First off, let's just get real. This is a mom survival guide, and I used the word "survival" because that's exactly what it is. If I were swimming, I'd be barely keeping my head above water. But above water, it is, thanks to a few small mom hacks that I've started using. We'll be swimming laps soon enough. (I hope.)
1. Don't leave until the house looks perfect.
Okay, hooooold on, just hear me out. Yes, getting out of the house with 3 kids under 4 can be a monstrous task that rivals an uphill marathon, but this hack is huge for me. I can feel like my life is falling apart at the seams, but if I walk into our front door after our playdate or errand, and I look at our house and see that, visually, everything is put away and all the counters are clear, I feel like I'm still in the game. Sure, the bathrooms may be dirty and the floors still have a layer of milk from this morning's cereal, but all the toys are picked up, there's nothing on the tabletop, couch pillows are back in place, etc. Visually, it looks together. The key to this is making the kids help me pick up before we leave, which has been a struggle that's paid off. This sounds ridiculous, but before we leave the house, I get this really, excited voice and say, "Okay, it's cleanup time. Who can pick up the toys the fastest?" (Seriously, use the guise of competition, and you can get a 2- and 3-year-old to do whatever you want. I do it with everything.) Obviously, the kids don't always follow suit, but 9 times out of 10, they do help pick up because they accept that it's just another step that gets us closer to getting into the car. (After I fight them to brush teeth and put shoes on, of course. "Who is going to brush their teeth first?" Again, competition.) Sometimes, the cleanup dance delays us by 5 or 10 minutes, but it's worth it to have that feeling of a clean, put-together house when we get home and I have to slam out 6 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the first 4 minutes.
2. Do 1 load of laundry per day. Now, you know my issues with folding laundry. My laundry bed, my laundry couch, my dining room table are all, on a given day, heaped with 2 to 5 loads of clean laundry. But my friend Julie recently told me that she does 1 load a day, and it helps her keep on top of it. Because, when you only have 1 load of laundry to fold, it doesn't seem as overwhelming, and thus, you're more likely to do it. So everyday, usually in the morning, I gather up clothes from everyone's hampers and start a load. Sometimes the load doesn't get changed until nap time, but for the most part, I'm able to fold and put away that one load of laundry before dinner time. You know, so we can eat at the dining room table. (Bahahaaaaa!)
3. Set up nursing stations around the house.
This can be helpful even if you're not nursing. Basically, I have baskets that I place in strategic areas around the house, and I keep them stocked with diapers, wipes and clean burp rags. (I put nursing pads and lanolin in there too.) It's such a simple hack, but it saves me so much time! I have one in the living room and one in my bedroom, on my nightstand. The added benefit is, because the basket is out, it's easy for my toddler to grab a bump rag for me if I need one. Win win!
4. Get dressed everyday. Staying in pajamas might be my biggest stay-at-home mom pitfall of them all. If we don't have plans, I'm usually chillin' at home, in my sweats and (husband's) big white t-shirt. But, I've found that if I get dressed, even if I haven't showered, it totally changes my outlook on the day. I used to reason that I didn't have time to shower and blow-dry, so I wouldn't do anything. But now, even if I don't shower, I still try to put clothes on, a dab of makeup, a spray of dry shampoo (duh) and even my shoes. I can literally do all of that in 7 minutes. Turns out, looking put-together makes me feel put-together. Fake it 'til you make it, my friend.
5. Unpack and repack diaper bag immediately after getting home.
I don't wait until we need to leave the house again because that will already be a big enough obstacle. Every time we get home, I go through my diaper bag and take out all dirty burp cloths, diapers, kid clothes and empty sippy cups. And right then, I restock the bag with diapers, kid clothes and whatever I'll need next time I'm out. I also take the empty sippy cups, refill them with water and put them on the kitchen counter, so the kids can just grab them next time they're thirsty. The whole thing takes about 3 minutes and saves me 10.
6. Budget for help and use it. Whether it's a cleaning lady or a babysitter, get help when you need it! I realize this may not be in everyone's budget, but there are ways to get help for free, too. Do you have a friend who you can trade babysitting with? You watch her kids one week, she watches yours kid the next? My friend, Cat, and I did it, and it was amazing. Every other Thursday morning, she'd watch my kids and I'd watch hers. And believe it or not, when her kids were at my house, it was actually easier for me because my kids were occupied. (I was shocked, too.) And when my kids were at her house, I didn't feel guilty because I'd already watched her kids. Seriously, try it! Like, immediately. Sadly, my dear friend Cat recently moved away and ruined everything. *wink* Besides missing her dearly, I've had to start paying a babysitter to come, but it is so worth it. The sitter comes every Friday, from 9am to 1pm, (and even watches the 3-month-old!), so that I can get away and have some peace of mind. Sometimes, I go to Starbucks and write. Sometimes, I lock myself in my bedroom and shower without an audience. Every week, it's a glorious 4 hours, and my own little $48 sliver of Heaven.
7. Do the dishes every night. Nothing like waking up to a clean sink. I do the dishes every night, usually after dinner while the hubby is roughhousing with the kids. I've also started running the dishwasher every night after dinner, regardless of whether it's three-quarters full or totally full. Then, every morning, I empty it.
8. Don't let kids go to the next activity until all toys are picked up.
Yes, I know this echoes my points in #1, but I'm learning that the more kids we add, the more structure I need to enforce in order to stay sane. For instance, I used to say I'd never be the mom who lorded over a Lego game, to make sure all the pieces were picked up and put in their proper place when the kids were done. Then, I realized that a Lego set doesn't do anyone any good if its pieces are spread throughout 4 different toy baskets in the house. It sounds hyper-OCD, but in our house, every toy set now has a place. And I put a lot of their favorite toys sets in bins in the closet where they can't reach. These are their "special" toys, and they know that only 1 bin comes out at a time. So, when they're done with Play-Doh, they know they have to pick it up and put it back in the proper bin before I'll get out the the farm set, puzzles, the train set, Legos or the doctor kit in the next bin. I realize I'm sounding like a tyrant at this point, but seriously, I live in a house with 3 little terrorists less than 4 feet tall.
Being a tyrant is the only way to hold onto my sanity.
What's left of it, anyway.