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Making It Work

Lessening Morning Mayhem

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 6, November-December 2005, pp. 272-75

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I find getting out the door in the morning such a struggle. No matter how organized I think I am, I always end up searching for my keys or the children's shoes at the last second or scrambling to pack my lunch with a screaming baby in the other arm. I end up losing my temper with my toddler who is dawdling along when it is clearly not her fault we will be late, again. How do other working mothers deal with the morning mayhem?

Mother's Response

To avoid falling behind in the morning, I make sure to keep an inventory of "necessities" in my car at all times to avoid the panic of forgetting something. I keep the following in a small tote in the trunk of my car:

  • a change of seasonally appropriate clothes for each child
  • a shirt for myself
  • a small first-aid kit with ointment, bandages, wipes, sunscreen, and the phone number to our doctor, as well as our personal health insurance numbers
  • a small flashlight
  • a few extra diapers
  • wipes
  • a plastic bag

Under my seat I tuck a small bag with a couple bottles of water and a container of crackers. In addition, the night before I pack my lunch as often as I can. I cook enough dinner to allow my husband and me to take leftovers to work, and I portion them out after we eat dinner and put them in a specific spot in the fridge.

I have found it useful to involve my children in the morning process. My daughter is very independent and isn't one to sit and have breakfast because the clock says it's time. We generally eat something that travels well, just in case she doesn't eat before we leave. (It also keeps her quiet in the car.)

I let her wake up for about 30 minutes, then have her dress herself and brush her teeth and hair. She's been doing this since she was 18 months old. In the early days, I helped her, but she really likes to do these things by herself. She knows now that once she has taken care of these things and puts on her shoes and coat (if needed), she's allowed to watch television until I say it's time to leave. This bit of morning television lets me get the last of the things together and in the car without having her underfoot. Since implementing this routine six months ago, we haven't had any problems in the mornings!

Leslie Dowler
Tsawwassen BC Canada

Mother's Response

I have found that making a routine and sticking to it helps me and my two-year-old daughter get out the door on time with minimal slacking.

We prepare the night before by showering and setting out our clothes. We also keep our shoes in a bucket by the door. This helps us get dressed quickly and find shoes easily. I also set my purse with my keys and anything else I will need in the same place every day where little hands can't reach.

I set my alarm clock for about 15 minutes earlier than I actually want to get out of bed so my daughter has time to nurse and wake up before we prepare for the day. Once we are up, we go straight to the bathroom to dress, brush our hair, and brush our teeth. Then, we eat a simple breakfast together -- usually cereal. Then we play or read for 15 minutes before we leave.

The whole routine takes about an hour, which is a lot less time than it took us to get ready before I made a routine. I have a different routine for the days we don't have to go anywhere, which seems to help my daughter know when we have a time limit on things and when we can just dawdle as much as we want to.

Katrina Allen
Boise ID USA

Mother's Response

Here are some things that have helped me get out of the house in the morning:

When putting laundry away, don't put t-shirts in one drawer and pants in another. Instead, put away complete outfits. You can either fold them together, or keep them in large plastic bags so that each bag contains everything from underwear to hair bows; everything you need to dress that child. In the morning, you'll just grab a bag and it's all there. You can do something similar with your clothes—hang tops and pants or skirts together, along with any belts or accessories that you like to wear with them.

Have a designated spot near the door to store belongings that each child will need while you're at work. I used an old dresser for many years; each drawer was assigned to a different child. When they came inside, they'd put their mittens, hats, papers, and any other items in their drawers. All we had to do in the morning was take the items out of the drawers. Do a quick check around the house before you go to bed and gather up any items that may have wandered away.

For shoes and boots, assign designated spots for each child's footwear (a closet or a shoe rack). You'll probably have to be the one who puts them there, but at least you'll know where to look in the morning.

  • Have extra copies made of your keys and store them in a few places. Have one set on a hook by the front door, keep a set in your purse, and put another set in your top dresser drawer. It's not that expensive to have extra keys made and it is worth it!
  • Make lunches the night before, if at all possible. I also find it helpful to take some weekend days and prepare batches of food that can be frozen in individual servings and taken out of the freezer in a hurry. (Some examples include individual pizzas, calzones, buns with fillings, or pasta dishes.)
  • If there is room in your budget for a little flexibility, use some of the money to make the morning hours easier. If that means that on some days you eat a fast food breakfast or purchase lunch, it might be worth the extra cost to relieve some of the stress.
  • See if you can shift the family's sleep schedule so that everyone goes to bed earlier and gets up a little earlier. I know this is not always possible, but sometimes even an extra 15 or 20 minutes can make a big difference in how stressful a morning is.

Teresa Pitman
Guelph ON Canada

Mother's Response

One thing I learned as a working mother was to never put anything off until morning. I packed lunches and the diaper bag at night. I also laid out clothes for both my son and me—taking a moment to make sure that mine were pressed and that my nylons had no tears. In fact, I picked out two sets of clothes for each of us just in case a quick change was needed. I put shoes, diaper bag, purse, and keys in the same spot near the door every night and out of my son's reach.

In the mornings, there was no scramble for clothes or misplaced keys, no panic if mashed bananas ended up on my blouse, and no lost tempers. (At least not usually!)

Laura LaRocca
Orangeville ON Canada

Mother's Response

I sympathize with your stress over morning mayhem. Even stay-at-home mothers with children old enough to be in school struggle to get everyone out the door in a timely fashion many days! Planning ahead is definitely at the core of the issue for me, however, sometimes it is worth thinking outside the box when faced with a situation that you are finding difficult.

For instance, is it possible to adjust your work schedule so that you can arrive at work slightly later? Could your partner take over part of the morning routine (packing the diaper bag, dropping the children off, or making lunches)? Would your daycare provider be bothered if you occasionally dropped your children off in their pajamas with a frozen waffle and yogurt for them to eat breakfast there? Would you consider hiring a nanny to watch your children in your home so you only have yourself to get out the door? Could you work from home some days?

Even if none of these solutions are possible, I've always found that considering all of the options, no matter how far-fetched, was useful in narrowing down exactly which part of the routine was not working for us. Knowing this, it can be easier to make minor changes in our routine. Good luck finding a workable solution for your family!

Heather Drewett
Burlington ON Canada

Mother's Response

There's no question about it—getting out the door to make it to work on time is challenging when you've got children. I can empathize with your situation. I work full-time and have a three-year-old son and seven-month-old daughter. I don't have anything magical to suggest, but there are three things I do to help streamline the process.

First, I try my hardest to have lunches made and clothes picked out for everybody the night before. My husband and I prepare lunches as soon as we're done cleaning up from supper, and I organize outfits just before bedtime. I also try to have knapsacks, purses, keys, and my breast pumping kit organized the night before.

Second, I set my digital alarm clock 10 minutes fast. This may sound silly, but somehow it helps me psychologically to think I'm getting up at 6 am, even if it's really 5:50 am! If you do this now, you will gain an extra 10 minutes—and, as you know, every minute counts.

Third, I have some stories I've made up that are "just for the car." In other words, my preschooler gets to hear these stories only when we're in the car. Even though I've told these stories a thousand times, the prospect of hearing the stories does (at least sometimes) motivate him to get moving.

All of this being said, it's the nature of small children to create "morning mayhem," no matter how organized you are. Note that I "try" all of the above—in other words, I don't always succeed. Therefore, another thing I try is to not be too hard on myself if I have a less than perfect morning. Good luck in your efforts to pull it all together!

Karen Munro
Burnaby BC Canada

Mother's Response

As a mother with two children, I relate to your dilemma. I have found that the best thing is to be prepared. We make lunches and lay out clothing for everyone—especially me—the night before.

I also try to make preparing breakfast as easy as possible. For example, I make a large batch of waffles on Sunday and freeze them so that all we have to do is toast them in the morning. The children can enjoy a warm meal and I don't have to spend much time on it.

Another thing I do is get out of bed before my toddler so I have a chance to get things ready before the mayhem begins! Now that we have a routine down, my children know what to expect in the morning and things usually run pretty smoothly.

Victoria Hatch
New Westminster BC Canada

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