Giving Choices I Don’t Hate + Other Parenting Hacks

I’ve already confided that it can sometimes feel like there are just too many parenting hours to fill. Maybe this is because I have high expectations of those hours – I want them to be meaningful and I want to enjoy them?

I can simultaneously realize that my littles are growing up faster than I want them to while acknowledging that they can (often) drive me absolutely crazy.

A few weeks ago I was reminded of the importance of offering choices that are acceptable to me, along with a few other little hacks that make my role as a parent just a tiny bit easier.

give choices i don’t hate

I am not a get-on-the-floor-and-play-action-figures sort of Mom. I’ve struggled with feeling a lot of guilt over this. I think the women who are those sort of mothers tend to genuinely enjoy those activities. I don’t. Time doesn’t just slow for me, I’d swear it starts running in reverse.

I also don’t like “crafting” – specifically anything that involves glue, paint, glitter, or rolling out dough of any sort. Or playing dressup. Or most activities that require imagination, silly voices, or hiding and seeking.

But I do like reading, taking long nature walks, colouring, doing Wordle, exploring beaches, boating out to isolated lighthouses, tapping maple trees, and playing Codenames…among other things. I can be fun, in my own way.

About a month ago I glanced out the window to see Abby slumping home and looking like she had lost her best friend (in reality she had gone to see if a neighbouring friend could play and no one was home, so basically the same thing to a 10-year-old). Before she walked through the door I decided to give her three options of things I would enjoy/tolerate:

  • Go for a walk (she really likes walking alone with me and, since her birthday is fast approaching, I figured she’d love the chance to plan every detail of her little party).
  • Play a few rounds of Codenames (I was 95% certain this would be the option she would choose).
  • Organize her room.

I was shocked when she said – immediately – that she wanted to work on her room.

While I have both kids pick up their rooms almost daily, I have to manage my expectations and respect the fact that the contents of their room are very sentimental and give them an element of independence and control they don’t yet have in other areas of their life.

So Abby’s room feels…overwhelming to me. One wall is covered in papers with homemade drawings. Another area by her desk has a “mask” station where she took little balls of sticky tack and affixed marbles and other colourful items to the wall to create hooks (2019 Elisabeth didn’t see 2020’s “mask wall” coming). It’s very creative but very, very cluttered (to me)!

But together we pared down her closet (two bags for consignment/hand-me-downs); we straightened and dusted her shelves, we rescued stray socks and papers from the vortex under her bed. And we talked the whole time.

It was certifiably enjoyable.

In fact, when we finished her room, Abby was so enthusiastic she insisted on organizing our (already organized) stash of dry/canned goods in the basement storage room.

It felt good to offer a range of choices – it made her feel like she had a real say in the itinerary of her day, but I also didn’t feel crushed by the weight of having to play school with a dozen Calico Critters with rhyming names that I’m supposed to remember.

And sometimes as a parent I have to remind myself: it’s okay to offer choices that make me happy too. I knew any of those three would be fun for Abby. But I was also stacking the deck in my favour. Instead of an open-ended “What do you want to do?” I was able to offer mutually agreeable options while allowing her a degree of independence with the final choice.

reset the mood with a comforting ritual

Recently, both kids arrived home from school grumpy. One child had bumped into a table right before getting on the bus rendering them tender in body and spirit. Another child had a soul-sucking Math test that had encroached on recess. It was cold and wet and…just one of those days.

Instead of trying to cheer everyone up with positive affirmations and a “let’s look on the bright side” pep talk – my natural inclination – I set right to work at making a batch of hot chocolate (unusual for an ordinary school day). While they sipped and decompressed I read a few books – I could sense they needed their space to lick literal and proverbial wounds. And then I gave them each 1 minute to share details about the worst part of their day. They had the floor for a limited period of time (negativity can spiral without boundaries) but got the primary grievances with teachers and immovable objects off their chests. Then I gave them another minute – each – to let us know about the best moment(s) of their day. By the time the final mini-marshmallow had been consumed, everyone seemed content and ready to move on with the afternoon.

Normally my tendency would be to ask about details immediately and try to help them solve their problem. But this time (and I suspect most days), hot chocolate, some read-aloud time, and then short stints where each child “had the floor” was a far better solution.

make life easier for future ME

I’ve heard a lot of self-help gurus preach the message of doing things now to improve our future reality. This could be prepping workout clothes the night before or setting out multivitamins by the coffee pot.

I had a very specific “What would make this easier for future me?” moment recently.

One Wednesday I had a very tight turnaround. I had promised the kids we’d go to the after-school skate at a local arena – our first time skating inside since the start of the pandemic (I used to do this twice weekly and “2022 Elisabeth” can’t believe this was such a regular part of our former routine). I had back-to-back work calls leading right up to our departure. I also knew with the timing of the bus, we were going to arrive late for the one-hour skating slot. Since I wanted to maximize their time on the ice, I thought: What can I do now to expedite the process later?

The best answer? Get their skates fully loosened.

If you’ve ever laced up kid’s skates, you know how long it can take to get the skates loose enough to get them on. So I took 2 minutes and loosened the laces such that the kids could simply slip on their skates independently when we arrived at the rink.

This felt like such a life coup.

And while I couldn’t volunteer with Levi’s class when they went skating (his FIRST extracurricular since starting school in the middle of a pandemic; both sad and exciting!), I made sure to fully loosen his skates. I hope it made some poor parent volunteer’s day to have one child fully ready to have their laces tied!

Lest you think I have this whole parenting thing figured out, I don’t. I have adult temper tantrums, raise my voice, apologize and then proceed to rant some more, and find parenting downright hard (because it is!).

Your turn. Any great parenting hacks to report? Any routine things you do to make life easier for your future self?

Header photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

18 thoughts on “Giving Choices I Don’t Hate + Other Parenting Hacks”

  1. I don’t enjoy pretend play on the floor either. It is just not my thing! I love that Abby was all in on organizing! I love to organize things and was the kid that decided to organize my cousin’s clothes in her dresser when we were probably around 8-10? Bringing order to chaos is totally my jam and I hope one of my kids takes after me and like it, too.

    I’ve been really thinking about how to make life easier now that I’m back in the office 3 days/week. I try to do as much the night before, like picking out my outfit and putting it in the bathroom and having my lunch packed and in a bag I can just grab in the morning. My morning self will thank me for anything I do the night before as our mornings can be pretty chaotic right now!

    1. It’s a bit ironic because I WASN’T in to organization at all as a kid, or really until about 5 years ago. Living as a family of a 4 in a tiny apartment really did drive me crazy at times and organization and minimalism was just…a necessity to survive!
      To me, now, it’s a game and I love it (as you know from my frequent comments about organizing sock drawers – haha).
      Prepping the night before is so, so helpful because, yes, mornings are chaotic with kids and work (and dropoff – I do NOT miss preschool dropoff with all the gear; now that the kids are schoo lage, they deal with all that independently after we drop them off – dropoff always stressed me out, especially if someone ended up being clingy. Lots of good memories, but mornings are definitely easier as the kids get older!)

  2. Oh boy- reading your posts brings me back to those times. It’s funny because I simultaneously miss it, and am so relieved to be past that phase. I think most parents don’t enjoy “make believe” play- although some enjoy it even less than others. I liked reading, doing puzzles, building Legos… with my son. My daughter wanted to do ALL make believe play and that was hard. The funny thing is, now I even miss that. Now that she’s in middle school, I miss her imagination- everything seems so practical now. Anyway, I love your story of the hot chocolate and telling of the best/worst parts of the day. I know you’re now perfect, but your kids are very, very lucky to have you as their mom.

    1. Yes to simultaneously missing and enjoying! I do sometimes miss the baby stage. The snuggling and the napping were pretty swell. But I don’t miss spit up and not knowing what’s wrong when they’re crying. In fact, most of the time I just didn’t know what I was doing? Baby-led weaning, sleep training – I felt so out of my depth. And I still do, honestly. Parenting is overwhelming and unrelenting (somehow no one can convey how it is a 24/7, 365-day commitment…FOREVER…even when I’m away from the kids I’m thinking or worrying or planning).
      That said, I DO think for my personality type our current stages are much better suited to my strengths.
      Make-believe play is so hard for me, even though I love reading books? I also don’t like LEGO, but love puzzles.
      I’m happy where we’re at, with periodic intense wistfulness about the past.
      So, so imperfect and one child in particular definitely feels like I am the meanest least-fun mother ever many days (things like requiring a shower every 3-4 days is one of my worst offences), but I’m doing my best and that’s all I can do.

  3. I really dislike pretend play, too. Parenting has felt really really hard lately, and I love reading your posts and your kind supportive words and suggestions. Nothing on my end to offer right now (I am feeling like am NOT suited to parenting, and yet have no choice in the matter), but I appreciate your posts.

    1. I’m so sorry things are tough right now, Suzanne. I know all about those trench experiences with parenting and it can feel so isolating (especially since we tend to assume everyone else finds it easier than we do and even in parenting “circles” we don’t always voice our insecurities or what is currently “hard” in our parenting life). And, quite frankly, parenting can feel like an inescapable prison sentence. There are (almost never) days off from parenting and that relentless nature of the job is never harder than when it’s a hard season.

      I hope whatever is going on you feel better soon. I can tell from your posts that you are VERY invested in your daughter’s life and hope you give yourself heaps of gold stars. (I’ve seen the crafting table/corner/room you allow at your place and I will never breath a word of it to Abby or she will demand to leave my house and move in at yours!) That said, even when we invest oodles of time and other resources into our kids it doesn’t mean things will be smooth sailing. That’s so hard about parenting too, eh – we can give and invest and give it our all and the you-know-what can still hit the fan. Sigh.

      More than anything I hope my post doesn’t make it seem like I have two clues much of the time about parenting. There is plenty of yelling and tears and doors being closed forcefully (neither kids doors can be slammed but if they did…let me tell you)!

  4. I fully agree about giving choices I don’t hate. Recently a friend of Sofia shared that her mom plays games with her, board games. I tried but I just hate it. It’s not my type and I stopped doing it. yet, I wonder if I’m not a good mom by not playing with my girls. In a good day I’d think I’m choosing to do things with my girls that I enjoy too so they are sustainable. We do sports together (running. golf, cycling), we cook together, we walk, we do groceries, we read. Then I told myself this is fine, I don’t need to do everything to be a good mom.
    On kids frustrations, I am the same. I accept bad mood for my girls from time to time, we all do have those moments. We need to learn to digest them and find ways to calm them by ourselves instead of someone else to fix our emotions. it’s not pretty but I think it’s part of the process of growing up.

    1. This comment all rings true! Especially: “I don’t need to do everything to be a good mom.”
      Sometimes I think we can have the idea that we should be miserable (in a self-sacrificing way) for our kids. This can be true to a point (well, the self-sacrificing bit, not the miserable part though that can happen too!)

      As you point out there are often – especially as the kids get older and can participate on more “adult” activities like golf, read, having them help at the grocery store, exercising together etc – things that can be enjoyable for both. But it can be hard to say “no” to a request!

  5. I have come back a couple of times, to read when I could really take in your post. I appreciate your deep reflections and sharing. When I started this post I had an OMG ME TOO moment, crafting and get-down-on-the-floor action figure, lego, barbies, play – no thank you. I have also had so much guilt around that. So much guilt. I did, though, when the kids were little take them to our little playground and chase them, climb on the structure with them and push them on the swings. I love reading and read the whole Harry Potter series out loud to my son and also tonnes of board books and other series as well. I like walking (sadly they no longer enjoy that).
    I don’t mind doing board games although now my son, who is great at strategic thinking, targets his younger sister and the memories I try to build here aren’t working out to be so happy.
    That can also be a hard part – keeping up as they shift.

    I know that over the pandemic I worked way too much much, that screens have taken over as their main and mostly desired activity. My goal has been to try and connect more often. If they snow could melt and make outdoor activities more pleasant – that will help!

    1. Gold stars for playing at the park. I’m not a fan of doing that either! Pushing them on the swings is okay, but climbing over the equipment – NO thank you. But I know other parents that love to do this. Odd, eh? I love going on long hikes and will engage with the whole way…but sliding down slides and navigating a jungle gym is not my thing.
      Reading is definitely my favourite thing to do; there are some games I enjoy (UNO and Codenames), but long board games are not my thing. I played one round of Clue last year and that was more than enough.
      Things are constantly shifting and I realize what works now won’t always work and, of course, if you have multiple children it can be even harder to find a mutually-agreeable option. If I had been giving 3 choices to my son they would NOT have included organizing or going for a walk.
      Finally – I hear you on the snow. Ours is finally all gone, but it has been cold and overcast and windy the last few days. Where is this spring that the calendar has promised?

  6. This is such wonderful advice. How quickly we learn if we offer to do something with our children and then think afterwards, why on earth did I offer that when I really don’t like doing it.

    Parenting hacks for me are to think about the day ahead and how it is going to work for me and what we have going on in terms of timings, when I need to do things etc at the beginning of each day. If I don’t do this my day really does not run smoothly and I end up forgetting to do things, especially on those full days. I used to do this the day before or even a couple of days ahead but I just got into a muddle as I couldn’t keep that info in my head and the day that I was on too. On those days when I don’t need to do this, I don’t it gives my head a break and I just go with the flow all day and have stopped beating myself up if my day feels unproductive as all that means is that I probably don’t have anything physical to show for the day even though I might have done a load of things.

    Routine things I do with my children are……

    My seventeen year old needs to know what a days plans are (this was every day when he was home educated, now he is college this is just the few days he is home with me) and really does not like it if I forget something or the plans have to change. He has been like this since he was teeny tiny, it took me a while to realise that he could be ok with what we were doing if he just knew what it was that going on that day.

    Giving a time warning if we are going out, if they are engrossed in something they still lose track of time so I still do this even though they are older now.

    Making life easier for me I think the biggest thing for me is meal planning it frees up so much time for me each day not having to think what we are going to eat for dinner and tea every day.

    1. I think both my kids are quite spontaneous (they like to pack up and head off on an adventure) – I am a planner through and through. I have lists and a planner and wall calendars and digital calendars. I’m trying to inject more spontaneity into my life but, like you, I feel so much better about a day if I have a clear plan going into it.
      And I also second your advice to give time calls. I actually think this works better as the kids get older because they have a better concept of time. When they were little, “5 more minutes” didn’t have much application for them (I did try to do concrete things too, like 3 more trips down the slide and then we leave the park). But now that both kids can tell time, have clocks in their rooms and Abby has a watch…it just works so much better in terms of timing transitions so they don’t feel abruptly pulled out of an activity they’re enjoying.

  7. I don’t have parenting tips (and should probably abstain from trying to give any, given the fact that I’ve heard the “you don’t even have kids” before – haha), but I do love the parenting hack of giving choices. I think that is a great way to give control to your kid without completely giving up control yourself.

    I am definitely someone who tries to maximize their time, so I am constantly thinking of things that I can do “in-between” when I have a few extra minutes that will save me time later. I am getting pretty good at “lining up things that need to be done” in a fashion that they’ll neatly happen in succession without much wasted time in between (e.g. I went for a run and when I came back, I wanted to hop in the shower right away, but decided to prep stuff for dinner and get things going in the Dutch oven first, so dinner was started earlier than it would have been if I had hopped in the shower first, meaning I could do the next step when I was done showering). It’s the little things!

    1. It so often is the “little” things!
      I’m actually blogging about this thought later in the week, but those little/simple things can be hard, though – to identify, to put into place etc…ironically enough.

  8. I love the idea of only giving choices you’re going to enjoy. Another thing I’ve realized is if I will probably give in and do something I don’t really enjoy, better to just do it right away rather than having it be as a result of whining and wheedling. Often it’s over in 20 minutes or less when the kid loses interest!

    1. Ripping the Band-aid, so to speak, on activities can be a necessary evil. And, often, it’s not as bad as I’ve imagined (though playing – or watching others play – video games is something I flatly refuse to do).

  9. Oh, my goodness – right there with you. Make believe is not my happy place. I know people with boundless imaginations who love nothing more than to play make believe with their kids. I always hated it when I babysat. Let’s DO something – go to the pool, go on a walk, read a book together, read books separately, make something in the kitchen. Heck, let’s build something out of legos. But don’t make me pretend play.
    Also? Sooo not a card game person. Board games? All for them – see above, re: let’s do something. I loved the Game of Life with one family I babysat. With others, it was things like Uno. But something like, I don’t know, Euchre? Or Spades? Or (god forbid) bridge??? I can’t keep the rules straight and never remember what “wins” in each game, so yeah. Not my thing. So glad to know there are others who fall in this group – I always felt like a major outlier!

    1. Ha! Card games at this stage are pretty easy with the kids – UNO, Phase10. I’m hopeless at remembering the rules to, say, poker. But, overall I like card games because they tend to be over quickly. That was one reason – even as a child – I didn’t like Monopoly. It always took too long!!!

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