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Staying Home Instead

Running Errands . . .without Going Crazy

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 1, January-February 2000, pp. 19-22

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.


I really struggle with running errands. I have a five-month-old son and a four-year-old daughter and I find that I can only do two or three errands before one or more of us has a meltdown. My baby copes pretty well while I'm carrying him in the sling, but he becomes crabby from getting in and out of his car seat. My daughter's patience is short, and she gets bored if I stop too long to consider a purchase. If we're waiting in a long line at the post office, she wants to wander around and pick up all the envelopes and boxes on the display rack. She doesn't damage things, but sometimes I can feel the disapproving looks from clerks and other customers. With colder weather coming, I am dreading dealing with coats, scarves, and mittens, too. I've tried spreading errands out so we don't have to do too much to do on one day, but some days, we just have to do more. What are some ways I can make these trips easier on all of us?


I look back to when I only had one baby and wonder why I thought going out was so difficult. Now, with four children, the prospect of running errands is not something I look forward to, either. But I have found a few tricks to getting all our jobs done without too many tears or cross words from mom!

One of the most effective solutions I have found is to give the older child a job. Little ones love to be helpers, especially if they think the job they are doing is an important one. This can be holding the letters for the post office tightly because "Grandma is really looking forward to seeing those pictures," or "The electric company needs that check so our lights won't go out," or holding the shopping list or coupons, or even memorizing one or two items to recite back to you as you shop.

Sometimes the job is to stay where the baby can see you so she won't cry. This one usually involves making silly faces to get the baby to giggle. When considering the pros and cons of a purchase, I will often conduct a running commentary and discussion with the children, asking what they think or what color they like. This helps me think more clearly and gets them involved in what "we" are buying. Sometimes we play observation games while we are waiting in lines or at the doctor's office: find something blue; can you see a man wearing a hat? Word games can be fun to exchange for hugs, bedtime stories or whatever works in your family.

When the inevitable meltdown is beginning, especially for the littlest one, a break for nursing and snack for the older one and mom, too, will often stop the crash. Little ones usually experience meltdowns due to hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Also, we will sometimes do little things like a quick ride on the penny pony at the store for anyone who has been on their best behavior. A look at the toy aisle (no buying, just wishing) is also a good reward.

Errands need to be done, but with a little planning ahead, packing snacks and handing out jobs, they don't have to be so painful!

Jean Welsh
Ashville OH USA


I have struggled with running errands for years! These days my limit is two errands per day. My children are two, six, and seven and I am eight-and-a-half months pregnant. On some days, it is necessary to make extra stops, but I always try to carefully consider whether it is worth the effort. If the errand is unavoidable, and then I make sure that we are all well rested and fed before we leave. During the summer, I hired a 12-year-old as a mother's helper and she came along on errands. She was a huge help, especially at the post office and the grocery store. I have also made some very efficient trips to our 24-hour grocery store at 6:00 am while my husband has breakfast with the kids! This may not be an option for you yet but has worked very well with the older kids. One thing that has really helped me when my kids are having a tough time and we're out in public is to remind myself that everyone watching us was two years old once! For some reason, that helps me keep a sense of humor in an otherwise stressful situation.

Laura Hankins
Charlotte NC USA


One thing that helped me when my two children were that age was to eliminate as many errands as possible. Things I tried included buying in larger quantities so I wouldn't have to get the item as often (and having my husband unload it if it was heavy); buying by mail order or web sites; shopping with the baby while the older child was with dad; using a delivery service for groceries, laundry, pet food, and dry cleaning. Often there is little to no premium for the drop off service. I also mail, email, or fax information instead of dropping it off. Another approach is to take a fun break along the way, perhaps combining the library or a juice bar with a less interesting stop. Good luck. My children, ages six and nine, are in school now and I miss their companionship sometimes!

Sharon Starkston
Hinsdale IL USA


When I was a new parent, running errands was one of my biggest frustrations. We live in a rural area, so to go "into town" could be a major event, not to be done too often. Therefore, I would try to do as much in one day as possible. I soon learned that this was not a reasonable expectation with a high-need infant and even less so when siblings came on the scene. I found things worked best when I was able to spread out the errands to no more than two big ones a day, and really, sometimes only one. It was hard, but we did manage. I learned to rely on mail order for much of our shopping needs (and now we have the Internet!). Other errands were done first thing in the morning, when everyone was at their best.

On days that I knew just had to be long with many errands I tried to arrange a play date for the older child and took the baby, planning in plenty of rest stops to cuddle, nurse or even run around as the need manifested itself. A friend and I even traded play days to give each of us one morning every other week to do the quick errands we so desperately needed to do. When I did take all of the children, I tried to make sure they knew what we were doing, and how long it would take. Knowing what I was shopping for was mandatory. I would go in, get what I needed and get out.

I also tried to plan a reward for a good day of cooperation. If we could, we would have lunch out, or at least an ice-cream cone. We would take the time to walk the mall, if that was our destination, being sure to check out the toy store to "look" at all the neat stuff. We didn't even have to make a purchase. When we all got tired, we would quit for the day, hopefully with most of the stuff accomplished. I miss the old relaxing days of errand running, but they will return as the kids get older. For now, I just spend less money!

Mary Hansen
Amherst VA USA


I have a few suggestions:

  • Begin as early as you can while the kids are fresh and interested;
  • Run errands in order of importance so you can head for home when the kids get tired;
  • Talk to your four-year-old about the surroundings or play something like "I see something you don't see" in places where you must wait in line;
  • Trade babysitting with another stay-at-home mom once a week and on those days just run errands with your five-month-old;
  • Finish up errands occasionally with a trip to the park or lunch so the kids have something to look forward to;
  • Pack your four-year-old a snack and let her eat it and talk to you in the car while you nurse your five-month-old after one or two stops;
  • If you can "drive through" (things like the bank, cleaners, or pharmacy), then take advantage.

Ardie Keck
Louisville KY USA


I have two girls ages four and nearly two and do errands with them all the time. It is often challenging and difficult but I have learned that lowering my expectations of what can get done and the manner in which it gets done helps. I suggest you always allow plenty of time to get ready and get in the car. If you leave enough time, you won't be stressing out if the kids don't get ready quickly. Make games of who can dress the quickest or put their shoes on first.

Once in the store, give the older one a job to do, like finding the item, taking it off the shelf, and placing it in the cart. When the kids are getting crabby I pull out a non-messy finger snack or water cup, or find an empty aisle and run down it with both of them in the cart. In check-out lines it helps to have items like a sewing card (simply made from cardboard with holes punched in patterns and an attached piece of string or yarn), but if all they want to do is explore let them, as long as they understand they must not be out of sight. I have learned to ignore disapproving looks—people will always find something to criticize—and just do the best I can keeping control. And, if it's all falling apart, bail out and try tomorrow!

Lydia Dishman
Greenville SC USA


Isn't it difficult to do errands with two young ones in tow? I have a 14-month-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old, and trying to get things done with them has been a challenge. A number of things have helped us. First, I've found that some of my many errands could be eliminated or consolidated. For instance, the post office will let you order stamps by mail, at no additional charge. Also, I've cut back on trips to the grocery store by belonging to a food buying and produce club. Other things that have been very helpful have been to let my children know what our plan for the day is, to tell my older one what I expect from him in different situations—and to include something for them as we go about our errands. Their treats don't need to be expensive. In colder weather, a treat for them is going to the library, exploring the toys at the local thrift stores, or sitting on the riding toys at the mall. (I don 't pay the 50 cents!). I don't use this as bribery; it's just part of our plan for the day. So I'll say something like, "OK, first we're going to make some copies, then we'll go to the bank, then we'll go to the library." The older one does better when he's in on the plans and knows that something he enjoys is coming up. My son also hated going in and out of cars when he was an infant. I had good luck transferring him by keeping him in his sling, especially when he had fallen asleep, and strapping him into his seat—sling and all. I also discovered through trial and error that certain made-up songs made the ride and transitions easier for each of my children when they were tiny. Each song repeated the child's name rather frequently. The songs seemed to calm them; especially when their seats faced backwards and they couldn't see me!

Kathleen Whitfield
South Bend IN USA


I, too, had a baby who did not like to get in and out of the car seat. I would go to a shopping center that had a grocery store, a clothing store, and a card store all near one parking lot. Then I would park centrally and carry my baby in his sling to the different places. It was good exercise for me and fewer times in and out of the car seat for my baby.

Also, consider doing some of your shopping at night when the kids are asleep and Dad is home. Even with our high-need baby, I knew I had at least two hours from nursing to nursing to run to the grocery store. With a list in hand that followed the layout in the store and no one with me, I could shop for a week's worth of groceries in record time.

Lastly consider stocking up on cards, wrapping paper, bulk food and paper products so you don't have to shop so often. You can also buy tons of stuff online—even LLL books.

Good luck and remember one day your children will be in school and you will have six leisurely hours to shop!

Ann Bennett
Austin TX USA


When my children were those ages, I found that my approach made a difference in how our outing went. I tried to enlist the help of my three-year-old daughter to make it easier for her to endure the long times. I would tell her exactly what had to be done that day and in which order. (First the bank, then to the store for Daddy 's things, then to the post office for stamps to mail the letter to Grama, then to the grocery store, then home for a snack and cuddles.) I gave her things to hold and be in charge of and that made her feel like I couldn't do this without her help. If I was in a hurry, I would just tell her straight out that I was having a bad day, errands needed to be done, and I needed her to be really good and help so we could get home quickly. I would make sure to praise her for being a patient helper and also to tell her dad (at a time when she could hear) about how we helped each other.

Melanie Alcantara
Kamloops BC Canada

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