I Don't Know How SHE Does It, But Here's How I Do It

I Don't Know How SHE Does It, But Here's How I Do It
A typical week's schedule

This weekend marks the release of the new movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”  I read the book years ago and hated it, partly because it made it seem like the working mom main character barely knew her kids and risked a nervous breakdown on a daily basis.  Since I have four kids and have always worked fulltime, I took exception to that portrayal.  

I wrote a post this past week about how I’ve always hated it when people tell me they don’t know how I do it given that I have always been very involved in my kids’ activities despite a schedule that could be perceived as fairly demanding.  The reason I take offense to the comment “I don’t know how you do it,” even though it’s generally delivered as a compliment, could be because I’ve never really had the option to not work and have made a big effort to be a present, involved mom over the years, despite an often stressful job that has me away from the house about 12 hours a day.

One reader suggested that my dismissive tone about the challenges of running a house was insulting to many moms who struggle to keep things under control in their own homes.  In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.  I always assume that everyone has their own system for staying sane, so why would I push my system on someone else?  Her note made me wonder, however, if maybe sharing a few of my strategies might be helpful to some people, so I decided to do so in case readers could pick up a new idea that they’d find useful.  After all, I’m probably using someone else’s idea myself.

I don’t pretend my situation is a ‘10’ on the stressful scale, mostly because my kids are old enough to be relatively self sufficient.  However, they still expect food from time to time and they have busy schedules, made more difficult for me because I work downtown and live 35 miles away.  Oh, and a month ago my husband took a job in another state and will likely only be home about once a month, so I’m essentially a single mom.  I do know a little something about having a lot on my plate.

My system is predicated on the fact that I feel calmer and more relaxed if my house is not in chaos.  I also like my downtime and don’t want to spend every second that I’m home feeling like I need to be doing something.  I’ve had 19 years to perfect what works for me, which is the main point: figure out what works for you.  I like to think that I’m pretty honest about myself, both at work and in my home life: I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at.  I think that if you start by considering that, it will help guide your overall system.  If you love to cook but hate to clean, what works for you will be different than what works for someone who is the opposite. 

Here is a little of what I can share:

Sacrifice some time each week to getting organized

I don’t like to do much in the evenings because I’m tired from work, and by Saturday I’m ready to just relax—not to mention we often have activities on a weeknight or a Saturday.  However, by Sunday, I’m feeling a little rested, so I know that a lot of Sunday will be dedicated to getting myself organized for the upcoming week.  That way, I don’t feel guilty about relaxing on Saturday and I really don’t have much to do around the house on weeknights.  Lots of what I talk about in the following sections revolves around this designated weekly get-organized time.  I also think this would be a good strategy for someone with small kids because it would tend to be a time when there is another adult home to watch the kids while you do some running around.

Get your schedule straight

I keep my schedule on the computer, which I highly recommend.  I don’t sync it to my phone, but I know a lot of people do.  Every Sunday, I print the following week’s schedule and hang it on the fridge so it’s always updated for the week and everyone can see it.  Since our schedule is so crazy these days, it’s also the time when I shoot out emails to my carpool angels to see when everyone is driving to various practices and games. 


I’ve actually gotten better about this since my husband left a month ago, which is ironic.  Over the summer when there were five able-bodied people home pretty much every day, I got tired of phone calls on the train asking me what was for dinner, so I’m really committed to being prepared for dinner every night.  Now, every Sunday I look at the schedule and assign a dinner that is conducive to whatever is going on that day, and I write that night’s dinner on the schedule.  If we’ll be in and out and can’t all sit down together on a given day, maybe we’ll have sandwiches that I make the night before and throw in the oven as needed.  Or if it’s a busy afternoon, I’ll have a crock-pot dinner.  If someone is getting their braces tightened, we might have soup.  You get the idea.  I also have the kids do some of the prep before I get home.

Part II is making a grocery list based on what dinners we’re having.  A good week is when I only go to the grocery store once.  After my list is made, I head out (the earlier the better on a Sunday).  I’ve added Costco to my Sunday routine, also.  I hate doing big Costco shops and would rather go more often and get a little less each time.  Costco is also perfect for buying tons of lunch food, which then goes into plastic containers in the pantry for easy access when putting lunches together (the kids do their own lunches by the way).  And don’t forget to stock up on everyday non-perishables (toilet paper, cereal, cleaning supplies, etc.)

I also keep one of those magnetic lists on the fridge that people are supposed to write things on if we run out, although usually everything seems to be in my handwriting.


I admit I have a cleaning lady come once a month.  I am obviously perfectly capable of cleaning my own house, but I don’t want to spend my weekend doing that and I love having them do the jobs that I hate, like cleaning the showers and mopping the wood floors.  Since a month is a long time to go without cleaning, I offer interim jobs for the kids to do for a nominal amount of money.  I know some people don’t agree with paying kids to help around the house, and there are plenty of jobs they do just for the privilege of living in our house (mowing the lawn, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the pets, etc.), but to be honest it’s a nice opportunity for my youngest to earn a little extra money since she doesn’t get asked to babysit yet and isn’t old enough for a job.  Then there’s also no resentment if another kid chooses not to clean.  And it’s still way cheaper than having the cleaning lady come every two weeks.


This one is easy: everything gets done on Sunday.  I start Saturday evening and keep it moving all day Sunday.  I fold everything and the kids need to have all of their laundry put away Sunday night.  With sports, sometimes it’s necessary to do a midweek load.  When that happens, I try to throw something random in (tablecloth, throw rugs, dogs’ blanket).


Not to sound like a broken record, but ideally as many errands as possible are done on Sunday in a single trip.  I go to the grocery store, Costco, get gas and get cash for the kids’ math tutor.  I make sure I pick up any prescriptions that might be needed and check for stamps and garbage stickers before I go because all that can be done at the grocery store.  I’m trying to train myself to be more aware of the birthdays for nieces and nephews so I can pick up a card and gift card at the grocery store, but I admit I am terrible about birthdays.  Now that I say that I have no idea why I don’t have birthdays on my computer so they show up on our weekly schedule.  Note to self: do that.


I absolutely hate leaving the house in the evening or doing much of anything other than cross stitch on the couch for that matter.  While it can’t be avoided that I have to drive people to and fro or go to curriculum night or a volleyball meeting or whatever we have going on, at least I don’t have too many household chores to do if I’ve used Sunday to get organized.  I sometimes do some prep for the following evening’s dinner so that goes more quickly.  I run the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, etc. and believe it or not I usually have a decent chunk of time to relax. 

Just say no!

When my kids were younger, I went overboard trying to be a supermom, probably partly to compensate for being a working mom.  Guess what?  I kind of burnt out, not surprisingly.  A wise friend finally suggested that I could still be involved without killing myself.  Why not just volunteer to help at one of the kid’s Halloween parties rather than be in charge of it?  Teach a class at Explore More Day rather than be on the planning committee for the whole darn event?  At some point I started to only do things that would actually involve being with my kids—and lots of those extracurricular activities, while indirectly benefitting the kids, don’t actually involve spending time or sharing experiences with them.  You can be a good parent without saying yes to everything under the sun.

Random Tips

  • We do as many dentist, vet, car repairs, eye exams, sports physicals, etc. as possible during the summer.  We all know what a pain even one of those appointments is during the week when school is in session.
  • I do almost 100% of my Christmas shopping online and avoid the craziness of the stores at almost any cost.  Also, I order my Christmas cards online and try not to feel inferior when I receive handmade origami cards from friends. 
  • I do not feel guilty about buying treats at the store rather than making them myself (unless I actually want to)- the kids don’t care, trust me.
  • I often have something going on for me that is not related to work or kids.  A few years ago I took a gardening class at the community college, and two years ago I trained for and ran the marathon (and I was not a “runner”, believe me). 
  • When the kids were younger, we used to babysit each others’ kids as often as possible.  The kids liked it better and it was free.  Sometimes we’d pay one sitter to watch all the kids so we could go out together.

That’s all I can think of right now.  Sorry this is long.  Maybe you can take any idea or two from it.  I would love to hear strategies that have worked for other people.  In my house, a calm and organized mommy is a happy mommy and that’s good for everyone!

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