Four strategies for getting in front of the chaos.

I know what you’re thinking: Really? I don’t even have time to count to four, you want me to stop what I’m doing and learn something new? Yep, I get you. I am you. I’m not just the working mom, I am the working single mom. My son asked me this morning, after he missed his bus, and my younger son was upstairs in bed sick, and the dog ran out the dog-door with his last clean sock, how I was going to pick him up from school at the exact same time that my other son needed to be dropped off for his sports practice tomorrow? I’ve pulled off some pretty great stunts as a mom, but being in two places at the same time is not one that I have mastered yet.

We are incredible when we become moms. We take on more than any human ever thought they would be able to. Somehow, through the worst of times, through vomit in our hair, broken bones and concussions, sock-stealing-dogs, we make it all work. Stay-at-home mom, working mom, I’ve been them both. It doesn’t matter. To any woman out there who is raising children, I take my hat off to you. Well, I would take my hat off, but I didn’t have time to wash my hair in the shower today, so just figuratively ok? The good news — I actually managed to get into the shower today.

I’ve been at this for quite some time now, this job of being a mom. And, during this time I have also been both a victim and a survivor of domestic abuse. I went through a five-year-long court battle to end my marriage — and then resolve the issues that the court should have gotten right in the first place. I say this now because there were times when just being me was nearly impossible. Being a mom on top of that? That’s how much we love our kids. We are unstoppable. No matter what you are facing in your own life right now, I get you. There are days when we wonder if we will even cross the finish line.

Over the years I’ve paid close attention to what has worked and what has not worked for me. As a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a mom going through a high-conflict divorce, and now a single-working mom trying to build multiple businesses, a charity, promote a book, and have a rational answer when someone asks me what’s for dinner tonight? Through all of these years, and all of this work, I have learned a few things that I just didn’t know when I started. I think they are worth sharing because I certainly would have loved to have had this knowledge when I was starting out — or faltering, or feeling like I was the only one who was not getting it right. We tend to isolate and blame ourselves when things go wrong in our lives. How refreshing would it be to know that we are all facing some version of the same issue? How great would it feel to share advice and tips and strategies for success so we all could both remember that we are not alone, and possibly make our own daily lives more manageable?

Here are four strategies for getting in front of the daily chaos that just may turn your life around. Please comment here, on (anonymous), or on Facebook at @susansparkssoda and let me know what worked for you!


Have you ever been using a planner or an electronic calendar and you can’t see the next week or the next month? Then you flip to that week and you’re like, “Oh crap. I knew that wedding was coming, but I had no idea it was the FIRST Saturday of this month.” Then you’re dashing around trying to get a sitter, a new dress, matching shoes, and, you need a gift. UGH, life was already busy enough. Does this happen to you? It used to happen to me almost constantly. The solution to this problem is to get in front of it before it turns into an avalanche that will swallow up your already overbooked life. How?

Flash forward a week, it’s that simple. Pick a day each week and look at the calendar for THE FOLLOWING WEEK. Make a list of every place you and your kids need to be, everything you and your kids need to buy, and every possible conflict that might come up. Write on your calendar which day you will shop for the items you need, which day you will need carpools, and who is going to be your backup if something goes wrong. Then DO NOT DEVIATE from your plan. By the time the weekend comes you will feel so relieved. Why? Because you are ready for the following week before it comes flying full force at you. The other benefit? You may have some spare time to do something that you actually enjoy over the weekend because you have already prepared for the next week.


Have a big week coming up? A presentation at work that you can’t miss? A job interview that could change your life? Already used up all of your sick days? What will you do if your child/children get sick this week? I don’t know if it’s cosmic timing or the April Fool’s joke that lives like “Groundhog Day” in my home, but this seriously happens to me almost every time I have something big on my schedule. I wake up not to the familiar sound of my alarm going off, but instead to a voice that doesn’t sound so good: “Mom? I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

This is something that you need to plan for every single week, before it happens, because eventually it will if it hasn’t already. Babysitters travel, so do parents and friends. Know at the beginning of the week, each week, who is going to step in and help if your children get sick and you cannot stay home with them. Always have a backup for your backup, and have your support team ready to go for emergencies too — like carpool, ER visits, sick pets, and when you get sick, too. Get your list together now. You can be grateful later if you didn’t need to use it. Do it again for the following week because you can’t assume that the same people will be available for you again.


Some of us like to cook. Some of us do not. I turn to my children every day and say, “You need dinner again tonight?” This joke is so old that they can barely get their eyes to make the full circle roll anymore. But we know how this goes: You think you’re tired when you get up in the morning? You think you’re tired in the afternoon? How tired are you going to be when you get home from work? You are going to be exhausted. What’s the best plan? Have a plan before you get to this point.

Over the weekend sit down with your kids and make your dinner strategy for the week, your grocery list of what you’ll need, and schedule your grocery shopping day. If you don’t have a crockpot or Insta-Pot consider getting one — they are the helpers that keep on giving. Enlisting your children in menu planning is also a great way to avoid hearing, “That’s what we’re having for dinner? Again?” because they have invested in the planning with you. And…never, ever, forget about “Pizza Thursdays.” Pick the day of the week that is hardest for you to prepare dinner, and make that your take-out/delivery night. Make it fun with colored napkins and twisty straws that you picked up earlier in the week at the grocery store, or a festive fruit salad, to still give it a homey feel. If you make it feel fun and planned then everyone will be ready to celebrate with you. I’ve picked up American Flag toothpicks, toothpicks with our favorite sports team logos, and plastic forks/knives in our team colors and put them all in one drawer. Throwing them in the fruit salad, or cheese cubes, or setting them out with the pizza really makes a difference. It makes you look like you had your sh#t together the whole time.


None of this great planning really works if your child comes home and screams, “Mom! My science project is due tomorrow and we need to go out and buy everything we need to make a model of the entire solar system RIGHT NOW!” We all know about this because it has happened to every single one of us. I once had to figure out how to make a potato into a clock very late on a Sunday night. I still have not fully recovered from this night (but I did get an A on “my” science project). School, projects, field trips, birthday parties, sports…kids come with their own lives and a lot of extracurricular activities that we need to account for as well. So, what do we do to fix that?

Do what they ask you to do all the time, treat them like adults. Tell your children that after you sit down to do your plan for the week, they must sit down and do theirs. Or, sit down and do them together so you can align events, schedules, and make carpool plans at the same time. Having a consistent day/time for this will drastically reduce the complaining that you are likely to hear in the beginning. At my home, we do our plans while we are chatting and having a snack after school. It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a conversation. The most rewarding part of this, I have learned, is that you are teaching your children skills that they will need and use for the rest of their lives — the very same skills that we are working on perfecting now as moms. Imagine how much easier our lives would have been if we had mastered this early on.

What is that expression, “The best laid plans..?” So true. With all systems in place and ready to go, I can promise you that things will still go wrong. That is the gift of life — the unpredictable that comes at us just when we’re gloating that we finally got our acts together. But, when things do come unglued, we handle it better because we are not starting from a place of chaos, we are starting from a place of calm. We made the plans, we also have the ability to adapt them when needed. So, when we’re sitting around the dinner table telling stories about our day and enjoying “Pizza Monday,” and “Taco Tuesday” just moved and became “Taco Thursday,” we’re in a far better place than we would have been had we never had a plan to begin with. Do our kids really care what night we eat what for dinner? Or, do they just care that mom was there, she had a plan, and she showed up ready to make it work.

Have a request for a topic? Let me know in the comments field below. See you here next week, same time — same place!

For more from Susan Sparks visit SPARKS SPEAKS OUT™ on #NotInOurHomes