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The best parenting hacks, according to the parents of Quartz

Jenny Anderson

Parenting can be a bear. Lovely as those kids may be, they are also often cranky, whiny, and demanding. (And they need to be fed. A LOT. Every day, in fact.)

Quartz reporters and editors are here to help, with some of their hard-earned hacks, from how to maintain a sense of order during the first year to how to get out the door in the morning without losing your marbles. (The former involves quantifying poops.)

[Looking for in-depth coverage on the business, science, and politics of early childhood development and learning? Read our members-only guide to parenting in the digital age, which includes:

Jenny Anderson, senior reporter, on how to manage morning routines:

Getting out the door in the morning with kids can feel like a task that requires a PhD in organizational behavior and Dalai Lama-like patience. Through sheer incompetence, I discovered a better way.

Here’s the secret: I don’t manage our mornings anymore. It’s now up to my kids to pack their bags and get their stuff. By age seven, many kids can do this on their own. But they will only do it if you do not.

The technical term for this is moral hazard—the idea being that people with insurance against a bad outcome will behave differently, perhaps taking greater risks, than those without protection. Fire insurers are credited with coining the term in the 19th century, when fires were categorized as being caused either by natural hazards (short circuits, lightning) or moral hazards involving human actions (leaving a cigarette in the bin, arson). Moral hazards were preventable; lightning was not. Consider: if your doctor calls for 20 tests to see why you have a stomach ache, and you do not have to pay, you go ahead and get the tests. If the tests aren’t free, you might try ginger tea first.

Annaliese Griffin on why you should ignore baby registries and give new parents the three things they really need (coffee, sleep, and a break):

Don’t worry about sending your gift right away. It’s actually better to wait a couple weeks in some ways. After the initial flurry of Instagram likes, congratulatory texts, and welcome gifts, new parenthood can suddenly feel shockingly lonely. A box that arrives in the mail, or a text saying that you’re going to drop off a casserole, or a loaf of bread and couple quarts of soup when the baby is three weeks old feels like the most amazing gift.

Also, a truly genius way to deal with your kids’ epically bad behavior, devised during a family vacation with friends:

After a few post-bedtime spritzers and some commiserating, we adults stumbled upon a strategy that changed the entire dynamic. We started a daily competition to crown one child the worst behaved of the day. There were only two rules: The children themselves were not in on it, and the behavior had to be organic. We did not stop trying to get them to behave well—rules and consequences remained intact—and we certainly didn’t encourage bad behavior for the sake of the game.

The results were immediate and transformative. The next morning, as one child took what seemed like an hour to apply sunscreen to his arms and legs, all the while complaining, his dad looked and me and said triumphantly, “We’ve got an early leader!”

And, why packing the same lunch every day is just fine:

Think of it like a work uniform or a capsule wardrobe—but for the lunchbox set. Having a lunch uniform takes a big chunk of planning and decision making off of your plate. A humdrum lunch is a life lesson in the making. Embracing seemingly boring stuff, like eating enough vegetables or flossing, is a big part of being an adult. Not everything is exciting all the time.

Corinne Purtill on how to have a good New Year’s Eve with kids:

Every Dec. 31, I get up before my kids do and set every clock in the house three hours ahead. Then at 9 p.m. we turn on one of the fake Netflix countdowns or, preferably, the live New Year’s Eve countdown in Times Square (we live in California) and cheer wildly as it strikes “midnight.” Then I wish my kids a happy new year, tuck them in bed, and spend the last three hours of the year sipping cocktails and talking with my husband. They think they stayed up past bedtime, we celebrate as a family, and the adults get some kid-free downtime.

Heather Landy, Quartz at Work editor, on how to get your kids to study better:

Quizlet. We learned about this app from a cousin who’s in high school, but it’s also appropriate for elementary school students, who will have fun building digital flashcards for themselves and using them to study all kinds of subjects.

And on how to find time for yourself:

When I really need me time, I set the alarm an hour or two earlier than everyone else’s. But Melissa McCarthy does it even better (she gets up and binge watches her favorite TV shows).

Zach Seward, chief product officer and executive editor, on quantifying it all:

In the intense and disorienting first year of parenthood, my wife and I found that the only way to maintain any sense of order was to keep a record of pretty much everything our newborn did or we did for him. Every nap. Every meal. Every poop (and its size, color, and consistency).

People used to track this stuff in a notebook, but we found and highly recommend the Sprout Baby app for iOS. You can sync the record-keeping between each parent’s phone, and it generates fun data visualizations and news reports about your child’s life, among other features. The data are occasionally of genuine use—for instance, to show the doctor something out of the ordinary—but that’s not really the point: Memorializing the beginning and end of every breastfeeding session or the minute details of a diaper change gave us a modicum on control at an otherwise chaotic time.

And similar to the “quantified life” movement, in which people track the granular details of their own lives, our quantified baby helped remind us that the mundane and exhausting aspects of parenting a newborn actually amounted to something.

 

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