Working Parents Guide to Sanity: Back to School Edition
Getting in the flow of back to school after Summer can be…an Adjustment
So over the summer I’m sure you heard from the kiddos:
“I want to watch Moana again!” (I think I watched Moana 6 times in a row in a day… talk about taking one for the team.)
No worries school is here and the kids will have plenty to do OUTSIDE of the house…thank goodness
But school is here and the kids’ schedule is about to get super crazy…parents can’t catch a break :(.
Now not only do YOU have to be at work on time but you have to get the kids to school on time, make sure they’re at practice on time, make sure dinner is done, oh and don’t forget about homework, etc. etc. etc.
So we decided to create The Working Parent’s Guide to Sanity: Back to School Edition.
A few things from our first guide will carry over to this one but there’s a ton of new information.
From dealing with separation anxiety of your toddler to saving money on snacks. It’s all here!
So let’s get into it shall we? Welcome to The Working Parent’s Guide to Sanity: Back to School Edition
- Extracurricular activities
- Time saving tips
- Money saving tips
Crushing the Mornings!
In the mornings you may feel like a taskmaster:
“Eat your breakfast.”
“Wash your face.”
“Get to the door, I can pause Mickey’s Clubhouse.”
“Own the morning and own the rest of your day.” It seems when your morning is running smoothly everything else falls into place. And when your morning is in disarray, well…
A morning routine is one of the areas of the day that you can actually control. You control when you wake up, what you eat for breakfast, if the kids watch T.V. while they eat cereal, etc.
Now a ton of productivity lists state you need to have a morning routine but NO ONE tells you the best way to implement one. UNTIL NOW! Check out this great post on how to implement a morning routine by Cathryn Lavery. It’ll get you on your way to owning your morning.
Getting back into a set routine is one of the most difficult transitions with the kids but once it’s set, your mornings will go a lot smoother.
Think about what time you need to get up in the morning, and then set your alarm at least 30 minutes earlier.
A quiet 30 minutes to yourself could be all we need with today’s hectic schedules. You can use those 30min. to meditate, go over tasks for the day, or just have a nice cup of coffee before the kids come running down the stairs.
– Use that fancy coffee maker and set the timer so your liquid fuel is ready the moment you wake up.
Save time on preparing breakfast and lunches
Two of the biggest time sucks in the morning for a lot of parents are:
- Making breakfast and
- Packing Lunches
Does anyone else feel my pain?
Soooooo let’s go ahead and cut that time in half shall we?
Here are some great videos from Tasty to help:
Make getting ready a contest Now that the kids are fed capitalize on your kids’ competitive nature and make getting ready a contest. “Ok Google (or Alexa) set timer for 45min.” Then, ready, set, go! Who can be completely dressed and ready by the time the timer goes off? You can even make it a game where whoever was ready on time the most during the week gets a small prize like an extra dessert in their lunch.
Another cool morning routine:
“Kolari calls this “morning windows.” Kids get 15 minutes for play, 15 minutes to dress, 15 minutes to eat and 15 minutes to get out the door with shoes and backpacks.
“Give them a two to three minute warning that the window is closing,” says Kolari. If it closes and they haven’t done what they were supposed to do, they owe you 15 minutes later, in screen time or chores.” [*]
Wear battle armor…kinda Keep your bathrobe on over clothes if dealing with younglings. Anyone else ever been completely ready for work and then the kids get toothpaste on your nice clean work shirt, or spit up, or apple juice or…you get the point.
Keeping your bathrobe on over your clothes is a great way to ensure you don’t do multiple wardrobe changes in the morning. This one I can personally attest to, my sons, 7, 5 & 3, LOVE Star Wars and one morning they had yogurt sticks with breakfast. I turn around for a split second and my boys are having a lightsaber fight with the yogurt sticks. Needless to say I wasn’t going to go to the office with yogurt on my suit.
Dropping off your toddlers. Separation Anxiety.
So let’s be serious for a moment. Not all kids are super excited for the first day of school. Your toddler(s) may not be too thrilled with you leaving them with someone new. They may seem all fine in the car but as soon as you try to drop them off they’re clinging to your leg crying like you left them at an office with bad coffee, in front of a computer to spend hours in excel and access…sorry about that, didn’t know where I was going there.
It’s separation anxiety and these tips can help you and your little one at drop off:
Some of these same tips can apply to elementary school kids as well.
- Talking about school in a positive way.
- Asking them what they look forward to doing today in school.
- Of course hugging/kissing your kiddo before they jump out the car. (just be sure not to jam the drop off lane :P)
Now Let’s Get to the 9-5!
Utilize your commute time
If you use the park & ride, spend that time checking emails, making appointments, paying bills or my favorite, taking a nap. If you drive to work, use your hands-free to catch up with your friends or family for a chat or dictate reminders to yourself.
So when you have downtime at the office or you’re on a break use that time wisely instead of browsing Facebook or Youtube.
Auto-ship groceries or Curbside pickup.
Have you ever tried going grocery shopping with a bunch of kids at once? It’s a special type of hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Not exactly the most fun way to spend a Saturday morning.
Instead of herding all those kids in the car and going to the grocery store, you can buy most of your groceries online and do curbside pickup. You can schedule when you want your groceries to be ready and just pick them up on the way to get the kids.
You can even use a service like Blue Apron to deliver the ingredients and recipes right to your door for a healthy family meal.
Auto-ship services for the essentials: Diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and so on. Services like Amazon Prime and Diapers.com sell these items and they’ll be delivered to your door with free shipping. You’re already browsing on Amazon anyway might as well get those paper towels you need so you don’t have to make an unnecessary trip.
Work close to a grocery store? Use your lunch break to pick up fresh produce that you’ll need for dinner and do all of your other grocery shopping on the weekend.
Use location-based reminder apps. These apps, like Checkmark, send out an alert when you’re near a designated location, reminding you to do something. For example, you can set a reminder that alerts you the next time you’re in Target to buy milk. Personally, any excuse to go to Target works for me. (See the bonus at the end of this post for our top Apps that make parents lives easier.)
Let’s get those snacks going! The first thing your kiddo usually asks when you pick them up “What’s for snack?”
Well being the super parent that you are you already know what’s for snack because you had all that figured out before you picked the kids up.
Meal prep ain’t just for dinner anymore, the larger the family, the busier you are, it’s best to be prepared.
So here are five easy after school snacks for the kids.
Extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are awesome. They provide more opportunities for kids to be as well rounded as possible. With those activities come a greater need to be organized. With homework, dinner, the extracurricular activity, bath time, etc. there’s a lot to juggle.
1. Have a family calendar.
Have a large family calendar that everyone can see in the house as well as use your Google calendar. Make sure your Google calendar is shared with everyone, Mom, Dad, etc.
You can color code your calendars as well. Blue could mean a sport activity, green for piano lessons, etc.
STICK to the calendar. We’re all guilty of using some new tactic to help us be organized only to let it drop the wayside because we got too busy. With everything you have going on sticking to a good ole’ fashioned calendar will do wonders.
2. Get your meal prep on.
We touch on this more in this section but having dinner already prepared when two of your kids have practices on opposites sides of town can be a lifesaver. Freezer meals, one-pot meals, heck or even leftovers on days that you know you’re going to be super busy can ease the mind.
3. Stick to your routine
Even though routines can seem “boring” when you have a family and live a busy/hectic life your routine is your saving grace and there will be less opportunities for wasted time.
And if you’re not sure of what activities to get your kiddos in. Check out this post from mommynearest.com: 7 awesome After-School programs for Houston Kids
I’m sure you all know that it’s best to have a designated area for homework. It helps the kid’s concentrate, everything is in one place, and it helps with the routine (great post from A Virtuous Woman on this).
BUT, not every kid wants to do homework. You might hear excuses like:
– “Nope, no homework today.”
– “I did all my homework at extended care.”
– “Wouldn’t you rather watch Monday Night Football instead of helping me with how to add exponents?” (maybe that excuse pertains just to my child lol)
Playing the homework battle can be an energy drain so from Empowering Parents:
“Guide Your Child—Don’t Try to Control Him
Many parents tell me that their children are not motivated to do their work. I believe that children are motivated—they just may not be motivated the way you’d like them to be. Here are some concrete tips to help you guide them in their work without having to nag, threaten or fight with them.
Ask yourself what worked in the past: Think about a time when your child has gotten homework done well and with no hassles. What was different? What made it work that time? Ask your child about it and believe what he says. See what works and motivates him instead of what motivates you.
Stop the nightly fights. The way you can stop fighting with your kids over homework every night is to stop fighting with them tonight. Disengage from the dance. Choose some different steps or decide not to dance at all. Let homework stay where it belongs—between the teacher and the student. Refuse to get pulled in by the school in the future. Stay focused on your job, which is to help your child do his job.
Take a break: If you feel yourself getting reactive or frustrated, take a break from helping your child with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take five or ten minutes to calm down, and let your child do the same if you feel a storm brewing.
Set the necessary structures in place: Set limits around homework time. Here are a few possibilities that I’ve found to be effective with families:
- Homework is done at the same time each night.
- Homework is done in a public area of your house.
- If grades are failing or falling, take away screen time so your child can focus and have more time to concentrate on his work.
- Make it the rule that weekend activities don’t happen until work is completed. Homework comes first. As James Lehman says, “The weekend doesn’t begin until homework is done.”” [*]
Plan a nightly routine
So having a nightly routine is just as important as having a morning routine. And it’s not just about the activities you do at night to prepare for the morning but actually getting a good night’s sleep. This is another golden post from Cathryn on creating and implementing a nightly routine.
Menu Plan and Prep meals on Sunday and Wed.
Meal prep (third time mentioning meal prep, but who’s counting) is no longer just for the workout junkies counting their calories, it’s also for all us busy people out there. Tell me if you can relate, you get home, look into the fridge and play the “So what do you want for dinner” game.
45min later you and the kids are eating take out pizza.
Avoid that wasted time by having your meals planned, prepped and cooked beforehand. Prepping on Sundays and Wednesdays is a lifesavers.
For those of you that don’t like to chop, saute’, braise, etc. One pot meals are the best! Throw everything in a crock pot then set it and forget it.
For those of us that are culinarily challenged Houston’s own Chelsea from the Perfect Catch has a great post on 8 slow cooker meals in one hour!
Another appliance you can use here is the almighty Instant Pot! It’s not just a slow cooker, but you can saute’, pressure cook, heck, you can even make yogurt with it. This is an awesome post from Elizabeth on how the Instant Pot is changing how she feeds her family as well as some top recipes.
Bonus Tip #1: Prepare double the amount for every family meal you cook and freeze the extras.
Bonus Tip #3 On Sunday and Wednesday when you’re doing meal prep for dinner you can do the same for breakfast.
Shop in the Evening If you do have to make that trip to the grocery store, go in the evening after the kids are winding down. The stores are empty, you can get in and get out and avoid the crowd.
Workout in the Evening What’s worse than 5pm traffic? the 5pm gym rush. It’s like a freaking night club. Instead of working out right after work go after the kids are down. There are less people in the gym and again, you can get in and get out, hassle free.
Lay it Out Put all clothes out the night before, you can make this part of your nightly routine, (see tip above on nightly routines). Or you can do what we do and get our clothes picked out for the week. Shirts, pants, even shoes and socks. Because there’s nothing more annoying than wasting 15min. looking for matching socks. For toddlers and babies who can’t dress themselves, purchase some “loungewear” that can conveniently transition from evening to daytime, so only their diaper requires a change in the morning.
Shower at Night After the kids are down for the night you can take a nice long shower. Showering at night frees up time for the morning.
Go to bed earlier. Getting just one to two more hours of sleep a night can make a huge difference in your productivity and performance. Getting more done AND getting more sleep? That sounds exactly like what I need!
Time saving tips
Depending on your household budget, consider outsourcing some of the household tasks, whether by employing a bi weekly or monthly house cleaner or paying someone to do your gardening, ironing or laundry. Not sure how to find a quality Houston house cleaner or any company in the service industry, check out this Consumer Report on how to find a reputable service company. You can use the tips in this guide to vet a maid in Houston, lawn care professional, or any service provider.
“I consider it an investment for my sanity,” said one working mom
Keep a Schedule I’m sure you’ve heard this one before a ton of times, well that’s because it works. Kids love schedules (especially if they’re all colorful and decorated with stickers and stuff) and adults need schedules too. A good schedule will help you be more productive at home, know what time dinner is, and will make sure no kid is left at practice.
No More Mountain of Clothes You know that mountain of clothes you end up washing, drying, and folding on the weekend? The one that takes an entire television series to complete? Instead of waiting for the weekend to tackle the laundry put a load on every night or two, throw it in the dryer before you leave for work, then fold it in the evening while you watch your favorite 30 min. show.
Label, label, label Make it clear to your family where things belong. Nothing’s worse than running late for school because your kid is missing a shoe. Label shelves in the linen closet so everyone knows where to store items.
Have a chore-busting “Family Power Hour”
This is a practice is actually is worth its weight in gold. Arrange to have an hour designated only for cleaning. Every Saturday morning, usually around 10, we set our Google Home timer, put on some music and this turns into a bit of a game or family event. It’s chaotic but it’s also become a bit fun and competitive.
Work-Life Balance Do work at home; do home at work – it doesn’t matter where you do them, as long as they get done, so do whatever works for you. Pay your bills, schedule your house cleaner, or lawn guy at the office during your lunch hour, check your work email at home while the kids are doing their homework.
Work alongside your kids Work alongside your kids, if you have work to do at home, sit alongside your child as they do their homework. You’re encouraging them to work independently, while still being on hand if they get stuck on something. And if that math homework is too complicated for both of you, well you can always look up the answer on your laptop.
Make a homework box, basket or station Give your kiddos a special homework box stocked with pencils, erasers, markers, etc. Ask them to bring it to the table whenever it’s time to do homework.
In case of emergency Organize a binder or folder with a list of emergency contacts. Include instructions for household tasks like watering plants, caring for pets and collecting mail. That way you won’t have to write out everything each time you have a house-sitter or babysitter. Keep a copy on your phone so you can change it easily.
Keep the car prepared Have a ‘car bag’ fully stocked at all times. Here are a few things it might/should include: a first-aid kit, wipes, water, plastic bags, snack bags of crackers…basically a diaper bag/snack bag just for the car.
Plan online Become a dedicated user of an online planner such as Google calendars, which can be easily shared and synced on smartphones, making sure you can always be on top of scheduling challenges. Even better when you receive your kiddos school calendar add it to your Google calendar and set alarms. This will certainly reduce the number of 11pm Wal-Mart trips for whatever project the kiddo has the next day. Share the calendar with your babysitter, grandparents, etc. so that everyone is up to date on activities.
Carpooling Carpooling with other families can lessen your chauffeuring burden. And carpooling isn’t just limited to taking the kids to and from school, you can also carpool to sports practice or music lessons can cut the time you spend driving and waiting in half.
Doctors appointments first thing in the morning Schedule your child’s doctor’s appointments for first thing in the morning. You’re less likely to have a long wait. Get in and get out (not that we’re keeping count but that’s the 3rd time we’ve used that phrase lol. I sense a theme here)
Shop year round Shop for holiday and birthday gifts year-round. Whenever you see a great gift for someone you love, buy it and set it aside to give later. Take advantage of sales during the year. Every summer there’s Prime week that Amazon does (and of course the other companies follow suite.) Semi Annual sales, etc. For the guys out there, when you need a “I’m sorry for being stupid” gift you already have one ready to go!
Money Saving Tips
(See shop year-round above)
Start using Coupons
Now you don’t have to go the extreme and be like those people on that TLC show BUT couponing can definitely save you some money.
For example, this past summer a bag of Goldfish (the full size bag) was on sale at Kroger for 89 cents (when you bought 5) instead of the regular $1.79. Granted you’re only saving 90 cents BUUUUUUUT kids LOVE Goldfish so we stocked up and got 30 bags lol. Needless to say we’re good on snacks for the kids lunches for a few months.
You can also use coupons for other household items like Tide pods, toilet paper, etc. Basically, the items that the kids go through quickly or items that you have to use because of the kids.
Not sure where to start? Here are our favorite coupon sites:
My Litter don’t let the name fool you a great site for deals around the area
Houston Money Mom too busy at work to read a log blog post you can listen to Stephanie and her money saving tips in the afternoon on 89.3fm…WHOOP!
Houston Coupon Moms facebook group for ya’ll to join
Krazy Coupon Lady One of my personal go-to’s. It’s so easy to follow the steps even the husband can follow them.
Cash for eating out
So you guys remember back in the day when Mom had those envelopes full of cash? One for groceries, one for bills, etc. Well, you can implement that old school mentality when eating out. We were eating out a TON so we decided to give ourselves an Eating out Budget/Cash Only. When the cash runs out, no more eating out, and if we didn’t exceed our budget, it got rolled into next months Cash for Eating Out. This helped us save on eating out because that was our biggest extra expense. Eating out and beer (it’s officially football season) our two biggest extra expenses lol.
Some cool productivity apps: Apps that can help keep you on task and to make sure goals and tasks are accomplished.
- Cozi – A shared family calendar to keep the whole family schedule.
- Time log – Perfect for anyone who needs to manage their time, especially when they are working for multiple clients.
- Wunderlist – A really cool app that you can use on your phone, tablet or computer to make to-do lists to stay on task in the office or out.
- Intuition – An app designed by busy moms as a personal assistant to help you get things done.
- Drop box – An awesome online file storage service that keeps your files available at the touch of a button at home or on the go and saves you tons of time in the even of computer malfunctions, because you should be backing up to Drop Box.