Parenting is hard! Whether you are a stay at home dad, a work at home mom, or one who has an office to go to each day, you likely feel like the hours available on the average weekday seem too few, and your responsibilities seem too many. I currently work outside of the home — as does my husband — while trying to manage this parenting gig for two 2nd graders. I have had many evenings that I wonder how it got to be so late, and have admittedly pondered the necessity of a true dinner and/or a bath. In these last seven years, I have learned to let go of the “small stuff” and picked up a few tips I’d like to pass along in hopes that it will help you manage the transition from loving caregiver in the infant to preschool years to “chauffer, activity director, and scheduling and household manager” (AKA having school age children who are too young to drive themselves around.)
1. Embrace your “Bohemian” side
Trying to keep up with fashion trends, or even traditional hygiene norms, will exhaust you. I recommend that you fully accept that having bushy, full eyebrows really IS a trend. There is absolutely no need to try to schedule brow waxing or threading in your busy schedule. Same goes for all other hairy areas – I bet your significant other is happy for attention regardless of your hair maintenance regime! I’m also all for minimalist (or no) make-up, clothes that flow (restrictive/tight jeans and body skimming tops are too much work), and really cultivating that “earth mother” vibe – soooo much easier!
2. Learn to love the crockpot
What some may call lazy, I call genius! Have you tried some of these crockpot meals circulating on Pinterest and Facebook?!? They are delicious and save tons of time. Spend Sunday afternoon putting together crockpot freezer meals, and you will honestly feel like you are cheating. The dreaded “what’s for dinner” question is so much easier when you actually have an answer! Before I discovered the slow cooker, I gave the kids some very “unique” meals; eggs, carrots, cheese, and peanut butter toast type of meals.
In the warmer months I find that crockpot meals are less appealing. That is when you pull out all of your persuasion tactics and convince your kids that you are “so proud” that they are “big enough” to enjoy a meal of chicken salad and pimento cheese, or even that they are “so mature” since they will share the shish-kabobs and fish that you much prefer for dinner. I guess the point is to not fall into the short-order cook trap. It really is okay to insist that the kids eat what you prepare, or nothing at all!
3. Remember, it is not your homework
I am not in school. I am not learning my multiplication tables or writing about “my summer vacation” (mostly because I never get a summer vacation). When my kids first started school I was adamant that school work be done before anything else, and I was always on hand to help with projects, or answer homework questions, or more often to coerce each of the kids to stay focused on finishing their homework packets. One night, though, as I was helping my daughter with a project and pretty much demanded that she start over on the back of the poster board (the nowhere-near straight lines and randomly capitalized letters wreaked havoc on my type A personality), I suddenly had the realization that she would be better served by doing it on her own, and would certainly be more proud to present her own work to the teacher and her classmates. I vowed then and there to always remember that I am no longer in 2nd (or 5th or 7th, etc.) grade. This is their work, and they are the ones who are best equipped to learn and grown from their assignments.
4. Shorten bedtime
Bedtime can become ridiculously long once your kiddos begin to master the art of manipulation. “I need a glass of water.” “I want one more hug.” “I just have two more pages in this chapter.” “I really need that pink polar bear that I haven’t even seen in two years in order to fall asleep.” Bedtime can be incredibly sweet and often times I can have amazing conversations with my kids during those final hours of each day that would likely not be mentioned any other time, so I try to be flexible. In general, though, bedtime means the kids must brush their teeth, get in pajamas and bed, read for 30 minutes and then it is lights out, with us giving a quick hug and kiss goodnight. Dragging it out does nobody any good. The kids miss out on valuable sleep. The parents get frustrated at the transparent efforts to delay sweet, glorious slumber. All in all, it often devolves (at least at our house) into parents yelling and kids who are overtired. Keeping bedtime short and sweet really does work out best for everyone.
5. Make them choose
My daughter wanted to play soccer, and take dance lessons, and go to gymnastics, and take weekly tennis lessons. My son expected to be on the baseball, and basketball, and soccer teams, and also learn to play tennis and golf, AND learn to play an instrument. I get off work at 4:30pm (actually a very reasonable hour in comparison to some of the parents I know), which means that practices can’t start any earlier than 5:30pm (45 minute commute and time built-in to pick them up from aftercare and get them changed for said activity and then actually get them to that activity close to the start time). When considering that the odds of them needing to be at the same place, at the same time are extremely low, days of the week for activities are limited.
Right now we have basketball for my daughter Tuesday night, basketball for my son Wednesday night, and tennis lessons for both on Thursday night. That is a lot of driving around and logistics planning for two young kids. It is, however, better than it could have been. My kids are allowed to pick one activity or sport per season for themselves and then we will choose one activity they do together (tennis, swim team, art club, foreign language classes). It can be tempting to let them do whatever they want (within reason), especially when they are young and just discovering their passions, but it really is just too much. When I made my daughter choose just one thing, I learned that she only really liked gymnastics because she “is good at it,” but that she loves soccer because it is “fun and exciting.” I would have driven myself crazy trying to get her to gymnastics and soccer and her brother to his activities, all for something that she didn’t really want to do anyway, just because I didn’t make them pick one thing they really wanted to do!
6. Let go of the guilt
I have spent way too much time feeling guilty as a parent. I have given them Lunchables on camp days, I have refused to play “Beat the Parents” for a third time, I have let them have much more than the recommended screen time on rainy, cold days, and I have convinced myself that baths every other night are actually better for them. Each time I have made those decisions or let that particular scenario happen, I have beat myself up about it and spent way too much time worrying about what other parents, or teachers, or friends would think.
I think I am in a good place now, though. I just don’t care! If you have time to create bento box lunch masterpieces, that is fantastic. If you relish the time you get to spend washing your daughter’s hair every night, or tackling intense Lego projects with your son, that is great! I choose to have a dance party with my son, and play Mario Kart with my daughter, and then I tell them to entertain themselves. I refuse to spend any more time feeling guilty. I’m a much happier mom now that my kids think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a viable dinner option and that they know not to ask me to play Candy Land.
Shellie Fossick is “mom” to school age boy/girl twins. She is also the Development Director for a non-profit organization that provides high quality early care and education for more than 400 low-income children in Middle Tennessee. She lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and two children. To read more of Shellie’s Twiniversity articles, click here.