The biggest deficit mom’s face, besides money and sleep, is a shortage of time. When did our twenty-something dreams of both conquering the world, and saving it, suddenly turn into repetitive to-do lists, errands, and grocery shopping? All of which is to be squeezed in in-between work and childrearing … and my god, how did laundry take over our lives? It’s like an alien invasion! There are many great articles on time-saving tips geared to moms, many of which focus on the newborn to toddler years, and some so complex with way too many steps you would need a nanny to keep up. Don’t have one? No big deal, I don’t either.
I am going to give you the tips you need to help save your sanity and save you some time and in three steps or less. I also have not forgotten about moms entering the next phases of child management: homework overload and teen screams. In fact, to shine a light on the stages least talked about we will work in reversal of time: teen scream survival, homework overload denial, and Oh my god it’s a baby, no it’s a runaway train!
This is the long stretch of route 66 passing through Nevada. It’s dry and barren. It’s dangerously hot during the day and horribly cold at night. Then there are the exciting moments when you catch a glimpse of a roadside attraction or a stop in Vegas. Teens are full of energy, stress, and competing objectives from: school, peer pressure, defining who they are and probably defying you.
The #1 tip for saving time in this phase and saving your sanity, is to keep your schedule as free as possible, so you can be around when your kid needs you or wants to open up to you. Trust me, it will be on their schedule and it will be spontaneous. If you aren’t there you will miss the boat. You will be less stressed and more aware of what is going on in that brilliant head and heart of your developing quasi-kid/adult-to-be. Many parents use this time to check-out and catch up on their own lives which will cost you time and heartache later when a developing situation changes into a crisis, and you will be caught by surprise.
Tip #2 for saving time and sanity (which you can start gradually as they get older from the kindergarten phase onward) is to assign household duties to all in the household. It’s not just your job, and odds are you have more than one anyway. We have Saturday Spruce Ups, Weekend Cleaning Parties, Team Clean Knock Outs. It won’t be perfect but it will be helpful and will free up all in the household for something fun afterwards (incentive) such as a backyard BBQ, swimming party, afternoon at the movies, or whatever you all want to do together.
Tip #3 for saving time with life with teens is to get rid of everything in their room and organize together all of their classes onto hanging files above their desk. You will spend so much time chasing down assignments and pieces of work they need for school projects it will drive you crazy (and them). In order to teach them stress management and organization skills start as a team, and go minimalist for that room of their own. That way everything they need for school and life is clearly visible and easy to find.
Of course everything from Teen Scream Survival really starts here and is a perfect segway as they age into a teenager. I am fond of bundling together as much as I can and delegating some to others. A cheesy happening in my house if cheerleader-ish high-fives and the even cheesier work moniker: team work makes the dream work. For the younger crowd, I learned an easy way to incorporate teaching knowledge to my kid and keeping it easy, was having an activity and snack basket in the car. This was lifesaving during the post-work and school traffic filled long commutes home. It also helped to keep us out of fast-food drive troughs most of the time. We would be on the road each way for an hour at a time. Having something to read ranging from a combined choice of books, magazines, mini-sketch pad and pencils, coloring books, word puzzles, and packaged snacks like bottled waters and fruit bars, got rid of all the earlier meltdowns that first happened when my free-range stay-at-home child first started school. I also could insure I introduced subjects I wanted him to be aware of, and hopefully take an interest in, that may not be introduced in school such as kid-gardening, animal activism, philosophy, ancient cultures, poetry, mythology, art, and photography. There is a reason why my amazing young child asked me randomly one day, “Which came first the Spartans or the Greeks?” and why for his third grade science project he tried to turn metal into gold. It was a way to incorporate my values into his life despite a full-time job and long commutes.
Tip #2: Keep a hair and make-up bag in the front of the car for you with some aromatherapy and espresso shots. A big stressor for moms is trying to get out of the door on time, and when you are trying to get someone else out the door on time at the same time is double whammy. The key is to be basically ready when leaving, with the aim of arriving early, or at worst on-time. Having to be responsible for another human being has taught me there is so much beyond our control including them. I put the finishing touches on after I pull into work before heading up. My hair bag keeps it simple for me. I have a brush, glossifier, smoother, spray and for bad hair days some pins, a hair tie, and a headband. I have my minimalist make up essentials: blush, mascara and colored gloss. And if it’s been a long weekend or a super rough Monday morning I have miniature prepackaged espresso shots. I also keep a bottle of Excedrin in there for really bad headaches, rose essential oil for aggravation/tension relief, and peppermint oil for stimulation and de-stressing. I generally only have to restock it once a year.
Tip #3: Keep dinners basic and easy. Dinnertime is now homework marathons. I am a big believer in down time and family time, not an easy to achieve balance when the world is asking for twenty hours a day worth of work and responsibilities, but there is only twenty-fours in a day. When homework is heavy we keep it basic. Frozen veggies with garlic, olive oil or a sauce and a protein, and away layered it goes into the oven. As it bakes, we can do the unwinding and hang out with the dogs and each other. Dinner is then served with salad or bread. Then the homework begins. Then we repeat some chill time or a walk, and then a shower and bed. Occasionally, if we are feeling spritely we will make an elaborate dinner, but work and homework dictates. Some nights we just can’t bake our cake and eat it to and that’s okay.
The sleepless wonder years of newborn to toddler will leave you feeling like every day out the door is a trip to the airport with luggage, itineraries, and so on. I hit a really nice and lighter stride from six to ten. Then eleven started resemble age one somehow (see the other two stages). My goal is to lighten your load! Obviously you know having a survival diaper bag in the car at all times, that can be easily swapped out with a ready-to-go by the door, is key to making it through the first two years: rotation, in and out, refill, replace, is essential to keeping you in your mojo of coming and going with a babe in tow. Something you won’t hear about though is how to lighten the rotating diaper bags!
Tip #1: Make your stand by car survival bag the one that stays in the car unless it’s an emergency. That is the one to keep your first aid kit in, your worst case scenario bible, some spare clothes for you and babe, and stand by edibles. This is the one that never leaves your car, and is heaviest. It only occasionally has to be restocked with edibles or fresh clothes. But if something bad happens, you have on hand your first aid kit, what-if book, you know things that add five to ten pounds to your daily bag that you really don’t need with you at all times everywhere. Keep your rotating diaper (and later toddler) bags basic. Food they need, bottles, two sets of clothes, diapers, trash or wash linen bag, and a small blanket.
Tip #2: Have a toy and blanket basket in the car. That way you aren’t carrying extra baggage each and every time you are heading out.
Tip #3: Keep it as light as possible when you are mobile and as soon as your child can sit upright bond with an umbrella stroller. Save the heavy duty one for off-roading. And leave both in the car as much as possible. We take for granted our psychical space and freedom of movement until we are carrying a Babies R Us Store on our bodies. Also it’s no secret that moms love playdates, because most of the time that is the only time they get a break! Here is a bonus survival sanity and time saving tip: Once all moms are situated at agreed upon park, or house, all chip in and splurge on something for the group and have one designated mom (rotating) go get it with no kiddos attached (get your music on!). You can treat yourself to group gourmet coffees, Thai food, or a beer or wine tasting.
A bonus-tip for making it through all of the stages is know when to pull over when you are by yourself and need a 15 minute break. It could be a read (great American novel in the survival diaper bag or your hair bag), ten minute mediation with a Zen CD, a shake and a burger, or a quick drink at a local tavern. Know when you need it and how to get that 15 minutes of private time. That will save you more sanity and time than anything else in the whole wide world.
Davina Rhine is a Texas author and momma. Her first book Rebel Moms: The Off-Road-Map for the Off-Road Mom was published in 2011 and has gotten great reviews from BUST Magazine, Hip Mama Magazine and the UK’s Tongue Magazine. She spends her days chasing the goddess and dharma and writing essays, fiction, and poetry while standing up for kids and animals.