Getting out the door with kids: it’s an exercise in patience
Getting out the door with kids can be rough. In my house, we start getting ready to leave the house a full 20-30 minutes before we need to walk out the door.
It all starts with a 10-minute warning to the kids, followed by a 5-minute warning, and play area cleanup. As we slowly start to mobilize, the preschooler and toddler need to visit the potty, the baby needs a diaper check, and there is always someone who can’t find her shoes. By the time I’ve got the toddler zipped up in her jacket, my oldest might have started on a new book or puzzle—and then that activity needs to be interrupted.
If we are going somewhere in the car (we are fortunate as city dwellers that this is not every day), it takes an extra 10 minutes to get everyone buckled, since all three kids are in 5-point harnesses and no one can fasten her own quite yet. I’m already frazzled – and we haven’t even gotten anywhere yet.
This process probably sounds woefully inefficient, but I’ve come to accept a minimum 20-minute getting-out-the-door routine as a fact of life. When we’re in a hurry, we can compress the transition by shortening the warning time and postponing toy cleanup, but it usually comes at the expense of feeling a bit harried. Building in a 20-minute transition is an investment in household calm.
But there is one small upside!
While the downsides of such long transitions are pretty clear, we’ve actually discovered one small upside: increased mindfulness. Knowing that a transition is likely to take 20 minutes puts extra weight behind each outing. Some things just don’t make the cut anymore now that we have 3 kids to tote along—particularly errands that are not particularly fulfilling for any of us. Don’t get me wrong, an errand is sometimes just the ticket we need to get ourselves out of the house. But it’s probably not worth it to force a Target run to pick up toilet paper and dish soap if it will make everyone miserable and cause the baby to miss a nap.
That’s where the mindfulness comes in. Admittedly, I still get frustrated when my toddler takes off her jacket and shoes for the third time when we are TRYING to get to school on time. But here are my top tricks for reducing transition stress and making the most of each day.
Tip # 1: Avoid unnecessary errands.
We live in an amazing, modern world, and Amazon Prime will deliver pretty much anything in 2 days. I’ve given myself permission to take full advantage of these conveniences. We have our diapers delivered. We have our groceries delivered. In fact, we have nearly everything delivered. It hasn’t made us into lazy homebodies who never leave the house—rather, it gives us freedom. Now, instead of traditional grocery shopping, we’ll take the kids on a leisurely weekend stroll to pick up a few items at the farmer’s market or Trader Joe’s, something the kids really enjoy. We can’t fit too many groceries in the stroller, but that’s OK. The kids can remember the whole shopping list for us, which helps them feel purposeful. And having the majority of our food delivered makes this trip more about the fresh air and the experience than about the errand.
Tip # 2: Find the adventure in every trip.
If we’re going to invest 20 minutes into getting out the door, we try to make sure it leads to a family outing that will be rewarding and fun. If the trip is not, on its face, of the rewarding and fun variety (sometimes we just HAVE to go to the DMV or the bank), we try to make it into an adventure anyways.
Maybe there’s a playground nearby, or we can get ice cream afterwards. Maybe we can play “I spy” on the way there. Is there an elevator involved, or will we see a giant tree on the walk there? We can talk about that. My 2- and 4-year-olds love mail, so sometimes I bring our outgoing bills along and put the kids on a search mission for a blue mailbox on our way. They are proud to announce when they find one, and we make a big show of stopping to throw the mail in.
Tip #3: Prepare beforehand to get out the door on time.
For the morning school routine, the biggest gift I give myself is advance preparation. I set out the kids’ clothes and pack lunches the night before. I like to listen to music or a podcast while I do this to make it feel more like “me time.” Doing these tasks in a relaxed fashion feels so much less hectic than incorporating them into the morning rush.
Having a single place to stow shoes, coats, hats, backpacks, and the diaper bag means that we (usually) know where those things are. It also gives us a destination for the getting-ready routine. A mudroom would be perfect for this—but in our rowhouse we have our little launchpad “nook” near our front door. It includes a console table with baskets beneath for shoes, a mail organizer mounted on the wall, upper coat hooks for grown-ups, and lower coat hooks for kids. In winter we bring out a big wicker basket for winter gear. It’s not Pinterist-perfect, but it works!
Tip #5: Leave the kids at home.
If going to the post office will take 15 minutes on your own or 45 minutes with the kids, and you have a spouse or family member available to watch the kids—save yourself a headache and leave the kids at home. Think comparative advantage here. As a bonus, you will feel truly alive leaving the house for a weekend errand with no kids in tow. It’s a true joy to simply zip out the door – even if it’s only to the post office. Turn on NPR or your own music (not “The Wheels on the Bus”) and revel in the freedom of being unencumbered.