Focus on the Family

Working Moms: Organizing Your Day

by Michelle LaRowe

You walk into daycare, toddler Emma in tow, and you can already tell that drop-off isn't going to be smooth. In fact, you'd like to drop off the planet right about now. The teacher greets you in her robe and slippers, and just as you start to wonder about her mind, you remember: It's Preschool Pajama Day.

When Emma realizes the mistake, the waterworks begin. A quick call to your husband yields one late-for-work daddy, but he saves the day by bringing a pint-sized pair of PJs for Emma. "Being a hero has its price," you tell him when he starts to complain, and then you give both him and your daughter a quick kiss, a weak smile and an apologetic shrug.

On the way out the door, your stomach growls and you remember that you also forgot to eat breakfast. Being a working mom is hard enough, but these morning transitions are killers.

"I've got to get it together," you mutter to yourself," or we're all going to fall apart."

If you are a working mom, you've probably been there — and made a similar vow not to go there again.

My goal is to help you layout some solid routines, spawn some organizational ideas and encourage you to plan ahead in order to avoid falling apart. I wish I could promise you that if you follow these tips, you'll never forget Pajama Day or be in such a hurry you forget to eat breakfast — but we're all human, and even the best of plans sometimes fails.

Your goal is not to create a perfect life devoid of bumps and interruptions; it is to smooth out what you can, create systems that help control the chaos and then learn to go with the flow when all else fails. A little humor, a little innovation, a little creativity and, frankly, learning the skill of "letting it go and blowing it off" is a big part of being a happier, more realistic and peaceful working mom.


Taming the Transition Times

Providing a way for your child to gain all understanding of how his day will go will eliminate some of the undesirable behaviors that tend to rear their ugly heads during transition times.

by Michelle LaRowe

The most trying times in your parenting life are probably the transition times: mornings, drop-offs, pickups, bedtimes — basically, any time you and your child are shifting gears and entering into a new environment. How can you help your child (nor to mention you!) navigate the transition times in your day?

Remember that kids thrive on routine and structure; they like to know what's coming next in their day. They tend to find security in predictable patterns and routines. Providing a way for your child to gain all understanding of how his day will go will eliminate some of the undesirable behaviors (tantrums in younger ones, lack of listening and cooperation with the older ones) that tend to rear their ugly heads during transition times.

One effective way of helping your child visualize what his day will look like is to create a picture chart that depicts the day's activities and the order in which they will happen (think of it as a child-friendly Dayrunner). Small children are not as concerned with what time things will happen as they are with the sequence of events, so having a visual picture of what comes next will speak to your child in a way he can comprehend, For example, for a child who attends preschool and is picked up after naptime, I would make a chart that describes his day with photos of the following: a sun, breakfast food, a toothbrush, shoes, a car, a school, blocks, a sandwich, a bed, then a picture of you and your child. This type of chart can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be, but the concept behind it is what makes it effective.

When you are planning your child's routine, thinking through what will happen on all average day allows you to come up with many ways to simplify your day, lessen your stress and make transitions tantrum free for you and your child. Here are some of my best tips for creating a transition-friendly routine:

Have a place for everything. Having a designated place for each child's items eliminates lots of morning chaos (and the added pre-caffeine stress) associated with last-minute search-and-rescue missions for lost shoes, homework, library books and so on.

Utilize a corkboard. Having a bulletin board by the front door that is used for school notices and the family schedule is a great visual reminder of what's happening and when.

Have a specific place for morning necessities by the front door. Getting Alex in the habit of leaving his packed backpack by the front door (or wherever your point of departure from the house is) at night will eliminate frantic morning homework hunts.

Pull out clothes for the next day the night before. Laying out Mandy's clothes the night before on the edge of her bed is one less thing to have to deal with in the morning, Then do the same for yourself — you'll save time and energy in the long run.

Use verbal cues to wind down activities, Phrases like "You have three more minutes to finish eating" or "We are leaving for preschool in five minutes" help your child prepare for what comes next.

Sing loud and proud. Creating songs for activities also helps kids to transition into them. Who wants to clean up? No one — until you burst into your rendition "Clean Up, Put Away," which is personalized to include the name of every child in the room. It works with older kids, too; they'll do what you want so you stop singing.

Keep goodbyes short, sweet and final. One of my pet peeves when I'm volunteering in the church nursery is the prolonged goodbye. You know the ones I'm talking about — the 15-minute goodbye that leaves Charlie screaming for Mommy, who then returns, unable to handle the tears. Sometimes the nanny in me wants to issue a time-out to Mom for making matters worse. I want to scream, "Leaving him is not an option — you are going to do it, and you know that when you peek around the corner in three minutes, he'll be fine. So stop prolonging your departure!" But instead I put on my happy nanny face and gently escort the mommy out the door, assuring her that I will page her if for some reason her son doesn't settle in the way he has every Sunday for the past two years. Week after week, I wonder if I am starring in an episode of a new reality show, "Drama Drop-offs" or something of the sort. This is all to say that if you've chosen a caregiver or caregiving situation that you trust, and if you are determined to have your child stay there, put on your happy face, appear to be confident and, with a relaxed smile, say you "See you soon!" and get going. The transition will go much more smoothly than you think.


Getting Your Home Organized

Having a master list of all household-related contacts is a necessity.

by Michelle LaRowe

"Call the plumber!" your husband yells from the basement. You begin to search through the junk drawer to find the plumber's business card from last year, when he installed the washer. You sift through the drawer and discover a dog-chewed yo-yo, pencils without erasers or points, Strawberry Shortcake stickers and a business card-from the dog walker. You sigh and think, There's got to be a better way.

One of the first things I do when I start a new position is to take inventory of all household-related and emergency contacts. There is nothing worse than being in a house that is not yours when the electricity goes out and you don't know which electric company provides power to the home.

Whether yours is a personalized list or a printout from my favorite home organization Web site www.homeconvenience.com, having a master list of all household-related contacts is a necessity. Grab a pencil and start your list: electric company, phone company, water company, heating company, plumber, electrician, mechanic, cable company, car insurance company, home insurance company, health insurance company. Include your account number, the name of the provider and the phone number. Head to Staples (or your favorite office supply store), grab a binder and some plastic page protectors and voilà! Information will never be lost in Junk Drawer Purgatory again.

It is also a good idea to include in the binder profiles for member of the family. This profile should detail vital information such as date of birth, medical conditions and phone numbers of physicians. Each profile can be as elaborate as you want it to be, listing anything and everything — from underwear sizes to ring sizes — if you are a lover of details!

Having a master family schedule is also a great way to eliminate household confusion. While on your trip to the office supply store, grab one of those oversized calendars and some colored markers (I prefer the dry-erase type). Assign each family member a color, and fill in the calendar with everyone's day-to-day schedule.

When assigning your colors, make sure you save one color to designate family time and then be sure to include time for family on your calendar (this is even more important as the kids get older and their activities leave everyone feeling disconnected). Once a week, try to plan something special to do as a family. Whether it is going for a weekend morning walk or taking a special outing to the park, having regularly scheduled family times will ensure that the ties that bind don't unravel amid the business of life.


Making Mornings Manageable

If the midweek scavenger hunts have left you searching for a more manageable morning system, here's a plan of action.

by Michelle LaRowe

Though mornings with kids can be hectic and unpredictable, you can always count on one thing to be the same: being greeted (as you come down the stairs for your first cup of java) by a trail of misplaced homework, followed by a sea of mismatched shoes that leads to one panic-stricken child (or husband!) who can't find what he needs to start his day.

If the midweek scavenger hunts have left you searching for a more manageable morning system, take a deep breath, find a cozy seat and get ready to receive a plan of action that will leave you searching for only one thing: a second cup of coffee to enjoy as your household is transformed from chaos to calm in three easy (okay, fairly easy) steps: 1) Prioritize. 2) Organize. 3) Activate. These three words are the lyrics to your new mental theme song. Repeat them often, as they are the steps to success when it comes to organizing your home (and your life!) in a way that eliminates the frustrating last-minute searches for the must-haves, enabling everyone to get out the door on time.

1. Prioritize

For today's working mothers, learning to prioritize is critical. In case you have any doubts about that, let's do some basic math. There are 168 hours in a 7-day week. Let's say you clock an average of 50 hours of work per week. You're down to 118 hours. Subtract 8 hours of sleep a night, and you're down to 62. Take away another, say, 7 hours of time spent in the car commuting to work and childcare, and 15 hours a week of meal preparation and eating. Now you're down to a mere 40 hours. Forty hours a week to manage a house (clean, do laundry, grocery shop), run errands, supervise homework, attend kids' activities, spend time with your spouse, go to church, make calls to or visit with friends and family, and maybe — just maybe — sneak in an hour to go to the gym or to soak in a bubble bath.

Doing the math may make you long for a midday nap, but when you recalculate the numbers, you can clearly see that there is no time for snoozing (at least not until you've got your plan of action in place). You need to prioritize today.

When working with families, I have found that part of the reason they run into so much trouble completing and maintaining household organization is that they fall to prioritize the projects that they take on. Take back-to-school season, for example. You go out and shop 'til you drop, buying all your kid's new school clothes in record time and on a record budget. You get home, satisfied with your excursion, and begin to put away the new fall wardrobe. Uh-oh, you think to yourself as you realize that there is no place to actually store, hang or put the new fall wardrobe. The closets and drawers are bursting with clothes that don't fit, clothes your child won't wear and even some clothes with their tags still attached.

As usual, hindsight is 20/20. You realize that organizing the current wardrobe (and taking an inventory of it before the big shopping trip) should have taken priority over purchasing new clothes.

For prioritization to have any real meaning, you need to have a clear objective. If your objective is to have a functional, usable closet, it needs to be organized. If your objective is to save money, you need to know what you already have so that you buy only what you need. If your objective is to bring home a new back-to-school wardrobe, you still need to have somewhere to put it.

Your objective could be a set of personal goals (to keep an orderly house) or a state of being (stress-free living) or even your family's personal mission statement — whether it is formal ("We put our faith and family first") or funny ("We don't believe in miracles — we rely on them"). The goal of prioritizing, then, becomes the means whereby you can achieve your objective with the least amount of effort, in the least amount of time. And as we've already seen, a working mom's time is limited — her hours are precious.

How exactly will you get all that needs to be done accomplished in a single day? You'll begin by setting some personal priorities that will put time on your side.

The cliche "There's so much to do and so little time" was surely coined by a working mother. One way to help prioritize household and home-management tasks is to make a daily to-do list (a simple yellow legal pad is my favorite to-do list tool). Spending five minutes a day making this list will help you save time over the long haul.

Your daily to-do list should have three columns: the "Must Do" column, the "Should Do" column and the "Would be Nice to Do" column. The "Must Do" column consists of items that need to be completed today; the "Should Do" column consists if items that need to be completed before the end of the week; and the "Would Be Nice to Do" column outlines the items that can wait until you have more free (ahem, unscheduled) time.

Once you've completed the list, keep it posted in plain view (the fridge or a kitchen corkboard work well). Delegate any items that you can delegate — maybe your spouse can stop at the pharmacy on his way home, or your daughter can walk the dog. Then check off the items as they are completed. Honestly, does anything on earth feel quite as good as checking off an item on a to-do list? (Okay, there are a few things — but not many … at least not for a task-oriented person like me!)

Now is also the rime to consult your budget to see if you can afford to hire out any of the tasks on your to-do list. In the professional world, they call this "outsourcing." Sometimes the cost of paying for personal shopping and errand running, housekeeping and dog walking are outweighed by the time you'll have to do other, more important, things. You may be able to hire a family employee (a retiree, a college student or a single mom) who is willing to do a wide range of tasks for a set hourly rate.

You can also begin to develop some long-range planning systems. For example, you can designate every Saturday as your official laundry day. Friday evenings are pizza out and grocery buying night. Saturday evening is date night. Sunday nights are family nights. Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings could be "Mom time." Having a designated day for designated tasks relieves a lot of stress. Case in point: When you pass the almost-full laundry basket, you can say to yourself, It will get done on Saturday. I'm now going to read a book and take a bath, guilt-free.

I hope you're realizing that you can use your many talents to make your household run as efficiently as your workplace. It's amazing how many professional skills can be adapted for home use. This is certainly one concept that working moms need to bring home, along with their paycheck.


Ideas for Organization

Here are tips for family calendars, storage ideas, "office space" for kids and more.

by Michelle LaRowe

2. Organize

If the thought of spending a Saturday afternoon at the Container Store is enough to make you volunteer to babysit your neighbor's three-year-old triplets (and their two dogs), I know just what you need. Stores that specialize in organizational items can make the organizationally challenged feel like an elephant in a china shop. You feel so out of place and overwhelmed that you just don't know where to start (or for that matter, how to use half of the gadgets and gizmos on display).

"Inch by inch, anything's a cinch" is the approach I take when helping working moms get used to the idea of organization — creating a place for everything so that everything will have a place.

Scheduling and Storage

Managing your own life is challenging enough, but when you throw in your kids and your spouse's schedules, even a Palm Pilot could burn out. One effective way of keeping track of who is doing what, when, is to invest in an oversized combination cork and dry-erase board. I suggest hanging one in the kitchen by the fridge — a place even your husband can't miss. You can pick up simple inexpensive ones at your local dollar store, or you can order more elaborate, custom-sized and framed (to match your decor) boards at www.artconceptstore.com (I've used this store before and love it!). Dry-erase boards are valuable because you can jot down notes, reminders and other important information in one handy place. And unlike Post-It Notes, your notes will never get lost.

Corkboards are a necessity for every busy family because they are multi-functional. You can tack up monthly calendars, school information and reminders, and printouts of emergency numbers.

Many websites offer free downloadable and printable blank calendars and phonebook templates (check out www.printfree.com). You can also hang keys on oversized push pins, jab your earrings in them when you come home from work (so that: your toddler won't have to resist the urge to pull them off and eat them) and tack up coupons you normally misplace shortly after clipping them from Sunday's paper. If you don't like the cluttered look of a corkboard, try placing it in the laundry room or another room that isn't frequented by guests but where you and your family can see and access it easily.

When you are streamlining your family's calendar, a computer-generated calendar can be very handy. If you have older children or a technology-savvy family, you may enjoy using an online program to sync all your activities and events. Homeconvenience.com allows you to enter your family's scheduling information and create a customized calendar. The service will also email or text message appointment reminders and allow you to sync your family calendar with your PDA (Microsoft Outlook also has a great calendar/reminder program).

Customize your family calendar with important activities and events, holidays and school closings, childcare arrangements, after-hours work commitments and other appointments (I recommend printing out the next two months and stapling them to the schedule for the current month). Using a different-colored ink for each family member will make it easier to identify at a glance who is scheduled to do what. If you're using a computer-generated calendar, you can change the font color or even highlight important dates as needed. Once your calendar is up to date, make a few copies and tack one on your corkboard, give one to your spouse, bring one to your office and keep one in the car.

In deciding what kind of calendar to use, consider what works best with your personality and be honest with yourself about what you know you will do. If you are a computer person, you'll probably enjoy the tech-friendly calendars. If you are more of a hands-on writing person, go with the dry-erase version. Basically, do whatever floats your boat, as long as you've got a functional calendar system to help you know who's floating when and where (and who needs to be rescued from the sea called over-scheduling).

Be sure to implement a family-wide policy when booking commitments outside of the normal day-to-day schedule: Every member should take the time to check the family schedule before committing to additional activities and events. If someone is caught off guard without a schedule in hand, they should respond with a default answer when asked about their availability. "I'll have to get back to yon" or "I need to check my schedule" will save you from having to reschedule events and appointments if you discover you're already committed.

Older kids will also benefit from having their own personal office space. Whether it's a corner table in the dining room or a spare desk alongside yours in the study, a space set aside for doing their homework will eliminate the much dreaded daily hassles associated with getting them to do their studies. Give them their own desk set, complete with pens and pencils, a computer station and their own "junk drawer" filled with some Mom-approved treats. You'll be surprised at how quickly your kids make their personal spaces their second homes.

Kids also seem to do better when they have a designated homework time. Some kids need a break to reenergize between school and homework, and others do better when they jump right in and get it out of the way. Figure out what style suits your child best, and come up with a consistent routine that everyone learns to respect.

I know I've said this before, but it's really worth repeating: In and Out boxes for each child are great for ensuring that important school or daycare notes and bulletins don't get lost in the backpack void. They are a true necessity for school-age kids, and for moms who are too busy to chase down permission slips and progress reports that need to be signed and returned to school. Pick a colored folder for each child (if you want to be super-coordinated, pick the same color that you selected for the child's "calendar ink"), and keep the folders in an easy-to-reach place. Be sure to keep the location consistent, and encourage your children to empty their backpacks as one o the first things they do when they return home from school or daycare.

Designating a place to store lunch boxes and backpacks is another way to eliminate the last-minute search for morning necessities (remember the "have a place for everything" habit?). Hall closets and foyer cubbies work really well as storage for the things that your children need to take to school or daycare each day. For elementary school-age children and younger, having a basket or bin in the front hallway closet is a good place to store shoes. If the closet is big enough, it can also be the storage area for their backpacks, jackets, winter accessories and lunch boxes. You can easily store hats and mittens in a basket on the closet floor or in a bag hung from a coat hanger on the closet rod. If space allows, you can install hook screws on the interior of your closet. Be sure they are strong enough to hold the weight of a schoolbag (those books and notebooks are heavy!). And don't forget that older kids can also benefit from having a designated place to store sporting gear or musical instruments.

You can also create your own bag in which to store your child's library books. On your next trip to your local craft store, purchase a canvas bag and some fabric paint, then write your child's name on the bag. Decorate it together with your child, and ask her to store her library books in her special bag (perhaps placed near her bedside table for nighttime reading) so that aren't left frantically searching for overdue library books mixed in with her own personal collection or school textbooks.

When on the go with kids, storing a little bit of everything the trunk of your car can be a saving grace. A change of clothes for each family member, a big beach towel (in case someone gets sick, or as a blanket in a pinch), snacks, bottled water and a roll of paper towels will come in handy. If you are the mom of younger ones, always keep two diaper bags ready to go: one in the house and one in the car.

Whenever you find yourself stressed, looking for the same thing again and again, whether it's a hairbrush, a backpack or library books, that's a signal that you need a system or that your current system needs an overhaul. Spend just a few moments asking yourself: How could I make this easier for myself? and What system/container/routine might solve this hassle? Then implement that system — you'll be so glad you did. Don't worry about organizing everything all at once; that's too daunting. Remember: inch by inch. Start with the situations that most often yield hair-pulling moments and tackle them first. Then, like me, you may find that being organized is such fun that it takes on a life of its own. To me, it's more than a hobby (actually, it's become my career!).


Key Areas to Organize

There are a few key areas where you'll get the most bang for your buck (and your time and effort).

by Michelle LaRowe

By now you may be thinking to yourself, My entire house needs an organizational miracle makeover! Sit back. Breathe deeply. While it's true that most of us could use a bit of help throughout our homes, there are a few key areas where you'll get the most bang for your buck (and your time and effort).

Bedrooms. Kids need a quiet place to settle down at the end of a busy day. Creating an organized environment in their bedroom will help your child to unwind, whether it is for a short afternoon break or before they hit the hay. This is one room where less clutter means less distraction. If you want well-rested kids, less distraction is what they need.

Creating an organized bedroom for your child will help keep his things neat and orderly and help him develop a genuine understanding of the importance of caring for his belongings. When you tell him to pick up his clothes, he will know that you mean to throw them in the hamper, not under the bed. And when he's trying to find his favorite baseball card, he won't have to look far, because it's exactly where it was supposed to be.

Ideally, the bedroom should be a fairly toy-free zone (except for books and stuffed animals for evening "wind down" time), but that's only if you have enough room in your home for a separate playroom for the kids. If you allow your child to have toys in her room (or because of space limitations you have no other choice), be sure to have a set policy that all toys get put away before bedtime. Shelving is a great way to store toys, but if your kid's room is lacking in that department, big baskets or bins are a good alternative

(Homegoods, TJ Maxx, Hobby Lobby, Ross and Marshalls are all great places to purchase oversized baskets at a reasonable price).

Having a hamper in your child's room will also promote good habits and foster independence. Be sure the hamper is child-friendly and easily accessible. Pop-up mesh hampers and laundry baskets work great for young kids and are often light-weight and easy for them to carry back and forth from the laundry room.

Placing a bin on the floor of your child's closet will give you a quick way to eliminate closet clutter. Toss in clothes that don't fit or clothes that your child just won't wear. At the end of each season, sort through the bin. Store what you need for another child down the road, and donate what you don't to a friend, family member or charitable organization that collects kids' clothing.

You can keep your kids' drawers organized by assigning a drawer for each type of clothing. Put socks and underwear in one drawer; nightwear in another; long-sleeved shirts in one and short-sleeved shirts in yet another; and pants in another. You'll have to tweak the drawer assignments based on the amount of dresser space you have. Once you get a system in place, keeping up with it is fairly easy.

Hanging clothes in the closet can make managing your child's wardrobe much easier. Hang clothes in groups, either by outfit or by item; then within each set of items, arrange by color. If you're dealing with clothes of different sizes, use a hole punch to put a hole about an inch from the top of a piece of 8.5 x 11-inch paper and then write the size on the paper. Slide a hanger through the hole and use it to divide the sizes. Regardless of what method you choose, be sure to select your child's outfit the night before and lay it out where your child can easily reach it.

When you're dealing with laundry for two or more little ones, it's easier to keep up with the volume by throwing in a daily load. But I'm a nanny whose workplace is at the home, so you may find that a twice-weekly routine works better for you. Still, you might consider using the washer as a hamper so that you don't get buried in dirty laundry. Whenever you change your baby or toddler, just toss the outfit in the washer. When it's full enough to do a load, all you have to do is add detergent and you're good to go.

Bath Time. Encouraging your child to have lengthy nightly soaks all fine and dandy for moms with one child, but when you're dealing with two or more, short and sweet is your survival code. If you're lucky enough to have a home with two full bathrooms, dedicate one as strictly for kids. In the closet or in the drawers of the vanity, store jammies and diapers, wipes and bath "flxings" for young ones. Older kids may like to hang their PJs on an over-the-door hook on the bathroom door. You'll also want to put a hamper in the kids' bathroom to prevent piles of clothing from building up on the floor.

If you're limited to a shared family bathroom, give your older children their own "space" to store their soap, deodorant and any other personal-hygiene items. You can also give older kids a small tote (like the one college kids use) and have them store it in their room.

When you have older siblings, you can use a kitchen timer to keep showers short. Younger children can be bathed in a clean and disinfected kitchen sink — this is especially time-saving for mothers of multiples. Store extra PJs, body wash, shampoo and towels in an out-of-reach area in the kitchen, and when it's bath time, be sure to have everything you need handy so that you never are tempted to leave your child unattended.

Photos. Organizing family photos is one of those overwhelming tasks that are often on the perennial to-do list. But until you get that rainy day when you can sit and organize your scrapbook or album, consider putting your collection of photos in a few photo storage boxes (shoe boxes will work well, too). As time permits, sort through your photos, placing photos from each year into their own box and labeling each box with its year. Then sort through each box using rubber bands or envelopes to divide photos by month, or season, according to your organizational preference. Clothing, scenery and activities should help you to "guesstimate" what was taken when.

Now that you have the backlog taken care of, put a system into place for processing new photos. As you print or place orders for new photos, be sure to order an index print and a digital copy of your photos on CD. Keep a photo storage box in the kitchen and, after the photos arrive, label them and place them in the box, in the order you receive them.

Whether you're a creative "scrapper" or prefer a more classic album, decide how you want to preserve your family history. Once your photos are chronologically sorted, you'll be able to add them to the album of your choice as time permits.

Once you develop a system, it's easy to keep up with. The key is to use a system that you find easy to maintain.

3. Activate

So now that I've shared some of my best, most practical organizational tips, it's time to put them to use. Whenever you start a new system or routine, it takes time to adjust. You will also need to tweak each system so that it fits the specific needs of your family.

Before you implement a new system, take a little extra time to get everyone on board. For example, if your kids are now required to put their shoes in a basket in the closet, sit down with them, discuss the changes and give them some time to get used to their new routine. If they are elementary school-age or younger, it's going to take daily prompting before they get the hang of the new way of doing things. As well, keep in mind that checklists (with pictures for pre-reading kids and words for reading kids) can help kids understand what is expected of them.

Consistency will determine how successful you will be in implementing a new routine or system. Resist the urge to give up on a new method. Give yourself a full three weeks before you rate the effectiveness of how your new routine works (remembering that it takes 21 days to change a habit). It may take some investment of time to get your plan into practice, but once your new routines are fully operational, the time and energy you will save in the long run are more than worth the short-term effort.


Questions and Answers

Author Michelle LaRowe answers questions from working moms.

by Michelle LaRowe

Q: I have one boy and one girl that I often bathe together to speed up bath time. At what age should siblings stop bathing together?

A: It's really a personal parenting choice, but as soon as one of the kids expresses any hints that they are no longer comfortable, bathing together should stop. Often older siblings don't mind helping bathe younger siblings; particularly if they are the same gender. The preschool or early school-age years are often when many parents stop bathing kids together because their natural curiosity begins to kick in. Bath time can be a great tool for teaching kids that their bodies are special and only to be touched with their permission.

Q: My husband is such a picky eater. I plan out our meals in advance and do most of the cooking on the weekends, but when Wednesday comes along and I pull out chicken, my husband announces he wants steak. What can I do?

A: Getting your husband involved in the meal-planning process may help this situation. Let him know your weekly plan in advance and ask him for his input. Explain that preparing meals in advance allows you precious time with your family that you wouldn't otherwise have. You could also give him the responsibility of choosing the nightly meal from the already-prepared selections — that way, he can decide what's for dinner, within reason. Then again, you can always remind him that he's welcome to do the cooking!

Q: I have the kids on a great after-school schedule, but when my husband pops home from work early, the schedule goes down the drain. How can I get my husband to understand that we need to follow the schedule in order to get everything done?

A: Over a nice cup of cocoa after the kids go to bed, have a little chat with your husband. Give him kudos for being an awesome and involved dad, and then share with him all the things that need to get accomplished between the time the kids return from school and bedtime. Let him know that you've tried other ways, but the most effective way has been to adhere to a structured afternoon and evening schedule. Ask him to support you in implementing the schedule, and offer ways he can help keep things on track when he comes home early.

Q: At what age is it realistic to expect a child to pitch in and help out around the house?

A: Even from an early age, all kids can help out in some capacity. Even a toddler can help pick up her toys and put them in a basket. A two- to three-year-old can make her bed (if she has an easy-to-use, lightweight comforter), put her clothes in the hamper and put her toys away. A preschool-age child can help put away the groceries, sort the laundry and even with some of the cooking if he is closely supervised. Six- to eight-year-olds can fold and put away laundry and take out the trash.

Q: How much homework should my second-grader have? It seems like we set aside a few hours each night, and he still doesn't get all his work done.

A: A reasonable guideline for the amount of time a child should spend on homework is 10 minutes per night, per grade level. Therefore, your first-grader should have 10 minutes of homework, your third-grader 30 minutes and your seventh-grader 70 minutes. If you find your child is not able to complete his homework within the appropriate amount of time, speak with your child's teacher and let her know. Be sure that you have a clear understanding of what the teacher expects, as well as any classroom-specific homework guidelines.

Q: My home is too big to clean in one attempt. What is the best way to keep up with the mess?

A: Breaking the whole into manageable parts will help you better keep up with the cleaning. First, be sure that all family members (except the little, little ones) are keeping their bedrooms clean and tidy. It should be their responsibility to make their beds, utilize their hamper and empty their trash. Assign a day of the week to a specific task, such as mopping on Mondays and dusting on Tuesdays, or to a specific area, such as bedrooms or living areas. Deep-clean the bathrooms and kitchen weekly, while Wiping down the countertops on a daily basis.

Q: We have four kids. How can incorporate one-an-one time with each child during our bedtime routine?

A: You could have the children rest in their beds and wait as you make the rounds, reading a short bedtime story to each one. Staggering bedtimes and tucking in one child at a time is another way to sneak in a few mommy moments. You could also have a short time of prayer with each child before getting all the kids together for their nightly devotional. Also, let your husband tuck in your sons one night, while you tuck in your daughters. Then switch it up so that each child gets some personal attention from both of you.


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Additional resources for mothers with jobs outside the home

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