For many moms, the most stressful part of the day is the beginning. Between getting kids up and dressed, serving breakfast and heading out the door, who hasn’t breathed a sign of relief when the morning school bell rings?
“Mornings are difficult because you’re dealing with a lot of moving parts,” says Rivka Caroline, author of From Frazzled to Focused (River Grove Books; 2013). With seven children ranging in age from 4 to 19, Caroline admits she used to do everything wrong in the morning.
“I wasn’t prepared for the day, and I would stress out and yell,” she says. “But what good is rushing around in the morning trying to serve your kids an organic smoothie if you’re also screaming at them? The chaos wasn’t fair to my kids.”
So she started thinking like a CEO. Rather than using energy to be frustrated, she started instituting new policies for the things that weren’t working.
Caroline says the secret to having stress-free mornings is to start at night: “The atmosphere in the morning at our house is very light and fluffy because we’ve taken care of 90% of the moving parts the night before,” she says. “When you have a plan, you’ll eliminate most of your stress.”
Here are a list of the policies Caroline instituted in her household to cure morning madness:
1. “The bedtime routine is nonnegotiable.” Morning routines will improve if you give your kids the gift of healthy sleep, says Caroline.
“I’m a stickler for a regular bedtime,” she says. “It’s difficult to get kids out the door in the morning if they’re exhausted.”
2. “Kids are responsible for getting themselves up.” Each of Caroline’s children has his or her own alarm clock. “I don’t wake them up—they’re responsible for that,” she says. “Having a good sleep routine in place makes this possible.”
3. “Mornings are strictly about breakfast and getting dressed.” Have kids set out their belongings at night, suggests Caroline. Her children lay out their clothes, get papers signed and ready backpacks before they go to bed.
“Requiring that all pieces are in place the night before is like having a magic wand,” says Caroline. “If they forget something, they forget something. They learn better the next time.”
4. “Give children morning chores.” Caroline’s children make their beds in the morning and perform other light chores.
“Getting things done in the morning gives them good productivity habits they’ll have for a lifetime,” she says. “It also helps them better manage their time.”
5. “A warm breakfast sets the tone for the day.” Three times a week, Caroline makes sweet potato pancakes, presetting her oven the night before.
“At 6:30 a.m. they’re done, and I haven’t added anything to my morning,” she says. “The aroma provides an extra incentive to my children to get ready quickly, and a warm breakfast adds a nice element to our mornings.”
Caroline says having a large family created a stronger need for morning policies, but any size family can and should use this method.
“If I had one child, I would have time to find lost shoes in the mornings but that wouldn’t necessarily take away the stress,” she says. “The most important thing for me is getting out the front door with my children feeling loved.”
And what mother doesn’t want to start her day like that?
Stephanie Vozza is the author of The Five-Minute Mom’s Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom’s Life Easier. She also writes about organization, time management and productivity for Entrepreneur.