Establish a routine
Having a predictable schedule is hands-down the most important factor as a med school mom. While our class schedules might vary, our kids’ schedule doesn’t have to. For example, if our classes start at 8:00 one day and 9:00 another, we can still take our children to school at the same time. This allows our kids to get in their own routine of waking up at the same time and being ready to leave at the same time.
How do we figure out what the schedule should be? Remember learning about the least common denominator? Our routine works the same way. If your earliest class starts at 8:00, that becomes the standard for the rest of your week. Work backwards from that time to determine when to wake up, when to wake our kids up, and when to leave the house. If your latest class ends at 5:00, but one day you get out early at 2:30 – leave your kids at the babysitter until their regular time and use your extra time that day to study or run errands. Spending that time wisely equates to more quality time with your kids later in the week, and less stress for everyone having to remember which day is earlier than the rest. You get the idea.
Other elements of a good routine include:
- eating dinner at the same time every evening (give or take 15 min)
- determine which nights are bath/shower nights
- establish the same bed time every night
- perform household chores on set days of the week, and give assignments
- and so on…
Set aside quality time
Within all the hustle and bustle of our daily routine, our children are often caught in the mix. They are very resilient, but they require our focused attention from time-to-time in order to maintain a cooperative relationship. If they know they are guaranteed quality time with us during the week, this will give them peace of mind. They deserve to know when they can count on having time with us.
What works for me is making the core school hours my dedicated time to study and do homework. I work straight through my lunch break and during any class breaks. When I go home, my family has my full attention through dinner and bedtime. After that, I hit the books again.
As we set up our routines, we should also determine which evenings we can set aside for quality family time. For me personally, I like to work hard during the week and allow myself lots of time on the weekend. I have particular times on the weekend when I promise not to study – Friday nights, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday all day. These are peak family hours where we get to have movie nights, go for walks, play at the park, etc. A recent lesson I learned is the importance of setting aside Sunday for sabbath worship. I have been blessed by making this choice. This is my personal choice, and you can choose to adopt your own routine. My point is, I have found what works for me and my family. Be empowered to find what works for you.
Prepare the night before
Included in our daily routine is preparation. We set ourselves up for success by getting things ready for the next day. This will decrease stress in so many ways. What are some things we can prepare the night before?
- Make lunches. Every day, immediately after school, our kids can empty out their backpacks and make their lunches for the next day.
- Collect paperwork, filed trip forms, lunch money, etc. When kids empty out their backpacks, there is inevitably a huge pile of paperwork that is now our problem. While they pack their lunches (Yes, they can do it themselves with some coaching) this is a good time to go through it. We should add important dates to our calendar, ideally, one that is shared with our significant other so we can stay in sync. Forms that are complete can go immediately back into their backpacks so they aren’t forgotten the next morning.
- Set out clothes. check the weather and have our children pick the appropriate clothing. This not only saves an argument the next morning, but also saves the heartbreak of being the parent that drops of kids in the rain without rain boots, or sends them out in the cold without a jacket. The last thing we want to worry about is driving back home to get the proper gear for the day!
- Talk about plans. We should let our kids know what to expect. Someone else is picking them up the next day, their siblings are going home with a friend, they have gymnastics after school tomorrow, etc. Dinner is a good time to have these discussions. It’s also beneficial to have a calendar and/or bulletin board in a common area where weekly plans can be in plain sight. A dry erase calendar works great for this.
Move at their pace
No matter how much we prepare and organize, there will always be days when our kids just drag their feet. Go easy on them. We should gently coax them into action, making subtle accommodations along the way to show them we are being sensitive to their needs.
I always say, “I can only move as fast as my slowest kid.”
The truth is, if we follow all of these other recommendations, we are going to have more good days than bad. When that one bad day rears its head, we can let it run it’s course knowing that it’s a rare occasion.
Another important thing to ask ourselves in those frustrating moments when our kids won’t get out of bed is this… “how much is this really going to set me back?” Depending on how we choose to handle the situation, it could set us back 5 minutes or 15 minutes. In my experience, if I get myself to their level for a minute and relate with them, then ask what I can do to help them have a better morning, things get moving a lot quicker than if I yell at them, “hurry up!”
Let’s be real, there are going to be days when we lose our patience. The idea is to set the expectation that there will be days we have to move slower, and if we accept that in advance it’s a lot easier to manage. Here are some catch phrases that help me light a fire under my pokey children:
- I see that you’re having a hard time waking up, can I snuggle you for one more minute before you get dressed?
- Can I help you get dressed today?
- Let’s see if you can beat me getting buckled! ready… set… go!
- Would you like to bring that in the car to play with?
- Or sometimes I just completely ignore that they’re moving slow and I distract them by being silly, like making a funny face at them or pretending that I’m falling asleep, or breaking into song and dance. It’s amazing what a little distraction can do. Sometimes if they realize you’re not going to argue with them, they quickly get over it.
When our schedules inevitably get shaken up by a sick child, extracurricular activities, or exam week, we have to be flexible. Be prepared to make accommodations for these situations. Here are some ways I create space for flexibility:
- Have easy meals on-hand. Whether it’s a frozen option, a go-to crockpot meal, or a favorite take out restaurant, have a backup for those days when it’s just impossible to make meals.
- Know what classes I can miss. Some classes aren’t worth missing because it causes more stress than it’s worth. Other classes are possible to miss without much repercussion. This is where I do a cost-benefit analysis, so to speak. If there’s a window of opportunity to visit a child’s classroom, attend a field trip, arrange a play date, have lunch with them, etc, we should take it! Last semester my kindergartner begged me to come read to her class. I searched my schedule and the only possible time for me to do so was during finals week, immediately after my last final exam. I scheduled the date with her teacher, who also made an accommodation for me, and then my daughter counted down the days. It wasn’t as soon as she wanted me to go, but it meant so much to her that I made the time to do it. Ideally, I would have loved to go on one of the 5 field trips I missed, but this was the best I could offer, and it sufficed.
- Put a positive spin on it. When my daughter has gymnastics class, I bring my books and study as I wait. I set aside particular subjects that are easier for me to study with interruptions, because it is important to her that I watch certain parts of her practice. When my son goes to scouts, I go along and find a quiet room where I can study as I wait for him. This is typically uninterrupted time so I can study more difficult subjects. If we’re creative, we can always find ways to make the best of our situation.
- Be willing to say “Forget it!” Some days just don’t turn out right at all. When those days happen we sometimes have to hit the off switch and just do some damage control. It’s ok! What’s more important in the end is keeping our family intact. Put the books down, shut off the phone, the computer, and whatever else is necessary to tune out the world. Bring the focus to the family and find a way to hit reset. Play games together, sit and read books, have a tea party, go for a walk or bike ride, watch a Disney movie… just be a kid and throw caution to the wind. Tomorrow is a new day.
However you choose to do so, don’t forget to take the time to show gratitude to our creator. There’s something to be grateful for every day, something to learn from, and something we need help with. I choose to address all of these things through daily prayer morning, noon, and night. It helps me tremendously, and it helps my family when we pray together.
I hope these insights are helpful for you. Please know that I am far from perfect. While all of these ideas are easy to write, they’re sometimes very difficult to put into action. I often have to reevaluate my routine and try new approaches. Give yourself time to experiment, and give yourself space when things don’t go the way you planned.
Share your ideas below for how you hold it together as a #medschoomom!