I am going to go out on a limb here and make a wild assumption that your house looks an awful lot like mine on any given day. Homework sprawled across the kitchen table, an army of Legos skillfully positioned to attack my bare soles, a discarded left shoe on the couch (the right probably still in the car), sticky fingerprints on the fridge door, and me frantically searching for the baby’s blanket I just saw a few minutes ago only to find out that another of my angel children thought it would be a great idea to “accidentally” hide my youngest offspring’s most sacred possession right at the time he needs a nap.
Yes, it is routinely chaotic in our home. Yes, it is messy. And if you are wondering, yes, this is truly troublesome for my ever loving Container Store soul. I try to convince myself I am grateful that my precious littles are so comfortable in our home that they feel free to breeze through its hallways and rooms as though producing an homage to Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music.” Believe me, I’m not. My soul longs for a day when I don’t find a lollipop stick hitchhiking on the back of my shirt where it was picked up from the sofa, when socks actually go in and come out of the wash with their mate, and hearing my name doesn’t mean I am urgently needed on a rescue mission for my daughter’s little lamb who has landed in the toilet for his “bath.” (True story.) But, speaking with wisdom which only comes with the perspective of time that I am not privy to now, my mentors have cautiously warned me to enjoy this time, spending my energy focusing on enjoying my littles rather than being annoyed by the routinely chaotic nature of raising four children, or as we refer to them, Team Chaos.
If you are like us and struggle with establishing and maintaining routines in your family, you can start to help your family manage the chaos of a busy life with a few SMART steps.
1. Small Start, Big Difference
Change is difficult for all of us and making more than one change at a time can lead to frustration and eventually cause you to give up altogether. Instead, try making small changes over time. This strategy allows for habits to develop and sets your family up for successful transition. For instance, if your children do not have a consistent bed time it is best to establish one and then stick to it as best your schedule will allow. Research tells us that children need on average 10 hour of sleep to perform at their best. Children who are consistently well rested are happier, more compliant, and able to learn more difficult tasks by being able to hold their focus longer. Start by reminding your children to start getting prepared 30 minutes before bedtime and help them learn how to wind down. Try dimming the lights, playing soft music, and turning off the television or iDevices. Allow for a bedtime routine that includes bathing, reading, snuggling, and prayers.
2. Meet as a Family
Family meetings are a great way for parents and kids to have a voice about how things are going in the family. About every few months my husband and I make it a point to ask our kids how we are doing as parents. We want our kids to know we are imperfect parents who value their feedback. We ask them to give us a “grade” on how we are doing and what they see as our strengths and weaknesses in how we are relating to them. (Warning: This is not a task for the weak hearted as children are notoriously and brutally honest! Just saying.)
Family meetings also help you all manage your time wisely to reflect your families priorities. Many families are over scheduled, exhausted and overwhelmed. Parents have an opportunity to teach their children healthy time management that promotes a balance between work, play and rest by teaching scheduling skills that prioritize their values. These values are established best in the context of involving everyone.
3. Allow for Delays and Plan Ahead
The times I notice I am the most frustrated is when I am rushed or late. I really do not want my child to look back and remember me constantly and frantically yelling for them to hurry up because we are going to be late! But, I can typically count on an extra 5 minutes per child in order to get out the door. My favorite high school teacher told me, “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late.” (Maybe this is why I still set all the clocks in my life 5 minutes fast.)
My biggest challenge when it comes to being on time is getting out the door before school in the morning. I am not a morning person and while my children have learned it is not wise to speak before there is coffee, there were many days coffee could not compensate for my lack of planning. I needed to take some more responsibility for my own time management to reduce the tension in our home for our morning routine. These are just a few things I implemented that have made a tremendous impact in our mornings.
- Go through backpacks as soon as they come home and organize for the next day.
- Pack non perishable items in lunch boxes the night before. Empower your littles to start packing their own lunch and surprisingly, they can do it if you teach them how!
- Go to bed and wake up 30 minutes earlier to be fully rested and allow for quiet time for meditation and prayer to start my day centered and focused.
4. Rules are rules
Rules, or boundaries, are the backbone to healthy families. Boundaries outline where one person ends and another begins. Boundaries communicate what we are willing to do and allow or not do and allow. Boundaries are designed to protect ourselves and others by requiring individuals to be responsible for themselves and to other people. All families have rules or boundaries, spoken and unspoken, that outline their values. Parents have a responsibility to inform and teach their children the rules of their family. For example, when your children lie (gasp…yes, your children will lie), rather than shaming or embarrassing them, redirect your children to the more important lesson of why honesty is valued in your family. Keep in mind these rules are “life lessons” that are intended to be taught, reinforced, and retaught throughout their childhood and teen years. They are not “one and done” lessons. And if we are really being honest, you know you can think of some adults who need these lessons so why would we expect our littles to get it the first, second, or tenth time? You can help your children feel proud to be a part of your family by building up a sense of shared responsibility, including establishing and maintaining routines.
5. Teach Forgiveness
Words are powerful and parents have great influence over the tone and environment of peace in the home. Learning to verbalize phrases like, “In this family, we mess up, we make mistakes and we say we are sorry” can help your children learn to accept their own shortcomings and those of other people, making it more likely they will learn how to “own their own stuff”. It has been said that we, as parents, should be careful how we speak to our children as it will become their inner voice. How blessed would our littles be if their inner voice were a calm, collected voice saying, “It’s ok not to be perfect.”, “I love you.”, “You are good at hard things.”, “Life is hard. But, you are tough.” rather than harassments that echo in their heart, “You never listen.”, “Why don’t you get it?”, “Why do you do this to me?” or “Can’t you just behave?” Ouch.
If parents want their children to show self control, it needs to start with them. Just the same, if the goal is to grow children who have healthy organizing habits, treat their siblings with respect, or use their manners, show them how. Screaming is stressful for parents and their children. Why not try this week to instead show your littles how to communicate responsibly and respectfully even when you are upset or rushed. In the end, you will teach them how to successfully handle their own stresses. Remember, be positive, patient, and persistent!
I am sure you could think of quite a few more that would help reduce the stress and establish a more routine schedule for your family. I would love to hear some of your ideas so hit me up on Facebook at facebook.com/BrookeMarothCounseling or Twitter @BrookeMaroth.
Until next time- Be Well. Love Well. Do Well.