Help for the Disorganized Parent, Married or Divorced

If you hear your co-parent, or your children, complaining about your showing up late, taking the kids to the wrong sports field, forgetting to buy the poster board for the science project, consider this:

Your co-parent and children might have a point. Ask yourself if you are disorganized at work, and whether your friends, or siblings also complain about your arriving to things late or forgetting important events. Is it them? Or is it you?

Here are some straightforward tips to consider if you agree that you are a disorganized parent:

  • Talk to your co-parent about decreasing the number of parenting tasks on your regular to-do list. Focus each month on taking care of fewer tasks with more consistent success. Discuss with your co-parent your wish to be more effective – and the possibility that with a greater focus on completing fewer tasks, you may become a more helpful parent in the long run. Try it for a month, and then re-evaluate with your co-parent (and if they are old enough to weigh in, with your kids!)
  • Consider which tasks your children are old enough to take over. Pre-teens and teenagers should be responsible for remembering their own stuff – cleats, math books, ballet slippers – with some guidance, patience, and the forgiveness of their parents when they blow it. Talk with your co-parent and your children about which tasks they could take on – instead of becoming annoyed with you for your forgetfulness. In return, try to think of ways you CAN be helpful to your kids, and your co-parent, that do NOT rely on organization and memory.
  • Look into using an organizational AP on your iphone. A few helpful APs to explore: DUE, which provides various alarms and alerts to help you remember a series of tasks. EVERNOTE, which allows you to take notes, pictures, make lists, and calendar events all in one place – and synced to all your devices. CLEAR, a collection of intuitive and easy to search lists for various parts of your life.
  • Create a habit and routine for the most important daily/weekly events. Habits are very helpful – once a routine become a habit, your brain does not have to work as hard to remember the sequence and the steps, and you will appear more organized within the routines you create that become habits. You will need to work hard in the short run – every day for about a week – to turn a routine into a habit, but in the long run, habits, if they are thoughtfully created, can be very helpful. EXAMPLE: Challenge: Packing up your three children for three different sports practices or games each Saturday and insuring that each child has what he or she needs. Routine: First, make a list with your child, or with your child’s coach, of every item the child needs when they attend their Saturday practice/game. Post the lists somewhere handy – like on the fridge. Every Friday after dinner but before dessert set a timer for five minutes. Put music on your sound system loudly enough so everyone can work to music. Tell each child to go gather each thing they need for their Saturday game/practice and put it in their gym bag. They have five minutes to do this before the buzzer goes off. When a child thinks they are finished gathering, they come to you and show you their bag. You check the items in the bag against that child’s list. If they forgot something, they need to go get it – and try to return before the buzzer goes off. When everyone is done, the bags are placed by the front door – ready for Saturday. When the bags are by the front door, everyone gets to eat dessert. (If a child needs more than five minutes, extend the time next week to 8 minutes – it’s not a race. It’s a way to make this task happen quickly, efficiently, and with a little bit of fun.) Do this routine four weeks in a row with the exact same sequence, and by the 5th, it should be a habit for everyone – and should run like clockwork. Saturdays will be less stressful.
  • If all else fails, and you remain discouraged by your disorganization: Consider obtaining an evaluation from a psychologist or psychiatrist to determine whether you might have ADHD. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, you could consider an ADHD focused behavioral therapy to help you learn strategies to become more organized, and/or consider medication. Many parents are people who grew up with ADHD but were never diagnosed. One red flag that you might have ADHD: you have a child diagnosed with this disorder. If that is the case – get yourself an evaluation. You will likely learn helpful information about yourself, even if no diagnosis is made.
  • Bottom line: Try to be self-aware about the things that are hard for you. Ask for help. Acknowledge the things that are hard. Help the people you love understand that you are trying. Continue to work on ways to make organization easier for yourself so you can feel like – and become – a better parent.

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