5 Things Dads Can Do to Make the School Year Not Suck

I dread the start of school each year because it means the end of lazy schedules, easy-going evenings, and not worrying about whether or not there’s enough lunch meat for tomorrow’s lunches.  It’s easy for most dads to default to mom to take care of things for the kids, but in our family, with four kids, two working parents, and schedules galore, it’s imperative that I do more than just say, “Hey, let your mom help you with that?”

With that in mind, here are five things that dads can do to make the school year not suck.  (Any parent can do these, of course, but these are written from my perspective as a father.)

5.  Pay Attention to What Needs to Get Done.  School is a lot more work than it was when I was a kid.  There’s homework all the time, letters and emails coming from the teachers and schools on a regular basis, and there’s a lot that needs to happen each week.  Parents have busy lives full of their own things–I had some work pop up in the evening the other day, and I got busy with answering emails and making phone calls–but even a second grader now has a ton of stuff to remember.  And guess what–that 8 year old won’t remember.  That’s my job as a parent.  It’s okay to ignore the work for awhile to help your child stay ahead of the game.

4.  Listen When Your Spouse Tells You What They Need Help With.  There’s nothing more disappointing than setting an expectation and having it not met, especially when it’s as simple as “give your son his practice spelling test–and remember to have him write the words down on this piece of paper.”  The other night, as I took my wife to work, she said this exact thing.  I gave my son his practice spelling test during dinner with the kids and did it the way we did it in first grade–which is not what she asked me to do.  So, for him to be ahead, he had to take his spelling test again, right after breakfast and before we walked out the door.  Not a win for anyone, and it could have been avoided by really listening and making sure you know what’s being asked of you.

3.  Keep Things Enjoyable.  Nobody likes homework.  As a former teacher, I can assure that teachers don’t like it.  Kids don’t like it, and when my 5th grader asks for help with her math and I look at it like she’s just asked me to read her something in Klingon, I’m reminded that I don’t like it, either.  So instead of everyone hating what needs to be done, find ways to make it fun.  Break it up into increments, move it around the room, do it while standing on your head and eating jelly beans.  Make sure you keep the focus on a particular task, but give the kids a break, give yourself a break, and then you’ll find the strength to continue with that ridiculous stuff they call “mathematics” these days.

2.  Don’t Stress Out About Grades.  Let me be honest: I don’t care if my children don’t get straight A’s.  I want them to always do their best, and if their best is a C+, I’m okay with that.  If they are trying like crazy and working with their teacher and still can’t get anything above a D, I’m okay with that, too.  Grades are not a reflection of my child’s character, it’s not a reflection on me, and it certainly isn’t a determination of their future success.  Grades are an arbitrary way of measuring progress, and while the education system places value on them and awards honor roll and scholarships, I’d rather give my kids awards for honesty, being virtuous and kind, and having a good work ethic.  Those will get you farther than an A+ in 3rd grade math.  I want my kids to succeed, yes, but I don’t want them to measure their worth by a letter on a paper.  They are much more valuable than that!

1.  Plan Vacations.  Teachers may not like it, but I find great value in taking my kids out of school during the school year for a break.  Vacations shouldn’t just be in the summer.  What’s wrong with getting out of town for a weekend in October or flying to Walt Disney World in January?  Nothing.  Your kids need a break about every 60 days or so, an escape from the regularity of schedules and assignments and all the stress of school, and frankly, so do you.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even long–but a healthy break, away from the everyday will do wonders for your family, for your kids, and keep them motivated through the long weeks of math assignments ahead of them.

The school year can suck.  But trying a few of these simple steps out can help make it less so–for you, and for your kids.

P.S.  I just realized I talked a lot about math in this post.  I don’t hate math, but I was an English teacher, am completely right-brained, and do not enjoy math at all.  If you like math, just read “English” or something else instead.

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ME Time

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 18 years of marriage, parenting, working, etc., it’s how much I value my personal time.  When you don’t make time for yourself, you quickly lose yourself.  I know from experience.  Is carving out an hour or two a week easy?  Not always.  But is it necessary?  Yes!  There’s a reason so many SAHMs get jealous of their husband’s lunches out, meetings, and even time alone in the car.  Sometimes a mom’s (or SAHD’s) time spent in the car is listening to the Disney Junior Soundtrack.

The reason I decided to go back to work 5 years ago, was because I needed some alone time.  I know that seems like a strange reason to work outside of the home, but with 4 kids, a desire to find out who I am, and desperate love of adventure, this seemed like the most logical decision for me and my family.  I needed to be away from my family, just for a few hours a week.  Without the distractions of a sink full of dishes or kids tugging on my clothes, I could figure out what I really wanted and who I was created to be.  So many people lose sight of this went they get caught up in their work or families or even in themselves.  In the last 5 years, I’ve come up with 3 ways to help you reclaim your ME time.

  1. Schedule your ME time.  I talked a couple of weeks ago about how important keeping to a schedule is.  Put some ME time into that schedule.  Seriously.  Even if you have to schedule in a mall sesh and hire a babysitter. Do it and stick to it. This should be as important as your work schedule, grocery shopping, or doctor appointments. Make your schedule and stick to it.
  2. Find something you love and do it often. I have several loves. I love to work out.  I don’t compromise my workouts.  I love to spend time outside.  If I have a free hour during the day and it’s nice out, I spend it outside on my patio. I love pedicures. I try to save $20 out of my budget each month (only $5/week, so it’s a no-brainer) for pedicures.  But you better believe that it gets scheduled!  What do you love?  Even if you have to start small, figure it out, do it, and do it often.
  3. Give back to someone else.  Ok, you’ve found yourself, you take care of yourself, now it’s your turn to help someone else. If you have friends or family members that are struggling to figure out what they need, offer to help.  If you can watch your sister’s kids so she can take herself out to to a movie, do it.  If you see that your best friend is too busy at work, invite her over for dinner. Once you figure out what you love and you make it a priority, help someone else find their time and passion, too.

 

5 Easy Ways to Turn Habits Into Routines

In Part 2 of Making the Most of Your Time, we’re talking about the importance of routines.  I’m not naturally self-driven.  I’m a procrastinater.  I’d rather do all my housework in one day then spread it out over a series of days.  The consequence of doing that, though, is that I could end up never getting a true day off.  As a working mom with 4 kids, 3 pets, and one husband, I need consistent habits that keep our family running.  I need routine.  And my days off actually need to be days off.

Here are the 5 daily habits–routines–that keep our family organized, keep me motivated, and ensure I have time to relax.

1.  Make the bed. The first thing I do after the kids get off to school in the morning and before I get ready for the day is make my bed.  It’s such a simple chore, but it sets the tone for the day.  By making your bed, you’ve started a daily decluttering process.  In fact studies show that when you make your bed in the morning you make better decisions during the day. Making your bed is such a small task, but it’s a task that has been completed and by the end of the day, you will have completed even more small tasks that lead to bigger tasks.

2.  Do small, daily household chores. I work nearly every day, so the hardest thing for me to do is keep my house clean, but I do it. And I don’t spend a lot of time doing it.  I do have one day a week, typically Saturday mornings, where I spend a little more time deep cleaning. But for the most part, all of my cleaning can be done in about 30 minutes.  It just has to be done the right way. If you don’t know how to get started, I would highly recommend Flylady. She has great tips on where to begin, what to accomplish, and the tools you need. I have adapted her style over the years to meet my needs.  But what’s most important is that you start somewhere and keep that house clean.

3.  Exercise. I’ve realized over the years that exercise isn’t just good for the body, but it’s good for the mind.  Exercise helps you with stress, gives you more energy, and when you feel good inside, you feel good outside.  Sometimes finding time for exercise can be tricky, but if you start small, over time, you will build a habit that will make exercise a priority.  I used to exercise to look good.  I now realize that exercise helps me have better days.  5 years ago I was only exercising one day per week. Now I try to exercise every day of the week.  The trick is to use a variety of workouts that you enjoy.  I do something different depending on what day of the week it is.  By doing this you won’t get bored.  The bonus is that your body also won’t get bored and you’ll see more health benefits. Find the time, then make the time. Start small. And when you’re ready add a day or two in and in no time you will have turned exercise into a routine.

4.  Reboot your kitchen before bed. Why is this so important?  Because more than likely, this is the first room you will visit in the morning.  You’ll wake up and get your coffee or energy drinks, make breakfast or lunches for the kiddos. The kitchen is the first room you see in the morning and when you enter a clean kitchen, chances are you will want to keep it clean, which will set the tone for the rest of your house that day. I have found this to be one of the easiest and most beneficial habits that is now routine for me.

5. Wash your face before bed. Believe it or not, I used to never wash my face before bed because I was always too tired.  Now I make it part of my coming home from work routine.  I work in retail and sometimes don’t get home until close to 11:00 pm so you can understand why I sometimes want to just throw on pjs and climb into my nicely made bed.  About 2 years ago, I started washing my face when I put on my pajamas, before I binge watch TV, before I get too tired. By washing your face you are not only washing off makeup, but environmental toxins that have landed on your face throughout the day.  Plus your skin naturally repairs itself at night.  If you haven’t given it a fresh palette, it won’t be able to properly heal from he day.  Find a way to make face washing part of your bedtime habits and before you know it, it will be routine.

What routines work for you and your family?  Let us know!  We’d love to hear from you!

5 Ways to Make Every Minute of Your Day Count

Preparation is everything.  In fact, I save time, money, and excuses by being as prepared as possible every day.

I prep everything from laundry to dishes to dinner.  Everyone has their own way to prepare for what is coming their way, but I believe one of the best ways is a list.  The old-fashioned note pad and pencil kind of lists.  Tangible, where I can stick it on the fridge or leave it out on the desk so I don’t forget it.  Apps on the phone are good, but once you close it, you can forget what you made the list for in the first place. In nearly 18 years of marriage and managing the lives of two working parents and four kids–including two teenagers–lists of every kind have kept us organized, on budget, on time–and sane.  Here are the top 5 ways to prepare your lists and make every minute of your day count.

images-21.  MAKE LISTS.  What do you need to do?  Write it down.  I have a calendar. I have a menu planner.  I have a shopping list.  I have a budget tracker. I have a honey-do list (don’t freak out, hubby and I share this list). I actually keep a notepad in my desk for potential vacation dates.  (You have to have something to look forward to, right?)  By making lists, you know exactly what you need, when you need it, and it helps with mommy-brain.  It cuts down on your excuses and makes you feel more productive. (Chore lists help with the kids, too!)  The trick to so many lists is to THROW IT OUT as soon as you are done with it.  Clutter is a nightmare and if you don’t need it, out it goes. If you need help finding or planning lists, Pinterest is a great resource.

2.  PLAN YOUR MENU. Menu planning can save you money, time, and those annoying “What’s for dinners” as soon as the kids get home from school. Plan your menus based on seasonal selections.  We eat a ton of salad in the summer because almost every single vegetable is in season and it’s inexpensive. But be careful to just plan out a week in advance.  Sometimes schedules change and if you plan too far in advance, you may have just thrown away some good money at the grocery store not to mention the planning that went in to your menu for 4th of July weekend. Just to get an idea of how our week looks, we eat at home 6 nights per week.  One night is a dine-out night. And we always have at least one night a week for leftovers.  Not my kids’ favorite, but it needs to be done.

3.  SHOP FROM YOUR GROCERY LIST. I plan all of our family meals, all the way down to snacks, for the week and shop from my list. Believe it or not, I can feed our family of six on an average $100 per week of groceries. And it’s because I shop from a list. Shopping from lists also helps cut down on those “Oh crap, I forgot lettuce at the store and tonight is chicken caesar salad night,” which also result in spontaneous purchases. Believe me, I’m the queen of spontaneity, so I know it happens. You just need to stay diligent and use your shopping lists. Keep a tally on your calculator (I use the one on my phone) and be honest. Use coupons or check grocery websites for sales. If you plan your menu based on what’s on sale and in season, you will save loads of money. Then use that extra money for a splurge. I try to get in one splurge a week. It’s a challenge and sometimes not fun, but once you start figuring out how to shop and save, it gets to be more fun than challenging.

4.  USE A CALENDAR.  This isn’t a new concept for most people, but I tried to get away without using one for about a year after I went back to work.  It didn’t work very well for me. Now I use a couple of different calendars.  I keep a family calendar right next to my desk.  It is 100% just for keeping schedules straight.  I write down my work schedule, my daughter’s work schedule, family appointments, and anything I need to remember on a daily basis. I only update my desk calendar a month in advance, so it is the most current and up-to-date.  I also keep a calendar on my iPhone.  This calendar links my schedule, my husband’s schedule, kids’ schedules, and anything else that I need to  remember from the near and far future.

5.  MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT. More important than lists is time (it’s a big thing with our family). This is a tough one for me because I am a procrastinater at heart. I love to meander.  And the more I have to do, the longer the meandering becomes.  So, how do you snap out of it and just do it?  GET OUT THAT LIST OF STUFF TO DO–AND DO IT!  I save my luxury time for when I’m done with my to-do’s. Don’t wait to do your 3 loads of laundry until you’re 30 minutes away from picking your kids up at school. Don’t wait until the rain clouds come in to get your run in.  Do it now.  Don’t wait. Then relax and bask in the fact that your do to’s are done.

If you have any tips or ideas that work great for you, share them!  I love to hear how other mommies (and daddies) are making their time work for them.

There are Enough Hours in the Day.

How many times have you heard or even thought, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” I have. Usually daily. And I’m sure most of us like to think, “Yeah, but I really do have more to do than most moms.” There goes my hand up in the air.  I don’t know what makes us think that our lives are busier than the person across the street or next to us in line at Costco. Let’s face it, as moms, or dads, we all have busy going on.

imagesSo, how do you make enough time for your kids, spouse, pets, house, work, self, etc?  Honestly, I don’t know. But I want to give you the 5 top ways that have helped me stay organized and able to tackle the chaos that comes at me daily. If I can do these, you can, too.

1. PREPARE.  I am a note taker and list maker. Sometimes to a fault. I have lists for everything from meal planning to grocery shopping, from workout plans to vacation preparation. Preparing and planning helps me stay on top of my game and helps me feel like I have some sort of control in a sometimes chaotic environment. So, what’s the best kind of list? Whatever it is that helps YOU feel like you’re in control. Personally, I like the old-fashioned clipboard, paper, and pencil method. But you can use anything. Use your notes tab on your smart phone. There are now even apps you can download to help with whatever planning you need. But use whatever best works for you. I’ll have more on menu planning, shopping, and saving money on next week’s blog.

2. STICK TO A ROUTINE.  This one is not easy for me. As much as I love routine, I thrive on spontaneity. So often I want to ditch all my housework, keep the kids home from school, jump in the Montague van and just drive to somewhere remote for a milkshake. Obviously, this isn’t daily reality, so keeping to a routine helps me feel like I have control. So, when a day does come and no one has to work or go to school, we can do something fun and spontaneous. We live by the rule “Work Hard, but Play Harder.” Keep your routines tight so that you can have even more fun on those days off.

3. EXERCISE. You had to know that was coming. Why is exercise so important? Well, for one, it keeps our bodies healthy and when we have healthy bodies, we have healthy minds, homes, and kids. Exercise also, believe it or not, gives you more energy. All it takes is an extra 30 minutes out of your day. I know 30 minutes feels like an eternity when we already have such full days. But think of it this way. You could get up just 30 minutes earlier or go to bed 30 minutes later. If you’re not exercising, you’re probably tossing and turning in bed at least that amount of time. Exercise helps you stay more rested at night and focused during the day. So, you’re not actually losing 30 minutes of sleep, but gaining 30 minutes of activity. Exercise is also where you can blow ofF steam or stress and pull yourself together when you may feel like things are falling apart.

4. MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF . Please hear me when I say how important this is. You are giving most or all of yourself to your family. But who’s giving to you? Sometimes you just need to spend an afternoon at the movies or take yourself out to lunch. Maybe you like a warm bath, a book, and a glass of wine. Sometimes a massage hits the spot. One of my favorite things is just to sit on my back patio, listen to music, and scroll through Pinterest. Whatever you enjoy doing, treat yourself weekly. It will recharge your batteries and help you realize that you are more than your kids’ mommy or daddy, more than a house cleaner, more than a paycheck.

5. SLEEP. Yes! You need to sleep! Most doctors will recommend at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes you can get by on 6 or 7, but don’t make it a habit. Set your body clocks and get in the routine of getting a full 8 hours of sleep per night. Again, this will help you get to your full potential during the day. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, then try to power nap during the day. I’ve trained myself to shut my brain off for about 20 minutes during the day if I need a little boost of energy.

I also want to add that I have an amazing support system in my husband and kids. I certainly couldn’t do anything without them. If you don’t have a support system at home, then find one somewhere either a moms or dads group, church group, best friend, or counselor. Parenting is hard, but you also want it to be fun.

Over the next 5 weeks, I’m going to break down each topic even further, so watch out next week for what my prepping and planning looks like!  And thanks for reading!   – RM