Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mornings: From Chaos to Calm (you can do it!)

Lately, our mornings have been getting out of hand. I crawl out of bed on the third snooze, pull on as many clothes as I can manage (my husband waits for the fourth snooze to get up and build fires in the woodstoves that heat our house) and put a pot of oatmeal on the stove for the kids. I then begin the CHORE of waking them all up. In the process, I am many times growled at and threatened. Trying not to take it personally (they’re teenagers), I generally throw in a load of laundry, locate my sneakers and my contacts and head out for a run. Then while running, I worry that one of them didn’t get up and I’ll return not only to a kitchen with oatmeal dripping down the stove and dishes abandoned on the table, but a child still snoozing oblivious to the beginning of another glorious day.

As I clean up the debris left from three obvious dashes out the door in my absence, I lament that our mornings have come to this. I fret that my middle child will find it hard to concentrate, once again having left without time to make lunch. I worry that the fact that no one brushed their teeth this morning (or any morning of late) means they will all end up with cavities and bad breath. I sigh when I find homework (due today!) abandoned on the kitchen table next to the jar of raisins. After that, I move on to berating myself for allowing my children to become such slobs in the first place and me for being so selfish that I leave for a run without making sure they are ready for their day.

One morning this week, as I turned yet another lap at the park (I couldn’t run my normal route due to the gauntlet of hunters dotting the trees surrounding our roads -it's hunting season in York County this week), I decided that it was time for a change. Our mornings need to be more intentional (to borrow a phrase from a soon-to-be bestselling book).

I informed all three miscreants that from now on they will need to get themselves out of bed. They own alarm clocks and are much more technologically adept than I. They need to get up with enough time to eat breakfast which will be served at 6:30am. (Yes, I’m spoiling them, but on too many days this is the only meal I can count on them eating.) They need to give themselves enough time to gather the important things they need for their day, including lunch. I will no longer be driving the forgotten oboe to school or be sympathetic to child who returns home at the end of the day starving.

If they miss their ride, they will need to pay me to drive them to school. This pay may take the form of a substitution for the next ride they would like to a friend’s house, rehearsal, Panera, etc.

It’s not just the kids. I need more time for me in the mornings, too. I don’t like starting my day in a rush. Who does? It sets a bad tone for the rest of the day. This morning I got up at 5:30, which is my normal waking time, or used to be my normal waking time, before it became winter and the thought of getting up in the cold, dark inspired me to go back to sleep for another 45 minutes of snooze alarm-weird dream-unrestful sleep-followed by guilt and morning chaos.

I bundled up and made my way to my laptop to write. And instead of writing what I needed to write or was supposed to write or planned to write, I wrote what came out. Turns out my heart is full of much more than this week’s scheduled post, article edits, and promotional e-mails. I wrote about how very hard it is to let go of my precious oldest child who is graduating this year. I turned over memories of his life, picking them up and marveling at how they led to the person he is today.

How are your mornings? Are they a crazy rush of kids, breakfast, dishes, homework, animals, and scrambling to get out the door? Maybe it’s time to re-think them. Maybe it’s time to take back a little of your day. Maybe it’s time to be more intentional about your morning.

If your kids are young, there are lots of systems for helping them pitch in on getting out the door. Even if you are blessed with a four-year-old, there is still much your child can do for themselves that you’ve been doing for them. And once more, younger kids usually appreciate being given a little responsibility/control over their morning. It’s just a matter of motivation. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

Eliminate media in the mornings. Just make it a nonstarter. Nothing distracts you and your kids from life like a screen of any size. If you're so inclined, sing them a few Mary Poppins songs. Too soon they will become a much less appreciative audience, I promise.

Do the prep work to make mornings go easier. This may mean being sure there are plenty of snacks (and containers) for packing lunches. It might mean stocking the fridge with sandwich supplies. If your kids are too little to make their own sandwich or bagel, you might have to prepare these the night before and leave them in the fridge for them to grab. I provide my teens with the supplies they need, but also include things like hardboiled eggs and sliced cheese that they can grab if they run out of time or are “too tired” to make their sandwich.

Hang gentle reminders. When my kids were elementary age they were forever forgetting lunch boxes, band instruments, permission slips, etc., so I hung a small sign just above the door know that asked:
Have you remembered:
Gym clothes/sneakers?
Band instrument?
Permission slip?
To hug your mom?

It was such an easy fix and saved the day many times because it nudged them to think one more time about what they needed to take with them. Now that they are older if I know there is something critical that they might forget (the money for the SAT’s, tardy note), I leave a post-it on the door for them.

You might need to provide incentive to get kids motivated to make their own breakfast, pack their lunch, load up their backpack, etc. When my kids were smaller I offered Mom Bucks for this effort because they were saving me work. Now that they are older, I let the natural consequences handle this for me as in – tummies growling, sitting out gym, etc. Maybe you could offer a prize - pack your lunch all week and you can buy an extra dessert on Friday at lunch. Find something to make it worth their while.

If your kids are small, this is a lovely idea that I definitely embraced back in the day. These days my kids are not such snugglers.

The bottom line is that we need to focus on the goal here – calm intentional mornings. Think through your mornings. Go for a long run or walk to consider changes you could make. Mornings set the tone for the day. You want your kids to arrive at their destination rested, fed, and ready. It’s possible, it is. You just need to be intentional about making it happen.

Need a few more ideas to get you started? Here’s some of my favorite finds on Pinterest:

Use a Timer to make the bedroom light of a toddler/preschooler wake up on time.

Make it possible for your kids to get themselves dressed in appropriate clothes each morning without your help. (I’m guessing this idea won’t work with teens!)

Use a playlist to help you get out of the house on time.

Use a checklist with pictures like this or this or this or this (only I’m not sure you want your preschooler putting on cologne!).

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