I’m a little late to the hacking party. Ten years ago when my boys were babies, hack was a word that you occasionally heard in a techie-suspense movie, when the bad guys were trying to hack into the good guy’s system. Now there are hacks for everything: how to make a better cup of coffee, how to put sheets on a bunk bed, and how to sneak veggies into your kid’s diet.
I wasn’t sure if I had any genius parenting tips to share, but after perusing my ginormous collection of digital photos and doing some major reminiscing, I realized that I do! I’m happy to share them with the hive mind that makes up the TODAY Parenting Team's wonderful community. Here are my tried and true parenting hacks in no particular order:
#1: Bring a long scarf and you always have a high chair.
Have you ever taken your baby over to a friend’s house or a café and realized that they don’t have a high chair when it’s time to feed baby? Keep a long scarf in your diaper bag so you can tie your little one to a chair with slats in the back. You can’t really see the scarf in the photo above, because it’s covered up by a bib crafted from an old dishtowel (another baby hack!) but beneath the bib is a blue flowery scarf holding my infant son securely onto a chair at my sister’s house. The lightest highchair ever, right?
#2: Use a shopping cart liner in the infant swing at the park.
My kiddos were not the stoutest babies. When I would place them in the baby swings, their bodies would careen back and forth, with no cushioning to securely anchor them. I figured out that my grocery cart liner did just the trick, and – added bonus - it protected my baby from any lingering gunk on the swing.
#3: Wet delicates = Inexpensive humidifier.
In the depths of the cold winter, our heater turns our house into an arid desert. When my boys were babies, it seemed like they were continually congested. The bone-dry air didn’t help. I frequently set up a humidifier in the nursery, but it was a pain in the butt to keep clean and I often doubted its efficacy. My solution on some of those cold winter nights was to hang up my wet delicates, straight out of the washing machine, in my baby’s room. They would gently dry over night and the air in the nursery seemed to be a little more humid. In the morning I would retrieve my satin blouses along with my baby. I can’t vouch for the scientific effectiveness of this homemade humidifier, but it seemed to work for my little guy’s sinuses.
#4: A bike trailer becomes your own mini RV at music fests.
The bike trailer was a must have in our family. My husband would pack our two little guys into the trailer, hop on his bike and take them out to see the world. The trailer came in especially handy when we would head to music festivals. We could pack blankets, toys, folding chairs, snacks and of course adult beverages in the back, and our boys in the front. If one of them got sleepy, they could take a little nap in the trailer. The year that ACL turned into a mud fest, our boys stayed amazingly clean. (See below!)
#5: Cardboard boxes are everything.
Your cat loves your boxes and so do your kids. From the time they can sit to the time they go to middle school, a sturdy cardboard box is always a source of fun and creativity for your kids. Offer them up to your little ones before you toss them in recycling.
#6: Make an instant puppet theater from an old sheet.
This puppet theater can be toted anywhere: a hotel room, a campground, or a back patio. All you need are some pushpins, an old sheet and some scissors. On the spot entertainment!
#7: Baby doorway jumpers are lifesavers!
Ok, this isn’t really a hack but if you have a wide doorway and crown molding on that doorway, you just have to get a baby jumper. My youngest spent hours (literally hours) jumping and dancing in this thing. It was a lifesaver that I wished I had for my first kiddo.
#8: A weekly dinner fosters good table manners and happy families.
As my kids are getting older, our schedule is getting busier. Between athletics, activities and work, my family is rarely in the same room together. Dinnertime is often a rushed affair held at the kitchen table. Two years ago, I decided to designate one night a week (Monday night) as “Family Dinner Night”. We set the formal dining room table, try out a new recipe and practice our table manners. Everyone is expected to attend. My boys have a special dessert to look forward to on these nights. My husband and I have real conversation to look forward to. If you are one of those families who makes time for sit-down family dinners most nights of the week, ignore this hack. But if you are a mom like me who worries that her kids aren’t learning their table manners or how to participate in civilized conversation, schedule a weekly formal meal. You won’t regret it.
#9: Underwater cameras capture pure childhood magic.
Invest in a waterproof case for your camera, or better yet, a camera that can go underwater. The priceless photos and videos that you'll take of your little one when they are swimming below the surface for the first time are simply stunning.
#10: No screens in the car = The BEST conversations.
My family and I have a whole collection of portable screens that seem to follow us wherever we go. The car seems like a natural place to pull them out and take advantage of the idle time. That being said, I’ve found that if I outlaw screens on the road, my kids and I have the greatest conversations. They’re held captive, they can’t go anywhere! And they have a plethora of passing buildings and bumper stickers to pique their curiosity. As often as I can, I tell them to turn off their screens and tune into the world.
As I mentioned earlier, I scanned through thousands of digital photos in our hard drive in order to discover some of these forgotten hacks. While I was looking through the reams of pics and videos, I was surprised as the range of emotions that came up for me. Awe at how little and adorable my boys once were. (They’re 9 and 12 now. Still adorable but not so little!) Sadness at how quickly they are growing and changing. I also felt twinges of anxiety when I thought back to some of the really hard days of tantrums, fevers, sleepless nights and stitches.
It made me realize that the most important hack I can recommend is to be kind to yourself as a parent. Know that everything changes rapidly with kids, so grit your teeth through the tough days and savor the sweet ones. Before you know it, you'll be onto another stage in development. Always reach out for help and support in your community. And finally, recognize that none of us parents, no matter how many hacks we have to offer, have it all figured it out. We're all doing our best and you really are too.
To see more relationship and emotional wellness hacks for expectant and new parents, check out my blog, Baby Proofed Parents.