I have been known to mutter or sometimes shout to anyone who will listen as I walk out the front door in the mornings to get the kids to school, “It feels like I am herding cattle.” Now being quite an urban girl with some lovely weekends spent on farms where other people are doing the real farm work and we get to stick a bottle in a lamb’s mouth or find the hidden eggs treasure-hunt style, I am not really au fait with what herding cattle actually entails (or speaking French while I’m at it.) Yes, I watched City Slickers but still I’m not au fait. The mornings sometimes feel frenzied with my two children (it’s a small herd) running in different directions despite repeated calls to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and get to the same place – the front door, so that we can depart. Now, I could have spent some time going farm-ward and actually herding cattle to see if I was using the term correctly in reference to getting my children ready for school or I could turn to google and see what trusty google says. Wikihow defines Herding Cattle as such, “Herding cattle is an art and a science that requires patience, knowledge of flight-zone, and a bit of bovine psychology.” As far as I am concerned I am spot on! Hopefully no one will replace my boys with a herd of cattle to test my accuracy but “art”, “science”, “patience”,” flight-zone” and “psychology” (albeit bovine) are all helpful elements to improving the messy morning situation.
I do not aspire to either a sergeant- major military style level of efficiency in our mornings nor do I anticipate every morning filled with fun, laughter and willing cooperation- both would admittedly be quite nice but I try my best to stay realistic. On the good mornings, we manage to leave the house with minimal nagging employed and even some joy and laughter thrown in. The rough mornings look a tad different, suffice it to say joy, laughter and cooperation are as distant a reality as me actually herding some actual cattle. These bleak mornings are characterised by various combinations of these: The Nag Admission “I have asked you three times..”; The Unbridled Threat, “If you don’t brush your teeth right now, you will lose …” and finally The Defeated Reverse Psychology, “Fine, don’t put on your shoes and socks, it’s not my problem if you are late for school.” Whilst admitting and recognising that all three have had a place in my morning repertoire and they do get some movement sometimes from someone or other, they generally leave me feeling frazzled and frazzled is not a good way to begin a day.
One recent afternoon I noticed that my niece hadn’t taken her plate to the kitchen, I asked her to please take her plate to the kitchen. She got up and took her plate to the kitchen. An award winning plot this is not. However, I then turned to my eldest son and said with a bit of dramatic affect as in – blow me over with a feather- type voice, “Did you see that, I just asked her to do something and she just got up and did it without me having to repeat it.” My son, without skipping a beat, replied “Oh I also do that at other people’s houses.” So turns out he knows how to cooperate, he just chooses sometimes to reserve the testing of boundaries to the safety of our home. In the greater scheme of things, I suppose this is of course preferable as that’s generally a secure base from which to be doing that testing. However, this provides only minimal comfort to me, particularly when I have struggled out of the land of slumber into the middle of a cattle run, I hope some of the following ideas provide some useful herding skills.
If we are going to be the container for boundary testing, it’s best that we do some prepping and are ready for action. Do what you can before the bleary eyed are all facing each other in the morning. School lunches made the night before, extramural bags packed the night before, homework completed and notices signed the night before all help to minimise the potential morning chaos.
Getting the kids to take responsibility for some of this prepping can be a short term hardship but really helps in the long run. Imagine if we can teach our kids to take responsibility and give them the scope to learn organisational skills how useful this will be to them going forward.
You snooze you lose
I’ve had a few (ok very few) mornings where I have managed to wake up before the kids and actually in a highly functional manner do some stretches, shower and dress before the children wake up. I had a tiny bit of distance before I went into the trenches and I had more energy to give to my herd. At the very least just showering or getting dressed before the children are up gives you a workable advantage. Of course if the kids have gone to bed early enough and you have gone to bed at a reasonable hour – you will also have more energy and things will feel calmer.
“It’s Just another Manic Monday”
I know that when my 6 year old wakes up on a Monday morning and declares in a fragile and defiant tone “I am not going to school today” that my reaction is key. When I am rushed, irritated, multitasking and distracted (there was that one time) and I respond with something along the lines of “Don’t be ridiculous of course you are going to school, now pull yourself together and get dressed,” I am dancing with disaster. If I take just a few seconds and respond empathically with something more along the lines of, “I know it can be hard to go back to school after a weekend of us all being together, I also find it hard.” We have the potential to dance a happier jig. Even though he still has to pull himself together and get dressed, he knows that he has been heard and understood and I can be more supportive rather than controlling. Some authentic empathy and connecting with our kids really helps to ground them and us in the middle of the morning missions.
And they all left home happily ever after
The morning routine is unlikely to be a consistent fairy tale. Sometimes there will be a happy ending and sometimes the Mama Bear will be seriously peeved that Baby Bear refused to eat the porridge she has just cooked. There is no textbook on the perfect morning routine, you need to find what works for your family but remember you always have the power to change things and do things differently to improve your current position.
It can be helpful to include the children in a discussion about what you are finding difficult in the mornings and to hear from their perspective what is hard for them and then to plan accordingly together.
And when things do go smoothly, acknowledge and celebrate these moments with your kids. It’s great for them to hear you acknowledge that things went well that day and for them to see what happened differently to facilitate the happy start to the day so that you will all(hopefully) emulate these things going forward.
I was in the middle of writing this when my 6 year old called me to his room to tell me that he just couldn’t fall asleep, so I introduced him to the concept of counting sheep. I told him to close his eyes and picture a sheep jumping over a fence and we started gradually adding sheep (in between he told me that I had the wrong colour fence and that he wanted to know if he could add other animals too, I said that was cool, this was his fence and his flock). He is fast asleep now. I hope that his was a cooperative flock/herd or whatever it became and I hope it provides him with much cooperative inspiration for the coming morning…