a.k.a. Engineering the Perfect Morning Routine
How are weekday mornings at your house? We have been through a gazillion versions of The Morning Routine, from flip charts to clip charts to even a Morning Routine Contract. Whenever we get one nailed down, the girls grow/change just enough that it no longer works, and it almost seems that we have to start from scratch.
Here’s the secret to “almost”: The getting-them-to-do-what-they’re-supposed-to is a continuous (and evolving) battle. But there are things that YOU can do, as the parent, to head off many of these morning challenges. Now that I’ve nailed these down, mornings are more like clockwork, even if the girls wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
I cannot promise that these ten tips will make your mornings foolproof. But having a routine – automating as many things as you can, to eliminate decision fatigue/overthinking/forgetting – is more than half the battle. Incorporate as many of these as you can into your morning routine, and you’ll be more than halfway there.
1. Set A Bedtime
A consistent bedtime (for both kiddos AND grownups!) is super-helpful for lots of reasons:
- Your body will become accustomed to this bedtime, and get tired accordingly.
- Setting an early-enough bedtime is a key part of getting enough sleep. (For example, ever since I got my Fitbit and began tracking my sleep, I made the brilliant connection that if I’m aiming for 8 hours of sleep, I actually need to go to bed NINE hours before it’s time to get up!)
- Messing with your bedtime on the weekend (e.g., staying up extra-late) will actually make it harder for you to go to bed when you need to on Sunday night.
So set a bedtime and stick to it. Have a decent bedtime routine as well (again, for you as well as your kiddos), to help everyone wind down and be ready for sleep. My bedtime routine involves brushing my teeth, trading my daytime clothes for my PJs, and doing the 5-minute Relax routine on my Fitbit. After that’s over, I drop off right away.
2. Lay It All Out
If you can lay it out the night before, DO SO. Check the weather forecast and then lay out your outfit for the next day, including accessories. Lay out your kids’ outfits for school, after double-checking their schedule (is it a P.E. day? Then no skirts/dresses if you’re a #girlmom). Lay out their backpacks, already packed with completed homework/signed forms-to-return/etc. If it’s Lesson or Ensemble day, lay out their musical instrument and rehearsal packet.
On a good day, having things already laid out will save you the time of brain fog and indecision in the morning at best. This will help you prevent World War III if your children are not morning people and therefore cannot decide what to wear. Been there, done that; night before saves us a LOT of morning stress.
(The exception is if you have a resident fashionista – which we also do – in which case the outfit du jour and outfit theme must match her exact mood at that moment of getting dressed. Fortunately, our fashionista is also the child who’s a morning person.)
But the real value of laying everything out the night before comes on those days when everyone oversleeps. This happened to us recently. The girls catch the bus at 8:30, meaning out the door at 8:15. One school morning, my husband AND I AND Kimmie all overslept (and it never occurred to Essie to wake any of us up!). At 7:45, all three of us woke up at once. Because we’d prepped the night before, we were still able to get the girls on the bus in time.
3. Get A Head Start On Food Prep
I’m not talking making an entire meal (unless you really want to!). I’m talking whatever will make your meals the next day more doable:
- Consider packing the kids’ lunches (and your own too!) to save time in the morning. Come morning, you can just grab the appropriate containers from the fridge, pop them in the lunch bags with their ice packs, and you’re good to go.
- Prep those overnight oats so you have breakfast ready to go. Or lay out those ingredients for your ten-minute baked apples or your morning quick oats.
- Get that roast you want to throw in the slow-cooker out of the freezer, so it can thaw overnight.
I always find that whatever will take two minutes in the evening, takes at least twice as long in the morning when I’m not quite fully awake yet!
4. Rise Early
I will never forget the mental shift that took place in Mama-Me when Kimmie reached her first birthday. It was around that time that I was finally getting enough sleep again on a regular basis, and Kimmie finally shifted her sleeping patterns to more “normal” hours. And as a result, I was able to set my alarm early enough that I could get up BEFORE her!
Being up and having awhile to myself, to wake up and get started on my day BEFORE going “on duty” as Mama, was huge!!! I was able to get my own brain awake and functioning. And having that little bit of “me time” was enough to help me greet my daughter (and the day) happily. MUCH less stressful than rushing through dressing, brushing teeth, etc. while she was crying for my attention.
Even if you can’t get up hours before your kids, even a few minutes to collect your thoughts before you have to go “on duty” is a huge help. But if you can afford more than a few minutes, I highly recommend it. Do your morning devotions, or your morning yoga/meditation, or your Morning Pages/journaling, or plan out your day in your Bullet Journal. Whatever works for you.
5. Drink A Glass Of Water
Did you know that many people wake up slightly dehydrated, after not drinking anything all night long? If you wake up feeling thirsty, this is why. It could also explain waking up with a headache, and/or in a bad mood. (Yes, being dehydrated can cause a headache!)
So try drinking a glass or two of water as soon as you get out of bed. This will help you start to wake up, without the grouchiness or head-splitting feeling that being short on fluids after the long night can trigger.
And while we’re on the subject of fluid intake: AFTER you drink your water,
6. Drink Some Coffee/Tea
Or whatever floats your boat, if you don’t do caffeine. Yes, the caffeine is a huge help for many of us. But as much as anything, the odor of your favorite morning beverage will cue your brain that it’s time to start your day. And taking just a few minutes to indulge in that morning coffee or tea is a little way you can do something nice for yourself first thing. Which, in turn, will help set the tone for your whole day.
And while we’re on the topic of self-care as a way to start the day right, make this routine even more special with the right equipment. Been spending a fortune on buying your morning cup of coffee for too long? Maybe it’s time to switch to a french press, or indulge in that programmable coffee maker you’ve been dreaming about. Is your one cup of tea never quite enough? Get yourself a small teapot so you’ll have enough for two cups.
I used to be a strictly-tea gal until I met my now-husband, who introduced me to strong coffee fresh-brewed from quality beans. Now I have a special handcrafted 2-cup mug that I use every morning, with a purple coffee cone over it (as my hubby taught me). FIrst thing each day, I pour myself a cup of coffee using my cone filter. My husband has his own special mug that he’s used for over two decades now, pouring a fresh cup of coffee the same way. It’s a silly thing, but starting our day with this little routine gets us off on the right note. (And having a cone in my favorite color always makes me smile.)
7. Get Some Exercise
If you can get up early enough to squeeze in some exercise first thing in your morning, you’ll be off to a fabulous start to your day. Many of us only have time to exercise either before work or in the evening, after the workday. But because evening workouts can interfere with going to sleep, that leaves bright and early as many people’s only option.
So check out your gym’s morning group classes to get your day started. Or coordinate with your partner to cover the kids’ off-to-school routine while you sneak out to a slightly-later class. Or hop on your bike for a sunrise ride (this is my favorite way to start the day in the summer, when temps are coolest then).
Even if you don’t have a gym membership, a bicycle, or a couple of hours to devote to your workout, you can still squeeze in a little fitness to kick your day off with a burst of energy. There are tons of workouts you can do at home without special equipment.
Or lace up your walking shoes and take a brisk stroll around your neighborhood. Since my gym took away the early-morning spin classes that I used to love, and it’s not yet light or warm enough for early-morning bike rides where I live, I often take a short walk as soon as the girls are on the bus. The energy burst gives me a great start to my workday!
8. Put Down Your Phone
Unless you’ve budgeted in phone time as part of your pre-kids “me time” in the morning, don’t touch your phone while you’re trying to get them started on their day:
- You’ll be modeling less-than-ideal behavior for them – is your phone really more important than they are?
- You’ll be taking time and attention away from them, when your kids need your love and attention the most.
- Worst off, a “quick check” for “just 2 minutes” turns into 10 minutes before you know it. And in our house, ten minutes of NOT focusing on getting the girls on the bus is enough to cause them to miss the bus!
OK, maybe you need to check your messages, or email their teacher. Or (in our house) to check the weather forecast again so the girls can decide how many (or few) layers to wear to the bus stop.
Again, if you MUST do this, try to at least put it across the room (or in another room altogether) so you have to get out of bed to get to it. And/or, get up early enough to set aside some dedicated time to catch up on the news/social media before your children get up.
9. Make Sure Everyone Gets A Good Breakfast
Have you noticed that many schools now serve breakfast as well as lunch? Quite simply, students who try to learn on an empty stomach don’t learn as well as kids who’ve had a good breakfast. Moreover, besides having a harder time learning, they have a harder time behaving in class, paying attention, staying awake, etc.
Your body needs energy to start your day. Without some actual food (not just your coffee/tea!), you’ll feel sluggish, and (as I do) may also get an upset stomach due to having that acidic beverage sloshing around down there without any food.
So make sure that you AND your kids have some healthy food to get started. We usually start with a fruit, and then try to follow it with some whole grain/protein and some dairy.
10. Help Your Kids Get Themselves Ready
This is the hardest tip I have in this post – it is a HUGE smooth-your-morning hack, but it is NOT an overnight one. And if you haven’t been doing this all along, you have even more of an uphill battle.
But it is a battle worth fighting, because the results are sooooo worth it.
Let’s face it: the ultimate goal for most parents is to make ourselves obsolete. We want our children to be ready and able to leave the nest someday, and function in the world without us. This means teaching them basic responsibility for themselves and their things.
Hence all those flip charts, chore charts, and routines/contracts that I referenced at the start of this post.
But trust me: Your kids CAN do things for themselves. Even a two-year-old in preschool learns to put away her toys, when the teacher tells her it’s time.
The sooner you start teaching them to
- make their bed/dress themselves,
- then choose their own clothes/clear their dishes/brush their teeth without being reminded,
- then pack their own backpack the night before,
- and then make their own breakfast and/or lunch,
- and eventually get themselves out the door to the bus WITHOUT you prodding them every step of the way,
the smoother your mornings will be. For good. I promise!
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