How She Does Mornings
Before we had children, my husband and I babysat three kids in their home for a week while their parents went on a vacation. The mother of the family wrote down her schedule to give us a guideline for what a typical day looked like. When I read it I was floored. She suggested waking up an hour to a half-hour before the kids each day to shower and get ready before the chaos began. Why would you wake up earlier than you absolutely have to? This had never occurred to me and, frankly, I thought she was kind of crazy.
Fast forward to the mom version of me. My favorite days are those days that I wake up an hour or so before my kids and have that time to myself. I’m (usually) glad to give up a little sleep for that peaceful start to my day. That said, there are plenty of days that I sleep until the last possible minute and we all run around like crazy people grabbing clothes and shoes and backpacks and yelling at each other to hurry up.
When I started talking to other moms about their back-to-school routines, I didn’t think I would find enough variation within morning routines to write a whole post about it. You wake up, get dressed and ready, pack up your stuff, and go to school. Simple.
It turns out that, like everything in motherhood, there are as many ways to do mornings as there are moms. Here are some of the different ideas I discovered:
Mom Wakes Up
Moms’ waking schedules fall into three camps: those who wake up before their kids, those who wake up with their kids, and those who enjoy sleeping in until the latest possible minute. All three have their advantages.
Joyce is in the early waking category. Now that her sons are all school age, including some in high school, she has found that she has less alone time with her husband at night. They decided to start waking up before their kids so they could start their day with a morning walk together. Similarly, Inger wakes up at 4:20 and gets to the gym by 5:00. After her workout, she she and her husband enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation together before they wake the kids.
Many early-bird moms like to set aside that time for personal development, relaxation, daily chores, or getting showered and ready. I talked to several moms who structure their mornings based on the book the Miracle Morning, which recommends using the acronym SAVERS to structure your morning:
Silence (mediation, prayer)
Visualization (picturing your upcoming day)
Exercise (even if it’s just 5 minutes)
Reading ( a personal development book or scripture)
Scribing (writing in a journal)
Other moms set their alarms for the time they need to get their kids up, so they can get every bit of sleep they can. Nothing wrong with this! Sleep is a precious commodity for a mom.
I was surprised to find another group of clever moms who have trained their kids to be mostly self-sufficient in the morning. Molly’s kids wake themselves up for school and start right in on breakfast, the big ones helping the little ones. Then they get dressed, brushed, and ready for school. They make their lunches the night before, so they’re easy to grab and go. She gets up to kiss them on their way out the door and Dad takes them to work. Sounds pretty great to me! Plus her kids have serious skills.
Kids Wake Up
Obviously, there are two main ways to get kids up in the morning: either you wake them up or they wake themselves up.
Some kids, especially older ones, would sleep all day if you let them. Other kids, especially little ones, don’t give their parents a choice in the matter. They wake up at the crack of dawn, raring to go. To solve this problem, Rachel uses an “OK to Wake” clock that stays red until it’s time to wake up (for them it’s 7:00), and then turns green. They know that they’re not supposed to wake mom and dad up until their clock is green.
Lisa is a big believer in kids having their own alarm clocks, from middle school on. She teaches them how to use them, and then expects that they wake themselves up and start getting ready. If they don’t wake up to their alarm clocks, she does not go in to wake them up, she just lets them experience the natural consequences of waking up late. Sometimes that means missing breakfast, sometimes that means being late for school or going with messy hair.
My mom used to always wake us with a song, usually Irving Berlin’s “Oh How I Hate to Get Up In the Morning.” Some moms blast music from a stereo.
Inger prefers a gentle, gradual approach to waking her two children. About 30 minutes before they have to wake up. She shuts the windows, turns off the fans, turns on the lights, and lets her kids gradually wake up. At 7:00, she comes back in to make sure they’re actually getting up and ready for the day.
Last year, I found myself having too many of those mornings where I slept a little too long and then woke my kids frantically (and not so gently) to tell them we had to hurry and get ready. Once I realized what a rude awakening this was, I decided to pull myself together, wake up earlier, and give them a more loving start to their day. My 12-year-old wakes up to his alarm clock at 6:00. If I’m not already up, I get up with him and spend some time with him talking about the day ahead and anything else he wants to talk about as he gets ready. At 6:30, I start going room to room to wake my younger kids up one at a time. I crawl into bed with them and snuggle them awake. This serves several purposes. 1. I’m not very good at cuddling at bedtime. I need my personal space by that time of day. But I realize that it’s good for both me and my kids to snuggle, so mornings it is. 2. It feels good to climb back into a warm bed. 3. I get to spend a little one-on-one time with each of my kids, every morning.
Some families have buy school lunches and avoid this problem altogether. Or they homeschool and eat lunch at home. The rest of us have to figure out when to pack lunches, who will pack them, and what to pack.
Jennifer has six kids, so for her simplicity is king. No themed bento boxes or animal-shaped snacks for her kids. Each night before they go to bed, the kids make their own lunches for the day: peanut butter and jelly or turkey sandwiches, fruit, and a healthy snack or two. The older ones take turns packing a lunch for their preschool brother too, which he can eat at home. Once the lunches are made, they clean up the mess, put their lunches in the refrigerator and grab them the next morning.
For some moms, it’s easier just to make the kids’ lunches themselves. It’s not as messy, for one. Some like to spice it up by having a repeating schedule for the week, at least for the main dish. For example: Monday: crackers, cheese, and pepperoni; Tuesday: turkey sandwich; Wednesday: leftovers in a thermos; Thursday: meat and cheese kebabs; Friday: peanut butter sandwich.
Rachel made a four-quadrant list to help her daughter pack her own balanced lunch. This way she still has a choice of what to pack, but she has to make sure she has one thing from each quadrant.
Jordan Page of funcheaporfree.com keeps bins of lunch food in her pantry and refrigerator (at kid height) so the kids know where to find their options. She makes a week’s worth of sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly and meat and cheese) and stores them in the freezer, so even the sandwiches are ready to grab and go! She also sneaks love notes in their lunch boxes every now and then.
For years, I made my kids lunches in the morning while they got ready. It was always a frantic scramble. When researching for this topic, I finally realized that I should be making them do it. Now I basically follow Jordan’s system. I’ve had a few people ask what I keep in my bins, so here’s a list of the some of the things I try to keep on hand. (Note: We’re gluten free, so it might seem like a weird list):
beef jerky or Slim Jims
carrots, bell peppers, celery
grapes, apples, clementines, oranges
mandarin orange cups
peanut butter and jelly
laughing cow, baby bell, or string cheese
hummus single-serve cups
Getting Dressed and Ready
Most moms I talked to at least try to have their kids lay out their clothes and shoes for the next day before they go to bed. This gives enough time to start an emergency load of laundry or hunt for that one missing shoe. Stacy bought a five-shelf hanging closet organizer so her kids can lay out their clothes for the whole week at once.
Choosing when your kids should get dressed depends a lot on the kids. Some kids (including a few of my own) are really grumpy until they have some food in their bellies. Others can handle getting dressed and ready before they eat. Kallista’s son takes so long to get dressed that she has to make sure he gets dressed before he leaves his room in the morning, or it will never happen. And some kids need to wait until after they eat because they make such a mess.
Julie uses breakfast and subsequent free time as an incentive for her kids to get ready quickly. They know that they can’t even come downstairs until they’re dressed, have their beds made, their teeth and hair are brushed, and their clothes are all put away. Then they come downstairs to pack their lunches and backpacks. Only after they’re completely ready do they get breakfast.
Lists and Charts
Even if your morning routine is fairly simple, it can be helpful to post a list or chart of what your kids need to do in the morning, so they have a clear process to follow. For littles who can’t read, picture charts work great. You can make your own, or find a ready-made printable online. For example, Emily made this one for her son Miles. You can get her free printable at simplyrealmoms.com.
For her school-age kids, Audra simply writes checklists for her kids. They know to look for their checklist on the kitchen table when they wake up and they direct themselves to get it done.
Saren enlisted the help of her children to create the chart. They had a meeting to discuss what they needed to do each morning, and then she asked her 12-year-old to type up a morning routine for the rest of the kids. She blogs about it at powerofmoms.com.
Juliana used to have a long list of expectations for her kids before they left for school at 9:00. She wanted them to get their chores done and piano practiced, get ready for school and clean up after breakfast. But day after day, they’d leave for school and leave Juliana with a mess to clean up. One day, she realized that it was time to stop having such high expectations and started having more pleasant mornings. You can read more about her experience here.
Getting in the Car
The last obstacle to getting to school on time is piling into the car. Kids (mine, specifically) have been known to come to blows over where they sit in the car. To avoid the fighting, Molly assigns seats by month. She has two rows of three seats each and six children, three boys and three girls. So one month the girls get the middle seat and the next month the boys get it.
My car has two coveted seats, so the even numbered children get to sit there on even calendar days and the odd ones sit there on odd days. One strategy I’ve used to get the kids to the car on time is to let them play on the iPad once they’re all ready and in the car. This gives them an incentive to get into the car, and draws the others into the car as well, to watch. Then they’re all ready and in the car when it’s time to leave.
My friend Lori used to pick up my kindergartner for school every day and he’d come home singing “Whip/Nae Nae,” “Hard Knock Life,” and all the other songs they blasted in the car on the way to school. A great alternative to the lectures I usually gave on our way to school!
Emerald is another mom who uses that time in the car as a bonding experience with her kids. On the way to school and daycare, she and her kids recite the Lord’s prayer together. Then they go around the car and share their purpose for the day (i.e. “My purpose today is to make a good friend/ do well on my math test/ stay on task”). This helps them start the day deliberately and builds relationships in the process. You can read more about Emerald’s meaningful routines here.
Many mothers solve the chaos of getting their kids out the door to school by avoiding it altogether. That’s one of the main reasons Sharolyn started to home school. When her kids went to public school, she found that their mornings were frantic, and she’d spend most of the morning yelling at her kids to get ready. Then she’d drop them off at school and say, “I love you!” She wondered which of those two messages was getting through to her kids.
Now her morning routine looks much different. She wakes up at 5:00 to go running and then get ready for the day and wakes her kids up at 6:30 to start getting their chores done. They take care of the dogs, cats, and chickens, keep their own bedrooms clean, and help with other household chores like dishes and vacuuming. They also practice piano and voice during this time. Then they start school at 9:00. To read more about Sharolyn’s daily routine, check out her profile here.
In a more extreme escape from the rat race, Josie and her family do “boat school” on a sailing adventure around the world with her husband and three kids. She and her husband wake up before the kids and have coffee together. Then they take turns, with one getting the kids up and fed, while the other one exercises. You can read more about their daily routines here.
Whether you’re on a boat or on land, mornings can be an opportunity to build relationships and actually enjoy your family. At the very least, they can be a little less crazy if you focus on finding solutions to some of your persistent problem spots. Good luck and good morning!