Work-life balance has a whole new meaning to people when they become parents. It really is a seemingly never-ending marathon. First there’s the attempt to get pregnant, than soldiering through 40 plus weeks of pregnancy before taking the little bundle of joy home.
Next, there’s the adjustment of parenthood, sleepless nights, and a whole whack of responsibility. Sooner or later, depending on the family financial situation or region’s policy surrounding parental leave, many parents hop right back onto the working parent treadmill.
Unfortunately, it often seems like many are running on a steep incline, with a sore knee, being chased by a scary clown, and it’s raining, hard.
So many parents feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, and it’s a constant juggling act with about five too many items in the air. Sooner or later someone literally drops the ball, facing the stressful and tough, but a reality of modern parenthood.
There’s good news though. Many parents have figured out tips and tricks that have helped them through those long weeks, a little more organized, and a whole lot more relaxed. These hacks can be applied to parents just starting back at the grind, and those who have been both working and parenting for quite a while, who are looking for a bit of a personal tune-up.
Behold 15 awesome hacks for working parents looking to get their ducks in a row before returning to work, and a little reassurance that everyone is struggling to make it through the work week (no matter how fabulous someone’s fall photo shoot or Pinterest birthday parties are).
15Scheduling And Communication
By getting a game plan together, particularly for set tasks: think daycare drop-off, daycare pickup, grocery shopping, laying out clothes, meal prep etc. you can avoid pointing fingers and scrambling at the last second. Or even more annoyingly the discovery that two people have failed to make it to pick-up on time and little muffin is sitting there alone at 6:02PM with an annoyed early childhood educator.
Whether it’s a daily plan, google calendar or a giant erase board to help keep track of one-offs, including late night meetings or social activities, this will become a part of the family lifeline. Working mother of two Dazy says, “Meal planning, sure it's an annoying task, but so worth it, and designating which adult is in charge of dinner that night, it takes the fighting, I mean guess work, out of who's doing what at the end of the day.”
By the adults keeping in constant contact, even via a quick text message about moving over a load of laundry they can help keep “team family” winning the game.
14Pay For The Hot Lunch Program
Making enough money to support child care and a family is tough, but for many families time is the most valuable commodity out there. Many daycare programs, and schools, offer reasonable plans to prepare healthy and nutritious food, giving parents hours and hours of extra time each week, making it well worth the added expense.
Working mother of two Rebekah says, “We pay extra to the daycare to provide a hot lunch. I already have to pack 2 snacks and I have no time or imagination left for a delicious, nutritious packed lunch. And I know a daycare worker is watching my kids eat to ensure they are well fed. I would have no idea what she's eating or throwing away if I packed her lunch!”
Some programs will even let parents obtain these services part time, so it can be a small planned splurge, the day or two before grocery shopping to lighten the load later in the week.
13Grocery And Produce Delivery Packages
Parents finally get time off work, only to have to head to the grocery store with a list, line up, and put it all away, often on Saturday (the busiest day at the store). This is a headache many parents can do without. It’s also why so many folks order in a lot more take out than they’d probably like to admit.
More and more services are recognizing this frustration for both parents and single people with a variety of services increasing each year. Some stores will allow customers to place an order online and pick it up at the store from a specific locker, whereas others will provide subscriptions to healthy meal kits, with pre-measured ingredients for minimal waste and optimal time spent cooking together.
Other services like Grocery Gateway can allow parents to order online at their convenience, like during a coffee break at work, and provide delivery straight to the door. Rebekah says, “We get a family sized produce delivery each week. It reduces my need to go to the grocery store every week.
I was going weekly because of the perishable foods, but now (with some careful menu planning) I can go every few weeks to get things like cereal, and pick up milk and eggs as we need them on the way home from work.”
12Having A Regular Routine
Humans like routine, whether they’re 6-months-old, or 36 years-old. Regular routines will help both kids and parents know what to expect each day, and each week, making everyone more agreeable for the task at hand. Dazy says, “Transitions are hard for kids so having their blankie or favorite stuff waiting for them when you pick them up at the end of the day really helps.
Cookies or doughnuts waiting in the car really helps too!” Solid simple routine basics are the foundation towards easier mornings, Natasha says, “I would get Sidney's clothes out the night before, so Mark could dress her while I was getting myself ready.”
Baths, pyjamas and stories can become a part of consistent night time rituals that parents boast make bedtimes both expected and easier, as can meal planning for specific days of the week, so the first adult home knows what’s on the menu for the evening.
11Prepare Clothing And Pack Bag The Night Before School
Checking the weather the night before each day can keep parents on top of what’s to come the next day and allow them to have hats, mittens, and boots ready. Most parents talking about time management swear by night before prep-work to ensure the time, and patience, to manage kids who might be cranky in the morning.
Natasha says, “I would get her daycare bag ready and into the car the night before” so there was nothing to forget in the morning. Parents can also benefit from planning their work wardrobe the night before, or even every Sunday night as they fold “mount laundry” to ensure more time during hectic mornings.
Dazy says, “For infants consider letting them sleep in the onesie intended for daycare (changing them into it the night before) so they can just go ahead and wear the next day, just make sure to remember to change their diaper in the morning. This is the exact same concept as people sleeping in their gym clothes to make it easier to motivate themselves to work out in the morning.”
10Prepare Breakfast And School Lunches At Night
Most people struggle the most with the mornings, when they’re sleep deprived and the coffee hasn’t had the chance to work yet, so food prep the night before is another simple hack. Working mother of two Caroline says, “We fill the kettle, set-up the tea bags and mugs, get out cereal bowls/spoons and pour the cereal the night before to help speed up our mornings.”
Natasha says, “I keep healthy breakfast food (like whole-wheat pancakes and sugar-free muffins) in the freezer and take something out the night before so it’s ready for her to eat once she’s up.” Packing lunches with leftovers after dinner can be incorporated into a part of the family’s after dinner routine, easing morning stresses.
For those with older kids, some breakfast options kept on lower shelves or even out on the kitchen table can allow older kids to help feed themselves while the parent(s) can focus on helping the younger ones who can’t feed themselves yet.
9Pack And Go Dry Cereals And Snacks
Portable on the go food that is filling, fast, and less likely to leave giant crumbs everywhere is a great bet for when little ones don’t eat their breakfast before heading out the door. Ziploc or reusable cloth bags filled with favorite dried cereals make excellent breakfasts on the go, with leftovers that won’t go bad and can be enjoyed on the way back home from school or daycare.
Natasha says, “Bringing a yogurt squeeze pack and water in the car means she can eat something on our way to daycare.” Working mother of two Erika says, “A big batch of breakfast shakes for the entire family, you can make a batch of it for everyone in the family on the way out the door.”
Other healthy fast options include homemade or store bought granola bars, muffins, raisins, apples, or even egg wraps for bigger kids with the fine motor skills to handle eating these on the go.
8Cook Bigger Batches Of Food
For the most part cooking takes the same amount of time, no matter if you’re cooking a small batch or a bigger batch, so it’s a great time saver to cook bigger portions. Caroline says, “For speedy weeknight dinners, we cook double batches of meals on the weekend and try to survive on defrosting those during the weekday nights.”
Caroline says, “We also freeze small portions of things (rice, sausage, pork chops, cooked pasta) in our freezer (and serve a lot of frozen veggies) so we can just defrost food quickly in the microwave for the kids' dinner as soon as they get home. They are usually famished by the time we get home.” Other parents swear by crock pot meals.
Dazy says, “The recipes where you make like 10 in a day are the best! You freeze them and then in the morning stick the frozen block of food in the crock pot as you head out which means no chopping in the morning and viola, dinner when you get home!”
Rebekah likes to bake on the weekend to ensure healthy snacks available during the week, “Baking ensures I get to use up any pureed or chopped fruits and veggies before they go bad!”
7Stock Processed Freezer Food
We all want to feed our kids super healthy food, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes we run out of leftovers, after-all we can’t all be like Gwyneth Paltrow, and it can be an easy treat to have something super simple at hand in a pinch when things don’t go exactly as planned.
Rebekah says, “I take a class on Monday nights so we eat delicious, sodium-full frozen pizza on Mondays, with salad though.” A pack of chicken nuggets and French fries can go a long way to saving sanity, and a trip to the grocery store when all a tired mom or dad wants to do is put their feet up for a few minutes.
These frozen meals are best when they are the child’s absolute favourite food to ensure they won’t be refused at the end of these “break glass in case of emergency” type days. Same goes for fast food, Dazy teases, “Taco bell makes dinner a snap (the bean burritos are healthy....right?) And cheap!”
We’re all allowed fast food days or sandwich nights once in awhile, in our house it’s often the same night as swimming lessons.
6Bathe The Kids Less
There’s good news, babies, toddlers and kids probably bathe and shampoo more than they should. Every night does not have to be bath night, heck every other night doesn’t have to be bath night. Daily bath night doesn’t have to be a must for kids, or infants either.
The American Academy of Dermatology states kids aged 6 to 11 need to bathe, “At least once or twice a week, When they get dirty, such as playing in the mud, After being in a pool, lake, ocean, or other body of water, When they get sweaty or have body odor, or as often as directed by a dermatologist if getting treated for a skin disease.”
This means a nightly bath isn’t necessary, unless the parents enjoy this as bonding time, or a sure-fire way to ensure a smooth transition into bed time. As for infants, particularly those with sensitive skin, bath time is recommended only around two times a week, for toddlers you can up this number to two to three times a week.
5Use Beauty Hacks
Rebekah says, “I have dirty hair. I wash it about twice a week. I just can't get up any earlier than 6AM and washing and my hair is a real time suck. I bought dry shampoo, but really you can train your hair to get used to not washing it.” Dazy also boasts minimum makeup looks and wash and go cuts for both parents and kids.
Washing hair in the evening, can be a relaxing way to unwind from the day, and to save time in the morning. As a mom with young kids I’ll splurge on getting my eyebrows and eyelashes tinted darker, this saves me about five minutes a day on my makeup routine, since skipping eye makeup and mascara isn’t a big deal any more, and this indulgence is well worth the 20 bucks I pay every month or two.
4Multi-Tasking To Save Time
Setting up routines outside of traditional spaces for things can be a real time saver. Caroline says, “We brush teeth after breakfast in the kitchen sink so we don't have to go back upstairs to the bathroom.” Multi-tasking within the space available can also work, as can empowering the older kids with their own independent activities.
Dazy says, “We let our kids brush their own teeth in the morning (we do it at night to ensure it’s done well at least once a day) that way we don't have to be in the bathroom with Juno. We can yell at her while we're getting ourselves ready ‘go brush your teeth!’”
Natasha says, “I have a pack n play in our bedroom so she can stay in there and eat her breakfast and hang out while I get ready.” If the difference is between eating breakfast on the bus or not eating at all, eat breakfast on the bus.
3Chore Charts And Allowances
Parents of older kids can have chore charts or allowances which reward them for their independence and how well they do at getting themselves ready. Other rules around morning priorities are key to making it out the door on time. Dazy says, “Simple things like Velcro shoes, coats low enough for a toddlers’ reach allows them to learn to grab their own stuff and help us get out the door faster.”
Caroline says, “We don't let our kids play with any toys until they are dressed, have eaten breakfast, and brushed their teeth. We also make them get dressed first thing, no coming downstairs in their pyjamas.” Parents can also speak to their work about telecommuting and alternate work options, even if it’s just one day a week, to help balance things out just a little bit.
More and more companies are offering these types of attractive flexible options to ensure parents are able to focus a little more on their families.
2Letting Stuff Slide
Take a deep breath, everyone is trying hard and sometimes things don’t work out. There will be rough days, rough weeks, and difficult phases when an infant or toddler will work against everyone getting out the door.
I remember one week when our son pooped his diaper every morning as we were heading out the door, and I couldn’t just let him go to daycare with dookie in his diaper, so we were late, it happens. Rebekah says, “There are many other time consuming things I wish I could fix, going back to work even with a commute from inside the city isn't easy.
I have yet to figure out getting to work on time with public transit, getting supper on the table before the kids' sugar drops and they have a meltdown, or folding laundry before it sits in a large pile on the laundry room floor for 3 days.” Know that these sentiments are normal, parents aren’t alone here. Dazy adds, “You know what sucks about all this?
You finally get the kids in bed - it's like 9pm maybe (or later), and you have to do all this ‘adulting’ to get ready for the next morning!” Remember, you’re doing a great job!
1Know When To Give Up
No matter how good a hack or time saving effort may seem on paper in theory, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for every family. Dazy says, “We attempted for a short period of time to feed the kids dinner right after we picked them up from daycare and then the grown-ups eat an adult meal after they were in bed, but that didn’t work either.
Previously we were ruining their dinner with snacks after daycare, then having a late dinner which made for late to bed, yadda yadda yadda, and everyone was tired, hangry and exhausted.” Sometimes frozen reheated beats the hassle.
Rebekah says, “I hate the slow cooker and most of the food that comes out of it is a constant stew. Mushy vegetables! Dried out chicken! I don't have time in the morning or evenings to prep dinner, which is essentially what the slow cooker requires. Plus my slow cooker is missing a leg and the toy boat I sit it on to stop it from wobbling is missing. I’m getting an instant cooker for my birthday next month. I have high hopes!”
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