Organize your chaos: Helpful tips for busy families

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Our talented show host Lisa Haffner, recently asked me what my tips are for staying organized while I balance a busy family life.  She suggested that I do a segment about this and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wouldn't necessarily call my home organized, but rather an organized chaos and believe me, we have worked hard to get here!
I also considered my own rituals or Mama mantras that I practice to help to streamline the family calendar which fills up weekly with school projects, hockey games, theater practice, doctor appointments and more.  The list goes on and on.  I can tell you that the changes I made in the last several years took us from an exhausted, over-scheduled and fussy family to a more relaxed unit that works together on most days.  The really impressive result that I have noticed is how my children are thriving, but academically and in their activities.
So read on Moms because we are sisters in motherhood when it comes to getting it all done on a tight schedule with multiple personalities all existing under one roof.  There just may be a golden nugget here in this column that may make your life easier.  And I am struck by two things my Mom once told me:  you don't get back time and your kids childhoods will fly by even though the days may feel long, the years are truly, and I think, sadly short!

Mama Mantra #1:  Just Say No And Just Say Yes
Sound confusing?  What I mean is that you just can't do it all, so make a point to say no to the many volunteer requests that you get as an involved Mom.  There was a time when I felt guilty if I didn't say yes to all of the organizations that needed me to volunteer.  In my life that was church activities, hockey mom volunteer hours, children's theater shifts, classroom volunteers and more.  There is no way that I can say yes to all of those requests, do them all well and still run my household without collapsing from exhaustion at the end of the day when my kids seem to need me most.  So, now I take turns saying yes to one, but not to all of the requests at once.  And it is OK to explain with your "no" response that because you are busy this month chairing a PTO committee, you are unable to join the other volunteer group, but perhaps you can do that next month. 

Having said that, do say yes when you are offered help!  So much of the time, we Moms find it easier and quicker if we just do it ourselves.  One of my best gal pals once told me that the day that only you can do it all is the day that only you can do it.  That means that you end up creating your own overwhelmed world because you said no to folks around you who offered to help.  I didn't realize this when I was younger, but I tend to be a control freak and would rather just do it myself then trust that someone else may not meet my own crazy expectations.  Often times that left me doing a task myself that would have been done quicker and better, mind you, if I had simply said yes to help!  And someday you may have the opportunity to reciprocate and help them when needed. 

Mama Mantra #2:  Weekly Calendar Meeting
If I had a dime for every time my family would ask me about an upcoming event date and time, I'd be rich!  So, several years ago I placed a chalkboard weekly calendar in the laundry room and now my family knows to check the calendar first and then ask Mom!  When we have especially busy weeks, we have a quick meeting on Sunday night to look at the chalkboard together.  I have found that showing the schedule to the entire family at one time creates conversation and understanding on how we can best work together.  Another benefit of the calendar meeting is that my family tends to be more patient with each other all week long since we discussed on Sunday that it would be a challenging schedule to keep up with.

Mama Mantra #3:  Be Flexible, But Firm
Expecting the unexpected is key when parenting.  The best made plans can be quickly unraveled when you have to make an unexpected trip to the doctor for a Strep throat culture or your child surprises you the night before about a big project that is due the next morning. 

So, I try to be as flexible as I can while being firm about what is important to our family.  The items that I feel I need to be firm on include sticking to a reasonable bedtime, eating healthy food as much as possible and practicing discipline, but not in the way that one might guess.  I mean to say that we practice being self disciplined as a family unit.  That means that we all work together to be on time, to have homework done and to simply make good daily decisions.  I tell my kids that every day we when we wake up we should tell ourselves that today we will try to do the right things. 

I have found that by having these discussions and stressing that the adults also have to be aware of our own words and actions, I get a better response and more respect from my kiddos.  However, let me stress, that my kids can still be disrespectful to me at times, but I do remind myself that they are children, after all, and that if it continues after I have issued an warning, then I have to dole at a consequence.  This flexible, but firm formula has worked pretty well for our family.

Mama Mantra #4:  Make A Mama Bedtime & A Rise & Shine Time
Sometimes I have to parent myself and get my tired body to bed on time.  When I do that,  then I am successful in doing one of my gal pal's Mama mantras and that is rising before the family does.  First of all, a good night's sleep is crucial when it comes to being a good and rested Mother the next day.  And if you can rise and shine before the clan, you will be amazed just how much you can get done.  If I have a little alone time with my cup of coffee and keyboard before the troops come down the stairs, then I am ready to rise to their needs with a smile and a calmness about me that they truly appreciate!  My entire day goes smoother when I get up first!

Mama Mantra #5:  Prioritize
As my children have grown older, I don't feel as exhausted as I did when they were busy babies.  The word of the day now is overwhelmed with all of their activities, school projects, appointments, etc.  My awesome boss from the show, Executive Producer Ron, used to tell me that I was quite efficient and hard-working, but that I would be an even better show producer if I could really prioritize.  As producers, we have many daily tasks that must be completed to get the show on the air the next day.  So, I also tried this at home and it works wonders.  When I feel that I can't catch my breath because there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day, then I list it by importance and by due date.  Then whatever I don't get to by day's end is OK because I met my most important deadlines first and didn't get sidetracked by stuff that can wait.  And that brings me to my next Mama mantra, let go of what you didn’t do!

Mama Mantra #6:  Let It Go & Take A Mom Timeout!
Moms, you can't do it all.  You just can't, so let things go that you can't get to and chances are no one will know but you!  And after you have made the decision to let some things slide, slide yourself into a Mama timeout.  See the segment to see my marvelous Mom's timeout kit that was designed by me for me.  Do that for yourself and you will come out of your break a better mother and wife.  Moms need to enjoy some down time to lower stress and to regain stamina!  And make sure you are scheduling some exercise time because regular activity will increase your energy level all day long.  Once you get into a fitness routine, it becomes less work and more of a healthy Mama timeout.  Or schedule a gal pal coffee break or movie night out because Moms need play dates, too.

Mama Mantra #7:  Crazy Clutter Cutter Tip
I once had a friend who practiced what she called her "touch a paper once" rule.  She literally would handle a project or problem right when it hit her desk.  This doesn't always work when you are handling the projects and problems of an entire family, but when you can, do the task right when you get it like filling out your child's health forms the day they arrive in the backpack.  Or paying a bill right when you remove it from the mailbox.  Sounds crazy, but when you do this when you can, you will be amazed at how much clutter you cut.  And that brings me to my final bit of advice that I learned from another previous boss that I worked for several years back.  And that is to act on it when you think of it.

Mama Mantra:  #8  Think It, Do It
This is another one that can't always be done, but I once had a boss that did everything the moment she thought of it.  Sometimes it would drive me crazy because I would be in mid-sentence and she would tell me to hold that thought as she simply did the thing she was thinking of in that moment.  I try to do this as much as I can and I am amazed at just how much more I accomplish in a day and how much less I forget!

Mama Mantra:  #9  Multi-task Your Outings
When your kids have an hour long gymnastics class or team practice, drop them off and run your errands instead of sitting and waiting for them to finish.  I love maximizing that hour or two because while they take a piano lesson, I'm getting groceries or shipping a package at the post office.  Time wise this strategy has worked well for me. 

So, there you have it, busy Moms.  The above Mama mantras are mine and they work well for the most part.  However, don't forget to give yourself a break when you do forget an appointment, have zero patience with your kid or lose that report card that you are supposed to sign and send back to school.  I have done all of  the above and I used to really sweat the small stuff, but as I get older I have learned to give myself a break. 

Those kids don't come with manuals when they are born or revised guide books for the teen years, so do the best you can, remember to breathe and go ahead and occasionally treat yourself to that lemon bar or lemon drop martini!  Whatever floats your boat.  Because when you take care of you first, then you will then have the energy to parent your peeps because before we know it, they will be all grown up and asking us for parenting advice.