BY PRINCESS IVANA JUL 2016
How to make back-to-school mornings less stressful
“Back-to-school can be stressful as well as exciting—but often, we make it more stressful than it needs to be,” says Ivana, a featured blogger at Modern Mom. “If you take a little bit of time to think about what’s most helpful and healthy for your family, you’ll be much more likely to mean it when you say, ‘Good morning.’”
Moms need to maintain their sanity so they can set themselves and their kids up for success, Ivana points out. All too often, so-called “bad” days are sparked by frustrating mornings. How smoothly things run (or don’t run) as you get ready for school and work can set the tone for your whole day—and the same thing is true for your kids. If a bad morning makes you feel bad for hours to come, it probably has the same effect on them.
“You can solve part of the hectic-morning problem by building and sticking to a working routine,” Ivana says. “The other piece of the puzzle is not expecting too much from your kids or from yourself. It’s important to remember that having it all isn’t doing and being it all—it’s knowing how to enjoy the ride. Balance and perspective are key.”
Here, Ivana offers many tips to help modern princesses maintain domestic order during back-to-school mornings (and throughout the year!):
Stop expecting a fairy tale. Women tend to visualize perfection: “This year, things will be different! We’ll get organized and stay organized. No more frantic mornings or running late.” Then, when that inevitable morning comes—you hurl your bickering kids and their bags into the car, stomp on the gas pedal, and pray that you don’t run into any traffic—you’re a lot more disappointed and upset than the situation (frustrating as it is) warrants.
“Manage your expectations,” Ivana advises. “It’s good to set realistic goals for your family, and of course you should try to improve bad habits. Just keep in mind that the school year won’t be a string of perfect mornings. Accidents will happen, kids will misbehave, you’ll oversleep. . . and that’s okay.”
Remember that a little preparation goes a long way. Especially when you and your kids are tired after a long day, it’s easy to put off seemingly small tasks with a muttered, “I’ll take care of it in the morning.” But be honest—that strategy never works. When morning comes, you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to fit too many tasks into too few minutes. Your anxiety level is at a 20 when it should be a two!
“Even if you’d rather face-plant onto the bed, it’s always worth your time to take care of prep work the night before,” Ivana says. “Things will run much more smoothly in the mornings. For example, lay out your kids’ clothes and yours the night before. Prepack lunches. Don’t wait to go over your fifth grader’s spelling words. Sign all necessary papers. Have a designated spot for bags and homework so you aren’t tearing the house apart to find things in your pre-coffee fog. You know what needs to happen at your house—so make it happen before the morning of!”
Get your beauty rest. Many princesses stay up late into the night, thinking that if they burn the midnight oil they’ll finally be able to catch up on their to-do lists. While it’s true that you may be able to accomplish more by pushing your bedtime back a few hours, it’s also inevitable that you’ll be less than effective the next day.
“When you’re tired, groggy, and irritable in the morning, you don’t do anyone any favors,” Ivana says. “Make sure to get enough rest (and take enough time for yourself during the day) so that you’re capable of handling what life throws at you. Your body needs adequate sleep and downtime to operate efficiently. When you’re burned out, you won’t do yourself or your family much good.”
Be fashionably early. If you’re like many mothers, some of your most stressful morning situations stem from not having enough time. (And, of course, lost shoes and traffic jams always seem to crop up when you have absolutely no margins on time!) Luckily, there’s a simple fix: allow yourself more time than you think you need in the mornings.
“If you usually get up at 6:30, set the alarm for 6:15, or even 6:00,” Ivana says. “Ask yourself which is more valuable: a few extra minutes in bed, or your peace of mind and mood as you prepare for the day.”
Start the day with positive intentions. The things you think about early in the morning can affect your mood, outlook, and actions for the rest of the day. That’s why Ivana recommends starting the day with intention.
“Write something like ‘This is going to be a good day,’ or whatever works for you, on a sticky note and put it by your alarm clock,” she suggests. “You’ll be surprised by the impact saying those words to yourself can have!”
Eat a meal fit for a queen (or king). Nutrition plays a huge role in how you feel and what you’re capable of accomplishing. Make sure everyone in your castle is eating a healthy breakfast so that bodies and brains are operating optimally.
“A good breakfast can boost energy, focus, and creativity,” Ivana shares. “If you’re struggling to move away from sugary cereals and pastries, a simple bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh fruit is a great choice. Eggs make wonderful breakfasts, too: a single egg provides one-quarter of your child’s daily protein requirement.”
Set a royal routine. Kids, as well as adults, usually thrive on routine. Figure out what morning schedule works best for your family (e.g., breakfast, then getting dressed, then brushing teeth, and combing hair), and make sure to tackle tasks in that order every day. Also, try to make each task correspond to a time. Maybe your kids know to put their oatmeal bowls in the sink when their favorite cartoon goes off, for instance, or when Dad leaves for work.
“If your kids don’t know what needs to happen and when it needs to happen each morning, they won’t accomplish anything,” Ivana comments. “And you’ll be running behind them, putting out fires and telling them to hurry up. This is where the value of having good habits comes into play. There’s no thinking about what needs to happen each morning. It’s instinct!”
Hold your subjects accountable. Of course there will be mornings when accidents happen, or when, despite everyone’s best efforts, you’re simply running behind. But other times, rules will be knowingly broken or ignored. That’s when you need to hold your kids accountable.
“If you don’t enforce rules, nothing will ever change,” Ivana asserts. “At the beginning of the year, sit down with your children and tell them what the consequences will be if they don’t pack their lunches the night before, if their backpacks aren’t ready to go—or if they don’t attend to whatever responsibilities you’ve given them. And, as always, bad behavior should be promptly dealt with—that’s when the extra time you build into your schedule will come in handy.”
Don’t expect little princes and princesses to rule before they’re ready. It’s fine to have high expectations for your kids, but make sure they aren’t too high. Be honest about your child’s capabilities, and keep them in mind when planning morning routines and setting expectations.
“If your preschooler struggles with getting himself dressed, don’t waste valuable time each morning prodding him to put on his clothes—help him do it,” Ivana advises. “I’m not saying that you should do everything for your child, just that there’s a good time and a not-so-good time to teach kids important life skills. However, as every parent knows, kids are great at finding loopholes and at persuading us to do for them what they don’t want to do for themselves. So if it’s not a question of ability, but rather one of preference, find a way to encourage your child to complete morning tasks.”
“For example, I tell my children that they have to get dressed each morning before they can play,” Ivana shares. “If they’re dilly-dallying, I’ll sit on the floor and begin to draw, build with Legos, or play with Dora and Spiderman. Invariably, clothes are put on very quickly because Alessio and Sienna want to come join in!”
Allow fairy godmothers to help. In real life and in fairy tales, princesses rely on faithful friends to accomplish their goals. As much as you might want to, you can’t save the day all by yourself. Happy endings are about teamwork, so don’t try to do it all.
“In the mornings and throughout the day, let your spouse, your mom, a babysitter, a tutor, etc. help whenever you can,” Ivana suggests. “Delegating tasks that you don’t have time to do—or that someone else can do better—is a truly valuable skill to have.”
Don’t look back at the royal records. When you’ve had a bad morning (and as Ivana has pointed out, they will happen, regardless of your best efforts), it’s tempting to rehash everything in the car once you’ve left the house. Maybe you squeeze the steering wheel to stop your hands from shaking as you mentally relive each incident, or perhaps your frustrations take the form of a lecture aimed at the back seat.
“Resist the rehashing impulse!” Ivana says. “You can’t change what’s already happened, and driving to school isn’t a good time to correct your children’s behavior. A lecture will only put them—and you—in an even more negative mood, which might overshadow the whole day. Instead, use time in the car to reconnect with your royal subjects. Talk about how you’re going to make the most of the rest of the day!”
Keep the royal calendar updated . . . Planning ahead and being prepared take a lot of stress out of life. Don’t let PTA meetings, homework deadlines, or soccer games sneak up on you.
“Keep your calendar updated—I recommend purchasing a large one to hang where everyone can see it—and glance at it each evening and morning,” Ivana comments. “You can use it as a quick reference to make sure that everyone has what they’ll need for the day.”
Make sure the royal agenda isn’t too full. One of the things that makes mornings so crazy is that you’re frantic about so many things. Does Suzie have her backpack, her leotard, and her cello? Does Brandon have everything he needs for school and soccer, not to mention the materials he said he’d bring to Travis’s house so they could work on their science project? And where are my briefcase and the grocery list?
“As you’re setting the royal agenda, make sure you aren’t overloading your family’s plate,” Ivana instructs. “In the long run, having plenty of time to accomplish necessary tasks—and having some free time in which to relax, play, and be spontaneous—will be much more beneficial than forcing your family to do it all (not to mention prepare for it all in the morning time crunch!).”
Dish with other princesses. It’s always helpful to share your concerns, problems, etc. with friends who are in the same boat. You’ll get support, solutions, and (perhaps most valuable) validation that you’re normal. Talk to other coworkers who are moms while you’re toasting your morning bagels in the breakroom, or call a girlfriend at night once the kids go to bed.
“Just don’t let your conversations with other princesses turn into gripefests,” Ivana warns. “You’ll only bring everyone down, and none of your problems will be solved. Remember, all complaints and no solutions gives you a bad brand.”
Avoid ugly stepsisters. You know the ones: “those” moms who seem to have perfect lives, whose kids (to hear them tell it) are always well behaved, who always try to one-up you, and who constantly point out where you’re going wrong.
“Spending time with these people will only make you feel bad about yourself, which will lessen your effectiveness,” Ivana points out. “Remind yourself that in reality, their lives aren’t perfect either. No matter how wonderful her life seems from the outside, every mom has to deal with juice spills, tantrums, and lost school books.”
“If this is your first year with a child in school, take a deep breath and remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Ivana concludes. “It may take some time to smooth the wrinkles out of your new morning routine. Running into unforeseen issues is normal. And if this isn’t your first rodeo, remind yourself that you figured things out last year, and you can do it again—with improvements!”
Princess Ivana is the author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was co-written with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.