By Lori Mihalich-Levin
Mornings before kids seemed so blissful—in retrospect. You could wake up with just as much or as little time as you needed to perform morning rituals that made your heart sing. Push the snooze button. Or at the very least ensure a shower in time to make it to work. There was predictability, the birds chirped, the sun shone, and… well, the rest is a foggy memory for me now.
If you’ve lived a minute with a baby at home, you don’t need me to tell you what week-day morning life is like post-baby. I haven’t set a morning alarm since having my first son almost 5 years ago (those cherubs certainly don’t come with snooze buttons), and the tasks required to leave the house have multiplied a hundred fold. Just getting everyone where they need to go in the morning (my youngest to daycare, my oldest to school, me to the office) feels like one big game of chess, where all the pieces have come alive and keep walking away on their own. Or at least screaming.
This getting-ready-for-work thing is hard enough with two pairs of adult hands in the house. But subtract one parent from the mix for whatever reason – work travel, early morning meetings, you name it – and suddenly I hear the voice of my 4-year old saying in a robotic voice, “Red alert, red alert! Danger, danger!” (Note: I have the utmost admiration and respect for single parents and others who do this single-handedly every morning. You are my heros.)
When I’ve done the morning routine solo and actually did have to get to work on time, my mantra has been plan, plan, plan – down to every last detail – and maximize what you do the night before. Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
The night before
- Get breakfast ready. A mama’s gotta eat. And while I was nursing, I would always wake up starving. For me, this means literally pouring cereal into a bowl, covering it with tinfoil, and putting it with a spoon on the dining room table. Cutting up fruit I can dump on the cereal in the morning, and putting that in a container in the fridge. And putting morning vitamins out on the table with the cereal and spoon.
- Put non-perishable baby supplies and anything you need for work by the door (if you’re commuting by foot) or directly into your car. Diapers, wipes, clothing changes, pump bags, etc. can all be bagged up and ready to go.
- Pack perishable baby items like milk and baby food into their cooler bag and put that bag in the fridge. All you need to do in the morning is add the ice packs.
- Pull out clothes – yours and baby’s. Look up the following day’s weather the night before, and have outfits for both of you out and ready to go.
- Shower – so you can wake up and not have to worry about the time it takes to get clean.
The morning of
- If you’re past the point where you’re only alive because you are able to sleep every single minute the baby sleeps (and I’ve been there, so ignore this point if you’re not there yet), set an alarm for 10 or 15 minutes before when baby usually wakes up. This can give you a jump-start at least on washing your face.
- Feed baby while you’re eating. I usually just nursed baby while eating that pre-planned bowl of cereal.
- Hair up! With long hair, a braid, clip, or ponytail has always been a necessity.
Mantras for when things go haywire
- I’ve figured out ridiculously challenging things before.
- I’m not likely to be fired if I’m a few minutes late.
- The world won’t end if I forget something today.
- No matter what happens, I am enough.
- Breathe, mama, breathe.
If your little one is still a baby, remind yourself that at least he can’t run away from you yet. Or tear her socks and shoes off every time you put them on. That time is coming soon enough! And if a few tears are shed (by either of you) during the process of getting out the door, there is always tomorrow.
Before you head off to work, though, take just a minute to look that precious baby in the eye, give him one huge car seat kiss, and hold onto the feeling of her snuggle for the rest of your day.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course, which helps women make the transition back to work after maternity leave. A health care lawyer, she is also mama to two beautiful red-headed boys (ages 2 and 4).
Read Lori’s 3-part WMAG series on what to do before, during, and after maternity leave.