As StepMoms, we often hear the phrase "step back", but it took me a while to understand what that meant. There's a lot of information out there about the "Nacho" method ('nacho kids, 'nacho problem), which may work for some, but certainly isn't for every stepmom or every family. I'll be upfront and say that the Nacho method is not for me. For that reason, when I heard people giving the advice of "stepping back", I thought that wasn't for me, too. I needed more concrete advice on how to step back, or when to step back. But, now that I've figured some of it out, it's a complete sanity saver, and can often feel like freedom. Here's what I've learned:
Stepping back is more like delegating.
Stepping back (for me) does not mean throwing your hands up and completely walking away from a situation. Stepping back usually involves taking something that has generally been "my job", and giving it to someone else. I suffer, as most StepMoms do, from the idea that I have to do it all and that I'm the only one who can do it. And, then, when I'm the only one doing it, I get resentful. If that isn't a contradiction wrapped up in a downward spiral, I don't know what is. So, Stepping Back is one way to get myself out of that mess, and regain some sanity.
Step back when you are the only one who cares.
As a stepparent, it's a losing battle if you are the only one who cares about a situation. If the kids don't care, and the parents don't care, you can not carry that burden alone. For example, one of my stepsons has terrible vision (like, horrible), but he refuses to wear his glasses. We tried to get contacts for him, but he refused to learn to put them in on his own. It drives me bonkers. But, his dad doesn't seem to want to have that fight with him. His mom doesn't seem to want to have that fight with him. And, it doesn't seem to bother him that he can't see clearly on a daily basis. In this scenario, I've got to let it go. I was wanting to chase him around with his glasses, make sure he took them to school, staple them to his face. I was routinely putting in his contacts for him every morning, until I realized he couldn't give me a few minutes on the weekends to practice it himself. At that point, I knew it had to be over. This is not my fight to have, and not my responsibility to fix. I told my stepson that I would always be happy to help him with contacts, I told him that I thought his day-to-day life would be easier with glasses, but that I was done being the one responsible for it. And, I shut the door on being concerned with his eyesight (for now).
Step back when something is driving you absolutely, ever-living, positively bonkers, and you are seething mad whenever you have to do it.
Is there something that you HATE doing? Is there something that brings you so much displeasure that you just Can. Not. Anymore? If so, I say, don't! I felt this way about the bathrooms. We have two bathrooms in our house, and 6 people. And for the past two years, not a single person besides me has cleaned them. We have a herd of kids sharing one bathroom, and it is gross. And, every time I went up there to clean I was angry. Angry at my partner for not cleaning it, angry at the kids for not cleaning it, angry at the kids for making it so messy, and angry at myself for being angry over a bathroom yet again. That was when it was time for me to step back. I told my partner, I will clean our bathroom, and you will clean theirs. I showed him the paper towels, glass cleaner, shower spray, clorox wipes, toilet cleaner, gloves, and trash bags I keep under the sink. And, I told him, I'm not going in this room ever again. And, I've stuck to it. I don't go in there to put towels away, I fold them and give them to him to bring upstairs. I close the door before I go upstairs to say good night to the kids, so I can't see the state of it. When someone complains about how bad it is I tell them where the cleaning supplies are, or to ask their dad. But, that room is no longer on my list. (It's also hardly been cleaned since I stopped, but I don't go in there ever, so what do I care?!)
Step back when you care deeply about something.
This seems a little counter intuitive, but hear me out. Sometimes, there are things that matter to you. And, like the story about the glasses above, they may not matter to anyone else, but you can't give it up. Let's take that same glasses scenario from above, but re-write it a little. What if my stepson were 16, and trying to drive. And refusing to wear glasses or contacts. I couldn't just sit by about that. But, if he won't wear them just because I say, I am also not willing to have a fight about it daily with him. In this case, I feel VERY strongly that he can not drive if he is not wearing his glasses. But, I would still step back. I would step back from my stepson, and I would move on to his dad. In these cases, you need to be able to get your partner to take up your causes for you - even if they aren't his. (For the record, my partner also wouldn't let him drive with terrible vision, but let's pretend!) In this case, I need to let my partner know how strongly I feel, and that it is his job to champion my needs as well as his own. This now has to become his situation with his son, I need to stay out of it. The "nagging" that happens is between me and my partner, NOT between me and my stepson. This makes a huge difference in keeping the relationships strong in the house. My partner signed up to be my teammate and help me when I need help. My stepson didn't. I need to respect that boundary....and then sic his Dad on him!!
Step back when you need a break.
We've all been there, we're just tired and overwhelmed, frustrated and burdened. And, things are piling up. Let them. Give yourself a break. If you need a time out, take one! If you need a day off, go for it! If you want to shut yourself in your room and eat a carton of ice cream and watch trashy TV where no one can bother you, dig in!! No one in your house wants you when you are run down and feeling empty. Fill up your cup, so you can be the best you can for those who count on you!
Hang in there StepMoms, it can get tough but you are doing a great job!
I've been a StepMom for nearly 5 years. Although, if we take a step back, nothing in that sentence is entirely true. I met my partner in 2014. I met his four kids, slowly and sporadically, over the next 6 months. I moved in to their house two years later, in 2016. We are not married, so I am StepMom by role alone, and not by marriage. So, to start again...
I've been an adult responsible for children who are not my own for some portion of the past 4 years. And over that period, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what that means, for us as a family, for me as a person, and more generally in the larger picture of our community and society. It feels like it has passed in the blink of an eye, and yet, I can't quite remember a time when these people weren't my family.
I know that every family is different, and every journey is different, so I don't intend for this to be a how-to manual for anyone else. It is more a reflection on how things happened for me. Hopefully, you can recognize some of the feelings and know that others have blazed a similar path before you! I envision my journey as a StepMom in different (and somewhat distinct) phases. A few years back, while trying to describe one of these phases, I used a swimming pool metaphor - and well, it stuck!
In the first phase, I was an observer. It's like I walked into a crowded swimming pool, and I tried to find a quiet seat at the edge. I dipped my toes in to see what the water was like, and then I pulled them back. I sat, and I watched. I watched everyone playing and swimming with ease, floating from group to group, playing games, or lounging in a chair. But, I just sat. And watched. If someone came up to me, I said hi. If someone asked to play, I did. I didn't initiate any games, or ask people to move to make room for me. I just sat, dipping my toes in, to see what the water was like. I was lonely. It turns out, sitting on the edge watching people have fun and never really being included is miserable. Trying to tip toe around everyone, in your own home (or pool) is exhausting. But, who can blame them for not wanting to include the weirdo who just sits around and watches. I realized that I was spending a lot of time feeling bad. And, I have learned now that when the phase I'm in is starting to feel bad, it's probably because it's time to change phases!
In the second phase, I was the lifeguard. It felt almost like I found a spot, whose role I understood, and I jumped into it. All pools need lifeguards, and here I came. I was organizing things, I was spouting out "rules", and I was "in charge". I was watching the 2 other life guards (the kids' mom and dad), and I was trying to follow suit. At first I felt like I was totally on top of things. I had it all running smoothly. I was soon to earn everyone's respect and admiration. Except, that, the kids really didn't like having an extra lifeguard, there were already plenty of lifeguards at this pool. And, trying to be the BEST LIFEGUARD EVER was exhausting, and not at all fulfilling. Now, I had a pool full of rowdy kids, none of whom wanted to listen to me. I felt like the bad cop, all of the time. And, if you can guess, it felt bad.
One of the things that sticks out in my mind about these first two phases is that I often felt lonely, and like an outsider in my own home. I also often felt like I led two lives. One when the kids were in our house, and one when they weren't. It felt like I had to hang my needs and emotions on a hook for a week, like a wet towel, and could address them once the house was quiet again. I was still hiding a lot of who I was, and what I wanted, and it kept me at a bit of an arm's length from everyone (not my partner, of course, but everyone else).
In the third phase, I was the camp counselor. I tried to focus only on the fun things. Of course, I tried to make sure that the kids were safe and supervised and happy, but I didn't want to lifeguard. I tried to keep them following the rules, to an extent, but I ultimately relied on someone else to really keep an eye out. I wanted to play the games. I wanted to be the fun cop! I wanted to be exciting - and, more importantly, I wanted credit for being exciting. My partner is fantastic, and he was amenable to this phase, even without me verbalizing that this is what I was doing. I wasn't even entirely aware that I was doing this. What was great about this phase is that I did a lot more of what I wanted to do. But, eventually, I realized that the kids were still thanking their dad for all of the fun things *I* was doing. And, then, I started to feel resentment, and very unappreciated. Here I was, spending all my time and effort to do nice things, and even still it felt like no one noticed. Or, if they did, they assumed that someone else was really the brains behind it all. I remember one day thinking in my head (thankfully not saying it out loud) that they were all so ungrateful, because I'd done this thing and no one even seemed to care. And, as I thought of that, I realized that I was my own problem. No one ASKED for me to do that thing. Is it their fault if I did a thing that no one really wanted? Am I always grateful for the efforts of others, that don't align well with my wants and needs? Of course not. And, this was when the third phase came to a close.
I think I'm here in my fourth phase (I guess someone should tell me now if I'm the only one going through these wildly different phases, maybe I'm doing it all wrong). And, I feel like I've hit my stride, like we've hit our stride. I think of this as my flexible phase. I've spent A LOT of time observing how this pool works - who comes and goes, who likes the diving board and who wants to get a suntan. And, I've spent a lot of time looking (and trying) all the roles here. There are lifeguards, and camp counselors, and swimmers, and people behind the scenes who come to clean up and cook food. And, in this phase, I'm all of those people. Not all at once; I'd die. But, I change roles. And, I've learned to communicate that change (sometimes subtly, sometimes directly) with my partner, with the kids, and with the other house. Somedays, I'm the lifeguard, and I coordinate with my partner, and the kids, to let them know, "I'm going to keep us sticking to the rules right now". Sometimes, I really don't have it in me to lifeguard, but I know that someone needs to, and that's when I tag my partner in, "Could you please go tell him to put all this stuff up in his room, so that I don't lose it?" Somedays, I'm the camp counselor, and I have found a fun activity for us to do, but I've learned to prepare myself, for the times when I want the activity to be a surprise, that they may not be grateful, and I can't be doing this for "credit". What I really like about this phase, is it allows me to be me more often, and it has helped me to really feel like a part of this family. It allows me to take a break from always lifeguarding, or always cleaning, or always planning activities. What is hard about this phase, is that it also requires me to be ready when someone else asks me to fill in a certain role that I wasn't wanting to play - sometimes without warning. There are other times when no one asks me, but I see that there is a role being left unfilled. I don't think I could have walked in on day 1 and jumped right into phase 4. I think I needed all of these other phases to get myself here. And, so, I won't regret the process. That process has shown to me that sometimes, when things get hard and I'm feeling bad, I need to re-evaluate my role.
In the course of my first three phases, I also was able to carve out a little spot for me in everyone's life. I don't have to tip toe around anymore, looking for an opening. And, it doesn't feel so devastatingly awful if I'm not initially included or thought of. I'm able to yell from the other side of the pool, "Hold on, wait for me!" And, they're accepting enough to wait, and make space for me. These initial phases also helped me to observe my own communications and actions. What's really crucial for the flexibility phase, is being more intentional and transparent in your words and actions. I am a "planner", and I can't turn that part of my brain off, logistics are my love language. But, I've learned to be more clear about that process. Instead of just saying NO to something quickly, I will instead describe my reasoning, or my concerns, and have the other person come to the conclusion with me. Or, have them offer a solution that I wasn't able to see. I've taken this newfound skill and used it in other aspects of my life, and it's been amazingly helpful!
Blended families require flexibility, communication, and patience. A lot of those. It often feels like a game, where the rules change on you just as you begin to feel comfortable. Because of this, I know that phase 4 is not my last phase! I know it will switch again. I'm hopeful that phase 4 will help all of us (kids, parents, step parents, etc) be a little more aware of our changing roles, and how to jump in and out of them, so that we can work together for whatever comes next.
This morning as I walked our youngest, a 4th grader, to the bus stop, I was struck by the comforts of this "new" role in my life. In the course of 5 minutes I waved to neighbors out walking their dogs, spoke quickly to parents about after school club schedules for the week, shouted down the street to some girls who were a little late to the bus which had already arrived, and griped with some of the moms about the inconsistency of the bus this year. I wished my stepdaughter a good day, and she leaned over for a hug and a kiss on the head. I waved goodbye to her as she walked onto the bus, already chatting with some of her friends. And, then I walked home, wondering how I got here. To a place where I am connected to my neighbors in a way I never have been before, connected to our community and the goings on locally in a way that is bigger than anything I've experienced before, and connected to a family that was already so full of people and love. The truth is, I got here slowly. By brute force, at times. Rewriting my expectations and goals continuously along the way.
Wherever you are in your journey, just know that with each changing phase you become a little bit more capable to hold things together. The lonely, left-out, bad feelings are not permanent, and can actually help you figure out when and what to change. Know that you are strong for even considering this role, and you are doing an amazing job with it!
If you would have asked me 20 years ago if I would envision myself marrying a man with children I would have laughed out loud, spouted off a few expletives and asked if you were nuts.
Fast forward to today…I have married a man with 3 children and have been a step mother for 14 years. We also have 2 children of our own.
I’m assuming you’ve read countless articles, books and blogs on being a stepmother. I did too. I thought I had a solid basis to start my stepmother journey….WRONG! So when I was asked to write for this month’s StepMom’s Association blog, I considered what advice I needed when I was new to my role as a stepmom and hope you find this helpful.
P.S. I thought I’d just give the “Do’s” as you can read through the lines of what the “Don’ts” would be. 😉
-speak positively of your partner’s ex
It’s never, ever a good idea to badmouth the ex to anyone, not to your neighbor, your girlfriend, a Mom you’ve befriended in the school and especially to his kids. They love their Mom unconditionally, no matter the situation, and saying negative things will just put them on the defensive -and stick up for their mother- which makes you the bad guy. I have no doubt you are in the right about so many things, but really, no one cares except you and your husband and in my experience, the last thing he wants to talk about is his ex. Besides, it’s a small world, and gossip eventually makes its way back to the mouthpiece, don’t give her the satisfaction. In the long run, goodness always wins over anger, resentment and jealousy.
-give the ‘good’ with the ‘bad’ when parenting his kids
If you don’t have kids of your own, it’s tough to understand how your husband can go from yelling at his child to hugging them minutes later. This is due to the unconditional love between them. As stepmothers, we don’t magically receive this trait with the marriage. This unconditional love happens over time (longer for some than others). As a parent, your job is to teach the child to be the best version of themselves. At times, we have to be harsh, maybe raise our voice or dish out consequences. Kids don’t like this, especially coming from a parent that’s not theirs. But following it up with encouraging words, a hug, a note or even a light touch on their arm comes from a place of caring, concern and maybe even love for them. Use the stick, but make sure you follow it up with the carrot, or maybe some ice cream so they know you care and aren’t just a mean step monster. Remember that you are the adult, so act like one.
-give your husband and his kids space to have time without you
Your husband chose you, his kids did not. Tough fact, but true. Giving them space to be together without you is normal and healthy. It reduces the resentment of your presence, creating a positive environment. Some kids don’t have a lot of time with their Dads, it may only be every other weekend or a few nights a week. I used to tell my husband, ‘they’re coming over to see you, not me,” to which he did not take kindly. But I knew it was important for them to have special time with their father because they missed him and they needed his undivided attention. Encourage your husband to take his daughter to lunch or a movie or go for a bike ride with his son. Healthy father/child relationships foster confidence and security. Encourage this. Use positive words like, “I thought you and your Dad would like some quality time together. Have a great time.” Which leads me to my next point….
-try to do things with your husband’s kids alone
I know this can be intimidating to consider but without Dad around, the dynamics really change. You may get some eye rolls or some mumbled, ‘whatever’ when you ask to do something together, but don’t be discouraged. Long term, the investment you’re making does make an impact. I enjoy cooking and took my step daughter to a cooking class when she was 9. She still talks about it to this day and it makes me smile. My step sons are sports crazed, and while I did grow up with 2 brothers, I was no expert on the subject, but I joined their NCAA basketball pool, played lots of poker and attended many sports games with them. All these extras you do show them you’re there because you are all a family (i.e., creating unconditional love). Feeling like an outsider is tough and for some of us, part of the program for a period of time. It’s much easier to give up and retreat to our rooms to get away but we have chosen this life, so if we love our partner and want to make the marriage work, we should do what it takes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
-set up boundaries with the kids and the ex
Oh boy, if only I figured this out years earlier….with split houses, multiple schedules, different rules, and undefined parameters, things can get pretty tense. Boundaries must be set. As an equal partner in marriage, you have this right and deserve it. As it pertains to the ex, establish your rules-whatever they may be-so everyone is on the same page. This could be as simple as writing them down or discussing it in person. I know this is super uncomfortable but it’s in everyone’s best interest to create proper boundaries. If speaking with the ex is not happening, ask your husband to speak with her. Your step kids should have respect for you, your home and your rules, as supported by your husband. But keep in mind, respect goes both ways. A lot of kids are shuffling back and forth between houses and the rules of each house are blurred; it’s frustrating for them to not have stability. They want their own space and their feelings heard. Use compassion and patience as your starting point.
-find yourself a good support system
Working through issues you aren’t prepared for is endless as a stepparent. Finding someone you can talk to, lean on, receive objective guidance or just vent to confidentially is important for your mental and physical health. Your friends just don’t get it and your family is tired of hearing it. One option is to make a regular appointment with a therapist who will listen and advise you. It took me 3 therapists to find the right one, so don’t give up if initially it doesn’t work out. And if therapy is not your thing or within your budget, find other stepmoms you can talk to. I started a local, support group years ago and still keep in touch with a few of those women today. It is very cathartic to speak with other women with whom you can relate. One caveat to carefully consider: beware as support is not helpful if it’s negative and judgmental, as you can often see within online forums and social media. In addition, looking to your husband for guidance isn’t always effective as he’s too close to the situation and it’s tough for him to provide you with objective advice. Marriage is hard, period. But keep in mind that many marriages don’t ever experience added layers of stepchildren, blended families, an ex, alimony, child support, etc. These additional elements can cause conflict between couples. So while you’re finding support for yourself, don’t forget about your partner too. I was advised, “take care of the marriage first and foremost.” This is something my husband and I still work on today and go back to the tools our therapist gave us years ago.
-find peace and joy outside of the madness
When I’ve talked with other stepmoms, it’s clear there is a similar thread: we want to make everyone happy and make things work. Our hearts are in the right place, but they won’t stay there if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. I know this is easier said than done. Start by making a list of things you enjoy, whether it’s church, synagogue, yoga, working out, hanging out with girlfriends, reading, or binging on Netflix. Taking the time to recharge and do something for yourself helps relieve stress and increase happiness. When you feel good about yourself, it naturally carries over to having a positive outlook on your family, partner and life.
-develop thick skin
I know, I know, easier said than done. This is essential to stepmother survival. You’ve made dinner, been a chauffeur, organized a birthday party and no one utters a measly ‘thank you’. It’s tough to let it roll off your back, especially when these ‘things’ you do add up and you feel unappreciated. Just like any birth parent, a step parent feels slighted for being ignored or disregarded. I tend to think stepmoms feel this even more because the thank you’s/hugs/kisses can be far and few in-between. Acting like it’s no big deal when you’ve not gotten a card, phone call, or even a text on your birthday or Mother’s Day is not easy. Truth is, you’re not their mother and unless your husband is educating them to thank you and be appreciative of all you do, they won’t understand your value until they become adults and figure it out for themselves. Just keep telling yourself: it’s not about me-it’s about them. You will surprise yourself at how naturally you become more tolerable of each stage your step child goes through. My husband used to always tell me “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” to how we learn to become good parents. Take solace in knowing you are strong because if you weren’t, you’d never be in this situation to begin with. There’s a lot of talk of ‘baggage’ when you take on the stepmother role and while that is true, that term always bothered me. No marriage is without baggage, it just depends on what bag you’re carrying.
-there is a light at the end of the tunnel
This advice was given to me early on in my stepmother days, yet I nearly rolled my eyes out of my head. Now I can look back and say, ‘yes, there is a light,’ despite the fact it was tough to see some days. It’s important to recognize that each hurdle you get through helps prepare you for the next. Sure, there are bad days where you feel like you’ve lost your mind, question your decisions and feel isolated, but you are not a victim unless you live like one. Focusing on the negative is a waste of energy. Doing something to fix your situation or make it better is up to you. I wrote in a journal to express my struggles as well as my progress. Going back and reading these experiences made me realize I had strength within I never knew, and you will gain that strength too. Knowing I made it through certain situations encourages me I can truly get through anything. When people ask me how many kids I have, I can now easily say “5” and smile. The tough reality for some of us stepmoms is we aren’t often on the receiving end of appreciation or regard until years or even decades later. But when you do receive it, it’s like gold and you savor it for a job well done. I have learned to really appreciate the small things: the big hug and teary eyes when my step son left our family vacation early, the advice-seeking, girl talk and texts from my step daughter, and most recently, the card I received from my step son apologizing for forgetting me on Mother’s Day saying, “So appreciative to have you in my life-my only wish is that I got to spend more time with you.”
Back-to-school can be such a rollercoaster of emotions, for everyone involved. As a parent, there's a bit of disappointed that the freedom of the summer is over, but a relief that some semblance of structure will be introduced back into your kids lives. For our kids, there are likely a whole bundle of nerves as they get ready to see their friends back in the school setting, perhaps they are facing new schools, new teachers, or just really anxious about what a new grade level will have in store. And surely they are all going to need to adjust back to getting up and out of the house at an earlier time! As a stepmom, there is an added layer of emotions, as we try and organize our households to gear up for another year of cooperation (hopefully) and logistical coordination with our stepkids' other house. Sometimes I use this time to try and envision how my role in this coordinated dance could, or should, change from the year before. What can I do better, where should I step back, and can I squeeze in a little more fun and a little less worrying. I also spend some time focusing only on our house, and how to keep us on track. It's not a task for the faint of heart, or for the organizationally challenged, I've found! I wanted to share some of our tips and tricks that we use to get ourselves organized and on the same page, that become especially useful at the beginning of the school year when everyone's emotions and nerves are on edge. Please, share your own systems in the comments!
I have 4 step kids - entering 8th, 6th (twins), and 4th grades. This year is the first year of middle school for the twins, who will now be joining their older brother on the earlier middle school bus. It's also the first year that our youngest (and only girl) will be the only one of her siblings at her school, she'll be riding the elementary school bus with out any brothers this year. With 4 of them it's easy to get lost in the comings and goings. It's also really important to me and my husband to begin to foster their responsibility and independence. I, myself, am an only child so some of my life experiences are unhelpful in this family, but I've noticed with four children it is often difficult to fight the urge to "do it for them". When they were smaller it was much easier to just tie four pairs of shoes, than to wait for them to painstakingly work through it on their own. As they got older, it remained easier to pack four backpacks ourselves than to run around after 4 different kids searching for things. Easier for us, but not always the right answer. Here are some of our systems that attempt to keep our family moving smoothly, while transferring some of the responsibilities on to the kids.
I have a weekly calendar displayed in our dining room - which is also the central hub of our house. I put it together with 7 frames from the dollar store, and some twine down the back. I used black posterboard to fill the frame, and on the posterboard I wrote one day of the week. For our house our week starts on Monday, so I hung them Monday down through Sunday. Each week I use glass chalkboard markers, and I write the date, whose day it is, everyone's different activities, and our dinner for the day (more on this in a later post). I change it every Sunday night. Doing that helps me to prepare for my week, as I can mentally make sure we are prepared with rides for each activity, and can pair up dinner options with the best nights (frozen pizza is a good option for the nights everyone has sports practice!). I've been doing this for about 8 months now, and at first I was the only one who noticed it. But, the kids now all take turns standing there and looking at it - wondering what their week has in store for them. It helps them to remember which days they have certain things, and when they are switching houses. It also helps my husband to know what I was planning on for dinner, so that he can get it started since he is usually home first. It's really a great system for getting our complex schedule out in the open.
This is new this year. Our schedule has shifted a bit, and initially it was difficult for me to grasp it - the details of it are too complicated and unimportant to go in to here, it's essentially a 50/50 split with 2-2-5-5 over two weeks. We do have a google calendar, or more importantly, four google calendars. Each kid has one for their activities, and all parents and stepparents have access to it. The google calendar was getting too cluttered with some of the new details, and I needed a bit more space to be able to "see" things play out. I decided to get a monthly calendar, which is hanging up in my home office, right off the dining room, that outlines which days/weekends the kids are in which houses. It also outlines my travel, so that my husband can clearly see when he'll need to step in and do my morning tasks. It also marks off the school schedule, so I can see no school days and half days. Admittedly, this calendar is more for me, but the kids know it's here and can come and take a look if they want to see the entire month at a glance. I bought myself one that I can color in, and it's been a nice distraction from our hectic schedules, some nights I just sit and color!!
Ok, so, you can see I'm all about visual things. I am a pretty organized person, but I don't even know how to begin to instill this in other people. I decided a few years ago to try and do more of my organization externally, so that the kids and my husband could see it, and perhaps pick up some good habits. I made these signs last year. The kids had an au pair for essentially their entire life, and we were finally able to get rid of having an au pair. (Our au pairs were all really lovely, and I miss them and their presence in our lives for the wonderful people they were - I don't miss the expense of paying someone to live in our house and help, what worked out to be, one or two hours a day with the kids! Having no au pair also freed up an extra bed room, so now we can spread the kids out rather than have them all share. It's also given them some extra personal responsibility, and has been wonderful for them!) When we were preparing to have no au pair, we asked the kids what they were most nervous about, and some of them expressed being nervous about forgetting things that they would need for school, or what to do in the mornings. While I knew that I'd be here in the morning to help, I opted to make these signs instead, so that there was something else that they could look at and help them figure out what was expected of them. I ordered a table tent stand online, similar to what you would find in a restaurant, so that we could easily flip the days. I laminated the sheets of paper, so that I can use a dry erase marker to make an extra note on some days, as needed! I find it helpful to have it all written down, that way there is less arguing about what they didn't know they needed to do!
School Bag Cubbies
One of the keys about wanting our kids to be able to "pick up" after themselves, and get themselves ready, was to give them a space for their things. Everyone has a bin (there are only 3 bins shown, as our oldest child was the only one to listen to my initial plea of "please could you put these things in your room", so his bin is in his room!) The bins are in our "hallway" near our coat hooks, very convenient to hanging up your jacket AND putting your bag away. It's not a fool proof system, bags are strewn everywhere often. But, it's very easy to say, "go put this in your bin please", and they know exactly where to toss it! It makes mornings easier, too. Can't find something, check your bin!
This was a brilliant idea that the kids' mom came up with. She ordered everyone a tote bag with their initials. And, this is what they use to bring stuff back and forth between the houses. The original idea was that everyone would put whatever they needed in their tote bag, and then bring it with them when they went over to moms. Things like their favorite stuffed animal, their iPad, the book they're reading, something they were working on here that they want to keep working on there, whatever they want. In practice, we don't always need all 4. So, now we usually just start with one bag, and grab a second if it seems required. On the morning of a day we switch, the kids know to put all of the stuff they want to bring in the tote bag. I try really hard not to "check" the bag. Sometimes I list out certain things, or if there is something that was really needed, I'll remind them. But, now it's all on them if they've remembered what they want. And, it's glorious! Their mom and I also use these bags to send stuff we need back and forth between the houses - if a certain outfit is needed, or too many shoes have gotten dead ended in one house, or if there was school forms or something. We usually will text to let each other know what we've sent up there, but the tote bag is a really nice place to throw things that need to be relocated.
Please comment with any of the systems and tricks that work in your house! Happy Back-to-School, everyone!!