I love lists, and I love problem-solving.
If something is not working, chances are good that the solution can usually be found with a little bit of brainstorming, and a good list.
I’ve been doing this a lot recently, as I examine our morning routine. A bad morning routine can put everybody in such a bad mood that we’re lucky if we recover by noon.
As we’ve been making changes around here, our mornings have gradually been improving, which means we start off the day with a much happier attitude than we used to.
Here’s what’s been working for us:
1. Take care of the basics.
There is no way that I can stay calm and happy if I am not taking proper care of my body. How I sleep, what I eat, even how much water I drink, can all affect my mood. Praying desperately for some divine intervention and miraculous mothering skills is great and all, but I wonder if God sometimes thinks I should just go to bed earlier.
2. Clean up “Your Spot”.
I read once that everyone has a “spot” – that one spot in your house that makes you feel victorious when it’s clean, and defeated when it’s out of control. I didn’t think I had a spot, but it turns out that I have two: my kitchen sink/counter, and my living room floor.
If I come out first thing in the morning to a mess in those spots, I’m behind before I’ve even begun.
However, if I make sure that they’re cleaned up the night before, I come out in the morning feeling pretty fantastic about my clean house. It could be a mess in other areas, but as long as I have my kitchen counter and my living room floor, I’m good.
I highly recommend finding out what your spot is, and then protecting it like your day depends on it.
3. Get your schedule in writing.
We have a laminated chart on our fridge which Anika loves to check off each morning. I got SOOOO tired of nagging her every morning to get things done, that one day, I got some paper and markers, and I made the most thorough list I could think of. It’s even got “Clean boogers out of nose” on it. Everything that I want her to do each morning is on that list.
We have a separate list for Sundays, because we need to do different things to get out of the house for church on those days.
I still need to remind her at times to stay focused and get stuff done, but I nag a lot less than I used to.
4. Start with some quiet time.
First thing on my own schedule is getting up an hour before the girls (thank goodness they usually sleep until 8 am, I’m totally spoiled!), to spend some time reading my Bible, praying, and exercising.
I used to be very cranky in the mornings because I woke up when they woke up, and had no time to ease into my day. That is a BAD idea for me. I need my time to “wake up slowly”.
5. Pick a verse for the day.
When I’m reading my Bible, I try to pick one verse or thought to keep on my mind throughout the day. Sometimes I memorize it, sometimes I write it out and stick it on the fridge, just to keep it there to come back to again and again.
6. Turn on the music!
I don’t actually like listening to music during the day. Weird, since I love music and I’ve taught piano for years. But my favorite time to listen to it is when I’m driving, and can focus completely on listening to it.
When it’s on as I’m going about my day, I find it distracting and sometimes slightly overwhelming. With homeschooling, and housework, and everything else that demands my attention, I find there’s only so much noise I can take in at once.
However. When it comes to the mind, and learning to “take every thought captive”, music is the best way for me to be continually reminded to get things on track.
Ben’s been turning on the worship music each morning so that I won’t forget, and it makes such a big difference to have it playing. I think I could get used to the “extra noise”!
7. Plan a breakfast menu.
Giving kids a choice for what they want to eat may sound like a good idea, but it’s never worked out well for us. They always want different things, it takes so long for them to make up their minds, and the whole thing kept dragging out so long, that one day, I just quit.
I made up a breakfast menu, stuck it on the fridge, and now the girls know exactly what to expect.
It has completely cut out the complaining about what we’re eating for breakfast. It’s nothing fancy, and we usually stick to eggs, oatmeal, leftover pancakes in the toaster, that kind of thing, but it switches things up a bit, and it saves so much time.
8. Stay away from sugar.
When we were living at camp, I noticed how Anika always crashed hard, mid-morning, after those big, sugary breakfasts that were served at the lodge. It made homeschooling a nightmare, so we decided to experiment, and only allowed her to have sugar on weekends, when she didn’t have to do school.
It made such a huge difference! She eats sugar-free jam or a little bit of honey on her pancakes during the week, and it’s this big treat to get syrup on the weekends. At first, she hated it, but now it’s just normal.
I’ve noticed how it affects me, too. Usually, I have my green smoothie for breakfast, but every once in a while, when the pancakes are fresh, I’ll grab one.
And oh, my goodness – it makes me feel completely different. I cannot believe the difference in my mood. I don’t do well with carbs, especially first thing in the morning, and I find myself extremely irritable after eating anything like that.
9. Stay calm.
My movement therapist once explained to me that a muscle at rest is ready to move in any direction, at any moment. A tense muscle, on the other hand, has to relax first, before being ready to move in the new direction.
I find it’s the same with moods. When I’m relaxed and calm, and something unexpected comes up, it’s far easier to go with the flow.
But it I’m rushing around, we’re running late, my morning’s frantic and crazy, it’s only going to get crazier. I’m too tense, not ready and available to move in the direction I need to go. I’m trying to remember to take a few deep breaths, and calm down.
10. Be flexible.
I can make all the lists I want to stick on our fridge, but I cannot guarantee a perfect morning, every morning. Life happens. And that’s good – it’s the way it should be.
I need to be ready to ditch the lists, when necessary.
And maybe not every morning will be perfect, but lots of mornings are pretty good.
I’m trying to begin each day with this verse on my mind:
This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.
How can I be glad in it?
What can I do to help things run more smoothly for my family?
In what ways do I need to become more disciplined so that I can be the wife and mom I need to be?
It’s a work in progress!
Any tips you’ve come up with over the years? I’d love to hear them!
(If you want some extra reading, Micheal Hyatt wrote a great post called How to Become A Morning Person. His first point is quite brilliant.)