My children have always outnumbered me; my first children, fraternal twin girls, proved a huge lesson in organization and preparedness. It was challenging leaving the house with two babies-packing the diaper bag, collapsing the double stroller, making sure everyone was fed and dry before running an errand, going to a wellness check-up or a play-date. I often spent more time getting the twins ready to leave the house than the actual amount of time we spent OUT of the house.
Since those early days of motherhood, I've added two more children to the mix and now have four daughters; twins age twelve, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old. It's not an option for me to be unorganized. I often plan out our days and weeks in great detail, balancing six schedules, myself and husband included, it's not for the faint of heart. Most days I do a decent job, but let's face it, I'm human, and there are lots of moments where I'm striving for control and chaos is what I get.
Some top chaotic moments as a mom have been: not leaving enough time to exit the house, grocery shopping when my kids are hungry, and running errands during the dreaded "witching" hours of 4-7 pm. Not having things go smoothly, and the epic fails of parenting, are the best places to learn about what not to do. Once you get past the tears and anger, from both you and your child, you can reset, and find a new strategy. Here's what I've learned through trial and error, and while it's far from foolproof, it's solid advice I use, and I would pass on to parents.
Before you leave the house make sure to do the following:
1. Feed Your Children. Make sure everyone as eaten, hungry children are seldom cooperative.
2. Bathroom stops are essential before leaving the house. There is nothing more frustrating than getting out of the house only to hear, "I have to use the bathroom." Not only does a bathroom break delay an outing, it also sets up a chance to try to get a treat or a toy when you have to stop at a store or a fast-food establishment.
3. Plan outings during the best time of day for your child. If a child is still napping, make sure to be home for the nap. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for a big tantrum.
4. Use This Equation. If you want an estimate of how much time you need to prepare children to leave the house, use the following equation:
[(Number of Kids) x (15 mins)]+Travel time (e.g., 30 mins)= Amount of time/minutes
* If a child is sick, having a rough day, irritable or in a bad a mood add 10 minutes. If the event or outing is for the child or all about a friend, such as birthday party, play date, or they are in a fantastic mood, subtract 2 minutes.
5. Get yourself ready before you get the kids ready. I've found taking the time to get myself ready helps to keep me focused and feeling reasonably good about showering and getting dressed.
Now here are the things I've learned when I've done all of the above and the outing is still a chaotic mess.
1. Live Your Life. You have to live your life which means leaving the house, no matter what. Don't let the fear of your child's "possible" or "likely" tantrums hold you hostage in your home.
2. Let Go of Judgement. If your child has a meltdown, tantrum or doesn't cooperate, let it go. It can be difficult when your child draws attention in public. Just remember, people who stare may be doing so because:
(a) your situation brings back memories of tantrums with their children, and they're looking at your with compassion
(b) they're feeling thankful it's not them because last week the same thing happened to them and their child
(c) if you think someone is judging you, remember, you are not a mind reader, so don't jump to conclusions, you can't know what someone thinks unless you ask.
3. Don't Take Tantrums Personally. Children express what they feel and need through behaviors. As children move through development, they become more skilled at verbalizing what they think, feel and need. So chances are when your child tantrums, it's because they're tired, hungry, bored, or just testing limits.
4. Work Towards Calm. I know it's hard to do, especially when you have a full grocery cart and your toddler is refusing to get up off the floor because she really wants the rainbow goldfish, and you are buying the whole grain. Remember to stop, focus on taking several deep breaths. Anxiety and stress physiologically disrupt regular deep breathing into short and shallow breathing. Close your eyes, focus on a deep breathing and repeat a soothing mantra: "This behavior is not personal to me, it's part of their development." Or, " Breathe in the calm, exhale stress." Or find another mantra meaningful to you,
5. Be Creative. Stress and anger make it hard to access creative ways to solve problems. If you stay calm, you can access better problem-solving solutions.
6. Be Compassionate. Most of the time, parenting our children is not defined in one moment or episode. Our behaviors over time with our children add up to a pattern of what they expect from us. Being compassionate with ourselves and our children is so important in parenting, especially when we or our children make mistakes.
7. Keep a Sense of Humor. Tantrums and stressful moments of parenting are far from laughable, but over time, those epic moments can become humorous family memories. Finding the humor in stress can be a great way of coping with situations that seem beyond your control and also provide a release of tension.
We teach our children every day how to show up in the world not only with our words, but also with our actions. As parents, we are going to make mistakes, just like our children will do. Practicing a mindset of compassion paired with time management and necessary preparation will likely help your family run happier when on the go.