5 Life Hacks Only Parents Will Appreciate

Life with a toddler in the house is an endless learning experience for everyone involved. Right about the time you think you have things figured out, something changes.

That's what keeps it exciting.

So you adopt adaptive management strategies into your parenting. And your house cleaning. And pretty much every aspect of your life. Try something. Learn from it. Adapt and try again.

Along the way, you sometimes stumble across the occasional "Aha!" moment. You find a little trick that works or a new way of doing something that makes life just a touch easier. Today we call them life hacks. Or whatever. Here are a few that I've found that I'd thought I'd share.

1. The Barrette Bookmark
Despite the craziness of life, I still think it's important to find time to read. My wife will tell you I'm a bit of a book addict. I read, generally in bed after the kid goes down, nearly every night of the week. The other night I started a new book (Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman if you're wondering) and as I was hitting that stage of drifting to sleep while reading, it occurred to me I didn't have a bookmark. I dislike dog-eared pages and I don't have the nightstand space to lay it face-down what with the lamp, laptop, cocktail glass (daddy's sleep aid), and other books taking up all the real estate.

But among the nightstand clutter was one of the kid's barrettes - the kind that like an inch-and-a-half long made of spring steel that snap open and shut by bending them in the middle. Turns out, these things are as handy for holding your place in a book as they are at holding hair out of your kid's eyes (we really need to get her hair cut).

What's extra handy about the barrette bookmark is you can clip it to the side of the page so that the point of the barrette marks the exact paragraph where you need to pick up reading next time. No more scanning paragraphs to figure out where it was you fell asleep.

2. The Metallica Lullaby
The kid and I have developed this nighttime routine consisting of arguing over the fact that it is in fact bed time, then some stall tactics ("daddy I have to pee, wash my hands, find another stuffed animal to add to the 20 others on my bed..."), then several rounds of lullabies, sung by me. And by "lullabies" I mean a dozen repetitions of the same song: You Are My Sunshine. 

I know what you're thinking. "Aww, how sweet!" And it was. The first fifty times.

So the other night I decided to switch it up and try to use something I wouldn't mind singing every night from now until she's moved out of the house. What song did I choose?

Metallica's Enter Sandman.

Seriously, try it out. Sing it slow and rhythmically like a lullaby. It works perfect. It's my current go-to when I tire of Sunshine. And the kid doesn't seem to mind. I've also tried singing One, and The Unforgiven but those didn't pass muster. Sandman seems to be the only magic metal lullaby I've found so far that apparently has the proper rhythm to relax the kid.

But I will keep trying. Any suggestions?

3. The Bedroom Office
My home office used to be in what is now the spare bedroom on the first floor of our house. But our bedroom is upstairs. So on nights when I needed/wanted to research, write, work, pay bills, or anything else normal people do in their home offices after the kid goes to bed (get your mind out of the gutter), I'd have to choose between that or chatting with the wife who normally would spend that time watching TV either in the living room or upstairs. Either way, we were apart. And that's really the only part of the weekday we get to spend time together without the kid demanding our attention.

So I moved the office to the bedroom. Luckily, our bedroom is quite large so it was no trouble fitting in the desk and 2-drawer file cabinet. In its initial configuration, one end of the desk pulled double duty as my night stand (more room for books!). But we recently rearranged and the desk is now serving as the barrier to the cold air drafts that pour through the permanently-installed window air conditioner.

Multiple-benefit life hack this one is I guess.

Anyway, now I can chat with wifey while I pay bills or write. Sure, the multi-tasking cuts into productivity some, but it works.

4. Baby Wipes
I've discovered that baby wipes are as versatile as a Leatherman. I keep some around practically everywhere. In my car. In my shop. In every room of the house. They're as good for wiping butts as they are for cleaning up spills, workbenches, dashboards, or the mud off your duck gun. They're tougher than paper towels. They're easily accessed through whatever dispenser you pull them from. And they're pre-moistened so you don't need any water or soap. Granted, they're not going to remove engine grease, but for everyday cleanups, they're great.

5. A Strict Schedule
One piece of parenting advice that I've found incredibly helpful is one which I've adopted with near-religious fanaticism. It's keeping to a nighttime schedule. Early on we developed a schedule where the kid goes to bed at 8:00 PM and for the most part, that's non-negotiable. And it's worked wonders. Though she will fight it some (see #2 above), the kid gets noticeably tired around then and we seldom have any trouble getting her to sleep in a reasonable amount of time (I don't remember the last time she was awake past 8:30). We've made it clear to family and friends that that's our schedule and barring major catastrophes, we will stick to it.

I think routine is important for a number of reasons but I cannot stress enough how adamantly adhering to a schedule has made life easier. Beyond just setting the expectation for the kid as to when bed time is, it gives me and wifey the ability to plan "our time" in the evenings. Basically, we get between 8:00 and 10:00 PM to ourselves (although wifey seldom stays up past maybe 9:00). And since we get up on weekdays at 6:00 AM, that leaves exactly 8 hours to sleep which is, to me, another non-negotiable habit that I've found incredibly beneficial on a number of levels.

On hunting weekends when I have to get up early, I just forego reading or conversation (much to wifey's dismay) and move my bed time forward as much as possible to maintain that eight hours of sleep.

Basically, it's those two hours in the evening that I get to live my "other" life. It's then that I get to read, or write, or watch TV with wifey. With few exceptions, this entire blog was dreamed up, thought about, started, and maintained in those two-hour windows. It's in those two-hour blocks that I come up with some of my best ideas for work. It's in those windows of time that I've read dozens of books and learned tons of stuff.

So I guess if I were to pick my "favorite" hack on this list, it'd be this one. Establishing and maintaining this nighttime schedule is, to me, one of the things I really think I've done "right" as a Dad.

What are some of your favorite "hacks" or what parenting tips can you share?

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