Who knew (pre-kids) it could be so challenging getting ready and out the door in the morning? Or how long a dinner, bath and bed routine could take? Or the patience required when a child is learning to read when there’s a pile of reports needing to be read?

Life as a working parent can sometimes feel like a full throttle, never ending merry-go-round that whittles away any sense of self – from the moment those tiny fingers pierce open your eyelids at 5am all the way to the end of the day when they’re calling out for another toilet stop… after the half hour it’s already taken to say goodnight.

Whilst there is a sense of achievement from balancing work with family plus the many joys of being a parent (much to appreciate here) it’s a good idea to take stock every now and then to look at what’s really working for you and your family on a day-to-day basis. Some questions you might like to ask are:

  • How am I feeling when I wake up?
  • How am I feeling after I’ve dropped the kids off and am on my way to work?
  • How am I feeling during my workday?
  • How am I feeling when I walk through the door in the evening?
  • How am I feeling when I put myself to bed?

Yep, there’s a lot of ‘how am I feelings?’ Clocking how you’re feeling at these points in your day offers an opportunity to identify markers from which you can use as a reference to understand what has led you to feel the way you are feeling. You can start to build your awareness about the choices you are making – the thoughts you are having, the way you are moving, how you are interacting with your kids and colleagues etc.

For example, you may notice on Monday that getting the kids to childcare was like playing a game of rugby as you tackled them to the floor to get clothes on, clean up the breakfast from the walls and argued over not wearing three tutus to reduce your washing mountain. When you ask the question – how am I feeling right now – you may notice how anxious or exhausted you felt on waking, knowing what lay ahead that day. Or you may notice you feel frustrated and flustered after child care drop off, or how rushed and tense you felt at work.

But if we’re really honest with ourselves, the tension started way before the tutu scenario. The ‘how am I feeling?’ question is the gateway to understanding the process that lead you to all the not-so-great feelings. From this greater awareness we can look at what changes we can make.

Why is this important? Here’s the showstopper…

It really doesn’t need to be a stress getting the kids ready in the morning and off to bed in the evening. We make it that way. It’s a given that our children do not always act like angels and are still learning the ropes of life but if we start working with how we’re feeling, bringing in more self-care and support – we start to see how much our mood and feelings impact on our child’s reaction to us. Hugely. Explicitly.

Sure, our children have their stuff too – after all they are out there in the world – dealing with the reactions of their siblings, other children at childcare or school and even their care workers. That can take it’s toll emotionally. However, ultimately, if we stay steady it will provide a beacon of light for them to return to and help them reconnect to their own inner steadiness.

Everything we are feeling they pick up on – the younger they are the more unconscious this is but nonetheless they feel it all. If we can recognise this and take responsibility for it we will start to see massive changes in how we relate with one another – parent to child, child to parent.

Take this case for example… my case: a single mum for all 6 years of my daughter’s life. The frustration, anger and sheer exhaustion I’ve felt by 9am for – to be brutally honest – most days of her 6 years of life has been a battle to say the least. Interestingly, most of it has been self-induced, I’m now realising. Whilst most people would call me a very patient, very calm, very understanding person – when it comes to my child’s morning routine I’ve felt everything but those qualities A LOT of mornings.

Here’s the awesome – and quite extraordinary – news. I’m finally starting to work on it and the results have been astounding. We’ve gone from sheer resistance, daydreaming, avoidance, frustration, anger, tears, stubbornness and given-up-ness (on both sides) – to simple, smooth, flowing, laughing, committed, sharing, playful mornings when getting ready. There is a genuine love and respect for one another and – whilst it is a work in progress – we are connecting with and appreciating each other more than ever. It feels like a miracle… and after the last 6 years (that’s 2,190 mornings) this doesn’t feel like an exaggerated statement.

8 Top tips for making your morning routine work for you and your children

1. Care for me, care for you

The power of reflection is huge. If you care for yourself your child will respect you more for it. Ie. Giving yourself enough time to get dressed in the morning and put your make up on (in a tender way without being rushed), or sitting down to have breakfast (not whilst working or standing) – shows your child how enjoyable it can actually be to get ready. If you do it in a way that appreciates the quality and effort you put in to it yourself they might actually want to do it in the same way. For example, they may look forward to choosing their clothes or putting their socks on the way they want (to roll down or fold down, that is the question!)

2. Provide an incentive

Not a bribe or a reward but rather an activity that teaches them about choices and consequences. Something I’ve started for my 6 year is a jobs list that we complete every night. She get’s 20c for each job and the jobs get more challenging as she grows. It’s a great bonding time for us both which I don’t feel we get enough of in the busy work week. We are both really engaged because we’re both seeing the benefits of it – I get an enthused child getting ready in the morning, a tidier house and time to teach my child about ‘chipping in’. My daughter gets to learn about finances, choices and consequences and spending her pocket money on pretty things she likes – like clip on earrings. Here’s a table my daughter and I use that may support (we especially like the first one – I’m constantly amazed at what she comes out with… it inspires me to ‘take-extra-special-care-of-myself’ too!)

3. Be consistent and clear

When things do go awry and you need to provide a consequence stick to what you’ve agreed on – no going back on the consequence just because it’s easier for you. If you go back on ‘taking-away-the-Xbox’ they will not respect you next time you say it and it will be harder to take it away – more intense tantrums or moodiness as they got their way in the end last time. Also, ask them – before any issues arises – what they feel a fair consequence would be. That way they are involved in the decision-making around this and when the consequence is enforced they don’t feel like you’re overpowering them but rather more readily understand that they have made their choice on this one. Overall – keep things simple, be clear and consistent and they will trust you all the more for it. You can start this from a young age – 3 or 4 year olds would have an understanding this concept. By 6 they’ve definitely sussed it out and teenagers are all over it.

4. Be honest about how we’re feeling

This can do wonders as it helps kids understand your perspective and give them an opportunity to learn about what it’s like being an adult. You don’t want to do this from a guilt induced or poor me angle… just a genuine sharing of how and why you might be feeling the way you are. They understand much more than we think they do especially when we talk to them as equals, in a language they can understand of course. No age is too young to express how you are feeling.

5. Never blame

Talk about what’s going on for you both. Give your child the space to express what it is that might really be bothering them. Maybe they just want to wear different coloured socks because they like them but don’t understand that the school policy is white only. Great opportunity to talk about how sometimes the rules suck but there’s usually a reason for them. If not, lets go talk to someone about changing them J

6. What did we learn from this?

When one of you or both of you stuff up i.e. start getting frustrated or spill the milk or go into daydream land when ‘you-really-should-have-brushed-your-hair-by-now-so-are-now-super-rushed-and-stressed’ – take a pause moment and ask each other: ‘What did we learn from this?’ This creates a huge big space for understanding and compassion – for yourself and your child. Just by asking the question (in a non-lecutering way… genuine inquisitor style) you allow you and your child some space to process the choices made in the lead up to the tension. This is a great one for a 2 year old or 60 year old – we’re forever students and it’s a great reminder of how much we can still learn.

7. Be real but light

Something my daughter and I always say at tuck in time when it’s been a low tick / grumpy pants / tension-filled day is ‘we have another chance tomorrow’. This helps things stay light and clears any heaviness around what you’ve been working through during the day. And if you really embody the sentiment it does make you feel like you can master the routine one day… even if you haven’t for the last 2 weeks. The thing is, the more you be honest with what’s going on, the more layers of understanding you delve into, the easier it gets because you’re addressing what’s not working.

8. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate

Whilst it may never be perfect, your mornings may one day flow like they did pre-kids. I’m a living example of this. Rather than 30 days of the month feeling off and stressful, we might have 4 days now. This is very awesome and I constantly remind myself to appreciate this. And I share this with my daughter – ‘how amazing are we this morning’, or ‘go us, we’re on a role today’. The encouragement and enthusiasm supports her to celebrate her contribution – the joy on her face when we’re in harmony is priceless… and absolutely worth the bucket loads of pocket money I’m forking out each week. (Side note: there are jobs she does that don’t earn money to help her understand the value of working as a team in the house).

By Nicki Ferguson, Parents At Work