Isn’t that the truth! Parenting gets so exponentially harder when we are in a hurry or are tired. That’s why I’m such a big believer in creating systems and routines for as much of the day as we can. When we have good systems and routines to fall back on, we can let habit lead us.
LET ROUTINES RULE
Let’s take getting out the door on time in the morning as an example. First of all, I encourage parents to put as much of the morning routine as possible to the night before. For example, when kids come in the door from school, I have them unpack their lunch boxes and replenish anything that does not need refrigeration. If leftovers are going to be tomorrow’s lunch, train the children to pack them directly into the containers they are going to take to school. As part of clearing off the table and cleaning the kitchen, set the table for breakfast. If you are a dry cereal family, even go so far as putting the cereal on the table.
Similarly, before going to bed, pick out clothes for the next day and lay them in the same place every night. If there are areas you can simplify, do so (I bought my two year old five pairs of the same blue leggings that got paired with a clean t-shirt every day). Make sure kids place their backpacks packed and ready to go by the door (along with the poster board or diorama that doesn’t fit in the backpack).
Perhaps most importantly, be disciplined about setting a routine for your own bedtime. Take the steps that you need to assure that you turn off the light at a consistent time, that you are able to fall asleep easily and that you are getting enough sleep every night.
WHAT ABOUT THE GRAY AREAS? That's where it really gets hard.
Even when we are tired, we still insist on strapping kids into car seats and we make our kids hold our hand crossing the parking lot. But when we are tired we are much quicker to hand our phone over to allow a video to distract our toddler or to hand out the cookies rather than engage in an argument. Personally, this is where I find rules useful. Families don’t actually need too many rules other than ones like, "In our family we are respectful" and "In our family we work together," but it takes a long time to teach kids what it means to be respectful and helpful. In the meanwhile, set rules can provide structure for a parent to default to. Many families, for example, have a rule that there are no electronics Sunday after dinner until Friday after school. Other families have a no sweets before dinner rule. Having the rule gives you a little more backbone to patiently acknowledge--even when you are tired and at the end of your rope--that while a cookie would be very yummy, it isn’t coming until after dinner. Focus on the things that are really important to you and don’t worry about being consistent about other things.
STAYING STRONG IN THE FACE OF PARENT SHAMING
In public, we find it hard to be consistent because at best we are sensitive to not disturbing others with a child’s meltdown and at worst we are afraid of being judged by others. A big, big help to avoiding scenes in public is setting your kids up for success by anticipating with them what they should expect. If you are going to the grocery store, make agreements ahead of time about what will be bought and what won’t. Also, let your children know in advance what the consequences will be if they start arguing in the store and what the reward will be if they can keep it together. Going out to eat? Role play or practice restaurant behavior and brainstorm what quiet activity to bring with you when you go. Check the menu online to make sure there is something your child likes to eat. If you don’t have a regular rule, let your kids know before walking out the door if you are going to allow them to get soda or desert (or anything else on the menu you might say no to). If going out is last minute to a new restaurant, at least take a few minutes before getting out of the car to set the ground rules. Stating your own attention out loud (something like, "I am not going to give in to whining and pleading just to keep you quiet in public,") can also give you strength to stay present and calm despite your own hunger and need for peace.
FORGIVE YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE LESS THAN YOUR BEST
Parenting deliberately by using these tips and skills should reduce the number of times you are caught without a backup plan. Knowing you have a plan gives you confidence and energy to push through despite being in a hurry, tired or wary of public opinion. But at the end of the day, we are all too human. Beating yourself up for being less than your best does not help you be more effective the next time you are stressed. Just like your kids, you are a work in progress. Some days you will think before you lose it. Other days you will lose it. As you keep working on it, there will be fewer of the lose it days.