I’ve found a way to outsmart the morning chaos – I think

Back when my son was a newborn, our newly-formed coffee group often found ourselves messaging each other in the middle of the night, while we were awake feeding our babies. I remember someone suggesting that we make our coffee get-togethers at 3am. It was a joke, but the most comforting thing about it was knowing that, at that moment, I wasn’t alone. While everybody else was asleep, there were others out there, doing the same thing.

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Six years and one more child later, I’m just needing a little reassurance that once again, I’m not alone because wow, getting my kids out the door in the morning? Definitely a challenge. I know I’m not the only one (tell me I’m not the only one) who repeats, “Get dressed” commands in ever-increasing tones and frequencies over and over and over again. Who cajoles another bite of breakfast into my daughter, who despairs when my son takes forever to put on his shoes.

There are others out there – maybe you’re one of them – in homes all over the place, doing the same thing. I think there should be a dedicated area in the school playground or childcare carpark where parents can gather and celebrate making it through another morning. (I’ve even pondered on a possible name for this – The Patient Parent Puddle? The Commiseration Corner? The Got-Out-The-Door Get-Together?)

I’ve tried many things to make getting out the door less painful. Here’s what we’ve found works at our place – for now, at least.

A routine

A list of things that need to get done, in an easy-to-follow pattern, with a reward at the end. Right now, a simple Google image that I printed off and stuck on our fridge seems to be doing the trick. It shows the things that need to get done before we leave the house on a school/childcare morning and is mostly to help my six year old take responsibility for what he needs to do. Go to the toilet, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush his teeth, pack his bag, and put his shoes on.

The rule is the kids need to do their jobs before they can play. (This hardly ever happens but it’s important for later on in the process). I set the oven timer, and if all the jobs are done when the timer goes off, he gets to put a small magnet on the fridge. Once he accumulates seven magnets, he gets $2, which he can spend at the two dollar shop, school tuck shop, or save.

Getting up before the kids

It’s taken me years to do this. Back when the kids had unpredictable waking hours, it just wasn’t doable. I never knew when I was going to be pulled out of a deep sleep and so I just couldn’t bring myself to do it to myself with an alarm earlier than absolutely necessary. Now, they know to stay in their room until a certain time so I set my alarm for an hour before this and get myself sorted before they’re up.


Why is it so much easier to be serious than light-hearted? For me it takes consciously flicking a switch to engage my playful brain. The kids respond better to this and it instantly lightens the atmosphere. We talk gibberish or sing at the breakfast table, make finger puppets out of the kids’ socks while they’re putting them on, or just go along with whatever imaginative buzz they’re on that morning.

Knowing what makes my kids tick

My son loves to race me to get dressed. We call out updates to each other from our bedrooms, “I’m getting my pants on!”, “I almost have my jumper on!” The finale is when we race across the hall and jump on the other person’s bed. Whoever gets there first wins the getting dressed race.

It must be said that this strategy does not work for my three-year-old daughter. She has no interest in mum’s made-up competitions. What works for her is laying down a challenge. “I bet you can’t get dressed by yourself.” Sure enough, she usually disappears into her room and returns a few minutes later with a smug smile on her face and in a (very) unique, (very) layered, (very) multi-coloured clothing creation.

Letting it go when it all turns to custard

As much as I’d love a perfectly smooth morning where my kids do as they say as soon as I ask, it never happens. Let’s face it, kids are kids. They’re going to screech, yell, complain, ignore me, and get distracted occasionally. Probably more than occasionally. I’m learning to accept this and let the control go. Yesterday morning my son got distracted playing and no matter how many reminders I gave him, he wouldn’t budge. Eventually it got to within a couple of minutes of the timer going off and he said to me, “I don’t care about getting a magnet today, Mum.” I had to choose to lose the battle to win the war.

Of course, you learn pretty quickly as a parent that things change. What works today may not work tomorrow. On days like today, it helps to know there’s others out there, fighting the same morning battlefield. See you in the Commiseration Corner.

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