Written by Jamila Evans

I used to absolutely dread the hours 6am-8am on weekday mornings between the months of late August and May with my four children.  I swear the neighbors could hear my husband and I screaming at the kids to get ready for school. Can you relate? We’ve tried everything: picture charts, check lists, rewards and bribery.  It seemed like nothing worked.

About four months in to the school year my husband told me his work schedule was going to change after Christmas break, and he needed to leave the house by 6:30 A.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  A wave of panic took over, and I spent weeks agonizing over the change. I kept thinking, “There is no way I can get through the morning on my own with these four kids.”

The first day back to school after Christmas break, we were still a team taking on the four kids. However, things were not going so great. Kids were fighting, no one was listening, and we were trying to shove the kids out the door in efforts not to be late.

My husband became so angry that he started shouting the worst kind of not-so-PG swear words. My calm, always patient husband had finally lost it.

I started crying.

My kids stood in the doorway silent and shocked. This was not normal morning behavior from either of us.

Just then, a change happened.  While I was catching my breath, my 5 year-old daughter came to give me a hug and said, “It’s okay mom, I will help you.” She found her lunch, coat and backpack and stood by the door. “I’m ready,” she said, and the other kids quickly followed her lead.

That day, after my kids went to school and I had time to recover from the morning’s episode, I realized that we needed a TMM, Total Morning Makeover!  At dinner, my husband and I apologized to the kids for our terrible behavior that morning. I was honest with my kids and told them I needed their help, especially on the mornings dad left for work early. I explained to them that I didn’t want to be the mom that screamed, shouted and cried every morning; and I painted a picture of laughter and sending everyone away to school happy.

The conversation deemed useful.  

My oldest son woke up the following morning and said “Mom, how can I help get everyone else ready for school?” I told him to start by getting his own clothes on! He’s old enough to know that finding everyone’s lunches, shoes and coats would make my life so much easier. He anticipated what everyone else needed and took control while I made breakfast. The result was two fold: he felt great about it and every child followed his example. They were all experiencing the joy of helping.

This helpfulness is now cultivated every day before school. Some common phrases from our A.M. routine include:

“Can you go find your brother’s dress uniform sweater?”

“Please give your sister the only bag of goldfish.”  

“No, you can’t have the last bagel, but you can split it with your brother.”

“Help your sister put on her shoes.”

One last thing I have to mention. While my children have taken a liking to being helpful in the mornings, my husband also deserves helpfulness credit. Like all kids, my kids learn their habits of helpfulness from the actions of us as parents. My husband knows that the mornings go much smoother if the kitchen is ready for breakfast and the remnants of dinner from the night before are not lingering. Each night, he makes an effort to stay up a little later to make sure the kitchen is tidy. This is a small act of love towards me, and helps make my mornings without him run even smoother.

I am grateful for it all: the hard lesson, the help from my kids, and the help from my husband. Because of it, we all work as a unified team.

What’s the toughest part of the day with your children?  Getting ready for school? The after school rush of homework to sports?  The lunch craze with small children before nap time? How can we all cultivate a culture of helpfulness in our homes?

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