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How to get things done as a parent without getting overwhelmed

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Blue sky - how to get things done as a parent without getting overwhelmed

Being a parent can feel overwhelming at times. It can feel like the to-do list has more than tripled in size, and there are just not enough hours in the day. Don't worry - here are some tips and tricks to help with that.

Don't try to do everything - learn how to say No

Notice that the title says "How to get things done..." and not "How to get everything done...". Don't try to be perfect. If you're a perfectionist, you'll have to let go of some of this tendency now, otherwise you won't retain your sanity as a parent. Yes, obviously you need to do the most important tasks, so you'll need to keep medical appointments for anyone in your family, you'll need to feed yourself and your children, and so on.

But if you're already overwhelmed, learn how to say no to things that aren't your responsibility, aren't mission-critical and don't bring joy. It's not forever; just try saying no to those things for a week or two and see how you go. For example: "No, sorry, I can't fill in for the flag football coach this Thursday." If there is no-one else to do it, think what the consequence would be if no-one did it - it may not be as dire as you think. For example, if the consequence is that there is no practice that day, so be it.

If you have kids aged 3 and under, you should not feel the least bit guilty about saying no to stuff.

If you need to give a reason, try my favorite when my kids were little "My hands are already full" or my mother-in-law's favorite "Sorry, that just doesn't work for me". You don't have to give a reason more specific than that. Once you get things back on track (hopefully not too long from now!) you'll be able to pitch in more with things, but while you're overwhelmed, strongly limit how much time you spend helping others. I try to help out friends with things if I can, but my kids are older now so it's a lot easier.

Please don't persist with trying to help people if you're struggling yourself and their situation is not a true emergency. Remember the sayings: you can't serve from an empty platter. Put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.


Ah yes, groceries. These are essential, but I agree it's really hard to do groceries, especially when your kids are little. There are options that make life easier such as pickup orders and home delivery orders. But if you're trying to pick out things like fruit or meat, it makes sense to go in person. I recommend these tips to save time when grocery shopping in person. You really want to streamline groceries as much as possible because otherwise it can just sort of expand and take up way too much time.

Don't get too stressed about having a finite time to shop otherwise your kid will have a meltdown. Look at the bright side: it's an advantage that is keeping you on track and moving you along more than if you had all the time in the world to shop.

When your kids are young, it's probably best to be doing more short grocery trips than one long one, so that's another tip that makes life easier. Just because you did a week or more worth of groceries before having kids and it took you an hour and a half, that doesn't mean it's a realistic scenario with kids. Either go twice a week, or if that's not realistic time-wise or travel-wise then do a home delivery or curbside pickup order once a week for the majority of the items you need for the week, and an in-person trip just for meat, fruit, vegetables, and any items the pickup service didn't have in stock at the time.

Housework and cleaning

Again, don't aim for perfection here. You'll certainly need to have some system for housework and cleaning, but aim for a "happy medium" - you don't need to have a spotless house (people actually live in it, remember! It's a home!) nor on the other hand do you want it to be unsanitary.

Your child is more important than having all of the dusting done.

What's important

Yes, it's important to be sanitary, so for sure keep up with toilet cleaning, vacuuming the kitchen floor, wiping down countertops. I bet you can definitely save time on your bathroom cleaning - here are 10 tips for faster bathroom cleaning which will save you time.

What's not

Is it really critical to fold every item of clothing before putting it away? Probably not. After my children's clothes come out of the dryer, I just put them in piles according to whose they are and what drawer they'll be in, and then I just shove them, unfolded, into the drawers. And guess what? The kids don't care! The important thing is clean clothes, not folded clothes. Here are some great tips for balancing housework with parenting.

Try this flexible system

To keep from getting overwhelmed, aim for a weekly schedule of cleaning and make it realistic. Don't have it be a day-by-day list - the unpredictability of parenting isn't really compatible with that, even if you were able to do that in your pre-kid life. Just put up a list of cleaning that needs to be done for the week, and aim to tackle at least one item each weekday, pick the item spur of the moment that day. If it's a busier day than usual, pick the shortest and easiest chore that day.

Try to keep chores to weekdays or weeknights

Even though it's really hard to keep the chores from spilling over into the weekend, do your best to try to limit it to the week. This way the weekends can hopefully feel a bit more like you're getting a bit of a break, and not frantically trying to keep your head above water.

If you're working full time, it's going to be harder to do it, but try to at least grocery shop on a weeknight (bonus: stores are less busy) and do some of your cleaning on other weeknights. You'll still have things left to do on the weekends, probably laundry at the very least, especially if you work outside the home during the week. But by making a point to minimize the weekend chores, you'll make long strides toward feeling on top of everything and towards getting a little leisure time.

Be organized with your time - use tools

No, being organized does not mean buying a label-maker! I mean being organized timewise. I personally have found I'm able to outsource a lot of the parental keeping-track-of-stuff with these free tools. Not only does this approach save you some time, but more importantly, it actually saves you a ton of stress. You'll feel more on top of things, more competent, and better able to handle life's curveballs.

If you prefer analog, you'll love the gorgeous planners from Erin Condren, or if you prefer a similarly modern but less girly style, then


Remember that the important thing as a parent is your child. And yes, you can get things done as a parent without getting overwhelmed. It isn't easy, but it's possible, and the tips above show you how.

Image below: Erin Condren planners

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