Being a mom is a lot like being the CEO of a company - but without the pay, office or the vacation time!Whether you have one kid or five, if you work in an office, work at home, or stay at home, running a household has numerous challenges; keeping it organized is the key to success. From getting a healthy dinner on the table to remembering your daughter's dentist appointment to making sure the house is somewhat in order (your son has to be able to locate his soccer cleats and shin guards on game day, and if your house isn't organized, that can get tricky), employing some organization strategies will make sure you keep your household running smoothly and keep your cool.
What's for Dinner, Mom?
Marcia Noto, an insurance executive and mother to three now-grown sons, remembers the days when she and her husband worked full time running their insurance agency and were raising three active boys. As with many mothers, one of Marcia's main priorities was eating together as a family each night, which she considered sacred time. "To me, it was not as important WHAT we ate, as long as there was a formal dinner on the table," says Marcia. "I had a rotating repertoire of dinners which I planned each Sunday before I hit the grocery store, none of them as nutritious as I would prepare today, and some of which would certainly make you shudder...(fish sticks and French fries anyone?). When I was really strapped and out of ideas, we would have "breakfast dinner" - pancakes and sausage." She continues, "If the boys asked and "breakfast dinner" was my answer, they would whoop and holler with excitement. (By the way, the question "what's for dinner?" was banned from our house before they reached their teens...used to send me through the roof!!!)."
Marcia encourages moms not to sweat the small stuff if their weeknight meals aren't completely nutritionally balanced. "I think if dinner during the week is not always stellar or completely nutritious, the fact that there IS dinner is more important, with a set table, cloth napkins and a place to sit together for 45 minutes without a television or anything else to interrupt," says Marcia. "Dinner was always a great time for the boys to practice manners, by the way," she adds. "And, as a result, two out of three of the boys are really health conscious and all three are really adventurous eaters. So, the fact that sometimes there was more carbs than protein on their plate did not really alter their adult life, and I think they benefited greatly from sitting at the kitchen table every night. As adults, one of our favorite things to do together as a family is to eat dinner together, whether at home or at a restaurant."
An extra benefit of nightly family dinners? You have a consistent read on how your children are doing, feeling, and behaving, especially as they get older. Marcia adds, "Dinner is SO great because inevitably, if someone needed one-on-one attention, it became clear at dinner. The others became bored with the attention being given to one kid, and they asked to be excused. If they didn't get bored because the subject was too juicy, we'd kick them out out!"
Marcia used some key strategies for dinner prep - she would often make a double or triple batch of a meal on the weekends and freeze the extra batches for another night, or cook a double batch of chicken breasts on Monday to use in Tuesday's dinner as well. Weekly meal planning was extremely helpful and in addition, she encouraged all family members to add things to the grocery list that was magneted to the refrigerator; if they finished a box or container of food they had to add it to the list so the grocery list would be up to date on shopping day.
Who's On First?
When it comes to kids today, many are over-scheduled starting at a very young age, yet it can be difficult for parents to limit and/or prioritize activities. Marcia had a hard and fast rule with her sons, "First, kids should be allowed to choose ONE activity that they would like to participate in beyond their schoolwork, playing and family life. So, if you have three kids, each kid has one activity, that's three activities to organize, not 33, like I see a lot of families doing these days," she says.
A calendar is critical is making sure everyone is in the loop and no time slot is double booked. As soon as a key date is learned - school play, soccer season starts, etc., it should go immediately on the calendar. All family members need to check the calendar the night before each day so everyone knows what the next day entails. "Again, the refrigerator is command central. It's where the calendar is located and it's where all family activities are," says Marcia. "As the boys got older, I would tell them to 'put it on the calendar.' They would be responsible for adding events, not just me."
Marcia also suggests parents give themselves a break sometimes when it comes to shuttling kids from activity to activity, "Carpooling is key," she adds. " I do not think parents need to attend every single soccer game in order to ensure their children's mental health - let another parent take them and you stay home and attend to something else. No wonder kids think they are the center of their parents' universe!"
Housework: It Takes a Village
Keeping a house clean can be overwhelming and your home can quickly get out of hand with school, work, activities, friends, etc. In addition to enforcing a "clean as you go" policy for her household to prevent clutter from getting out of hand, Marcia found success by implementing a chore chart for all family members. Marcia explains, "Beginning when the boys were in early grade school, we had a chore list on the refrigerator with a rotating list of things that had to be done every day (like setting the table, clearing the table and emptying the dishwasher) and then there were 'Saturday jobs,' which were more involved and took 30 - 60 minutes, depending on how old the kids were. In a pocket on the chore rotation were index cards that described what the job entailed so there could be no question of how the job was done (for example, what cleaning the bathroom involved). They have scrubbed the toilet in their bathroom weekly, on a rotating basis, since they were little boys and some might think that cruel and unusual, but it worked for us! "
So moms, take it from a mom whose been there like Marcia - you can get your household into shape and as a result, you'll have more time to enjoy each other as a family.