How to stay sane (or at least appear to be) with two kids under 4

10/26/2011 at 9:46 am | Posted in Motherhood | 5 Comments
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Dr. Brown's baby bottles

A time-saving trick that looks like chaos? These things work in our world.

We’re almost six months in to this newfangled life with two kids.

We’ve switched from zone to man-to-man defense. We’ve adjusted our routines. We’ve embraced a new “normal.” And we’re surviving.


People ask me all the time how I maintain balance in my life, with a 30-hour-a-week job, two kids, volunteer commitments and my blog. After I finish laughing and wipe away the tears from my eyes, I answer: there is no balance. It’s more like a well-maintained juggling act. One that both Marc and I work very hard at, so that one day (soon, we hope) we will achieve that holy grail of parenthood.

We’re learning every day (and making up stuff as we go, complete with high-fives when a new trick works). Here are a few things that make our life more organized, healthier, easier:

The defcon 3 toddler warning system. Simply stated: tell your child over and over and over again what to expect and when. For example, Lily is playing in the living room. I holler at her to wash up for dinner. She screams in protest, face-plants on the floor and thrashes around dramatically. In scenario #2, I give her a 10-minute warning, a 5-minute warning, a 1-minute warning, then ever so gently, when the time has come, tell her to wash her hands for dinner. She gets up from her coloring, walks into the bathroom without complaint and washes her hands. Drama averted. Mommy is still one of the good guys.

Let them eat veggies. Mealtime with a little one can be so very stressful. Even when we serve a plate full of her favorite foods, she’s been known to leave the table without touching a bite. So when she’s hungry, we capitalize. On occasion, I’ll give her a little Lily-sized bowl of raw carrots and “dippy” (reduced-fat ranch dressing) while I cook. She quits begging for a snack, and we knock out vegetables before the meal has even begun.

Get moving in the mornings. This is probably the most difficult hurdle we face each day. How to get two kids out the door in under six hours? We’re still figuring it out. But one thing that’s really helped: prepping bottles and lunch boxes the night before (see photo above). We lay everything out, label it a zillion times, and boom. We’ve saved at least 20 minutes the following morning. I also picked up a trick from one of the other moms at Sophie’s school: because each bottle has to be dated twice (body and lid), we use masking tape and regular pens. When washing the bottles, the ink rubs right off, but the tape stays put. So we can just write the new date the next day (instead of re-sticking a bajillion little pieces of tape). Genius.

Multi-tasking in a healthy way. When Lily was a baby, if we needed a couple of things from the grocery store, I’d plop her into the stroller and walk there. She loved the scenery, I loved getting exercise and knocking out an errand. I’m currently in the market for a double-stroller so I can start doing this with both girls.

Space for me. I am STILL working on Lily’s first year scrapbook (yes, she’s turning four this winter). The supplies have been gathering dust in a corner of our bedroom. So, just last week, I cleared off my desk (which had become the holding space for everything from Halloween costumes to receipts) and set up a scrapbooking station. Now, when I have a few minutes to myself, I can sit down and knock out a page or two. The added bonus? It gives me peace not only to have that time to myself, but also to be finishing a project that’s been sitting on my shoulders forever.

Get and give. Just after Christmas and birthdays, we help Lily gather a big box of toys she no longer plays with to donate to kids in need. She doesn’t love this exercise yet, but I know she will. An interesting byproduct? She completely forgets she ever had those toys to begin with.

What are some of the tips and tricks your family uses to make life easier? Does it also take you fifteen years to get out the door in the mornings?


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  1. We use masking tape for the date and it NEVER occurred to me to leave the tape and use regular pen instead of a sharpie. Tell that parent thank you from me too. Now that I have bottles and lunch containers to tackle for daycare this will save me a lot of time. Great tips!!

    • Me neither! I noticed her bottles in the fridge when I stuck Sophie’s in there and thought to myself, that is brilliant. Every little thing counts, right?

  2. prepping lunch the day before completely saves me in the morning. All I have to do is grab it out of the fridge? DONE.

    I love the get-and-give idea. It’s amazing how quickly kids forget all they own. Just the other day, Laura found a stash of toys for her Christmas and my MIL let her play with them. Hello! Divert her attention and she’ll never remember they existed! You can bet I restashed them asap.

  3. As an alternative to the double stroller, you may want to consider a sit and stand stroller. It allows Lily to sit when she’s tired or run when the mood hits.

    We used something a little different than that even:

    It fits onto the back of an umbrella stroller, and essentially works the same way as the sit and stand strollers. The only disadvantage is that it makes pushing the umbrella stroller a little more awkward but I didn’t find that it takes long to get used to. We still use it occasionally, K is 4.5 and P is all but 3. Mostly when we’re at the airport or an amusement park.

    (We bought it because I didn’t want to fly with our double stroller but needed something for 2.5 year old K to use while in the airport.)

    I realize Sophie isn’t quite at the umbrella stroller stage but the sit and stand stroller or the buggy board will probably last you longer than the double stroller and, in the case of the buggy board, take up a lot less valuable storage space.

    Just my two cents. Hope I didn’t sound bossy. It’s a problem.

    • Ooh — this is awesome information. Thank you! I saw a bunch of those sit-and-stands at the fair. And I’ve never heard of the buggy board. Both sound ideal. Thanks again!

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