The Fix For Weekday Morning Madness

getting kids out the door getting kids out the door

Why hello, school year, you (fingers crossed!!!) non-hybrid experiment, and, oh lordie, we’ve got to pack those lunches again every single day and clothe ourselves and the children and actually leave the house. As a mom to five-year-old twins I’m on a constant search for ways to efficiently get out the door on schedule without ruining everyone’s day in the process — especially now, when we’re sorely out of practice. The following tips are super helpful for me, and maybe they will be for you, too?

Do backwards math — then add buffers, buffers and more buffers.

As a travel writer, I’ve been doing these time calculations on the regular for years. If my flight is at 10am and I need to be at the airport at 7am and an Uber without traffic is 30 minutes and I want to shower…” I use the same formula to get us all out of the house in the mornings, but with extra cushions built in. First, I establish a drop dead departure time and buffer it with 10 minutes for unseen tantrums, I mean negotiations. Then I add 20 minutes for eating, another for dressing, and a solid 15 for waking. Since my kids are still in the play age, we’ve got to bump in a block for that as well. Walking backwards to a start time, I set my alarm for 40 minutes earlier. It allows me to do my personal wake-up ritual in absolute peace.

Speaking of… fill your cup first.

The safety protocols on planes always instruct passengers traveling with children to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. Same holds true for morning schedules with kids. I get all of my own self care and morning rituals taken care of (buenos dias, coffee with steamed milk) before the kids are out of bed. I simplify my getting-dressed routine by having an arsenal of single piece dresses and jumpsuits that make it a snap.

“Sign post” for your kids.

I’ve been told I talk too much. I am constantly telling my kids what, when and how things are expected of them throughout the day. Same holds true for schedules. Before bed, we review what the next day looks like. Then we do the same upon waking.

Order morning rituals the same way every day.

Developmental specialists are always saying it: Sticking to a routine benefits children. Along with the verbal “sign posting,” my twins know what to expect and don’t (usually) get too derailed because their getting-ready rituals happen in the same order every day.

Do the night shift.

I’ve been known to double make meals, meaning I’ll prep dinner and pack lunches simultaneously. I may swap out the protein (tofu for meatballs) and will certainly pack a different fruit for dessert, but the bulk of the meals—starch and veg—is the same. Similarly, I empty backpacks as soon as we arrive home from school. Before I go to bed, I make sure that the things that can be are prepped; I leave sticky notes on the front door reminding me of anything that is not already on the outbound bench.

Color code for clarity.

Don’t @ me about heteronormative coding for my girl/ boy twins. When it comes to everything from sneakers and backpacks to breakfast bowls, water bottles, and toothbrushes, my twins know that blue and green items belong to one, red and pink to the other. No one inadvertently grab’s the other’s whatever. Trust. Task completion is totally streamlined.

Make breakfast as DIY as possible.

My father-in-law has eight siblings and four children. So, yeah he’s a Getting People Moving expert. When my twins are around, he not only sets the breakfast table before bed, he also positions the cereal on the table and the milk on the lowest door shelf in the fridge. In our house we have Cheerios every school day for no other reason than my kids only want cereal and milk. And boy oh boy is that quicker than a hot breakfast, though make-ahead breakfast options or tote-along can work well, too. Also, maybe this will be my ask for Mother’s Day this year: I dream about a coffee maker that brews while I’m sleeping—talk about skipping a prep step!

Get a uniform. 

#Twinning is not only adorable, it’s also a total time saver. Following the footsteps of Olivia Pope, I’ve given my children a basic palette of navy and therefore a bunch of coordinating looks for each day. Every morning, they get a few choices based on those building blocks. Gym class days, travel days, and forest school days (yes, that’s a thing) each have single looks that are exclusively for those activities.

Set the timers.

Personally, having my iPhone’s sounds — whether the ding dong or the glass shatter — go off every 10 minutes makes me feel a bit frazzled. But some people like these audio cues, and my friend Janice swears by this method. I will use timers on occasion. If my children are having a particularly, um, combative morning, I’ll use the timer as a race/reward situation. “If you get dressed before the timer goes off you get a sticker.”

Add clocks where kids can see them.

My friend Stacie swore by the Wake Up and Go clock when her now-tween was younger. It helped with number recognition and learning to tell time. Following her lead, I got an oversized digital clock that lives in the bedroom. I’m going to move it onto the bench in our entryway (AKA holding area) to edge my twins toward more self-sufficiency with getting out the door. No need for the parent to be the only one keeping track of time.

Use visuals that kids can dig.

There’s maybe 20% (OK, more like 15%) of me that’s a Pinterest mom, meaning I like the idea of a family calendar to put on the wall from the Pottery Barn catalog, but IRL we haven’t yet implemented it. Another twin mom I follow on Instagram has this dialed. In her mud room, she has a color coded calendar that kids and dad can refer both on the way in and out of the house so there’s no “oops we forgot it’s our snack week” conversations.

Older kids who can tell time and have access to phones with alarms and calendar apps can obviously be more active in the entire process. Just ask my friend Tats whose children (15, 13, 9) are wholly responsible for entering their riding competitions, soccer practices, field trips, and social engagements like bat mitzvahs into the digital family calendar. When they forget to add important dates, they lose some social use of phones and other technology privileges.

Put stuff away in real-time. (Or at least daily)

If sneakers are always in the shoe bin and mittens are always in the accessories basket and clean masks are always on the mask tray, there are no unnecessary scavenger hunts to derail us during busy mornings. My own dish — for keys, MetroCards for the subway, and (someday this statement will be true) phone — keeps me sane too.

Sometimes you just have to play the theme song.

Like many kids their age, my kids love the I Like to Move It song from the movie Madagascar. It’s also very appropriate for actually getting their adorable bottoms in gear. We don’t play it every day or even every week, but I’ve been known to sing it or play it on my phone while getting them to put on their sneakers. It puts them in a good mood, and lo and behold… actually gets them moving out the door.

Meditate.

SRSLY. Once I really committed to a five-times-a-week meditation practice, it became less stressful to get moving in the morning. Starting my day mindfully gives me space to really listen to the needs of my children and myself, which means we’re working together to get our morning routine to be smoother.

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Jenna Mahoney is a Brooklyn-based magazine editor and writer specializing in travel, weddings, beauty and healthy lifestyles. She's been on staff at Bridal Guide and Fitness magazines and her work has appeared in Shape, Self, Allure, Redbook and New York Magazine, among other places. She's the author of Small Apartment Hacks.