When you're a busy parent, managing your time well means caring for your own needs as well as your family's. Here are five realistic ways to add more time to your day to create a more balanced and fulfilling parenting life.
Tired of giving your precious time away to mundane chores, work obligations, and endless family responsibilities? Busy parents share a common goal of finding ways to free up their schedules. Here are five easy ways you can have that now and always!
When I was at home with eight young children, I longed for any tiny moment I could snatch for myself. Grocery shopping all by myself was one way I found respite in my otherwise chaotic schedule each week. Because of my long bout with infertility, once I was finally blessed with a small tribe, I felt guilty for wanting time away from them. But I knew I had to figure out smart ways to balance my time and energy so that I didn't end up burned out and resentful.
1. Rise and shine
I was able to turn my attitude and my schedule around with one simple adjustment—getting up earlier than the rest of my household. It wasn't easy at first, because I was exhausted from being up during the night with an infant (or two), but once this routine became sacred, I suddenly had an extra 15-plus hours a week to call my own.
Once this routine became sacred, I suddenly had an extra 15-plus hours a week to call my own.
Usually, I devote this time to physical exercise. Early morning power walks help keep my mind and body refreshed. I also catch up on my reading and writing. For over 20 years, I've protected this early morning time because it benefited my wellbeing. Now that my kids are older, I still rely on this ritual to focus on my needs, and I highly encourage you to give it a try for yourself.
2. Plan your meals
When I was a stay-at-home mom with four kids under the age of three, something had to give! I had to be completely realistic and get creative with ways to sneak more time into my crazy schedule so we would flourish, not flounder. Other than changing diapers for a good part of the day, the other two areas that sucked up most of my time were laundry and cooking. My growing family was always going to need food on the table, so figuring out how to make mealtime easier was a no-brainer.
Figuring out meal planning was life-changing for my family because it saved me hours each month and hundreds of dollars at the grocery store. And a bonus? We always enjoy a variety of menu items, so we're rarely bored. Best of all, because I post our menu twice a month, I never have to answer the question, "Mom, what's for dinner?"
I'm a huge believer in meal planning! But to gain the benefits, I realized I had to go into it with the right mindset. Instead of looking at it as another chore to tackle, I decided to take a more positive approach and have fun with the process. I built it into my routine and took some time to really sit down and get creative, and that's been the key to my success.
You'll find inspiration in my episodes Why Meal Planning is Essential to a Happier Family Life and 5 Tips to Make Family Meal Planning Easier.
3. Rotate toys and keep your kids surprised
Sometimes you can find unexpected time in your day in unlikely places. I stumbled upon large chunks of extra time randomly one year after the holidays. My inlaws loved to go overboard with Christmas gifts (I say this lovingly!) and brought each of them a massive sack of toys. The number of gifts they gave each year was overwhelming for the kids and us.
It kept activity time and playtime exciting for them ... and for me!
Rather than insult my in-laws' generosity, I put most of their gifts away. Throughout the rest of the year, when my kids finished actively playing with the toys, puzzles, stuffed animals, and activity kits they had in their lineup, I would put those away and rotate in new ones. The kids never knew when I'd bring out a new selection of goodies. It kept activity time and playtime exciting for them ... and for me!
When I did break into my "surprise stash," my kids would sit and play for hours with their new haul. When I had a new baby to care for, a writing deadline looming, or some other busy time to navigate, having a fresh supply of goodies to keep my kids occupied was a godsend.
4. Start a "get-to-do" list
I've always considered myself an organized person. All that changed, however, when I had four kids in less than three years!
I've always considered myself an organized person. I was an over-zealous list maker for years. If I committed it to paper, I thought the task would get done no matter what. But we all know life doesn't work like that. Eventually, I learned the real art of list-making. During a particularly harried part of my parenting journey, I realized "to-do" lists had a negative vibe. Who wants to confront a big long list of things they have to do? After chatting with my pediatrician, she advised me to make "get-to-do" lists.
The subconscious notation of "getting to do" something rather than having "to do something" was a gamechanger. Once I realized I "get to" make dinner for my family (because I have a wonderful family) and I "get to" carpool them to their activities (because we're fortunate enough to have transportation) I started to feel privileged instead of frazzled. And not feeling frazzled helped me get things done so I wasn't frantically scrambling to finish stuff I'd put off. And that meant having a little extra me-time to enjoy!
I love these excellent pointers from timesaving "mom guru" Stephanie Vozza, author of The Five-Minute Mom's Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom's Life Easier. She recommends dividing your daily list into three categories: Don't, Delegate, and Do. Evaluate your list and get real! You know there are one or two items you'll never get to, so cross those off immediately. (Color-coding my linen closet is now officially off my list.) These are your "Don'ts." The super important tasks are "Do's." Vozza suggests highlighting these with fun symbols like smiley faces or money signs, whimsical reminders to show why these tasks are essential.
5. Make routines your best friend
I've saved the best for last! The word "routine" is tossed around like a garden salad. We all hear how important routines are, but the word itself means nothing unless we implement it. My number one secret for gathering extra hours in my day and week is the gift of routines!
Habits don't form overnight, but they are entirely doable when you commit to them.
Establishing a routine may sound complicated and like it's a bit too much work, but I implore you to think differently. Kids crave and need routines and structure. When they have expectations, they thrive. Habits don't form overnight, but they are entirely doable when you commit to them.
Start with your most harried part of the day and figure out how to use a routine to make it less stressful. Do you scramble to find shoes, backpacks, and your sanity each day as you race to get your kids out the door? Does the after-dinner homework routine weigh you down? Struggling to get the kids bathed and tucked in on time so you can have a few quiet moments to yourself? Evaluate your daily schedule. You know what's working and what's not. Now, dig in and create a new plan. For my family, mornings were the most challenging. I created an evening routine that helped us get everything in place for the next morning in advance so it was much less of a hassle.
Check out my episode How Routines Will Improve Your Life. You'll find actionable, useful tips to help you implement routines and take your life back!