In the business of parenting, mothers need a solid plan in order to hold it all together. Organization is the glue that will hold your house and family together – without it, you just can’t do it all!
Attitude adjustment ideas – You CAN get it all done in stride. One of my business mentors once told me, “Dress the part. If you want to be successful, look successful.” It’s the same with motherhood. Wake up every single morning, and tell yourself, “I can do it. I will do it.” PMA – Positive mental attitude – it’s priceless!
Advance planning and preparation – I can’t stress this enough. Whether it involves making lunches at night & setting school backpacks (fully loaded for the next day) by the door or sitting down with your husband once a week to make a “to do” list for each of you, plan early and reap the rewards!
Tackle each day the night before - with a written plan and with as many tasks completed as possible. I don’t know about your house, but 30 minutes before the school bus comes is the “bewitching hour” in ours. I know, it’s 30 minutes, and I said “hour,” but it’s true! Morning time is stressed and rushed and probably always will be since the carpool or school bus leaves with or without your kids on it. However, if you use the night before to your advantage, you’ll cut your stress…guaranteed! If this means putting your kids to bed 15 minutes earlier, do it! Trust me, no one will suffer!
Plans – Think daily, weekly, monthly and annually. Whether you’re a fan of a paper system or a Palm Pilot, as you think about tasks, separate them into categories to make life more simple.
Here are some ideas to include:
Annually – Re-evaluate insurance coverage; make sure you’re fully covered given any changes/purchases you made this year
Quarterly - Buy birthday/anniversary cards & file for use
Monthly - Change A/C filters monthly.
Key documents – You need a system for keeping track of important information (medical history such as shots, prior medications, allergies; emergency contacts; school teachers and friends). One of my favorite charts is the Medical History chart, discussed in more detail in our medical section.
From school to soccer, art to appointments, kick boxing to karate, kids today have complex schedules. Staying organized will help you keep it straight and simple. Keep a list or even create a sample one-week schedule detailing all of your ongoing items, such as
sports practices and games
other extracurricular activities
and so on
Create a birthday list electronically (on Excel or your Palm Pilot) so you can organize and easily update as you add dates and make new friends.
Start an annual list that includes items that happen only once a year to trigger your memory. For example, our washer/dryer is under warranty, and they’ll clean/check it once a year, but who remembers something like that unless it’s written down? Each year, you should schedule or think about these things.
Sit down with your spouse regularly for an off-site meeting to discuss important family matters. Our friends have a pre-back to school meeting to review computer/TV rules, and I think this is a great idea. New school years are a great opportunity for a fresh start on the home front to let the kids focus on work once again.
Call your homeowner’s insurance representative to ensure that your policy is up to date. If you’ve had a special anniversary or birthday, new gifts need to be listed/included in policies so they represent your valuables today.
Schedule appointments for the entire family with the doctor, dentist and so on in the beginning of the year.
Check out these helpful charts to organize your life:
Birthday RSVP-Gift-Cell List
- Track RSVP’s to the birthday party, record gifts & thank-you notes, and collect cell phone numbers at drop off parties.
– Create your own stationery using graphics from Google images or Google free clip art to get cute images to use. Add/remove lines based on your kid’s age (& handwriting ability). Caution: Make sure any artwork you use isn’t copyright protected.
Camp Packing List – Varies by camp, but make a list & tape it to the inside of the duffel/trunk.
– When you’re getting prices for home maintenance, get 2-3 if possible, and track the information on a grid so you’re comparing like features.
– Losing weight and staying in shape is tough for anyone, especially for busy parents. Writing down food & workouts helps you control binges & visually reward yourself for exercise.
Again, this could be an entire book, so we’ll stick to our punchlist of most relevant, daily issues.
Options – public/private/other – You do have options, but as you leave the public sector, you add cost. School is a very personal decision, and certainly is not a one size-fits all type of thing. Different kids require different types of support. I’ve found the public school system to be outstanding in our area, but I know every state is different. One thing is for sure – an involved & educated parent is the best formula hands down. Ask questions. Research local resources. Advocate for your child when appropriate!
Teacher interaction – There are clearly more and less effective communication methods with your child’s teacher, especially when issues arise. Tip: Be prepared. Position your thoughts very carefully, especially when you have criticism to share. Teacher-student relationships are 9-10 months long, and you don’t want to jeopardize anything by losing your cool about school!
Getting involved – how to make your limited time count the most for yourself and your child. If you have the time, becoming a room parent or committee chair with the PTA is a great way to give back to your school!
Helpful Resources – Check out our Afternoon Transport grid – you can fill it in weekly or monthly or as often as you have changes. Kids go in lots of different directions (bus, carpool line, playdate, sports, etc.), and this is a quick, easy way to keep your child’s schedule organized for the teacher.
Choosing daycare is one of the most stressful tasks that parents encounter. Check out our quick description and analysis of Daycare Options (nanny, au pair, daycare center, regulated child care) with advantages and disadvantages outlined to guide you through the decision process. Also, many websites have in-depth articles on each option such as this article on About.com.
How to evaluate caregivers. Try to interview and evaluate caregivers in a systematic way. Check out our Interview Guide to keep your interviews as productive as possible.
Research group child care outlets. Make a grid so you're comparing like information. Observe children. Notice physical space. Ask about policy when kids are sick. Ask about holidays/days off.
State law regarding childcare. Research your individual state's laws/regulations so you understand both your rights and responsibilities.
Breakdown of costs per hour, per week, per year including hourly or daily wages plus incidental expenses that may not be considered. This is very individual, but helpful to understand your total costs. Include salary, taxes, benefits, additional food or housing expenses you'll incur.
If you’re hiring help so you can work, there’s a great Online Cost Calculator that lets you input the additional income and see what your net gain or loss would be.
How to Hire Help
For parents who opt to hire help in their home, a myriad of issues and tasks will confront them. This section will focus attention on key things parents need to know in order to make this as seamless as possible, including
Tax tips and resources with valuable information you need to legally hire a nanny. If you pay $1,300+ annually, you need to file taxes. According to ABC News: “An estimated 2 million or more Americans have household employees, such as nannies to take care of children. But fewer than 250,000 file the schedule H forms to pay Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes for those workers. “
Check out Quicken's site for more information about online calculators.
Also, you can hire a service to handle the tax compliance for you – Here’s a helpful website with some good tips.
Effective recruitment advertisements to attract the best candidates. Be descriptive. Include major requirements. It’s always easier to take tasks away than to add them later!
Non-conventional ways to find help. Local church or synagogue bulletin boards, word of mouth, referral, local organizations, family members, bartering/co-op’ing with neighbors.
Interview questions and suggestions. Check out our Interview Guide. I’m big on body language, good eye contact, and checking out the interaction between the potential caregiver and your child. Ideally, you’re pre-screening by phone and only bringing in your top candidates. Meet in your child’s play area, and be very observant – you can learn a lot by watching someone in action!
Sample job description and contract to outline expectations in advance. This needs to be customized by you to meet your needs, but there are certain things you never want a nanny to do (take your child out without a carseat, administer medicine without consulting you first, etc.). Check out this article on what to include in a Nanny Job Description & customize! Another good online resource that outlines the types of things you should include can be found at Baby Center. I like to also add the most critical considerations about safety that you may consider a given, but someone from another country/culture might not. Even within the same country, there are vast differences in what is considered acceptable, as we all know. It’s best to spell everything out in advance.
Essential insurance to protect you (worker’s compensation). You should carry worker’s compensation – any insurance agent can sell this to you. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t need until you really need it, but it’s relatively inexpensive (varies by state, around $200 or so) but a good insurance to have.
How to Keep Good Help
Once you hire a babysitter, and your children start to develop relationships, you want to do everything possible to keep peace in your home. Creative ways to keep an employee and children satisfied include
Establish a business foundation – Understand the pitfalls of being friends with employees. It’s best to maintain a business relationship. Clearly, someone caring for your children will become an extension of your family, but the more “friendly” you get, the harder it is to enforce expectations and to express critiques when necessary.
Keep strong communication skills – Maintain an open & honest communication style, and let your nanny know that you hope for the same in return. Model the kind of behavior that you’d like her to emulate.
Provide a daily and monthly schedule – Your nanny has a life, too – friends, family, hobbies. Try to plan in advance as much as possible to ensure that your needs are met and to be considerate of her as well.
Build flexibility into schedules in a respectful way – As much as you try to schedule, you’ll want to be flexible so that your nanny in turn will be flexible with you.
Add a special ringer to your telephone so the babysitter doesn’t have to answer every phone call and can focus attention on the kids. This is a low cost option available in most areas – here, it’s called “IdentaRing” with our phone company. You haven’t hired a secretary – you’ve hired a babysitter, so let her focus on the kids, and get your messages later yourself.
Consider creative benefits you can offer beyond sick and vacation days - personal leave, birthday or anniversary days, gift certificates to pamper the person who pampers you daily.
Stock the refrigerator with foods your sitter and kids enjoy
Plan adventures with the kids and the babysitter to give everyone a change of scenery and to give you a chance to observe and instruct in a fun, non-threatening way
Conduct regular “reviews” of performance that are constructive and non-intimidating. Allow the conversation to go in both directions so your babysitter has a chance to express her concerns as well.
Taming your teen may seem an insurmountable task. Today’s teens live in a fast-paced world, and even their lingo is sometimes beyond our grasp. The computer/text messaging/instant messaging rage makes everything fast-paced and sometimes difficult to understand let alone control. Here are some helpful links to check out:
For tips on keeping your teen drug-free, check out The Anti-Drug or call 1-800-788-2800.
For safe driving ideas, check out Nationwide’s website including tips they compiled with the National Safety Council.
Consider a “teen driving contract” so your expectations are clearly outlined - good safety tips available at TeenDriving.com’s website.
Click here for more on Frontline's special report: Growing Up Online.
Mealtime can be extremely stressful for parents and kids. Breakfast is typically a frenzied rush. At night, add exhaustion and homework, and dinner can be a disaster. Here’s your recipe for success:
Winning the battle: Parents should decide “what” and “when,” and kids should decide “if.” Don’t become a short order cook every night of the week. Kids won’t starve!
Plan in advance to reduce stress. A guest article on our blog posted by Mike Lippman, Dad Since 1983 (DS’83), included great tips on getting the kids involved in “pre-ordering” lunches. Check out Mike’s Order Form to get your kids to think ahead – it’s a great skill to teach early on, and will significantly reduce your stress during the post-dinner chaos zone.
Fuel your day right from the start - I’m a huge fan of a healthy, high-protein breakfast. A local nutritionist, Karen Schachter, MSW LLC, shared a Guest Article, “Eat Your Breakfast” with some great tips in this area and details on an NPR report linking nutrition to learning.
Engage kids’ help in preparing and serving the meal in a fun/creative way. We recently assigned high profile jobs in our house. The “Assistant Chef” helps me pour drinks, set and clear the table, put away refrigerated items at the end. At dinner, my “Assistant” helps to make school lunches. Young kids love to dress in costume – buy a chef’s hat so junior can be a professional by your side.
Model health and nutrition habits - Resist the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Childhood obesity is reaching crisis levels, and it’s critical that we teach our kids good eating habits early. Try putting healthy snacks out before the kids get home from school.
Find kid-friendly recipes - Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry’s wife) published a great book, Deceptively Delicious, which was featured on Oprah. She masterfully hides healthy ingredients in kid-friendly foods.
Share the burden - Consider creative ways to share the burden with neighbors and friends. Maybe you can develop a “co-op” of sorts where a set of neighbors takes turns preparing large meals and split food up among members.
Socialization is both important and potentially disastrous unless managed well. Tips for setting up and managing playdates include
Keep it simple. Start with short (one- to two-hour) sessions.
Mom or nanny should attend first playdate to get to know the house rules and to observe the kids at play.
Emergency numbers should always be provided when you leave your child at another house.
Any allergies should be communicated in advance. Also, I tend to ask every parent the first time, “Does your child have any allergies I should know about?”
Discuss discipline philosophy in advance with other parents so that expectations are clearly understood. This is definitely an area where parents differ in approach, and you want to be comfortable and avoid misunderstandings. If your child responds particularly well to certain behavior corrections, tell your friend up front to give him/her the best odds of making the playdate a success.
Reciprocation will keep the relationships balanced and fair and give children a chance to share in different situations.
Carpool Planning can be a Maze
Try our Carpool Grid to keep track of drivers and schedules.
Carpool etiquette also is important. Set expectations in advance with other parents such as
Whether snacking or drinking is permitted if your child needs it
Cell phone usage
Side trips for coffee
Ideas for age-appropriate games to distract the kids when necessary
Kids love to help. Even at a young age, children can participate in household chores. And the chores should grow/increase with your children. For example, a younger child can be expected to set/clear the table, feed the dog, sort or put away laundry. An older child can do the dishes and vacuum.
Our Chore Chart can be customized for your family. This is a quick way to remind kids of daily responsibilities, whether they be required behavior or chores.
Allowance is a tricky question. I’ve done some reading and research and do have some opinions in this area:
Allowance is a great way to teach kids money management skills. We can’t expect kids to never manage their own money and then all of a sudden become experts. They need to make early, low cost mistakes in order to learn.
Allowance can start as early as 2nd grade
Amount: approximately $1 per grade or $1 more than the child’s grade (a 2nd grader can receive $2 or $3 and so on).
Parents decide the amount and the philosophy: I feel strongly that allowance should be for spending, saving, and sharing. Parents should give kids ideas of what is appropriate (or not) for spending; should give kids a way to save money in a secure fashion, either at the bank or through a kiddie safe with a combination they control; and should encourage sharing (charity) at a young age. If your religious school has a method, great! Otherwise, create a family charity jar, and make it an event to purchase supplies for a homeless shelter once the jar is full.
Should allowance be tied to behavior or chores? Again, this is a debate, but after some research, I recommend NOT connecting allowance to chores or behavior. Here’s why: First, do Moms & Dads get paid for household chores? Second, family members help out because they’re a part of a family, a team. This isn’t a paid position! Finally, as the kids grow up, you won’t be able to afford the chores required! Set up the expectation that everyone helps early on, and you’ll instill good values and good helpers!
That said, if you decide that chores should be paid for, there is a philosophy that rewards for children should be in sync with your family’s values. In other words, “pay” your kids in such a way that you’re supporting and enriching values. For some families, cash may be the way. For others, special time with Mom or Dad is valuable. We had developed an Allowance Rewards Chart a while back that let the kids earn points toward special outings or deciding what was for dinner. It was less cash-intensive and more outing-focused. The kids loved it, but to be honest, unless you’re fulfilling these obligations quickly, it loses the charm. We found with 3 young kids, it wasn’t very practical.
Entire libraries could house collections on this subject. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending expensive, expansive hours with a child psychologist, only to find out the “secrets” more seasoned parents already know at the end. This section is the Cliffs Notes version:
Positive reinforcement tends to be the best way to go. If possible, try to mirror your home system with that of the classroom for consistency. No matter what we’ve tried, we always go back to positive reinforcement. Every family needs a structure and a set of expectations – kids thrive in a structured environment. We call ours the “Smith High Five” – It’s a “You can do it” and gives us something to point to when someone is off course. It also mirrors a school classroom discipline chart. High Five Cover and Family Rules can be customized to meet your needs. Tip: Keep it simple & direct. Be explicit and specific – Telling a child to “be good” is too broad.
When Junior really crosses the line – There are times when kids just go too far. Those are typically the times that Mom also needs a break. I like having kids go to their room and write as a form of learning and punishment. This Grounded-Questionnaire can be customized, but gives kids an assignment after they’ve misbehaved where they explain it in writing, explain why it doesn’t fit into the family’s rules, and gives them a chance to apologize in writing, which is a start!
Best books on getting your kids to behave when you need a longer version! My favorites were like uncovering hidden jewels:
One local parenting education program doesn’t even use the word “discipline” – it’s more “encouragement,” like in their name, Parent Encouragement Program, or PEP. This is great, positive parenting approach – try to find empowering ways to continue your parenting education in your own home town, or check out links to fabulous articles on topics from preschool to teenage years on PEP’s website.
Getting away without the kids is a huge hot fudge sundae to parents.
It is a much needed break that should be considered only with adequate
planning and preparation. Regardless of who will care for the children
in your absence, you need to provide certain key information, including
Complete itinerary (information on travel, rental car,
hotel/lodging, and any scheduled activities so there are checkpoints at
which you could be tracked down). Check out our Itinerary While Parents are Away for a start.
Children’s schedule. A typical daily schedule is helpful so
your caregiver knows what to expect and can maintain a sense of
routine. Also helpful are lists of snacks your kids like and
activities/diversions that would be fun. Parents also should put some
thought into other routines they may take for granted, but which make
the children’s days predictable and comfortable. This provides a sense of security and comfort at a time that can be extremely stressful for them unless managed appropriately.
Durable power of healthcare (critical so that healthcare decisions can be made in your absence if necessary).
Warm fuzzies. Creative ways to leave a little piece of your
heart at home so the little ones will adjust more readily to a new
caregiver while you’re gone. Some ways to stay connected are
videotaping or tape recording your child’s favorite bedtime story;
writing a different bedtime note to be read each night; leaving notes
for the lunch boxes; and calling at bedtime.
A conversation about kids would be incomplete without recognizing what many moms refer to as “the other child” – your spouse. A couple’s relationship changes dramatically when kids enter the picture. Some of this change is positive, some more challenging. Explore creative ideas on how to keep the magic alive in your relationship.
Make dates with your spouse
Revisit sites from your early dating days – relive the magic!
Give your spouse a “day off” to treat him/herself to a selfish day without the kids.
Verbally recognize your spouse’s contribution to the family.
At the same time, there are gentle ways to make sure your spouse understands and appreciates how much you do to manage the home front. And, of course, we would be remiss without tips on how to communicate your appreciation for your spouse’s contribution to the family. And, of course, single parenting is on the rise. For some great post divorce parenting tips, visit our Mom-Tastic Bookshelf.
Visit Our Blog to share tips & ideas with fellow moms on what works and doesn’t in your house!
For many new parents, the legal world is foreign, confusing and expensive. However, there are certain things that must be considered.
Here are questions to ask an attorney before engaging services:
What kind of experience/specialty do you have?
What kind of response time should we expect when we call with questions?
What are your billing rates? Will your services be based upon a fixed fee for the project or hourly? Will I be billed monthly or upon completion of the project?
How does the process work from beginning to end, and what is the timetable?
Are there any expenses for which we will be responsible?
Documents parents need to consider are
Will (Guardianship for your children, who will handle the children’s money until they are of age; and at what age your child receives unbridled control of funds)
Durable power of attorney for healthcare (If your spouse cannot make healthcare decisions for you, who will?)
Durable power of attorney for financial matters (If your spouse cannot make financial decisions for you, who will pay the bills?)
Living will (What are your decisions regarding your right to live or die?)
General estate planning (Consider taking care of parents or pets and your child’s special needs)
A tax and estate expert, Stuart H. Sorkin, P.C., Esq., has provided valuable information for this section. Mr. Sorkin is a special partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hughes and Bentzen and is a Certified Public Accountant with an impressive resume, including National Register’s Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals 2005-2006. He is a frequent lecturer and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Time and Money magazines on exit strategies, income, and estate tax planning. This expert has shared his questionnaire to get your conversation rolling.
Please note – This website is not intended to give legal advice, merely a springboard for conversation.
There are lots of great books on parenting tips. You can read a whole book on sleep, nutrition, discipline or craft projects. The Business of Motherhood is your fast track – we plan to use our “Book Corner” to list some of our favorites, along with executive summaries so you can get the nuggets of information you need – basically, the Cliffs Notes version. The whole home-work balancing act has certainly generated a lot of press lately and has brought the motherhood topic to the media forefront. Two books that have generated controversy include
Leslie Bennetts’ The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (Voice/Hyperion) – She explores the financial pitfalls of not working outside the home.
Leslie Morgan Steiner’s Mommy Wars (Random House) – This is a great collection of essays compiled – I like it because there are essays from many different scenarios: moms who work outside the home or don’t or do both. It’s a good read.
However, a Washington Post editorial (4/29/07) calls this the “war that isn’t.” The Business of Motherhood isn’t about whether you work or not – my premise is that all mothers work. They just don’t have the manual yet!