10 parent tips to make back-to-school mornings easier

This year will be different. This year, I’ll label lunch containers, buy enough so I’ll never run out, and have them stacked neatly in the kitchen drawer. I’ll plan outfits ahead of time and pull them out before I go to bed. I’ll tidy everything up before I go to sleep, pack my bag with everything I need, and, hmm, maybe I’ll wake up fifteen minutes early to do some morning yoga!

This has been my September resolution for at least the last twenty years, beginning when I was in middle school. And now that I’m a single mom — with a three-year-old whose Pre-K bus leaves at 8:10am on the dot — the resolution is only more urgent.

Reality check. I’m not a morning person. Never have been. I’m also not the most organized, and I know that my best-laid plans will fall apart after a week. What I need are real strategies: ones that work on the best days, when I can plan, and ones for where we need to hustle.

Here are ideas and strategies, shared by parents, for getting out the door on time and happy.

Let your kids wear their school clothes to bed

This genius tip is from Jen, a mom of three. While it’s not for every parent, Jen says that her three elementary-school-age kids take showers, then dress in the clothes they plan to wear to school the next day. “If they’re planning to wear jeans, we’ll just pull them out and have them sleep in pajama pants, but usually, my kids wear t-shirts and leggings anyway, so it’s comfortable and easy for them and less hassle for me.”

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Streamline the sock situation (or mix ‘em up!)

Socks may seem small, but when you’re desperately looking for one clean mate, socks are the difference between being on time and being late. That’s what inspired Arielle’s genius strategy: No colored socks allowed on school days. “We have a white sock only rule, and both of my daughters can wear the same socks. We don’t look for colors, prints, or lace — if they have those, those are for the weekend.” Arielle says that this small switch has led to less stressed out mornings.

Abby, a professional nanny, finds sock sanity another way. “Mismatched socks will never go out of style! The crazier, the better!”

Bribe (within reason)

“I told my seven-year-old that if he was able to eat breakfast, tidy his room, and get ready for school before 7:30, he could watch a show,” says Ellen, a mom of one. “If it’s a minute later, then he loses the privilege. Making a strict deadline incentivized him, and the bonus is that the half-hour where he is occupied gives me some time and space to do my makeup, drink coffee, and just take a few deep breaths.”

Switch off lunch duty

This is the one hack that I have managed to master — and something I plan to continue throughout the year. Another mom and I who have daughters in the same class soon realized that they were always envious of each other’s lunches. Since two lunches take pretty much the same amount of time to pack as one, Jen and I decided to switch off lunch duty each week. The “off” week is golden. Plus, our daughters are good influences on each other when it comes to trying everything on their plates.

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Skip your e-mail

Don’t open Slack, and leave your mailbox untouched until the kids leave the house. Ashley, a mom of two, found this simple strategy kept her on track during school mornings. “I thought that checking would get me off to a good start, but it just sucked me into issues that I could have handled when I got into the office.”

Make 15-minute prep a part of your PM routine

In the evening, have your kids join you for fifteen minutes to get everything ready for the next day, including packing book bags, making sure any permission slips are signed and talking through the schedule for the next day. Is it picture day? Is there an after-school club meeting? Talking through expectations in the evening, instead of in the AM, can be less stressful.

Create a shared family calendar and email address

Carly, the mom of a middle schooler and high schooler, says that the smartest back to school hack she and her husband adopted was to create a shared email address for all school correspondence. “Before, whoever was at the event would put his/her individual address, which meant all the information was divided, and we would end up having things fall through the cracks. Now, everything is on the same email address and shared calendar, which makes the mornings less hectic, since we both know what’s going on that day.”

Think through the week

Organizing expert Julie Morgenstern suggests a “today plus two” rule, where you broadly think not only about what’s on your to-do list today but also what’s expected tomorrow and the day after. That way, things like dentist appointments, carpool duty, or “wear a red shirt” day won’t catch you off guard.

Have a morning ritual

Emily, the mom of a five-year-old and two-year-old, has kids that sleep well — but are early risers. Instead of trying to get them to sleep longer, Emily has decided to skip their bedtime stories in favor of reading to them in the morning. “It sounds strange, but everyone’s up anyway, and it’s actually a really peaceful way for us to ease into the day, especially if I’m drinking my coffee.” In other words, don’t try to fight your kid’s natural rhythms, and find ways to create pockets of calm in the morning. Maybe it’s eating breakfast together, listening to a calm music playlist, or just spending a few minutes talking about dreams.

Don’t aim for perfection

For me, this is the biggest one to remember. No matter what, there will be some mornings where everything is rushed, everyone is in a bad mood, and the bus is missed. And that’s okay! Roll with it, laugh about it, and remember — tomorrow is another day. Just set the alarm five minutes earlier, and try again.

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Anna Davies is an editor at Haven Life. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Refinery29, Glamour, Elle, and others, and has published 13 young adult novels. She lives in Jersey City, NJ, with her family and loves traveling, running, and trying to find the best cold brew coffee in town.

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