For Stephanie Sprenger, a writer with 6-year-old and 11-year-old daughters, mornings have been the hardest part of parenting. Mornings, she said, “represent the worst of the worst of raising kids: chaos, pressure, rushing, misplaced items, unpacked school lunches, forgotten library books — they bring my parental ineptitude into full focus.”
Lori Mihalich-Levin, an attorney, author and mom to 5- and 7-year-old sons, described her past mornings as “dire.” “Given how little sleep my husband and I were getting, combined with boys who were very early risers, we never set an alarm. Instead, we awoke every day to screams, cries, and “MOMMY!!”
She and her husband never knew what to expect: Some mornings, the boys would wake up at the crack of dawn, which meant playing, eating breakfast and slowly getting ready for daycare and work. Other mornings it was a mad dash. “The unpredictable nature of the whole thing created a profoundly discombobulated start to each day.”
Sprenger doesn’t know any parents who breeze through mornings. Instead, they feel like there’s never enough time and everything goes wrong in the last 5 minutes, when everyone is supposed to be out the door, she said.
Almost everyone Shawn Fink starts working with thinks mornings are about kick-starting the hectic day: tackling the to-do list; replying to email and social media; making breakfast and lunch; cleaning up and heading out. These various tasks loom over us, making it that much harder to focus on activities that actually feel good to us, said Fink, a motherhood and family wellness coach.
If your mornings aren’t filled with an hour-long meditation, and sunlight streaming into your serene, silent, spotless bedroom, you’re certainly not alone. Maybe you wake up already exhausted. Maybe like Fink’s clients, you spring out of bed and attack your to-do list.
Either way, you can still create a morning routine that nourishes you. It doesn’t need to resemble a Real Simple photospread to be enjoyable. Here are some tips to try:
Think micro self-care. Mihalich-Levin turned her shower into an opportunity to practice self-care with the acronym ISS: She’d set an intention for her day, stretch her body, and savor the hot water and calm and feel grateful for her kids. Her intention was either a mantra—such as “I am enough” or “comparison is the thief of joy”—or a commitment to herself—such as “I will go to bed by 10 p.m. tonight.”
Mihalich-Levin established another routine: After she’d drop off the kids at daycare and get on the train downtown, she’d take a break on her walk to work. “At some point along the walk, I made it a point to stop off at a park bench or a hotel lobby (on cold or rainy days), and set my Insight Timer app for 3-5 minutes. I would take that time to breathe, enjoy a few moments of alone time, and re-orient myself to the day ahead,” said Mihalich-Levin, founder of Mindful Return, LLC, a program that helps new parents transition back to work after parental leave, and author of the book Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
On the days Sprenger wakes up later, she takes 2 minutes to stretch in bed: She pulls one leg into her chest at a time, then both, and does a gentle twist. As she stretches, she inhales deeply and repeats “I am” to the count of four. She exhales to the count of six and repeats “at peace.”
She suggested closing your eyes and setting an intention, “something that will calm you down and inspire you throughout the day,” such as: “Today I am going to accept things as they are; Today I will remember to make space for myself; I will be fully present whatever I am doing today; or Today I am going to be energized and dynamic at work.”
Your ritual might be even simpler than that. It might be sipping coffee in your favorite mug while your kids watch “Sesame Street,” said Sprenger, who pens the blog Mommy, for Real and co-edited The HerStories Project‘s essay collection: So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood.
“Sometimes just a few minutes to check in with ourselves and our bodies is all we need to start the day on a better note.” Mihalich-Levin also noted that being intentional about taking several minutes to “stop, breathe and re-group can be life-changing.”
Remember it’s only a season. “This crazy, unpredictable, sleep-deprived time in life is, indeed, just a season—one that sometimes seems eternal, but that ultimate will pass,” Mihalich-Levin said. Today, her mornings are much calmer. The boys wake up between 6:30 and 7 a.m. She and her husband wake up at 6:05 a.m. She begins her morning by writing in a 5-minute journal and exercising for 10 to 15 minutes. “This all seems extremely revolutionary after years of morning chaos!”
Think about your personal priorities. In the past year, on most days, Sprenger gets up 30 minutes early to meditate in bed, which has become a “total game changer.” But when her girls were younger, they slept less and they needed her more, she wouldn’t have gotten up earlier for anything. “Sometimes sleep needs to be the priority.”
Reflect on what you need right now. What needs to be a priority for you? What would help you feel nourished?
Prepare what you can in advance. To make your mornings less hectic, you might prepare breakfast, pack lunches, and lay out your child’s clothes and shoes in the evening, Sprenger said. Think about what you can do the night before to make your mornings easier and smoother.
Focus on the feeling you want to cultivate. “It’s not about when you wake up,” said Fink, author of the book The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow. “It’s about how you wake up.”
Fink teaches a free 7-day program called Rise and Shine, Mama. She noted that the goal should be to begin your day the way you want to feel the rest of the day. For instance, most of Fink’s clients like to plan their day, meditate or journal to peaceful music. This helps them start their day with “compassion and ease.” How do you want to feel the rest of the day? What activity helps to spark that feeling?
“Your needs matter,” Sprenger said. “And any way in which you are able to carve out some space for yourself—your real self, not just your mom self—is good for your entire family.” Find rituals—big or small—that nurture, inspire and soothe you. Find rituals that reconnect you to yourself.