The World’s Okayest Parenting Hacks

If necessity is the mother of invention, it follows that mothers (and fathers) must invent ways of NOT COMPLETELY LOSING IT.

And so, for your sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-tub-waiting-for-them-to-go-potty reading pleasure, here are eight of my okayest parenting hacks.

Fixing Nightmares with Socks

You read that correctly.

Problem: “I don’t wanna sleep, I’ll have a nightmare.”

Hack: The Octopus of Dreams needs warm socks on each of his tentacles to help you have good dreams (or Chandelier Charlie or anything with lots of arms).

Place a sock (or mitten or hairbow) on their pillow one at a time as you list off things they would LIKE to dream about. By the time we thought of eight awesome/ridiculous things, the nightmare would be forgotten.

This is just a form of grounding (forcing the brain pay attention to physical things in order to calm anxiety, like John McClain making fists with his toes).

We’d pick a sock and decide what type of dream it should be (i.e. colorful stripes = cotton candy trampoline, fuzzy ones = wild animal adventure), and place it on the pillow. Sometimes he wanted to control the ideas and placement, sometimes he wanted me to do it. I tried to encourage a mix of calm/peaceful and fun/exciting ideas, but the more you can involve the five senses, the better for grounding!

Let them be the dump truck

Because “how was your day” is a rookie move.

Problem: If the responses you’re getting after school are monosyllabic and/or placations, it’s because they’ve just spent the last 7 hours responding to requests from 7 other adult bosses and this is just more of the same.

Hack: Instead, ask them to unload anything they want onto you. Frame it as “is there anything I can help you remember so you don’t have to?” – like sign a permission form or put tomorrow’s snack in your backpack. But it’s easy to follow up with “is there anything else you’re carrying that you want to unload?” Most of them time, they just shake their head (translation: shut up mom so I can decompress).

But it shifts the conversation into an offer to help, rather than requesting a response from their eighth boss of the day.

Sometimes they just want you to lay out a red shirt because tomorrow is red shirt day. But occasionally, they’ll start talking about something that was really bothering them.

Mom Dates

Problem: Every kid needs one-on-one attention, but we all have such limited time, funds, and capacity for hearing about Minecraft worlds.

Hack: Plan Mom (or Dad) Dates on a regular, rotating basis. I have three kids, so each week was a different kid’s turn, and they each had a pattern of FREE, CHEAP and mutually-agreed upon MODERATELY LESS CHEAP dates. For example:

  • Kid A’s FREE date was a trip to the library where we checked out a book (eh), a movie (cool) and DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN BORROW VIDEO GAMES?? Some libraries have things like baking pans and tools you can check out. Libraries rule.
  • The next week, Kid B’s CHEAP date was a trip to Popeye’s (where we had to wait for fresh nuggies so they gave us extra ones AND AN APPLE PIE).
  • Kid C’s not-as-cheap date might be a trip to Top Golf ($$$), Big Air Trampoline Park ($$), or a sit-down (read: Mexican) restaurant ($). Sometimes we had to take a break from this type of date, but the kids didn’t seem to mind much.

The takeaway: you can find something fun to do together at any price point, and you might just get free nuggies and apple pie.

Make your house THE house

TL/WR: it’s snacks and games

Problem: You want to know what kind of kids your kid is hanging out with.

Hack: This hack is not about having the chips and the basketball goal. The hack is understanding that being “that house” will lead to a WHOLE lot of information you would otherwise not know.

You accomplish the hack by HAVING the brownies and the ping pong table, or the good apples and the big screen TV, or the awesome playground and the cool cups with the straw built in.

It’s about creating a space that feels welcoming and safe, to encourage your kids and their friends to spend time with you while feeling like they’re NOT spending time with you.

Actual picture of kids’ shoes at my back door, to commemorate the first time I felt like “that house.”

Back to school = back to the garage door

Problem: Yeah, first day of school pics are like a required thing, but you do actually want to document them over time.

Hack: Put ’em in front of the garage door.
Solid background… good.
Space to add text should you so desire… good.
A built-in height chart if you use the paneling as a makeshift time-lapse ruler… good!

I wish I had started this when my oldest went to kindergarten, but I LOVE looking back on these images year after year. I added text like “favorite food” and “what I want to be when I grow up” and it’s equally hilarious and adorable to look back at these.

I just created my oldest kiddo’s Senior Yearbook ad, and I used a couple of these pictures from when he was little.
<sarcasm>I’m sure he’ll love it.</sarcasm>

Hear me out, but try Meal Kits


Problem: Cooking sucks and no one helps.

Hack: Meal Kits are everywhere now, whether online or at the grocery store. Here are some benefits to consider:

  • They come with EXACTLY what’s needed (no more, no less), pre-measured and ready to go.
  • The instructions are typically simple and visually appealing, which makes it SO MUCH EASIER for kids to help.
  • They have crowd-pleasers like burgers, pizza, and tacos (but not the ground beef and corn shell kind… the pork carnitas and crema kind).
  • You can sort by allergen-friendly, one pan meals, healthier options and ready-to-bake.

Also: we all make the same 6 things over and over again and your spaghetti pot is tired.

AND: We realized that a meal kit for 4 (we stretch it into 5 with no leftovers [woot!]) was about the same per person as going to Wendy’s. TO WENDY’S.

They leave their stuff everywhere?

Prepare yourself, I’m shifting gears here.

DISCLAIMER: This was not my first attempt at getting them to put things away. This hack was discovered at the very bottom of my rope, after multiple warnings, followed by assurances to be better, followed by them not being better, followed louder warnings, and so on.

Problem: Wrappers, socks, and used cups are

Hack: Everything they’ve left for someone else to clean up gets placed lovingly on their bed before the end of the day.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Until you realize I mean cereal bowls with milk still in the bottom, dirty shoes, juice boxes. And let me tell you: it cut that ish down by QUITE A BIT. @ me if you want, but it worked.

Related: I also used to make them stop what they were doing, come into the kitchen, look me in the eye and say “Mom, do my dish,” and then stand there and watch while I washed the dish they left on the counter and put it in the dishwasher. Guilt tripping? You bet.

Make the ordinary extraordinary

Problem: You’re bored. The kids are bored. It’s Monday again. Time to Mary Poppins this ish.

Hack: Add a little extra to the everyday, and watch the magic unfold. Or maybe just stave off a meltdown. Use what you’ve got on hand in an unexpected way, hopefully without much extra energy or expense.


Aside from the ever-popular Glow Stick Bath, there’s also Blanket Fort Picnic and a Movie, Board Game Night (I promised my youngest we’d play Machi Koro with Hot Cocoa later today… sometimes it’s just giving things a fun name), or simply just Eating Dessert Before Dinner. There are a million things you can do with balloons, pool noodles, painters tape and a sense of humor, but it bears repeating: I KNOW YOU’RE DOING A GREAT JOB, BECAUSE CRAPPY PARENTS ARE NOT THIS FAR DOWN A LIST OF PARENTING HACKS.

I hope you got a good idea or two from this list, and I formally invite you to share your weird and wonderful parenting hacks below for the rest of us!


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