If your weeknights are anything like mine, it can feel like weathering a hurricane just to make it to your kids’ bedtime every night. Between homework, activities, and pleas for screen time, it’s easy to start feeling like your weeknights are just the gauntlet to get to the weekend.

But considering there are five of those weeknights, why not make them more enjoyable, instead of holding on for dear life? And you can, with a few simple strategies, a little planning, and some letting go, which is something our sponsor Applebee’s wants to help you with — at least when it comes to dinner, which we know can be a huge stress for lots of families.

Their Carside To Go service allows you to enjoy your favorite meals (or hey, something new) that you can pick up on your way home or while you’re out and about shuttling kids. Sweet!

So on their behalf, we’ve put together 8 simple ways we hope will make your weeknights a whole lot less crazy, and a whole lot more enjoyable. These tricks have certainly done wonders for me. -Kristen

1. Set yourself up for success.

Pottery Barn Daily System is a smart organizational tool for parents

One strategy I use is to keep my kids abreast of everything that’s going on in the day and week ahead. In my old house, we had a huge chalkboard in our kitchen, where I’d write the week’s schedule out for them so they could see what’s going on.

I’ve got my eye on these Pottery Barn Daily System Components as a replacement. But until I figure out what will work best on my new wall, I brief them about the day every morning on the way to school and leave a note for them when they get home.

When my kids know exactly what’s going on, and what’s expected of them, I find that it makes our weeknights so much easier.

2. Give everyone time to decompress.

It took me way too long to figure out that my kids need some time to chill out before I hound them about their day. But I feel the same way when I walk in the door after a long day, so why would they be any different?

For us, that means they can walk in, drop their stuff, and get a snack before anyone talks to them or asks them to empty their lunchbox, hang up their backpack, and do their homework. After about 10-15 minutes, they know it’s “open season” for me to go back to momming. I have to say this has really worked wonders in terms of everyone’s mood, especially when it comes to homework.

3. Create a homework plan.

Homework Hub: A smart way to keep your kids organized during the week

I feel fortunate that my kids don’t really get that much homework, but I know that’s not the same for everyone. In our home, my kids can choose where they do their homework — their room, the kitchen table, our craft room — so long as they get it done.

Based on some advice from organizer Laurie Palau, I created a homework hub, which includes everything they need to help them get their work done. It’s mobile, so they can bring it with them to wherever they go, so long as they put it back. (Surprisingly, that hasn’t been an issue.)

I also refer back to the advice that educational expert Katherine Firestone from Fireborn Institute shared on our podcast, which was to make sure you have a solid routine when it comes to homework. This way everyone knows what to expect, including you.

4. Remember that dinner time is not a contest.

It’s easy to get stressed out about dinner, especially if you’re the one responsible for it every single night. Yes, we do think meal planning is smart, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it — or even if you do and need to call in the reserves sometimes. I have to say our Recipe Rescue Facebook Group has been super helpful in our own home.

For me, it comes down to thinking about the next day’s meals the night before. Even if I just do a quick scan of what’s in the fridge to get an idea of what could work tomorrow.

And just remember, we’re usually our own harshest critics. There’s a good chance your family will be perfectly fine with whatever you come up with. And if they’re not, it’s the perfect opportunity to put them to work in the kitchen.

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From our sponsor

Applebee's Carside to Go online ordering makes dinner easier | sponsor

Speaking of dinner, Applebee’s Carside To Go makes it super simple to have family dinner on the table, without you having to do anything but place your order and pick it up. Hooray for that! Simply call your order in, use Applebee’s app, or order online, which lets you choose when you’d like to pick it up, either ASAP (estimated 15 minutes), or a specific date and time. You’ll be asked to input your vehicle make, model, and color to help the staff find you when you arrive, as you wait in the designated parking spots outside.

No getting out of the car; they’ll come to you! Then all you have to do is unpack it, and enjoy your family’s company at the dinner table.

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5. Make the best of your time in the car.

Table Topics: A great way to pass time in the car with kids

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of your weeknights in the car, driving kids to activities and lessons. We’ve started instituting a no-tech rule in the car, and instead, chatting with each other (remember that?), whether it’s questions about their day or fun conversation starters from sources like Table Topics. You’ll find no shortage of fantastic podcasts for kids that you won’t mind listening to either, or listen to an audiobook and get a little reading into your night.

It also helps to ensure you’ve got plenty of snacks packed; I keep a stash of protein bars and water bottles in my trunk in case we’re rushed and I don’t have time to pack things before we leave. And having something to do is a must. Instead of staring our phones while we wait, I’ve started encouraging the kids to play games or do crossword puzzles and word finds. And don’t forget yourself. I’ve gotten back to cross-stitching to keep my hands and brain busy.

6. Manage screen time: yours and theirs.

Is screen time the bane of your existence? The struggle is real in our home, and I find myself trying various techniques to help manage this. Once I find a screen time management plan and stick to it, my nights are so much more enjoyable.

And when it comes to screen time, don’t forget that you’re setting an example. If you have to be on your devices, a good trick we learned from author, mom and screen time expert Anya Kamenetz on a recent Spawned podcast is to say what you’re doing out loud. It will hold you accountable and it will help your kids understand what you’re doing.

 

7. Make bedtime check-in time. (But start it earlier if you do.)

With lots of kids, the only time mine truly get my undivided attention is at bedtime. So, every night, I set aside a solid 15 minutes, sometimes more, for each child, whether it’s reading together, chatting about the day, or just watching a funny video together on YouTube (shhh).

I cannot tell you how much my kids open up during this time — especially my tween, who even gives me the snuggles that I’m denied during the day. Don’t tell him I told you.

The best children's books of 2017

One suggestion: pick a great book that you’ve wanted to read too (that’s age appropriate for the kids, of course). This way, you’re getting in some reading on your own, and you will actually enjoy that time in your evening versus reading something you’re not that excited about.

With all that in mind, I suggest you start bedtime about 15-20 minutes earlier than you usually would, and be sure everyone knows about the change in plans so you’re not battling it out every night.

8. Lower your expectations.

If you’re feeling as though you’re getting overwhelmed with everything you’re trying to do and keep up with, take a step back and figure out what, if any of it, really, truly matters. Once I realized that I needed to set priorities, and lower the bar in terms of what I was going to be able to accomplish, I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable my weeknights were.

Do the kids really need to shower every night? Nah. Does dinner pick-up count as family dinner? 100% yes! If you’re not happy, there’s a good chance your kids aren’t super happy either.

Take it easy on yourself, parents!

Applebee's Carside to Go service | sponsor

Thanks to our sponsor Applebee’s for their Carside To Go service which is helping to make our weeknights a little less stressful when it comes to dinner with our families.

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