Saturday, December 31, 2011

My top four parenting-related Time Hacks

For the first year and half, my top Stressful Thing About Parenting was the lack of sleep (and that was with a relatively *good* sleeper - I shudder to think what it would have been like with a "bad" one...) I fantasized about checking into a hotel just for one night, BY MYSELF, to do nothing but SLEEP all night and most of the next day.

Now that T is sleeping solidly at night (knock on wood, salt over shoulder, etc etc), we've moved on to the next Stressful Thing About Parenting, which, for a couple of introvert parents, is not having enough time to be by ourselves quietly and do whatever it is we like to do, be it crafty things, reading non-parenting books, watching a sporting event, or Internetting.

Thanks to the holidays, my dear hubby has had  many days off, so I've gotten used to sleeping in. If I were charming and British, I'd say (in my kickass British accent), "I've been able to have a bit of a lie-in."  This extra time with him at home also made me realize we've been sharing the parenting load and trading off more, which lets each of us get that daily alone time.

Us in Nov 2011. (C) Mariah Gentry Photography
We'd totally use this for our holiday card if we sent out photo cards.

Here are four things we've done lately that help me "find" more time in my schedule.

1. Daycare Dropoff/Pickup Switch
This one has been AMAZING and I'm surprised we didn't come to it sooner.  When T started daycare, TJ dropped her off  because it was on his way to work, and it was more socially acceptable for him to come in later and stay late at work.   Bonus for me, because I did NOT want to face dropoff related tears because it made me feel like a horrible mother.  (Not that it didn't make TJ feel bad, but he is much more resilient about it.  I'm just a huge crybaby.) 

So the deal was that I'd get up early, and get myself to work post-haste while TJ would wait for Trillian to wake up, get her fed and dressed and drop her off between 8:30 and 9am. I picked her up around 5:15pm and TJ was free to work as late as he needed on those two days.  We wanted to minimize the length of her day, so that she wasn't spending 10+ hours in daycare regularly.

I'm NOT a morning person so it was a struggle for me to wake up earlier than 7, much less get to work by then as I had hoped, since I had to leave by 4:45pm to pick her up.  As I've mentioned before, the pickup round trip took twice as long at that time of day and we were racing the clock to get home and eat before bedtime (never mind "quality time").  Not to mention that T was especially tired on daycare days, so bedtime had to be earlier or else we'd all pay for it at night.

A few months ago, we had a day where we needed to swap the usual routine.  I think it was because TJ needed to go to work really early that day to make progress on something.  Something just clicked with the new routine and we kept it.  It worked so much better for us, personality wise - TJ is a super early riser and is sometimes out of the house before T or I wake up.  I'm happy to sleep in and use T as my alarm. 

I felt like I had been given a HUGE gift of time by having a couple of extra hours to work in the afternoon, rather than being constrained by daycare pickup and the resulting stress.  On a few occasions, I've been able to stay at work until 9 or 10pm to work on something uninterrupted.  I'm definitely a night owl and do better work at night, and TJ is just the opposite.

T does not cry at dropoff - in fact, her teachers have to remind her to say goodbye to me because as soon as she gets to "baby school" she gets engrossed in a book or toy and doesn't even notice I'm still there.  This totally changed our schedules and our stress levels.  The bonus of TJ going to work super early is that he can come home before T's (ridiculously early) bedtime.

2. Mundane Chores During Awake Time
This one is probably obvious to moms of older/multiple kids, but it took me a while to learn it.  My new mama guilt, conveniently installed at T's birth had me thinking if she was awake, we should be doing delightfully enriching things together constantly. After all, she's only awake for a short time, right?  I wanted to MAXIMIZE the time with her, and plan all sorts of fun and educational things for us to do.

Obviously, we do those things, but I found HUGE value in letting her play by herself (at first in her crib, then in our babyproofed living room) for the 30 minutes it takes me to shower and get ready.  Before that I'd get dressed while TJ was still home in the morning, and shower at night after T went to bed.  I changed this when she was about 8 months old, and then a few months later, it became our regular routine.  When she was a baby, I would shower quickly, always listening for her, and jumping out of the shower if she pitched a fit.  One day I listened to her cry, but gave her a little time and realized she worked it out.  I "peeked" at her from our bedroom and noticed she had gotten the toy she was reaching for and was happily playing with it. 

Now that she's a toddler, she's all over our living room, talking to her toy dinosaurs and teddy bear, making them "food" in her kitchen, etc.  I can not only shower and get ready at my leisure but can even put away the laundry while she plays happily.  I realized how little time she gets to play by herself each day - we're so busy with daycare, errands and planned activities, so there are whole days where she spends no time alone with her toys.  Judging from how engrossed she is with them when I shower, I think it's good for both of us.  I am especially happy that she's learning how to play by herself.
The other part of this came just a few months ago.  I started a chore "routine" to keep it a bit more predictable - unload/load/run the dishwasher every day, and do the laundry a few times a week rather than a HUGE pile on weekends.  This actually takes me less time, and is definitely less stressful, because it's not hanging over my head.  For the first couple of weeks, I'd "save" these chores, including a quick pass to pick up toys, for T's naptime or after she went to sleep.  But I realized they were eating into the precious alone time I have when she's asleep.

So now while she eats meals or a snack, I load or unload the dishwasher.  I ask her to play by herself for a bit while I collect and load the laundry, and sometimes she actually helps me sort the clean laundry (surprisingly, this is actually helpful!).  I discovered by accident that she LOVES to clean up her toys once she knows where everything goes, so she actually does this chore herself.

This lets me spend naptimes and evenings after she goes to bed, to craft, watch (non-kid-approved) TV with TJ, or get a little (office) work done.  I've "reclaimed" a LOT of time this way.  It's stunningly obvious to most experienced mamas, but took me a long time to figure it out.

3. Morning Bath
Nearly everyone I know and read about, bathes their kids at night, as part of the bedtime/cooling down routine.  I never liked that because by the end of the day, I'm often mentally fried, and end up rushing through everything just to get that "down" time after T's happily in bed.  That was shortchanging BabyT for what should be a nice, relaxing bedtime, so I started bathing her earlier in the day.  We didn't do baths on the days I worked, and somehow having a "random" bath time made it easier for us to forget (horrible parents, I know!). 

With winter approaching and T's sensitive skin needing extra care, I realized we needed to get into a routine, just like we do (religiously) for naps.  Bathtime is one of the "joys" I'd love to share with the hubby (aka, foist off on him occasionally) so moving it to first thing in the morning ensures two things:  that either of us can do it,  and that we are consistent since our early mornings are all the same.

At first it sounded like a HUGE hassle, and T was not happy about waiting for her morning soy milk.  But it's working well - she's gotten a bath every day like she needs to, it's faster since we need to change her anyway, and since we go into daycare relatively late on the days I work, we have plenty of time to add this into our schedule.  And of course the secret bonus is that on the days TJ is around when T gets up, he handles morning bath and food.  Hooray!  

4.  Big Meal Sunday
Feeding a toddler healthy food 5-6 times a day is a hassle, no doubt about it.  And obviously, it's not something I'd like to outsource (Lunchables? McDonald's? no thank you!).  I struggle with meal planning in general.  It's such a simple idea - plan what we're going to eat for the week, do all the shopping and prep when I have some time.  I just can't seem to get it together.  We're lucky that T still eats a lot of "toddler food", ie ingredients rather than elaborate meals, like fruit, soyogurt, pasta and sauce, BBQ chicken, oatmeal, edamame etc.  So a meal for her is usually just 3 or 4 different items from a small list of things she's likely to eat.

This doesn't really work for grownups, though, so I've taken to making ONE REALLY BIG pot of something on Sundays - Thai curry, chili, stew, etc.  We eat it for dinner on Sunday, and are usually able to get at least 2 more meals out of it for all of us.  This also helps for the days that one of us isn't home for dinner - there are leftovers in the fridge that comprise an actual, balanced, homecooked meal.  If it's something T really likes, she'll happily eat it for lunch and dinner, which gives me the peace of mind that she's eating healthy, real food with protein and vegetables, and not just subsisting on fruit leather and soymilk.

This alone has reduced the money (and health cost) of "desperation eating out", which is what happens when we look in the fridge/pantry, decide there's nothing to eat, and call the pizza guy or go out to some vaguely unsatisfying chain restaurant within 5 miles of our house.  I just finished reading The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and OMG was it eye-opening about the food industry.  So depressing but really motivated me to think about what I eat in a different light.

It also saves time, since meals are often quicker when we just stay home and eat something, rather than getting ready to go out, waiting for our food, vigilantly watching T to avoid a meltdown, and then heading home, *not* relaxed and only partially nourished.

It helps that I love to cook. I also have two favorite new cookbooks, Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan and America's Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution. So far everything I've made from either one has turned out great, which makes the initial time investment on a weekend afternoon *totally* worth it.

Those are the top things working for me these days, and keeping the beasts of stress and not enough 'me' time at bay. Got any tips for me? I'm a TOTAL time management junkie, so would love love LOVE to hear what works for you!!


  1. Okay being totally honest here, it is SO CUTE you can do morning baths. My boys are FILTHY by the end of the day, no way do morning baths work for us.

    We are time saving freaks bc we've always had two. Getting the kiddos involved EARLY is our biggest time saver. They unload the dishwasher, empty the dryer, fold and put away their laundry, take out the recycling... pretty much anything they can do, we ask them to do.

    Picking up the house before the cleaners arrive is HUGE, everyone gets involved.

    And cutting stuff out is the best way for us!

  2. @LauraC - I knew you'd have good ones :) T doesn't get particularly *dirty* but spills a lot of food, so we just have a lot of laundry.

    But aside from the obvious time constraints on morning baths when school starts at a certain time and having 2(!), does it matter whether you do them @ night or morning? Or do you feel weird about putting them to bed dirty? Just curious ;)

    I can't wait until T is old enough to help with dishwasher unloading. It's one of my least favorite tasks. Now she's not tall enough ;)

  3. I so hear you on the "not having enough time to be by ourselves quietly and do whatever it is we like to do" woes of parenting a 2-year-old, and I commend you and your DH for taking charge of your time and making changes where possible.

    May I insert token "light at end of tunnel" remark here? When T gets closer to age 3.5/4 eking out some time for yourself will suddenly get MUCH easier - if you take @LauraC's advice to start getting the kids involved EARLY. Amen to that.

    We used to have this unspoken assumption we had to spend every waking weekend moment with all of us together as a family. But we're actually happier if we get to be alone for a bit. One thing DH and I do is to give each of us approximately 2 hours of free, unrestricted get out of the house alone time over the weekend. Yesterday I went saw a matinee by myself, after DH came home from morning skiing. Then we all went over to a friend's for a family NYE party. LOVE that alone time. We're just much happier that way.

  4. 1. I really love that picture of you all!
    2. I had no clue ATK had a slow cooker cookbook. I need that! (The one I have I highly recommend recycling. Bah. The recipes in there are TERRIBLE.)

  5. @hush - YES++ to the giving each other some time alone on the weekend. We did this for a couple of weeks and then somehow it fell by the wayside. I think we should reinstate it. We (well really *I*) also had the idea that we should maximize our time together as a family whenever TJ is home but that gets really stressful to put all that pressure on scheduling the perfect Norman Rockwell activities.

    Some of our best times together are when we're all sitting at the table - T is coloring, I'm doing something crafty and hubby is playing a game on his phone or tablet. We are still hanging out and talking, but no stress on the perfect activity.

    @Shalini - ATK slow cooker book is AWESOME. But probably not if you're vegetarian or vegan. It's pretty meat-heavy. I can get around the dairy in a lot of the recipes by substituting soy milk.

  6. I've loved everything I've ever made from an America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country book. I was so thrilled when they came out with a slow cooker book that I ordered it the minute I learned it existed. :)


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