling so defeated and mad at myself for losing my cool yet again. Then I’d go about the rest of my day feeling terrible.
And yes, I tried packing lunches and picking out clothes the night before. I tried using a routine chart to help them get ready, and I also tried going technology-free. All these things helped but somewhere, somehow, something would always go off the rails. I would spend five minutes too long on prepping for my day at the office or try to squeeze one too many chores into our last five minutes before departure. (Who among us hasn’t emerged from the laundry room to find everything has gone to hell in under three minutes?)
If you’re in the same boat and vowing to establish new, more positive routines this school year, here are some suggestions:
Do everything the night before. Even if you’re already picking out clothes and packing lunches and backpacks in the evening, consider prepping breakfast too. Bowls, cutlery and non-perishable foods can be left on the counter overnight for quick and easy access. In winter, lay hats, mitts, scarves and boots out by the front door to avoid frantic searching. Before bed, make sure you’ve done a quick run through of the next day. Library books or permission slips due? Is today gym or tuck shop? Start the bedtime routine a little earlier to make time for this.
Make some rules. Our rule is you can’t come out of your room (except to pee) until you’re dressed. And there’s no TV or iPad until teeth and hair are done and shoes are on. My oldest has ADHD and mornings are tough on both of us. By setting a few firm rules or expectations we’ve been able to minimize the frustration.
Get up before the kids. As busy moms we need all the sleep we can get, but getting up even 15 minutes before the kids do means you can stretch, meditate, shower (alone, how glorious!), or have a quiet cup of coffee as you check the headlines and plan your day. When I get up at the same time as my kids I feel like I’m playing catch up all day long. I’m cranky and scattered because I haven’t taken the time to organize myself.
Build cuddle time into your routine. Right now, my kids love going to school and rarely try the “my tummy hurts” trick. But occasionally something like a test or trouble with a friend will have them out of sorts and dragging their feet. Little ones tend to be at their neediest in the morning as they anticipate time away from mom and dad. Building time into your routine for connection, ie. a quiet chat and a snuggle can help prevent some of the behaviours that slow things down and amp the morning frustration.
Add some fun. You don’t have to be a (total) drill sergeant to have a successful morning. Once we’re ready, I let my kids take turns picking a song to blast as we put on shoes and coats. We have special plates and bowls just for school day mornings, and I try to redirect their complaints about being rushed and nagged to thinking about something fun we’re going to do that evening or weekend. You know your kid’s currency so get her thinking about something she’s excited about, or something that makes her happy, as a distraction from the fact that you’re hustling her out the door like a member of the secret service.
Save the big conversations for later. Kids will often pick the most inconvenient times to ask the big questions. Somewhere in the kid code it says: Wait until she’s fussing with your zipper or the dog poops in the kitchen so your query will have maximum impact. “How did that baby get in her tummy anyway? Why don’t Paige’s mommy and daddy live together? Why do you have hair down there?” Don’t feel bad if you can’t summon the mental energy for a thoughtful response at that particular moment. It’s okay to say “great question, let’s talk about that tonight.”
Use the trip to school to press reset. If you take your kids to school or daycare yourself, use that time to put any morning ugliness behind you. If you were collapsed in a stuttering, thumb-sucking heap five minutes ago when your 19th request for shoes and coats was ignored, use this time to restart the day. Shut the door, take a deep breath and leave the chaos inside. Talk about what excites you about your day, a funny dream you had. Hold their hands, make eye contact, tell them you love them and resolve to be better tomorrow.
Be strong, mama. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, and our children are looking to us to set the tone for the day, model good behaviour and establish rules and boundaries. And yes, I know that’s hard. But don’t give up just because everyone resists change at first. Remember, mornings are hard for kids too. They don’t like being rushed and stressed any more than you do so if you find a way to make it easier for everyone, stick with it.