why lists are good for our kids– and our sanity

Like many mothers I know, I struggle mightily with the out-the-door routine of our weekday mornings. When it’s two minutes to eight and each of my three children has one sock and a bed head– well, I’m glad I’m not being filmed.

Then there’s the after-school slog: did you do your homework, where is it, I have to sign it, come back here and put your homework away, it’s time for your bath, yes it is, yes I know you took one last night, no you can’t have those Sun Chips I’m trying to get dinner ready…

and so on.

Recently I decided to reinstitute the morning checklist. I wrote down everything I need my recalcitrant and sleepy first-grader to do in the mornings, and asked him to copy it onto a sign for his room.

“Make peeps” is our bathroom euphemism of choice. I heard Rosie O’Donnell say it on her show (before I ever was a parent) and I just liked it. Anyway, I just scribbled it all on a Post-It and gave it to Seamus so he could make it his own. Instead, he just shrugged. “I’ll probably use this,” he said, never one to put himself out unnecessarily. But despite its shabby appearance, this Post-It note has worked wonders over the last couple of weeks. He is now able to get himself ready for school by 8 a.m. without me dragging him every step of the way.

Somehow, though, I felt like the after-school slog was different. There’s not a intense time constraint- just three kids, exhausted from a long day at school, who want to lie on the couch for a few hours of junky television. The last thing they’d respond to was ANOTHER list, especially a list as long as this one:

What am I, the Tiger Mother? Give the kids a freaking break.

And yet this was the advice I received from a cognitive behavioral therapist who has seen it all before. Give them a list, he said.

Puh-lease, I thought to myself. But they have such a highly structured day, I said out loud. They’ll hate this. By 5 p.m. they’re just tired of being told what to do.

Structure, this very wise man replied, does not have to be onerous. For children, structure can be a huge relief.

A nineteen-item list of things to do every night, a relief? Yeah, sure. I put it up anyway, because I was tired of the fighting.

And oh my. It has worked. Homework magically appears before me for me to review and sign. Dirty school uniforms leap off the floor and into the hamper all by themselves. In the most delightful way.

“Look at the list,” I say, when they ask me what happens now. And they do. And no one weeps with exhaustion. Not even me. The list is life.

Have you ever taken any parenting advice, sure it wouldn’t worked, and then have been shocked when it did?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney October 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm

All the time. Especially from my mother. My mom is one of 12 kids, has three kids of her own, and 4 (soon to be 5) grandchildren. She is the baby/toddler/preschooler/young child whisperer. Everything she tells me to try, works. I can’t even begin to list them all, but from feedings to sleep training to discipline, the woman knows it all. And she isn’t preachy about it or judgmental. She just says, why don’t you try this. And I do, and it works. Amen.


Anonymous October 31, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I feel like moms like that– mine is one of them too– didn’t do LISTS, or cognitive behavioral therapists, or any of it, and they figured it out so much better than we do a lot of the time. Well, me. I’ll speak for myself.


Karen October 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Oh. My. God.  That sounds exactly like our house. Exactly.
I also started a list this year, but I only did morning and bedtime. I am SO adding the after-school list to the mix!


Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom October 31, 2011 at 12:44 am

If it worked for you, maybe it’ll work for me! I can hope, right? If the cognitive behavioural therapist told me to do it, I would have rolled my eyes. After all, I work with a  lot of PhDs who have no common sense or grasp on reality. But since it worked for you, it seems much more palatable to me.


Amykover December 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I’m a crazy lister, and my kids adapted the same habit. My son even dictated my xmas list for OTHER people, and makes me check it once a day. “Did you get Grammy a present yet, Mommy?”  My own live Siri. http://cookingwithjeanne.blogspot.com/2010/09/addendum-thanksgiving-itinerary-of-mad.html


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