Every family is different, but chances are that for most of us, the mornings are the most stressful times of our day. Getting everyone out the door can be even more daunting if you have a tricky work schedule that doesn’t match your kids’ routine.
Most parents want to send their kids off for the day with a smile, and to bed at night with jobs done, happy hearts and bellies full. But often our days play out slightly differently – with little tears, big stress and not enough time to pick up the pieces. Of course there are days that will just be plain terrible, but there are some things we can put in place to make sure the bad days are less frequent than the good ones. Some organisation helps, some fun keeps the atmosphere lighter, and routines and rhythms that are repeated, all make for a more pleasant morning set-up. Some of these things are worth putting in place.
Book in regular family WOFs
Every family wobbles and needs a regular warrant of fitness. A family WOF is simply a check-in to see how everyone is doing, to celebrate the things that are going well, and to note the rattles and bumps that need some fixing. These should also be times when the big people inspire the kids by cheering them on and helping them feel like they’re part of a team.
You might want to say something like, “Guys, we love that you’re a part of our family. We’re a team and we need to take care of one another, and this means helping out sometimes. In the mornings we all need to get our chores done, and make sure we are in the car on time.” Kids are far more motivated by hearing, “You can do it!” in the voice of their parents, than growls and lectures. No matter how many people you have in your family, no one should be left with all the jobs. There is too much to do to be left up to the parents – particularly if you’re parenting alone.
Children are not always good at doing chores, so parents will need to keep working at it to make it happen. Adding in some family fun and inspiration will definitely help. One idea is to make a family chore chart. The kids can help you make and decorate it, and you can even pop photos of each family member next to the chores they are responsible for. Write a list of all the chores that need to get done – including those that will make your mornings less chaotic – and share them out between everyone. It’s okay to give preschoolers some small tasks too. They can be taught to make their bed, put toys away, take their breakfast dishes to the kitchen sink etc. (If you’d like to print an easy-to-use chore chart, we have one on our website for you to download for free – just go to theparentingplace.com/family-contracts).
Family routines and rhythms
Children feel safe and confident when there is some predictability to their days. There are lots of ways you can weave routines into your daily lives, even if you have an unpredictable work schedule.
- Pre-pack lunches or part of the kids’ lunches the night before so that just sandwiches are made in the morning.
- If funds allow, set a day when your kids can buy lunches from school. Plan this for your busiest day so you get a break as well.
- Put dates of kindy and school events like swimming, athletics, library visits and mufti on a calendar so everyone can see what is coming up. Some kids really love to know who is dropping them off and who is picking them up – it really saves them asking and worrying. Put these details on the calendar too.
- If you can, try and get homework done the night before, including reading. When the kids are tired, take turns reading a page each.
Of course this one is probably the hardest of the lot. When parents are in the same home (and when they’re not) they can create safety and certainty for children by backing each other up in overt and respectful ways. When one parent says it is breakfast time, it is the perfect opportunity for the other parent to quietly check that the children are making moves. It’s a tag team where the children get to see mum and dad working towards the same goals. This is not always easy, but the children will feel safe and settled with this approach. Their behaviour will be easier to manage when they realise there is no room for manoeuvre.
If parents are apart, children will do much better when they see their parents speak and act respectfully when they are together. If one parent is having a hard time with the children, the other parent can graciously support them and kindly and firmly insist that the children are helpful and cooperative.
Tight spots in the day-to-day routine may be normal, but they are not easy. Throw in sick children, parent interviews, personal stress and navigating relationships and it’s easy to see how pressured life can get. To circuit-break some of the stress, go for some extra organisation, some predictable routines and gather the family on board to each do their part.