“Mom, Can You Do Less?”

It was another typical, stressful morning. The kids were playing legos instead of getting dressed. There was sword fighting with toothbrushes instead of brushing teeth. Eating breakfast somehow involved dance moves and a bowl of cereal ended up on the floor. I followed them with increasing panic, watching the minutes slip by on the clock. I kept up a steady chant of instructions and directions, trying to get us out the door to school on time.

“Get dressed.”
“I told you to get dressed.”
“Get dressed now.”
“Eat your breakfast.”
“I told you to eat your breakfast.”
“Eat. Your. Breakfast.”
“I said brush your teeth!”

back to school do less

We were still tying shoes when the first bell rang. My tone turned from frustrated chant to yelling. I yelled us out the door, the kids frantically holding together their backpacks because there wasn’t time to zip them up. My diatribe continued into the car.

“This is not a good morning. How many times did I tell you to put on your shoes and pack your backpacks? We do this every morning and you know what to do. I am out of ideas for how I can do more to get you ready in the morning. What more can I do?” I gripped the steering wheel. “Really, I’m asking you, what more can I do?”
“Mom, can you do less?” I turned to see my six-year-old, the toothbrush swashbuckler, imploring me with big blue eyes.
“Could you remind us less? We don’t like it when you ask us a lot. And we really don’t like it when you yell.”

“Okay,” I said. “But if I ask you less, will you get ready? I’m worried if I don’t remind you then things won’t get done.”
“We’ll get ready,” they said in unison.

I had my doubts, but I was out of ideas. So we made a plan. I woke them up in the morning, told them when breakfast was ready, and then gave them the five-minute reminder before it was time to go. The rest was up to them. I printed out morning routine charts and put them on the wall so that they could have a visual reminder of what we have to do every morning. And I promised to remind them fewer times and with a kind voice.

The next morning, I didn’t remind them at all to get dressed, brush their teeth, and put on shoes. I didn’t even remind them their cereal was mushy and their eggs were cold when they didn’t come to breakfast for ten minutes. I told them I was leaving in five minutes, but I didn’t remind them to pack their backpacks.

And it worked! It wasn’t another stressful morning. The next morning went well. And the morning after that. We’re about six weeks into this system and, so far, it’s working pretty well.

I suspect there are days when teeth may not actually be brushed, shoes are put on in the car on the way to school, and snacks left on the counter, but I don’t worry about it. I actually enjoy mornings, and I suspect they do too.

The little voice of “Mom, can you do less?” repeats in my head other times, too. When my nine-year-old comes home sad because of friend drama, I remind myself “to do less.” She doesn’t need me to solve it. I couldn’t if I wanted to. But I can hold her and I can listen. I can do less but still be there.

It’s a reminder that my job as a mom is changing now that my kids are getting older. When they were infants, my job was to do everything for them. Now that they are getting older and more independent, my job is still important but it’s different. I’m no longer the driver in their car. Now I’m both the pilot car leading the way and the guardrails to keep them on the road. I can’t control their speed, and soon I won’t even have a say in the route they drive. I’ll just wave on the sidelines as they learn to drive themselves. I can still be mom, even when I’m doing less.

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