Since I teach full-time, have three young kids, and am the wife of a high school soccer coach, people are always saying to me “How do you do it?” or “You must have your hands full,” or “How do you have any free time?”
I usually reply with, “I don’t know” or “You do what you have to!” or hysterical laughter or something like that. But that’s not the whole truth. In case anyone wants the full-on answer (aside from chocolate and wine), here it is:
What enables me to get through a day/week/month/year successfully are the routines which work together to make my family life run as smoothly as possible. It didn’t happen overnight, and definitely had to be tweaked each time I had a baby, or when someone was sick, or other big or unpredictable life events.
We do not live without struggles or organizational snafus, but I also have come to terms with the fact that not all these routines are always going to get done. That doesn’t mean I ignore them or don’t use them — I just try again later or change them.
The following things might be pretty basic, but they were all things I had to deliberately think about once I had kids. I can hang out with my little ones all day, but the organizational aspect of running a household doesn’t come naturally to me like teaching does. It seemed like a lot of moms know how to run their households pretty efficiently, but I felt out of my element — still do, sometimes!
I think I would have liked to see a list of routines when I was going back to work after my oldest child, even if only to read what another teacher/mom/wife does and know that if she could do it, I could do it, too. These routines allow me to focus on both my kids and my job as much as possible, and yes, even occasionally have free time.
During the weekend, I get my act together for the week. I try to spread things out a little bit throughout the whole weekend, so I’m not feeling too pressured on Sundays. On my to-do list, pretty much in order of how I do them:
1. Meal Planning: I check what food we still have, plan the meals for the whole week, and then make the grocery list accordingly. My husband and the boys give me input, and then I go to the grocery store, usually with at least one or two little helpers. Before kids, I used to go to the store after school, or shop throughout the week, but quickly learned that is super stressful with little babies. I also like to see them as soon as possible after I get out of school, so I don’t like to take the time to go even if I’d be by myself.
Lists are my love language.
2. Breakfast prep: I make enough breakfast for the whole week. It is always something that I can grab and eat in the car, although if I have time, I prefer to sit and eat before I wake my kids up. I used to take up valuable time making breakfast in the morning, and if I was running late, it was usually the task I would skip. Then I would end up with no breakfast and crankiness until lunch.
I am intrigued by this magical floating toast for my breakfast this year.
3. Lunch prep: I make enough lunch for the whole week and portion it out into containers so all I have to do is stuff it in my lunch bag. I HATE making my lunch with a burning passion (really don’t know why), so only having to do it one time per week is much more preferable to me. Also, I’m more likely to eat healthily if I make a big salad or quinoa bowl and portion it out than if I pack each day and just want to get it done.
4. Laundry: I like to do all the laundry at once. This usually takes, at the bare minimum, half a day, but then we’re all set for the week. When I was having to do laundry in the middle of the week, then I would forget to switch the clothes, or have to wait up late to get everything out of the dryer. Or get everything wrinkled from the dryer the next day.
I, too, always have at least one small child monitoring my every move.
5. Clothes: Once my own laundry is done, I hang up all my outfits for the week on one side of my closet, pressed and ready to go. Then in the morning, I can just get dressed without thinking about it. I was taking too long to decide what to wear in the morning, or I would discover that the pants I wanted to wear were extremely wrinkly. I would then have to take time to iron so I could be presentable (or not iron and rock the wrinkled “so glamorous I don’t care” look).
6. Calendar Updates: I talk with my husband about what’s coming up that week and make sure it’s on the calendar and we have logistics figured out. I’m sure when my boys get older, they will be included in this conversation, but right now their only nightly obligations are cleaning up their play area and getting ready for bed:) We still can struggle with this, especially when things change, or my husband has a late game and I might not see him, but it’s better than being taken by surprise during the middle of the week.
7. Grading: I try to do most grading of smaller assignments at school during the week, but I do have to take papers home to grade. I try to get as much as I can done on the weekends so it’s less to do during the week, whenever my boys are napping or in bed. I’m usually not able to get in the “grading zone” for major assignments at school, and I don’t really want to go from a full school day to grading papers at night.
I try to do everything I possibly can the night before so I don’t have to do it the next morning. I always try to be nice to my future self, and she generally appreciates it, especially if she hits the snooze button too many times.
8. Pack lunch: This is pretty easy because I already portioned it out — I usually just put in the entree with a side or two and a drink.
I don’t like packing my lunch, but I do like my lunch bag.
9. Set out my kids’ clothes: Now that they’re a little bit older, I have them help me with this. If we do this in the morning, they become little fashionistas who care about what they wear. Nighttime is a much more relaxing time to pick out clothes.
10. Tidy up kitchen and main room: I don’t aim for spotlessness, but I do expect dishes to be done, floor swept, and toys picked up before little people bedtime. I used to feel really stressed by messes. I’ve had to work at adjusting that way of thinking, because you have to when you live with kids if you don’t want to go crazy, but I think we should still have some simple standards, such as — no puddles or Lego-feet-harming-devices on the floor. Come on, people.
11. “Me” Time: I have to do something to decompress or I’ll get tense. Right now, it’s writing for this blog, but I am trying to make a point to exercise, too. Or I might read or watch a show with my husband. Every week, I try to have a night where I go out by myself, like a coffee shop or Target, and just savor that quiet time. Many times, I schedule it into our calendar. I used to not make this a priority, and I would end up stressed, frazzled, and not feeling like a good wife, mama, or teacher.
Coffee swirl art is so beautiful. How do people do this?
And two routines I would like to add/improve on this year:
12. Deep Cleaning One Room: Right now, majorly cleaning our house is not my top priority, but I think it would be helpful to clean — like, really clean — one room on the weekends. Then maybe I would stay more on top of it than feeling overwhelmed by a whole house.
13. Date Nights: My husband and I go through spurts where we’re really good about date nights, and then times where they kind of fall by the wayside. This should probably be our number one priority, though!
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT ROUTINE OF ALL:
14. Special Time: When my boys are awake, and we are home for the late afternoon and evening, I try to make a special point to not do any school or major housework aside from making dinner, although I might make an exception if they’re hanging out or wrestling with my husband (it can be fun to watch the chaos, though!). Or we make sure to do something as a family all together. While a perfect home/school balance is not possible, it does make me feel better by sticking to this rule as much as I can.
My husband is very good about going with my plans and routines, even though organization and initiating routines are not his strong suit. I have assumed leadership when it comes to this stuff, and I feel comfortable about that and how we divide things up, most of the time. Also, when everyone in the family knows the routines, I’m not having to say what to do all the time, because it’s just what needs to be done, and that includes the little ones, too.
It’s the same thing in the classroom. When there are accepted routines, everyone just does them without a lot of thought, and I don’t have to expend much energy trying to remind people what to do.
What are routines that you do that help you keep your sanity? I love reading how people organize their lives and make things easier — please share!