Time management as a mom is not a given. Finding the time and energy for everything can be exhausting, but there are ways to make life easier!
A question I hear a lot is: “Where do you find the time and energy for everything?” First of all, I obviously don’t always. I have my moments of utter procrastination or being forced to race against the clock, even if exhausted out of my wits. But I still manage, I’m rarely late and for the most, happy with my output. I also have a thing for writing lists and setting goals, and love ticking off things as I go. Once I get started with something I like, I might get a bit compulsive and excessive, with the momentum growing until I’m satisfied.
Alone with three kids means I always need to take into consideration a minimum of four variables, i.e. myself and the girls. And this goes for everything; be it going somewhere, preparing for an occasion or simply staying at home for a lazy Sunday. Like I’ve said before though, my time management and multitasking skills are excellent. Partly by nature, but also because I don’t feel I have a choice. To be able to get anything done as a mother of three, I simply have to be good with time management and multitasking.
Plan and prepare ahead
One of the most important things I do is I plan and prepare ahead a lot. My clocks are all set a couple of minutes ahead (I hate being late!). My calendar is “advanced” by up to a couple of months. I try to stick to a roughly structured weekly routine in general. During my recent MBA studies (more on that to come), I always set my personal deadlines to be at least 1-2 weeks before the final deadline. And I stuck to them, pretended as if they were the real deadlines.
One relevant driver for a lot of this is health. Simply put, with three kids at daycare, chances of the girls bringing some fantastic and contagious bug home for us all to share are immense. Since the girls started at daycare in the fall of 2016, I’ve learnt that we are magnets.
Every flue, virus and stomach bug that’s going around love my family. And no, chicken pox with little kids was not a breeze in my house. It was a nightmare that lasted over three weeks. Hand, foot and mouth disease was horrid. Even I ended up catching it. The twins eventually lost their toenails and my own nails were brittle for six months. We’ve had a nasty stomach bug twice, both times circulating among us four for several weeks. The same goes for eye infections, despite medicine and all possible attempts to be rid the infection, it took months to clear up.
Hence, advanced deadlines are a must. Simply said, getting sick cuts back on a lot of time and energy. Obviously there’s never really a good time to be sick, but my kids have a tendency of getting hit by a bulldozer-virus whenever timing is the least convenient.
Avoid extra stress on the kids
Aside from “preparing” for getting sick, planning and preparing ahead also provide me with quite a bit of leeway and flexibility for spur of the moment things. I’m also able to avoid a lot of unnecessary stress. Personally I don’t have an issue with working on a tight schedule, I actually enjoy the adrenaline rush created by having to really push myself. I do however appreciate being able to choose in which kind of situations I want to experience it. When I say “I”, it means it does not involve the kids.
Anything that has to do with or is affected by my kids, means that it’s not just my tolerance for stress which is tested, but also theirs. Now if you have any experience of little people of any ages, you probably know that they are not always as agile to accept last-minute changes. Or they might go into anarchy. Working against the clock as a grownup responsible solely for their own actions is very different. It’s as if babies are programmed to have a huge stinky diaper that requires a change of clothes the minute you’re supposed to be out the door. Toddlers must throw a tantrum/lose a shoe/need extra cuddles, etc. and older kids turn into sloths when you’re in a hurry. So no thank you! Being in a constant rush and excessively stressing out myself are not for me. I prefer an easier and more enjoyable life.
Avoid being late
Kids can also sense a tense parent. Stress seems to confuse them or the likes, and again, distract them from being able to perform normally. A completely normal task such as putting on shoes can become overwhelmingly difficult. End result everyone gets stressed out, no one is happy and you end up late. My kids know well how I feel about being late. I consider it disrespectful towards whomever is expecting us. If we have an appointment or we’re going to an event, we need to be on time. After my exchange student year in Bolivia (more about my adventures here), I adapted a temporary cultural tardiness. This was however reversed after a summer in Germany.. From one extreme to another, in general I however prefer being on time or a little early, depending on the occasion. And in all reality, getting three kids out of the door can take up to 20-30 minutes, depending on the weather and their mood.
Stick to routines
To minimize last-minute stress, especially in our daily life, I try to stick to certain routines. Every Sunday evening, I go through the coming week. I pack everything for the coming daycare week: the kids’ outer clothes, spare gloves, hats, sleep toys, spare clothes, and whatever additional things they may need like swimwear or ice skates.
Every evening I set out the girls’ clothes on the couch, so in the morning I don’t need to start thinking about what they should wear. I also pack their outer clothes into a big bag (i.e. gloves, scarves, hoodies) which they won’t be wearing in the morning when I drop them off. I often also hang their overalls with boots attached, and in the morning set them up for a “fireman’s approach”. That is, overalls rolled down to the ankles: step into the boots and pull the overalls up and you’re ready to walk out the door.
On Friday afternoon I empty their shelves at daycare and bring everything home for washing during the weekend and start from the beginning again on Sunday.
I do laundry and try to de-clutter at least the living room every evening. Cleaning the entire house is focused on Sunday evenings, so I can start off the week in a clean and tidy house.
Nowadays I don’t do nearly as much meal planning as I did when the twins were babies. I still however try to limit our grocery store visits to once, max twice a week. I buy a lot in bulk and also cook bigger amounts at a time. I’ll then can either freeze meals or we eat the same food on consecutive days. Keeping track of what my pantry includes is a life saver. I replace as I go, so that I’m always stocked. I also have a couple of quick go-to recipes for baking bread if we were suddenly to run out (though I do also freeze fresh bread for later). There’s always preserved fruit for snacks if the girls finish the fresh fruit before I’ve made it to the store and UHT milk in the cupboard, etc.
Basically, I try to ensure that when there’s nothing other in the fridge than the light, there’s still no emergency to go grocery shopping for a few days if we’re not up for it. And I rarely go to the store without a shopping list.
Involving the kids
As the girls get older, I try to involve them more and more in simple chores. They can now help with for example emptying the dishwasher, participating in cooking and cleaning their room. Often though, I get away easier and quicker by saving things for when they’re asleep. Especially the twins can often be more of an additional stress-factor than of assistance, despite their willingness to “help”. And when all three want to participate, it can get crowded and result in arguments..
Despite the challenges, I like to think that involving them from a young age will hopefully make household chores feel like a “natural” part of their responsibilities. It will also possibly aid in avoiding excessive resistance to help out when they’re older.
Staying ahead of everything
Keeping my calendar advanced by a few months means I start planning and preparing well ahead. Be it birthday parties, holidays or any other special occasions, I start well in advance. (This also gives me the liberty to bargain shop online for whatever may require longer delivery times.) I’ll prepare fondant decorations whenever we feel like crafting with the girls, and keep them in airtight containers where they stay good for months. We’ll scour through Pinterest with my eldest looking for birthday themes and plan outfits for months.
Preparing for Holidays
Take Christmas for example, one of my favorite holidays. I order Christmas PJ’s in late summer/early fall. I update my address list for Christmas cards all year long, and take our family X-mas picture by September. Ok, to be fair, the last point is because my husband usually leaves the country by September. If we want to have him on the picture, there’s really no other option than to do it before he leaves. I order the cards around October, and can start writing addresses whenever I feel like it. I send out about 100 cards every year, even though I have lately started cutting back drastically on the recipients for various reasons. By the end of November, I send out the first cards to international destinations, knowing delivery times can be absurd. The rest I send by the first week of December.
Getting the girls’ presents is however much more difficult! I tend to get so excited about special gifts, that I am physically unable to keep them hidden for long periods of time! All too often I end up surprising the girls on an ordinary weekday with an unexpected present.. Hence, Christmas shopping is saved for closer to the holidays.
All in all, my life really has little to do with finding the time and energy for everything. It’s rather a question of how I use my time. As said, I definitely do not always have the energy. With pre-preparations and planning ahead, I don’t even need to always be up for everything. My time management means I allow myself time-off and flexibility. With enough leeway, I can often focus on doing a lot of things when I feel like doing them. I’m not restricted to just doing things when I need to. An Italian colleague of mine once said that Italians are always thinking about their next meal while eating. I guess that sort of describes me too. Always thinking about the next step, even before I’ve finished the previous one!