The Single Parent’s Guide to Calmer Mornings
Tired of rushing out the door, half-dressed and forgetting your purse? These tips can create a calmer, happier morning for everyone.
Mornings are busy. There’s a lot to do before everyone heads out the door to work or school. And let’s face it, no one really enjoys getting up early. But unless we win the lotto or get some other windfall, we’re stuck.
But even though we might have to get up in the morning, we don’t have to have hectic, stressful mornings. We don’t have to rush around, feeling frazzled before we’re even out of our house. We don’t have to listen to cranky kids and fight back our own bad attitudes at the same time.
It just takes a little planning and effort. Take the right steps, and you can have mornings that are smooth and calm. And if you can start the day with a calm morning, the rest of the day can be much better, too.
Determine everyone’s sleep needs
Personally, I can’t function on less than 7.5 hours of sleep. I have one kid who can get by on four, and another who needs at least 7.
There are lots of charts to give you a rough idea of how much sleep different ages need. Those charts are a great starting point. But you need to determine what each individual in your house needs. A chart might say they need 10 hours, but your kid might need just 8 or closer to 12.
One way to know how much sleep someone needs is to see what time they get up on the weekends without an alarm. While they may sleep a bit later to make up for lost sleep during the week, it’s a good rough estimate, and you can always adjust from there.
Figure out how much sleep each individual needs. Wake times tend to be non-negotiable, since school and work start times are pretty set in stone. So once you know how much sleep everyone needs, count backward from when you need to wake up to know when you all need to go to bed.
This might mean earlier bedtimes for some. This can be a rough adjustment, but it can be worth it to stick it out.
Make sure you get to bed in time to get your needed sleep, too. Well-rested kids are only part of the equation; you’re the other part.
Get prepped the night before
We come home from work and school, and still need to make dinner, take baths, do homework, and maybe run a load of laundry or do some other household chores. Somewhere in there we’d like to relax, too. Who wants to add more to do when we’re already tired?
But if you add a few things to your evening routine, you can free up some time in the morning. Figure out what you can prep the night before for an easier morning.
Maybe you can lay out everyone’s outfits the night before. You can probably make lunches and stick them in the fridge so they’re grab-and-go in the morning. Everyone can doublecheck that their backpacks are packed and ready to go by the door. If you or the kids have projects to take in, make sure they’re ready to go with the rest of your stuff.
Think about other things you try to fit into your morning that could be done the night before. Gassing up your vehicle, dropping envelopes or packages in the mail, or paying daycare fees could all be done in the evening instead of trying to hurry through them in the morning.
Do you spend a half-hour arguing over how your kid styles their hair, only to leave without brushing their teeth? Or maybe it’s something else in your house, but the bottom line is that something important gets skipped, forgotten, or only halfway done because other things are getting too much attention.
You can resolve this by setting priorities. What’s most important to you in the morning? Brushing teeth, eating breakfast, and having all their stuff as you leave are probably three things. So put those at the top of your morning to-do list. Add whatever else is most important. Make sure your list is in order of what’s most important.
This will ensure you get done what needs to be done. You can also write this list down so that kids who are old enough to read can work their way through the list on their own.
Keep your priorities simple, too. Insist on combed hair, but not how it’s styled. Make breakfast a priority, but keep some ready-to-eat options like granola bars, cereal, and microwave oatmeal for days when cooking a full breakfast just isn’t going to happen.
For many of us, the struggle for a calm morning comes from not being able to find anything we need. We’re hunting for homework, backpacks, purses, keys, phones, wallets, makeup, hair products, and other things. Or we’re improvising because we’ve run out of something we need.
By getting, and then staying, organized, we can cut several minutes off our morning routine.
Starting by organizing the stuff that needs to leave the house. Put baskets, cabinets, shelves and hooks by the door you leave through. Organize backpacks, purses, keys, laptop bags and briefcases here. Have designated baskets or cabinets for each member of the family where they can store their stuff. Make sure things are put in these places the night before, either as soon as you get home or once homework is done.
Next, organize the bathroom. Put all your makeup and hair products in one place, including styling tools and mirrors. Don’t forget your toothbrush and toothpaste. Keep track of what you use and how much so you don’t run out.
The kitchen comes next. Put ingredients for lunches together in the pantry and fridge. Keep sandwich bags or containers with the pantry ingredients or in a drawer or cabinet where you prepare lunches.
Increase your organization by planning ahead. Buy two cans of hair spray or mousse or two jars of peanut butter. When you finish the first and are starting the second, buy another one. This ensures that you never get caught without what you need and having to improvise. Do this for toothpaste and even makeup.
Budget extra time
Do you make it out the door on time, but already stressed and feeling totally off-balance? Or do you leave a few minutes later than you planned, and end up speeding to get everywhere on time — or just run late?
Regardless of which one you are, allowing some extra time in the morning can help keep things calmer and more relaxed. By having a buffer of time, you take some pressure off if something does go wrong.
Start with 15 minutes. This is supposed to be a buffer, extra time that you use only when needed. If you find that you’re still rushing out the door, it’s time to go over the other steps in this list and see if there’s more to do with some of them. You might add more time, in five minute increments, but be cautious with this, as it can backfire and make you too relaxed before you end up rushing out the door.
Remember this buffer is supposed to be an “emergencies only” situation. It should be something you use when the alarm doesn’t go off because the power went out, when you get a flat tire, or when the dog slips out the door and runs off before you can stop him.
Get up before the kids
Oh, that bed is so comfy and cozy and soft and warm and just so wonderful to stay in, isn’t it? Trust me, I know. But as delicious as it is to simply lie in bed and doze, you need to get up before the kids.
You set the tone for the morning. If you’re lazing about in bed, the kids will want to do the same. If you’re already up and moving, you can encourage the kids to get busy too. It’s a lot harder to tell the kids they need to get dressed and eat breakfast if you’re still snuggled under the covers.
But getting up first serves another purpose. A calmer parent makes for calmer children. And if you get up first, you’ll feel better. You can sip a cup of coffee, meditate, read a book, or watch the morning news before the kids are up and talking. You can ease into the morning, so by the time the kids get up, you’re already awake and ready to get busy.
If you’re like me, and you just really need that 5–10 minutes of lying in bed after the alarm goes off before you can get up and get moving, set your alarm that much earlier. That will give you your time to slowly wake without throwing you off schedule.
Don’t let the kids lounge
When it’s time to get the kids up and going, make sure they get up and get moving. Don’t let them lie in bed for a few minutes. Don’t let them sit on the couch and watch cartoons — not even while they’re waiting for the bathroom.
Kids tend to get still and stay still when it comes to mornings. Keep them moving if you want a smooth, calm morning. Let them know if they do everything they need to do and have time left over, they can watch a few minutes of TV, play with toys, or whatever it is they want to do. But first, they need to be ready to walk out the door.
It might make for a few rough mornings as they get used to things, especially if you have allowed them to do some lounging until now. But once it becomes a habit, it will not only ensure that you’re able to get out the door on time, but it might even get the kids moving faster because they want that play time.
This might seem like a no-brainer suggestion, but in the heat of the moment when we’re running late and it feels like everything is going wrong, it’s easily forgotten. But as I just said in the previous section, you set the tone. If you’re not calm, the kids won’t be either.
It’s understandable that you would start to feel anxious and even panic when you see that you’re going to be late and you’re not even out the door. Maybe you’ve had this happen so often that your job is in jeopardy or the school is threatening you with truancy court because the kids have been tardy so often.
But when you begin to get anxious, or start to panic, the kids sense that and they either start to feel the same way or they start dragging their feet even more.
Instead, stay calm. Even when you see you’ll be late, or something’s gone totally sideways, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Tell yourself that getting anxious, angry, panicking, or doing anything other than remaining calm isn’t going to change the situation, so you might as well just stay calm.
Then, take some time at lunch or in the evening and evaluate your mornings. See if you need more of a buffer, to get up earlier, or to make some other change.
We’ve all been there: we need to leave in 10 minutes, and one or more kids is in full tantrum mode, complete with red cheeks, flailing legs, clenched fists and screams that could wake the dead. And why? Because they didn’t want the clothes you picked out or the breakfast you made or the lunch you packed.
This can be resolved with choices. Give the kids choices for clothes, breakfast, lunch, and anything else that you can. Keep the choices simple — 2 options, 3 at most. Tell them their options with enough time for them to consider, decide, change their mind, and decide again.
When kids have choices, they feel like they have some control. And when they feel like they have control, they’re more willing to go along when you don’t give them a choice and just tell them to do something.
You can even give them their choices the night before so they can sleep on it.
As kids reach certain ages, we begin to expect more of them. We start to expect them to brush their hair or teeth, get dressed, put their lunch in their lunchbox or their homework in their backpack, without us prompting or reminding them.
And to a degree, that is reasonable.
But as the parent, and the one who ultimately runs the show, it’s easier if we share responsibility for these things with our kids. This doesn’t mean you have to stand over your kid and make sure they do things.
You might create a list that hangs where they can see it that outlines what they need to do. Then you can check with them each morning at a set time and make sure they’ve done specific items already. Or you might just keep an eye on the clock and call out when it’s time to do the next task.
But don’t put it all on the kids to remember and keep moving. Even as they’re growing and able to handle more responsibility, they’re still kids who will forget and who don’t place the same importance on things that we do.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and there’s a reason for that. After not eating all night, your blood sugar can drop, making you tired, cranky, and unproductive. Eating breakfast will boost your mood and energy, making it easier to get things done more quickly.
It doesn’t have to be a big, heavy breakfast. Granola bars, yogurt, oatmeal, bagels or even a bowl of cereal can be enough. You can prep some breakfast sandwiches, pancakes or waffles ahead of time and freeze them so all you need to do is reheat them when you’re ready to eat them.
Try to eat breakfast at some point during your morning routine rather than grabbing it on your way out the door. You’ll be able to think more clearly once you eat. Plus, if you eat while sitting down and focusing on your meal, you’ll be less hungry later.
Breakfast sets you and the kids up to feel healthier, happier, more productive and calmer (no hangry moments!).
A calmer, smoother morning isn’t out of reach. With proper planning, and a few tweaks to what you already do, you can make mornings a more pleasant and relaxed experience. Are you and your kids ready for that?
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