Balancing Toddler Life and Housework

E is now 18 months and is no longer a baby. I do miss the baby days where she was largely immobile and would stay in one spot and not complain much. Now I have a stomping, running, bopping toddler who wants to be entertained 24/7 (or at least whenever she is awake). E does have her moments were she’s playing/reading on her own, but by and large she wants the attention of someone – usually me.

It is now much more challenging to keep the house clean and cook for the family. Here are a few things I do to help “keep it together”:

  • Have “cheat” meals ready – There are days where things get too crazy and I can’t get any sort of food on the table. Those are the days we either eat out/order in or I run to the nearest grocery store and get a frozen pizza. If my freezer has space, I should have the frozen pizza/Indian food/ravioli stashed in there. I am not ashamed to say I serve frozen meals to my family – this is real life people!!
  • Do housework in small chunks – I don’t have the opportunity to spend an afternoon or morning cleaning. Instead I do housework in bits and pieces. For example, once a week before I shower in the evenings, I clean the toilet bowl, sink and bathtub; when E is eating breakfast and sitting in her high chair, I vacuum the floor. There are some things I will need the hubs around to mind E so I try and leave bigger tasks for the weekend.
  • Keep things organized – Keeping things organized helps keep the house looking “presentable”. For example, most of E’s toys are in her room (organized of course) but there are a few toys and books in the living room. Those are kept in boxes that are placed in shelves. This keeps things looking neat and tidy and makes clean-up easier.
  • Prepare meals throughout the day – Depending on what I am cooking for dinner, it can be cooked in the morning and left to keep warm/continue cooking in the thermal cooker. I don’t use a slow cooker, but that can be a good alternative. I do most of my meal prep during E’s nap times. That means that meal prep can start in the morning during E’s 1st nap.
  • Have a few “busy” activities planned for the tot – I try and have some activities on hand that I know will occupy E for at least 10 minutes. Most of these activities are table top ones so it means she will be strapped to her high chair and doing something at the table. Activities like play dough with tools, inserting sticks into a container and stacking toys are usually a hit. As I don’t let E play with them that often, such activities are a “treat” to her.
  • Have (some sort of) a schedule/plan – E has a schedule (at least for her naps), certain household tasks are scheduled and I meal plan as much as possible. It helps provide some predictability in a day.
  • Give yourself some grace – It’s okay when things go wrong and the day is in a mess or “wasted”. I try hard not to feel guilty if I haven’t done anything in a day or everything seems to be in a mess. It’s okay (as long as nobody gets hurt of course). And it is okay if your child does not learn something or do something everyday…heck, learning about grace is learning something, and an important life lesson to boot.
  • Shortcuts are okay – I used to try and cook most things from scratch but now I can’t afford the time to do so. As such, I have begun to buy things like bottled tomato sauce (gasp!) and frozen pizza (gasp! gasp!). However, I still make it a point to look at the ingredient list and ensure it isn’t too trashy (think HFCS, preservatives, or too much of it etc.). Other shortcuts include buying more frozen veggies that are already cut into pieces (e.g. frozen broccoli florets) or using baby carrots more often because they save me some chopping time.
  • Encourage independent play – I try and encourage E to play on her own. Entertaining oneself is an important skill and crucial for development of other skills. Read this and this. Of course I don’t demand that E plays the whole day on her own but I am glad that there are pockets of time during the day that she entertains herself whether it be “reading” books or “cooking” in her “kitchen. I try not to disrupt her play unless necessary – anyway, that gives me some time to do stuff too! If your child seems to always want you around, try sitting close to your child as he/she plays and play a more observer role. If your child is older, you can also explain to them that you need to do something first and that they should start playing and that you will join them later. Start with small periods and slowly increase the independent play time. At E’s age I don’t expect her to be able to play on her own for longer than 10-15 minutes. But she has surprised me at times. This morning, she pottered about doing her own thing for more than half an hour!
  • Get the tot involved with some tasks – E loves to “help” out at home. She feels a huge sense of accomplishment every time she helps us with stuff. Unfortunately, there are limited things she can really help us with. And even if she does “help”, we might have to clean up after her. As such, we identify tasks that 1) She can do on her own without our help, or with little help 2) We can ensure her safety and the safety of others/objects when she completes the task. Some things she does now – place her dirty clothes in the laundry basket; get her washcloth for bath time; throw away trash in the recycling bin; throw away trash in her own bin (she has her own bin so that we can vet through the trash, in case she throws away something important); water plants (with our help); and clean-up her toys. Hopefully this list will grow as she gets more proficient with her motor skills.
  • Lastly, to remain sane, realize that this is a season of your life – It can be quite depressing that I don’t have much time for myself anymore (or sometimes alone time with my spouse). But I try and remind myself that this is a season of my life and focus on the positive things I get to experience and see each day, especially with regards to E’s development and growth. It also helps to connect with other moms in similar situations. Online groups are great because you don’t have to meet-up in person (which can be hard).

What are some strategies you use to help you get things done?



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