Simplifying Your LifeAug 17, 2023
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As we gear up for a new school year, I’m sharing some of my own tried-and-true routines and rhythms for simplifying your daily life. We’re talking mornings, afternoons, dinnertime and more, with tips geared toward families with elementary and middle school age kids.
You’ll hear tips that worked for our family, why I made those decisions and how they helped me to establish a peaceful and easy rhythm for our home. These are nuts and bolts, actual HOW of creating your own daily routines so you can get places on time (without forgetting a bunch of stuff) and feel less stressed.
Your days will look different than mine did, and you definitely don’t need to use every tip I share here. I do hope you’ll get some ideas for how to structure your days and simplify your life. Start with one or two favorites, and take it from there!
Simplify Your Mornings
My goal in the morning was to create the most peace and ease possible, so that my kids would go to school feeling calm and grounded. I noticed that on days we were rushed, stressed and I was yelling or barking at them, they often ended up having a hard day at school.
I started by spending a few minutes to connect with each kid while they were waking up.
Then, we transitioned into getting dressed and brushing teeth. We did not use any devices in the mornings or have playtime once I was up.
Breakfasts were super simple: instant oatmeal, yogurt or frozen waffles (with a little protein if possible). I really just tried to get something in their bellies. I rarely (if ever) made breakfasts I had to cook, like eggs or pancakes, during the week. I didn’t eat breakfast with them but made lunches during this time and was there to connect and be present with them.
I made a choice to not really discipline or teach my kids anything in the morning. There just wasn’t time for a big conflict or conversation. I would move through the situation as best I could using limit setting, take note of any off-track behavior and come back to later.
The goal was what I call a “gentle handoff” - delivering a well-regulated human to school - so I was always looking for ways to move things along in the morning without anyone getting upset.
Creating a timeline helped us arrive on time or early to school. Start with what time they need to be at school, what time you need to leave the house and count backwards from there to figure out the rest. Remember to leave yourself some wiggle room for spills and last-minute bathroom breaks.
There are also a few little hacks I discovered to help us get out the door more easily:
- Keep a shoe bin downstairs
- Store socks and backpacks near the shoes
- Simplify the stuff: Each kid had one backpack, one lunchbox, one sweatshirt, one pair of school shoes, and we kept their wardrobes pretty small and simple, too
Simplify School Lunches
I made very simple lunches. Sawyer was a picky eater, so I sent him pretty much the same lunch every day. For Lincoln, I had a rotating schedule.
My mind was blown when a friend of mine with four kids pointed out to me that I can just give my kids a sandwich everyday. That I didn’t have to make personalized, fancy lunches for my kids.
Many parents like to make lunches the night before, and this works for a lot of families. It wasn’t really for us. Lincoln liked more warm foods for his lunch, so I chose to prep lunches in the morning (I’m also a morning person, so it wasn’t a big deal).
And I didn’t send water bottles with my kids. At some point, I stopped doing this and they didn’t really seem to miss them. If you want your kids to take a water bottle to school, it can be their responsibility to fill it up and put it back into their backpack each day.
Every afternoon, the boys would put their lunch boxes on the counter. I’d load containers into the dishwasher and run it every night so we had clean containers ready to go each morning.
Simplify Your Afternoons
My goal in the afternoons was to give my kids my full attention at the time of reunion. School pickup (or coming home on the bus) is one of those transitional points in the day that can feel hard for our kids.
Even if I was talking with another mom at pickup, when my kid came out I’d pause and say, “Excuse me, let me say hi to my kid.” I would turn to them, give my full attention and tell them, “Hi, I really missed you.”
I believe this set the tone for our afternoon.
Most days we came straight home after school, even if we had activities later on. The boys did chores, like bringing their lunchboxes to the counter and unloading the dishwasher, while I prepped a snack.
And we typically only did one sport at a time. I even tried to get my kids on teams with my friends’ kids so we could help each other with carpools. I only signed the boys up for enrichment activities or scheduled play dates if it worked for me, my schedule and our budget. I didn’t really want a super busy life and didn’t feel the pressure to put them in every activity.
Early on, we decided to have no video games or TV on weekdays. It often felt like there just wasn’t enough time between getting home and dinner/bedtime, and it was so hard to get them off the devices. From time to time, we’d watch a movie or I’d let them watch a show, but it wasn’t expected. It felt like something special and allowed me to take a real break when it happened.
If we didn’t have sports, afternoons were structured around play - at home, at a park or with friends, which provided a slower pace for the kids.
Simplify Dinnertime & Evenings
Dinnertime can mark the end of the afternoon, the end of playing and the beginning of evening time. Cleaning up toys was also part of this transition for us.
I created a general meal plan every week, and had several go-to meals that we ate often. These were simple meals I could make without a recipe and that my kids would eat. Some favorites were tacos, burgers, pasta, teriyaki stir fry, fajitas, roasted chicken and potatoes or enchilada casserole.
I trained myself to think about dinner as I was getting breakfast together in the morning, so I could thaw meat or prep anything else I’d need.
And some nights, I didn’t make dinner at all. I’d serve “calories” for dinner, which meant that we’d just eat enough of something to feel full. Sometimes it was popcorn, cereal, sandwiches or fruit.
After dinner, it was usually straight to bath and bed. If I could tell they had a lot of energy, we’d walk to the nearby park or jump on the trampoline for a little while - something where they could use their bodies and get that energy out.
While my preference was to get the dishes done before the kids went to bed, it didn’t always happen. We have a lot of guilt or pressure around keeping our homes perfectly clean, but leaving some pans for tomorrow is really okay.
The whole point of my sharing this with you is that I want you to see that I built a rhythm that worked for me and that matched my energy and my family's dynamic. And I just decided that that was okay. That whatever I did was fine.
You can also decide that. You can decide to have simple food, or you can decide to not do sports at all, or you can decide to do play dates every day and take out every night.
Whatever you do is up to you. If something is stressing you out, take time to figure out what isn't working and find a better solution.
And in that process, you'll learn how to let yourself off the hook and do what works for you and your kids, because what your kids ultimately need is for you to be calm, regulated and peaceful.
- Episode 29: Back To School Shit Show
- Three key times of day when your kid needs your full attention
- Why it’s okay to let yourself off the hook sometimes (and ideas of what to let go of)
- How to adjust these rhythms to work for you and your family
Connect With Darlynn:
- Learn more about working with Darlynn
- Book a call with Darlynn
- Sign up for love notes and learn about The Calm Mama Club at www.calmmamacoaching.com
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