As I drove to work one morning, heading toward the Eisenhower
Expressway and the office, I heard a little voice in the back.
"Aren't you going to take me to school?" asked my youngest
A slam-on-the-brakes, eye-opening moment.
Mornings as a single parent of three kids had gotten so out of
control, I didn't realize I'd never made it to the elementary
school to drop off Grace.
I need some order in the chaos of my family's daily life. That's
why I'm planning to take this list of ideas from our readers and
writers and untangle my crazy days. I know you'll find something in
here to help you start making your family life run just a little
1. Fill `er up
Admit it, some days your tank is running on fumes. "Just like we
can't run our car without filling it with gas unfortunately, in
addition to our basic needs as parents, we need to replenish our
immune system in some way," says Dr. Sheela Raja, clinical
psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois
at Chicago. A recharge, such as prayer, yoga, meditation or simple
stretching, done deliberately for even 5-10 minutes several times a
week can do wonders, she says. "We have pretty good evidence now,
even when you do it in very small amounts and you do it regularly,
you can actually change your brain chemistry," she says.
Better yet: Involve the family. Kids love yoga and things like
that, especially in five-minute chunks. It could be the start of a
great habit that helps them focus, learn better and manage their
2. Make the most of Sundays
Sunday nights find mom Cindy Loiterman and her family getting
all of their clothes ready for work and school for the upcoming
week. "We put them in the designated spots for each day, then get
our lunches ready into separate baggies and containers so that,
throughout the week, we just mix and match our fruits, veggies and
protein and we are set to go."
3. Stop chore wars
Laura Amann and her husband came up with the Job Jar to win the
battle in the chore wars. "I wrote down all of the chores that my
kids were perfectly capable of tackling, folded those notes in half
and placed them in the jar. On Saturday mornings, each child
reaches in and pulls out two or three jobs. They like the variety
of never knowing what their job will be (with the added bonus of
sometimes getting all the easy ones) while I like the fact that
within an hour my entire house is clean!"
4. Stop the wonders, start talking
When you want to talk to your kids about big things, don't just
sit them down and tell them-that's way too uncomfortable for
children, says Parent Coach Cathy Adams, mom of three girls. Sit
down and start coloring together or doing a project and then start
talking. They can listen while staying focused on their art and it
feels safer, less daunting. They are more likely to ask questions
if they don't have to make eye contact. That's why you can get them
to talk to you in the car-less eye contact, not so emotionally
5. Stagger bedtimes
As a mom of five (all under age 6!), Joy Slates really knows how
hectic bedtimes can get, not to mention how exhausting it can be on
mom and dad. "We discovered that staggering their bedtimes works
much better than putting them all to bed at the same time. Our
youngest goes first, then 15 minutes later his next two sisters,
followed by our oldest, a set of twins, last. That way each set has
a chance to wind down before the next set comes into their
6. Skip the Blackberry
No high-tech stuff for on-the-go mom and contributing writer
Alena Murguia. She lives by her old-fashioned, hand-written master
family calendar in the kitchen. "It's where we track parties, field
trips, sports schedules, work deadlines and date nights. I always
get the kind with attached folders or pouches so invitations can be
kept organized and accessible. Every member of my family, even the
kids, understands that the calendar is the final word on our
schedule," she says.
7. But if you must, get techie
Diana Baron uses her iPhone to keep her on track for her kids'
activities and appointments.
"I stay informed when it comes to the weather (how to dress). It
also helps give me directions when I need to go to an unfamiliar
9. Take 10
Spend 10 minutes a day decluttering so you don't get
overwhelmed. It's really true there should be a place for
everything and everything in its place. But there comes a time when
you need to get rid of things. Throw out what's unusable or unused
and donate the rest, says mom Karen Ross.
Another do-it-now tip: Open mail over the recycling bin as soon
as you bring it in from the mailbox. Immediately file bills and
other items that you'll need later, and recycle the rest. You'll
never have a mail pile or be late paying a bill.
Same advice goes for the paper in the kids' backpacks and, dare
we say, the receipts and old gum wrappers in your purse.
10. Pack up the car
In the rush out the door in the morning, ever get somewhere,
only to find you are missing something you needed for that errand
or appointment? Won't happen again if you follow mom Jenny
"I put everything in my car the night before so if we have a
doctor's appointment and I need paperwork or a library book due
back at the library, I have it and don't forget them at home."
11. Combine workouts with laundry
Mom Krista Spaletto has juggling her workouts down to a science.
She puts the wash in the washing machine when she starts her
workout and by the time she is done, the washer is done and she can
put the clothes in the dryer.
"It helps me keep on top of the wash," she says.
13. Skip pajamas
Just don't tell your mom. "PJs are a big waste of time in my
opinion," says mom of two Kelly James-Enger. "If Haley's wearing a
onesie that's reasonably clean from that day, she sleeps in it,
too. (My mom was shocked!) Of course I often sleep in the shirt I
wore during the day and PJ bottoms, so I'm embracing this same
12. Get the kids involved
Yes, you're overwhelmed and stressed out some days trying
to get everything done. Look no further than the pint-size
characters helping to contribute to the work. "If we do everything
for them-as many parents do-it adds to our stress and really
doesn't serve the children who are going to have to take this stuff
on eventually," says certified professional organizer Jane Carroo
of Clutter Coach, www.cluttercoach.com.
So what can a parent do? "Well, we can get a different
perspective; we can step back and we can take a look at what is
possible," she says.
Since we all like FREE, here's Carroo's take:
14. Forget date night
We all know how much effort date night takes. Coordinating busy
schedules and hiring and paying a babysitter can drain out all the
fun from a night on the town. Plan a "date day" instead, suggests
UIC's Raja. If your kids are old enough for day care or school,
pick a day and make 9 a.m.-3 p.m. all about you and your
significant other. Raja says there's something to do in Chicago for
every budget, from a simple walk in Millennium Park or along the
lakefront to visiting a free museum or taking in movie. "It just
feels really indulgent," she says. We can feel the relaxation
15. 'Watch' the kids without watching
Even if you no longer need to keep tabs on a sleeping infant,
don't give away your baby monitor. Instead, you can create your own
personal kiddie surveillance system while you multitask. Here's how
mom Caitlin Murray Giles does it: "I leave the receiver on in the
upstairs hallway so I can hear what's going on with my older kids
while I am downstairs in the kitchen making dinner. I've also
placed a monitor outside in my backyard so I can better supervise
what is going on out there. This way, my kids can have the freedom
to play outside or in another room while I get housework done-and I
can hear what they're up to."
16. It's OK to say no
Yes, we know. Junior "needs" to keep busy so he's in two clubs
after school, is a Cub Scout and is destined to be the next soccer
great while your little princess takes ballet and hip-hop and
dreams of playing ice hockey. But there has to be a limit.
"Really know from a psychological standpoint and an academic
standpoint, you are not a bad parent if your child only does one or
two extracurricular activities that they are really interested in,"
says UIC's Raja. Thank you!
Unless your kid is desperate to be part of the LEGO club, they
might be just as happy if you sat down and created something
together. Or a family swim during the park district's open swim
might be all they want instead of joining the swim team. "When we
get in as parents and say we have to do this, I think that ends up
being really stressful for kids."
Strike a balance: Encourage kids to explore a few key interests
and just relax as a family, she says.
18. Share the load
Set up a casual babysitting exchange with the parents in your
kids' playgroup or your mommy friends. Mom Lisa Applegate says it
was the best thing she and her husband ever did for their marriage.
"When our kids were babies, I would put my son to bed; then the
other parent would come over while my husband and I went out. The
other parent got to relax in a house that was not hers (and
therefore didn't have dirty dishes or other chores to worry about),
and could just read or watch TV. My husband and I got much-needed
time to connect without having to add the cost of a sitter to our
evening. The trade got more complicated as kids aged and siblings
came along, but a few close friends and I still take turns."
19. Don't want or waste
Dad Joe Menard has a creative solution for the week's leftovers
crowding the fridge.
"We tend to cook breakfast on the weekends, and use the
opportunity to clean out the "must-go" leftovers. We'll grab any
leftover meat (chicken, beef, hot dogs, etc.) as well as any
leftover veggies, dice it all up, throw it in a skillet. Let the
veggies and meat cook up a little and pour in scrambled eggs. Once
cooked, serve alone or on bread or tortillas."
20. Make great nails last longer
We know, it's hard to make time for that mani/pedi. So make the
little indulgence last right through the busiest of days. Braff
suggests you can make your manicure or pedicure last twice as long
by applying a clear top coat every other day for the week
21. Be a sock (and glove) wrangler
Seriously, what happens to all those missing socks and
gloves? "We used to have a big sock problem in our house,
especially when my boys became teenagers, because all of their
socks looked the same. Now I buy each male in the house a single
brand and color, so I know immediately whose sock belongs to whom,
says Ross. (Another clothes-related tip: only buy one color of
those little gloves that expand when you put them on. I buy black
because black hides most dirt. If you lose one, you'll still be
able to use the remaining glove if you have others in the same
22. Let the toilets clean themselves
No one likes to clean the potty or the sink drains, are we
Mom of two, Maria Pilar Clark, shares her trick: Drop two
Alka-Seltzers into your kitchen sink and two more in each toilet of
the house (all with water, of course). Then go about cleaning as
"By the time you circle back to the sink and toilets, the
bubbles will have loosened the grime, making it much easier to
clean them, without needing harsh chemicals, too."
23. Use that time in the carpool line
As a mother of three, Giles spends a ton of time driving all
over the city.
"When I find myself sitting in my car waiting to pick someone
up, I hate to waste those precious few minutes. I keep a package of
note cards and stamps in my glove compartment so I can quickly pen
a letter to a friend or family member (something I always want to
do, but never seem to get to). I look up the mailing address from
the contact information on my iPhone, put a postage stamp on the
envelope and put the letter in the nearest mailbox. Done."
24. Eat quick and clean
On the weekend or a weekday off, cook up a bunch of homemade
"easy" kid-friendly foods-pancakes, animal crackers, pizza muffins,
breakfast cookies-and freeze them. If you are like Clark, all week
you'll be able to pull from the freezer and significantly cut down
on cooking/prep times while not relying on overly processed foods
to feed the family.
25. Make someone else feel needed
"Don't be afraid to ask other people for help," says Raja, who
runs the website balancedlivingsolutions.com. Ask a neighbor to
watch your kids for 10 minutes while you take a quick walk to pump
up your energy or to pick up the kids one afternoon to give you a
break. Offer to return that favor.
"People actually enjoy being needed. You might be surprised at
how it makes people feel valued when you ask them for help. A lot
of times we don't want to ask people because we think we're going
to put them out."
Think about it this way, she says: "It's always nice to be
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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