Running a family is a huge organisational task. The wisdom of other parents can help you meet the challenges and save you time and stress. We spoke to 13 mums to find out what lifehacks keep them on top of their parenting game.
Catherine created a shared family Google calendar, and she puts everything into it. “And I mean EVERYTHING, including school pick-up times, events, extra murals, play dates, and everything in between. Because it’s shared, everyone follows it, and everyone knows where they are supposed to be, and who’s responsible for what.”
A digital calendar is efficient because you can set regular occurrences like extra murals to repeat each week, and you can set reminders for things like orthodontic appointments which might get forgotten.
WhatsApp groups can be an annoying time-waster, or a fantastic organisational hack. The key is to specify exactly what the group is for and stick to it!
Buhle explains how she does it. “We have a Swimming Lift Club group for the parents of all the kids in our area who go to swimming practice. And then there’s a separate Neighbourhood Lifts group for everyone nearby. We are very strict about keeping to the subject - no jokes, pics or socialising on that group. We have a separate one for that!”
Lorraine says that rather than getting upset about the state of her children’s rooms, she calmly moves the mess out into the passage when it all gets out of hand. “Wet or dry clothes, food, toys, homework. I say nothing. No anger or blaming. And they quietly sort it out and pack it away.”
Kerry has a similar approach, with a crate for each child in the hallway. “If I find something lying around the house that should have been put away, that goes in the crate and they have to put it away as soon as they get home.”
Outgoing items like school reply slips, school caps or anything else that needs to be taken to school also goes into the crate for each child, so they can grab it as they leave the house each morning.
Parents waste hours of their lives in negotiation and peace-making. Lindiwe’s children fight about everything, but she found a great strategy to save time and sanity: “One of their biggest daily battles was about who got to sit behind me in the car. It ruined the start of every car trip – long or short – because I couldn’t always remember whose turn it was.”
Then her friend told her about a system called “Top Dog”, which gives each child first choice of everything for a whole day - whether it’s place in the car, who gets to choose what biscuits to buy at the shop, who gets to choose the first TV show and so on.
“It’s easy to remember who was Top Dog the day before, and the other child accepts it because they know that their turn will come tomorrow,” Lindiwe says.
A similar principle can be applied to sharing food - one child cuts the item, the other gets to choose which portion they want.
Fiona makes a list at the beginning of each term, setting out what sports kit or musical instruments her children need to take to school each day. Before her children could read, she drew little pictures to help them.
“Then each child has to pack their own bag the night before. It takes away some of the morning stress,” she says.
Karen also makes her son pack his school lunch. “At first, I bought lunchbox items and he could pack what he wanted, but now that he’s older, he’s started making shopping lists with his preferences for me to buy or coming along shopping with me to choose his own food.”
As a parent, you can spend your life fetching and carrying children from various play dates and extra murals. If your children are at the same school, you can follow Mandy’s lead and fetch them at the same time rather than doing a double lift.
“Our school has supervised homework, so I fetch the two together and whoever doesn’t have extra-murals has to go to homework until the other one is done,” she says.
“My three kids all do different sports and extra murals and what really helps is to do everything at school,” says Fatima. “It’s easier to manage and it cuts down on travel time and costs.”
When Joanne’s son called from school one too many times to ask her to bring him something he’d forgotten, she came up with a deterrent. “I told him that my time costs money, never mind the petrol, so that rescue run was the last time I’d do it for free. The next time would cost R10, and the time after that R20. It would go up exponentially, so the next time would be R40. After the third time, he stopped calling.”
Meal-planning can be a challenge for parents. “I find meal planning and shopping for the week ahead saves a lot of head-scratching and last-minute grocery panics,” says Gail.
Elodie takes it one step further and has a weekly meal schedule – with the same meals repeating weekly each school night. “It helps my husband and me to get on the same page, and he can do the shopping without me giving him a detailed list. It also really reduces the mental load for me.”
She says it has the added bonus of helping their picky eater deal with what’s coming on every night of the week – and she’s planned it so that his less favourite foods are followed by something he likes the next night.
Lauren and her husband have split, and they try to share the expenses of child-raising equally. To keep track of the day-to-day expenses, they use an app called Splitwise, which allows them to enter each purchase or cost, and keeps a running tally of who owes what to whom.
There are a thousand different ways that parents sacrifice their own time, money and peace of mind to make sure that their children have what they need every day. But don’t forget yourself. Remember that being happy and healthy makes you a better parent and person.
Take this small first step, suggested by Christine. “As a working mother, I set out my clothes and pack my bags the night before as well to reduce my stress in the morning.”
They say a problem shared is a problem halved. The collective wisdom of this group of parents, can help you in your parenting challenges. Hopefully, some of these organisational tips will help you to get back some of that much needed “me time”.