Late August is that wonderful relaxing time of year when kids go back to school and life at home resumes a calm, happy routine. Breakfast is laid out with precision by a Mom in pearls and heels as children descend the stairs dressed and ready for their generic day of learning. After school kids play, do a smidgen of homework, then sit down for a hearty meatloaf with both parents present and communicating. Bedtime is quietly enforced at a strict hour of 8, after baths, tooth brushing, and good night kisses. Yeah, right, time for a reality check!
These days, many families live in a constant state of hectic home chaos. Whether married or single, Mom works a 9-5er too, so forget about pearls and perfectly placed hairdos! The kids are non-stop and noisy, shuttled between after-school sports, extra-circular academic courses, and three times the homework of yester-year. As for meals, especially dinner, that’s where order really falls apart.
Several of my clients state their biggest daily stress occurs between dinner and bedtime, and the “breakfast-get-ready-for-school/work hour.” It just shouldn’t be this hard!
Well it doesn’t have to be. Despite the increase of responsibilities and obligations on all family members, a simple plan of time management that involves both parents and children can eliminate that morning and evening stress. You might find these ideas either rigid or so simple that you wonder why I would even suggest them. But believe me, I run across so many people who suffer from a lack of organization and routine during these two periods of the day and all it would take is a little forethought and teamwork to alleviate the Hectic Home Blues.
1. Use Saturday or Sunday to pre-plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, then grocery shop with a precise list. This doesn’t mean you have to follow or create specific recipes for these meals. Just have an idea of what you can serve (chicken and veggie stir fry one night, turkey burgers and a salad the next, turkey sandwiches with carrot sticks and grapes), etc.
2. Create a month-at-a-glance family calendar, color coded for each member of the family, listing ALL events, obligations, chores, and appointments. It should be updated weekly, and reviewed on Sunday by the whole family. This eliminates last-minute scheduling surprises.
3. Depending on where you can carve out a small block of time (morning before work, or evening after dinner), conduct any food prep for the following dinner (i.e., marinate the meat/chicken/fish; slice up the veggies, or just get all the pans and condiments out and ready on the counter).
4. Make all lunches the night before.
5. Involve your children in all activities from cooking to cleaning. Even a 4-5 year old can participate in some small cleanup chore, or simple food prep. Assign involvements/chores weekly.
6. After dinner is cleaned up, set the table (or counter) with breakfast dishes, and set out any thing such as cereal boxes or other non-perishable items.
7. Before bed, help the kids set out their clothing for the next day, and make sure school bags are packed and ready.
8. Finally, all young children should be in bed by 8:30 p.m. at the latest. (It’s even a good idea for teenagers as new studies show that teens are suffering in their growth and brain development from not enough sleep, due to earlier school starts times and in some cases, long commutes to school.) If they’re not ready to sleep, they can read, study, even feed their text message and IM addictions in their own rooms, but no more TV, and no more infringing on Mom and Dad’s evening space. You deserve that time!
Bringing these eight simple steps of order and logic into the house will give everyone a little more peace of mind. Children respond favorably to routines, once they know these are house rules. Consistence is key. Your stress will be reduced knowing there’s one less thing for you to worry about as you head into your busy day. Your evenings will be more relaxing, giving you and your spouse quality time together, or just some solo time to rejuvenate your spirit. This will afford you a better night’s sleep as well.
August (and all 12 months) can now feel more like those idyllic days gone by: a little slower, a touch calmer, and a time when each day starts and ends in House Harmony instead of Hectic Home Blues.