We’re always looking for ways to save time, especially if it means we can spend more downtime with our families. We asked our readers for their best time-saving tips and tricks for parents, so read on for the best ideas from the busiest households. We talk through three parenting strategies that will save you time and stress, and offer specific hacks for each one so you can put them into practice. An extra benefit of these ideas? More responsible kids.
Updated from our October 18, 2018 post
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We’re back for part 2 of our series on time management strategies to help you make time for what matters most! In our last blog post, we talked about general strategies and then dug specifically into how to save time on meal planning and cooking. Because we don’t have time to spend a whole day on freezer meals either.
A Little About My Parenting Philosophy
Before we get into these hacks, I should let you know a few things about my parenting philosophy. In this recent post, I mentioned that everything I do with my students in my classroom is purposeful; there’s a reason for every activity, assignment and discussion. I try to approach parenting in the same way because it helps guide the decisions I make with my husband.
The two statements below run on a constant loop in my head:
1. My children’s character matters more to me than their happiness.
Not everyone will agree with this statement, and that’s okay. I have a friend who said she just couldn’t parent this way because she wants her kids to be happy. I do want that for my kids, but their character matters more. And did you know that building character and teaching gratitude is actually a key to happiness? There’s so much research out there to support that statement and we’ve gathered it all right here for you.
2. I am raising boys who will someday be husbands and fathers.
When I design a course, I start with the end in mind. It’s actually called the backward design model—it was first named in 2005, but teachers have been doing it forever. The point is that I think about what I want my students to learn or be able to do by the end of my course. And then everything I do during class time is geared toward those final goals.
It’s the same thing when it comes to parenting. There’s no guarantee that everything I do will end with the results I’m hoping for, but it sure beats winging it when we’re talking about human beings.
So even when I’m trying to figure out how to better manage my time, I keep these statements in mind.
Time-Saving Hacks for Strategy #1: Say No
1. Say no if kids forget something at home. Research shows that natural consequences are good for all of us because it’s how we learn. Our kids won’t starve if they forget their lunch, the world won’t end if they get a 0 on an assignment, and life won’t be over if they can’t play in a game or rehearsal because they forgot part of their uniform or instrument. When I allow those natural consequences, my kids are a lot less likely to forget again. Now, there’s plenty of whining and yelling that I’m the worst parent ever, but I’ve decided that means I’m doing just fine.
2. Say no to some activities and opportunities. I try to choose the activities that I really enjoy doing with my kids and focus on those, and I try not to overschedule my kids for many of the reasons listed in this article from the Cleveland Clinic. I struggle with this one because I grew up doing everything. I have to make a conscious effort to choose wisely and help my kids do the same.
I’ve discovered that the best way to manage our schedule is clearly defining what’s most important to us as a family. It’s been life-changing! If you’re done with overscheduling and want more quality downtime with your family, we’d love to help! Here’s a free download with actionable steps so you can focus on what matters most to you.
A smaller example here is watching practices. I don’t really know when this became a thing, but I don’t join parents who sit on the sidelines and watch every single practice. I’ve been a coach, and I’m pretty sure this would have driven me mad. Again, this wasn’t met with indifference from my kids. They used to get upset with me because I didn’t watch their practices or inter-squad scrimmages. I used the time to get some extra steps in or grade papers.
My response? “I am never going to do that. I absolutely love watching you play, and it’s so much fun to see how much you improve from one game to the next! You also need to listen to your coach, not me. He or she is the one putting in all the time and deserves your attention and respect.” This seemed to do the trick and I don’t get complaints about it anymore.
3. Say no to contacting teachers, coaches and directors on their behalf. There are definitely times for parent intervention, but I want it to be the exception and not the rule. If my kids are late on an assignment, I’m not contacting the teacher with an excuse. If they don’t understand something at school, I expect them to ask more questions and advocate for themselves. If they complain about playing time or not getting the part they wanted, I encourage them to go straight to the coach or director because it’s a chance to grow and learn.
We talked about helicopter and lawnmower parenting (yep, it’s a thing) in a post about building resilient kids. I want to empower my kids to become productive adults who communicate well, and I can’t do that by hovering or paving the way for them.
When my husband started his career in higher education, he rarely heard from parents. In the last several years, however, we’ve both had more contact with moms and dads who want to solve problems for their kids. It’s insane. I would have died before even letting—let alone asking!—my parents to contact a staff or faculty member when I was in college.
Have you seen that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond when Robert applies for a job at the FBI? “Lucky Suit” is one of my favorite episodes because I can’t stop laughing at Marie’s meddling. In reality, our kids need to start problem solving on their own at an early age so they can navigate a complex world.
Time-Saving Hacks for Strategy #2: Plan Ahead
1. Get everything ready the night before. Mary and I talked to some parents who even get things ready a week in advance. Definitely not something I do, but kudos to those of you who are that organized—it really is impressive! Do what you can to have lunches and clothes ready to go to eliminate decision-making and last-minute rushing around in the morning.
My oldest son has always struggled in the morning. I don’t know why it continues to shock him every morning that he needs to get dressed, eat breakfast and brush his teeth. I mean, it’s only been the expectation for THOUSANDS OF DAYS.
When he was in kindergarten, I was at my wit’s end trying to get him to school and myself to work on time. I finally threatened to take him to school in his pajamas if he didn’t get dressed on time.
So I said—as I’m rushing him into the school—“How do you think you’ll feel showing up at school in your pajamas?” And his response: “I’d feel fine. Everybody would wonder why my mom wasn’t making sure I got dressed, so you’re the one who should worry.” This did not go over well.
That night, out of sheer exasperation, I told my boys to shower and get dressed in whatever they planned to wear to school the next day. I stumbled upon one of the most genius hacks ever! Completely by accident! My boys wear the next day’s clothes to bed every night. Seriously. Changed.my.life.
Yes, sometimes clothes are wrinkled the next day and I still don’t know how they sleep in pants with buttons and zippers, but they’re fine and it has eliminated a huge battle in the mornings, so we’re going with it as long as it works.
2. Put backpacks by the door and charge devices nearby. When we forget to do this or get out of the habit, it makes our mornings so much worse. When backpacks are packed at night and school-issued tablets or laptops are charged nearby, it’s easy to grab them and get out the door.
3. Put a list of items needed for after-school activities in a dry erase pocket. Kids can check the list and cross things off without making a new list every day. When we don’t have a list, somebody always forgets something. Even for soccer practice. I mean, all you need is a ball and a water bottle. Why is this so hard?? (These are the dry erase pockets we use all the time.)
4. Store water bottles in a shoe organizer. Our friend Sally Kuzemchak at Real Mom Nutrition shared this genius hack on her Instagram stories and I immediately bought a shoe organizer for our water bottles to hang on our pantry door. Wrangling all those in a cupboard is a nightmare and I don’t need to waste energy being frustrated every time we empty the dishwasher. Problem solved for only 10 bucks!
My newly-organized water bottles! The one on the right has even more slots and is available here on Amazon.
5. Take pictures or screenshots of homework. This awesome tip comes from my sister-in-law. It’s brilliant! If your kids need to study for a test or brainstorm for an upcoming project, the information they need will inevitably be somewhere that you’re not. If you have a picture on your phone, you’ll be able to take advantage of those unexpected pockets of time when you’re on the go.
6. Keep snacks and gear in the car. Stash crackers, pretzels and granola bars in your car so you always have food in case you’re gone longer than expected. If you have extra sports equipment, keep that in the car along with anything you need to attend an event outside: extra blankets, chairs, umbrellas, hats, etc. We keep some of each in both of our cars because we never know who might end up somewhere without the other car.
7. Schedule laundry time. People seem to do several different things when it comes to laundry, so our biggest tip here is to just have a plan. If you want to do all of it on one weekend day, plan ahead so you have everything you need for the week. In A Simplified Life, Emily Ley suggests doing one load of laundry every morning—put it in as soon as you get up and it should be dry by the time you’re ready to leave.
Another tip is to fold the laundry as soon as it’s dry. For some reason, piles of clean laundry that aren’t folded stress me out more than a basket of dirty clothes. It feels unfinished, so I try to fold things right away. It’s a good mindless task when I want to zone out and watch tv.
Time-Saving Hacks for Strategy #3: Be a Manager
1. Give kids age-appropriate chores. My kids have had chores for years and we try to adjust as they grow. I remember telling my mom that the only reason she had kids was so someone else would do her chores. (I’d like to go back and tell my 13-year-old self a thing or two.) Knowing that this used to be my attitude, though, helps me take complaints from my boys a little less seriously.
I’ve had plenty of conversations with my college students who are livid about roommates who don’t wash dishes or clean the bathroom. I know I need to stay the course and foster responsibility in my kids. A Harvard study found that chores are a proven predictor of success–even more motivation!
Now, having my kids do the chores does require me to let go of some things. My linen closet isn’t as neat because they don’t fold the towels as carefully as I do, the dishes and groceries aren’t always exactly where I would put them and the mower lines on the grass aren’t as straight as when my husband mows, but it’s all done and I didn’t have to do it alone. It’s important to adopt a phrase that Mary and I keep telling each other: Done is better than perfect.
Need some help deciding what chores your kids should be doing? We’ve got you covered with our list of chore ideas for kids of different ages (from 2-16) and printable chore chart.
2. Do a 10-minute clean up every evening. Why is this one so hard to do? It is for me anyway, even though I know it would make such a difference. It’s only 10 minutes for each person, but multiply it by the number of people in your family, and that’s a lot of progress in a short amount of time!
3. Have kids pack their own lunches and get their own breakfast. It was a glorious day in our house when we no longer had to make breakfast! And I think that was before my boys were in kindergarten. We stored all of their dishes in lower cabinets, made sure cereal and yogurt were easy to reach and poured milk and orange juice into smaller pitchers that they could handle.
Yes, we’ve had a fair amount of clean up over the years, but I still think it’s been worth it. Breakfast is actually one of our biggest challenges right now as my oldest heads out the door at 7 a.m. for school this year—remember my earlier comment about miserable mornings? He recently decided to make some breakfast sandwiches to freeze and I often make extra smoothies to freeze (just thaw in the fridge overnight).
Kids can also help pack their own lunches when they start school and should do it independently a few years later. They’re more likely to eat what they decide to pack and it’s good for them to learn to make balanced, healthy choices.
Look at this picture and keep in mind – THEY SLEPT IN THEIR CLOTHES!
Do you have other parenting hacks that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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