Where does the time go? I’m asking. I really want to know. Where does your time go and how do you get it under control? There are a lot of things that you need to do for expert time management with a household of kids. Some things are predictable, like laundry. Some things are unpredictable, like the next time there is a mystery spill that needs to be cleaned from the carpet.
Honestly, the fact that there was a spill is predictable, the required level of cleaning is the wildcard.
Since we greatly value our time, we want to figure out the most efficient ways to run a household with kids. What better way than collecting the advice of other parents?
Especially parents that are outnumbered by their kids. When there are more kids than adults in the household, time management becomes extra important. This forces improvement, efficiencies, or just eliminating the stuff that no one needs to do.
We’ll go first.
How many children do you have and what are their ages? What is your & your partners work schedule?
We have four children, ages 4 to 10. The three oldest are boys and our youngest is a girl. I work full time and Em is a stay at home mom plus she does some sewing and blogging. I work a 9/80 schedule, which means 9 hour daily base schedule but every other Friday is an off day. This is nice, but results in less time at home each workday. I leave the house at 5:55 and get home between 5:00 and 5:30, unless I’m working late…
What is the division of household chores between you, your partner, and the kids?
We have fairly traditional roles with the division of labor. Em usually takes care of the laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and household cleaning. I usually handle the bills/admin, outside yard work, car maintenance and household repairs. The kids clean (generous use of the word) their own rooms, cook some meals, vacuum and dust, and help with yard work.
The key word is “usually”. We both will do what needs to be done if there is something pressing. Neither one of us will just chill at the end of the day and let the other do work on something that is not our normal chores. One of the more annoying behaviors I’ve seen from other couples is the “it’s not my job” attitude applied to household chores.
This is actually an infuriating behavior, but I would digress into a full article-length rant so I’ll save that for another day.
There are tasks that Em is much better and completes more efficiently than I do. There are things that I’m much better at doing. If something needs to be done though, we just do it.
What part of the day, or what activity, do you think you really have figured out & how do you tackle this?
Em has mastered the morning routine and getting the boys out the door for school. She knows how long it takes each boy to get ready and plans accordingly. She stages the back packs, shoes, and coats the night before. Em performs no extra tasks during the morning routine. Any straying from the normal routine is a recipe for disaster.
Not performing extra tasks is critical. On one of my Fridays off, I thought I could empty the dishwasher and send the boys to finish getting ready for school.
This was a mistake.
They nearly missed the bus. I ended up rushing around and yelling. I think this might be the time I forgot to add their lunches to the backpacks.
As they get older this won’t be as much of an issue. At least, I really hope not.
What part of the day do you really want to improve & what have you tried?
Bedtime must get better. Someone with grown children tell me it gets better before they move out.
Bedtime can turn into a runaway disaster. We have tried bribing, punishing, setting a timer, using a stopwatch (note, this is different than setting a timer) rewarding, and staggered bed times. The staggered bed times probably worked the best, but it’s easy for the bedtime to drift to the last scheduled bedtime and lose the stagger. Worse yet, unnamed parties will complain about going to bed at the same time as their siblings.
The staggered bedtimes work best for us because we can focus the kids that need help keeping staying on track. It’s also important to keep them somewhat separated when it’s bedtime so they won’t play or fight when it’s time to sleep. We’ve recently gone back to staggered bedtimes and it’s working well.
What do you spend the most time on?
Preparing for and cleaning up from meals. We try to make the cleaning go quicker by having everyone help. This doesn’t mean it’s actually quicker, but it should pay off as they all get older.
The kids have always had to help clear the table. We also require that no one does anything other than cleaning until the kitchen is completely cleaned. Sometimes this means they are cleaning other things while we are doing dishes, but they aren’t allowed (in theory) to do something else while we’re cleaning. This becomes difficult when they have practices or activities in the evening.
When there are evening activities, we divide and conquer. One of us takes kids to activities while the other parent and remaining kids clean. This is getting more complicated as more of them have activities though. Sometimes we just have to put the kitchen into a state of non-disaster while both of us take kids to separate activities.
We don’t make them clean up from dinner after the activities since it’s usually closer to bedtime. They might need to pack their lunches, finish homework, or shower. Completing those tasks and getting into bed is more important than finishing the dinner clean-up.
What do you find is the biggest barrier to getting the household administration done, so that you can spend more time on fun activities?
Getting the kids to consistently help out. Constantly reminding (arguing with) them about cleaning up after themselves takes up a lot of time. It’s simply exhausting. There’s no other way to describe it.
I think the key is to maintain the attitude that it’s temporary. Assuming we put enough effort in now to establish good habits, they will be more helpful as they get older.
What tools do you use, if any, to stay on track? (planner, apps, calendar, etc.)
We use a big white board calendar to track everyone’s schedule of activities and a white board grocery list on the side of the fridge to keep track of items as we run out. We have a shared Google Sheets that has errands to run and shopping lists, but Em does not like to use it and that drives me crazy. We’ve tried to have a shared to-do list, but were never able to keep it updated.
Personally, I use a lot of lists and love them. I prefer written lists, but have also tried to keep an electronic list for easy shuffling of tasks. Due to my job, I can’t bring my phone to work, so I don’t have any fancy app that will be worth using for only my time at home.
Is there something that you have considered simply eliminating to save time, but haven’t? What if the day was magically an hour shorter, would you eliminate it then?
We’ve considered eliminating family meals some days of the week. Sometimes it’s easier for everyone to eat when they’re able. In general, we think that family mealtimes are more important than the time saved, so we eat together during the week. On the weekends we have Adult Dinner. Adult Dinner is not time efficient since we’re making a meal and cleaning up twice, but it’s very necessary. Plus, we don’t go out to eat very often, so it’s money efficient.
If we’re trying to get a household project done on the weekend, we’ll just leave breakfast and lunch up to the kids. They’re old enough that they can cobble together a meal and we can focus on completing our project.
We’ve considered trading kid duty on weekday evenings, but have not quite committed to it. If one of us has a project that we need to complete, the other will take care of the kids and bedtime. We may systematize this in the future to make more consistent progress.
If you had an extra hour in the day, what would you do with it?
Em – Sleep. Just sleep.
Mike – Do a less time efficient workout, like mountain biking.
What is your best tip for managing a household full of kids?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let go of perfection. Good enough is good enough. It’s hard to keep this in mind sometimes when it feels like everything is a mess, there’s a mountain of homework for each kid, lunches need to be packed, people need to shower, someone needs to be picked up and dropped off, there’s too much dirty laundry to wash and too much clean laundry to fold, and WHY IS IT SO LOUD IN HERE?
But ultimately, taking a step back to see what really needs to be done well and what can be just taken care of makes a big difference.
For our tips on specific topics, just check out the links in this article! They go to our other posts with tips for managing a household.
Those are our answers. Let me know your secrets of household management and we’ll get this thing figured out!
Or, the kids will eventually grow up and everything will be fine in the end but we’ll be utterly exhausted the whole time.
If you want to be part of the series or know someone else that would, email me at Mike [@] marriedandharried.com. I would love to learn any tips you have and thoughts on running a household with kids.
If you want more, you can find all the interviews from the series here.
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