By Guest Blogger Stacy Leighton with Forsyth Family magazine

I’m not going to lie – parenting is tough! The “picture perfect families” in glossy ads? That’s just false advertising. Real families are messy. There will be days without showers, nights without sleep, and at least one child picking their nose in family photos. “Real parenting” is like finding out you’re trekking Nepal when you’ve packed for Paris! Make sure to pack these five things and make this trip a little easier.

1.) Organization “Life happens,” but by implementing a few systems, it will be less disruptive.

Establish routines and rituals. Create a family schedule that includes:

  • time to rise
  • breakfast and morning routines
  • school, homework, play times, chores
  • bedtime ritual, time for lights-out
  • parent quality time
  • Critical information and items you will need at a moment’s notice should be kept in specific and consistent location. Such as:
  • Bills, Family Emergency Contacts, Medical Records, and Calendar of Events.
  • Hats, coats, shoes, keys, book bags, diaper bags, medicines and First Aid

2.) Model Healthy Choices – It’s easy to back-burner our own emotional and physical health. “Who has time?” We must make time because children will always do what we do, and only sometimes do what we say. This includes healthy meal choices, rest, exercise, and self-care. When our children see us making healthy choices, they will make them, too. And trust me, they are always watching.

3.) Back Up or Support Don’t go it alone, and don’t be afraid to call for backup. If you are overwhelmed, ask for help. Everyone needs help sometimes. Have a few “go-to” friends, family and/or resources at your fingertips if you feel like you are in over your head.

4.) Family Code of Ethics Establishing a family code will be very helpful for problem-solving even when you are not around. For example: In our family…we tell the truth; we use our words (not our hands); we don’t take what doesn’t belong to us; we are respectful of ourselves, others, and our environment; we use our good judgment; we always try to do our best; etc.

Here’s how it works, let’s say your child is at school. A friend suggests they take an extra dessert without paying for it. “No one will know.” Your child will remember your family’s discussions about not taking what doesn’t belong to us and using good judgment. These important conversations may just keep them out of trouble.

5.) Your Unique Skills “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

  • Confidence Trust that you are doing the best you can with the information you have, and try to be the best you can be. That’s all any of us can do.
  • Patience No one doubts your love and devotion for your little beings; occasionally, however, your patience will be tried. Take a time out (for yourself) when you need one. It’s okay to table tough discussions until everyone has a clear head.
  • Communication Talk about everything. No one likes guessing or having to tip-toe around things unsaid. Praise and criticism should be authentic and timely. Sarcasm should be rarely, preferably never, used.
  • Logic and Reason Little ones need your help understanding the consequences of their choices. Ask them why they made those choices (they may have a good reason we had not thought of). If their reasoning or the outcome was undesirable, ask them what they might do differently next time. With logic and reason, ultimately, they will be able to think for themselves.
  • Empathy, Humility and (above all else) Humor Be open to understanding their point of view, listen without judgment, interpretation or interruption. Be willing to admit when you are wrong. Most importantly, don’t forget your sense of humor! You’re going to need it. Remember, this isn’t brain surgery; if it feels funny, it probably is. It’s okay to laugh!

Forget that picture perfect family in the glossy ad. Life is messy. Families are messy. The road ahead may be slippery when wet. But if you can keep your head and your humor, I promise you, it will be one fun ride!