6 ridiculously easy change-ups that simplify family life
Routine makes a kid’s world go ‘round. Consistent bedtimes and mealtimes. Who-sits-where at dinner. That fierce attachment to an increasingly ratty stuffed animal or shirt. Sameness can also be monotonous-to-the-point-of-going-berserk for a parent—unless it’s sameness that works for you!
Try these brilliant redundancies, for starters. They’re small tweaks that can simplify your life.
1. Pack the same lunch. Every day.
Thinking up fresh nutrient combos to tempt your child takes time. So does stocking and packing up all that endless variety. Unless you find food prep relaxing and have the time for it, ditch the bento mentality and think like a European.
Danish school kids all eat the same lunch—liver spread on rye bread, carrots, and apples, expat mom Kristen Podulka reported recently in Time. Day after day. Every kid. And no, they don’t seem to mind. Hey, Denmark twice topped the World Happiness Report. Starting in preschool in France and other countries, many schools serve all comers an identical menu.
Make healthy food choices, and you don’t have to worry about nutrition. Make it things your child likes, and you don’t have to worry about it not being eaten. Make it day after day, and you’ll get the routine down pat—bonus points if there are multiple kids trained to eat the same lunch and you can do the assembly line thing.
Then stick with it—at least until your kid is old enough to take over the chore.
2. Standardize your dinner menu, too.
Apply the same thinking as above for your family dinners. During the week, set up a rotation of tried-and-true, easy-prep favorites. (Monday pasta, Tuesday salads, Wednesday fish…) Reserve the weekends, when you have more time, to rock out with something new and different.
3. Buy all white sheets and towels.
White with kids? Absolutely. Whites can get thrown into the wash with bleach and come out white again. Whites can take hot water and not fade. Whites don’t develop those mysterious discolored patches that leave us scratching our heads (and have been variously blamed on benzoyl peroxide, swimming pool chemicals, or toothpaste and mouth rinses containing bleach).
Whites are easy to sort and go with most décor. You can even mix in seconds or sale finds from random manufacturers, and it’s really hard to tell the difference.
Boring? Yes, but so are all things laundry.
4. Unify the socks.
You probably have one of those baskets of mateless socks: some big, some small, some white, some blue—and, of course, the adorable ones that match special outfits get separated first.
Since there’s no Match.com for all those forlorn lost socks, the best bet is to buy just one kind. Or one for sports, one for dress-up. All the same. Stock up.
Alternate strategy: Quit thinking of socks as items that need mates and let everyone wear their assortment. In some circles (chiefly, girls from first to 12th grades), this is considered fashion-forward. For others, not so much.
Maybe you go Steve Jobs and let everyone pick a signature look: basic navy or khaki for mom or dad, all red for the cheerful soul in the bunch, all stripes for your little iconoclast.
5. Build special “parent-child” times into your calendar. Repeat.
This one looks different in every house. But the general idea is that you designate certain times of the week or month for special events. The time becomes sacrosanct, and nobody plans other events at those times. Voila—built-in family time.
Bonus: Kids love the security and sense of connection these instant rituals bring. It’s like Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, or Halloween—only more often.
- Saturday morning PJs-and-pancakes
- Sunday night laundry folding and movies (dump out the baskets, everyone finds their own)
- Wednesday game night (bring out the board games)
- Sunday evening family stroll
- Full moon stargazing night
- First weekend of the month camp-out (even if it’s right in the backyard)
The key is to tattoo it into your family schedule, in perma-ink.
6. Assign chores instead of rotating or asking randomly.
You’ve heard all the benefits of kids having chores: It builds responsibility, gives them a sense of contributing, instills pride. And that’s in spite of all the complaining!
How can you nag less to get them done? Assign the same chores to the same child for a fixed length of time—at least a month, if not longer. So Sam always sets the table and feeds the dog. Annie clears the table every evening and waters the plants. Both kids make their beds in the morning. On Saturdays, nobody goes anywhere until their sheets are changed and rugs are vacuumed.
If you rotate chores from day to day, they don’t get ingrained into your child’s everyday routine. And if you let them finish the task whenever they get around to it, it risks not getting done.
All this repetition may sound boring. But it’s really a matter of using repetition and sameness to open up our headspace for more of what’s NOT boring, the fun in family life. Picture it: Less decision making, less nagging, less sorting, less planning—and a good night’s sleep in clean white sheets.