Try a Shared Online To-Do List

Try creating an online to-do list and sharing it with your spouse. Enumerating the tasks can be hugely helpful, and you may find that your spouse is more than willing to help, they just haven’t been able to figure out how to insert themselves into your system.

Recent studies show that although many more women hold jobs outside the home than 40 years ago, and are even increasingly the primary breadwinner, women still do the majority of the housework and childcare (JapanBritainCanadaUSA). This is not a path to success for women – we will always struggle to keep up with the men at work if we are taking on more work at home. For many, trying to ‘have it all’ means having to ‘do it all’.

My husband and I work hard to combat this. One of the big things we did was divide daily chores in half.  Sometimes we chose our tasks based on skill/interest, but more often than not we divided up days because neither of us wanted to cook every night, or have to get up every morning with early rising children. I cook some nights, he cooks on other nights. The person who doesn’t cook does the dishes. I do a weekly grocery run on the weekends, and he goes again later in the week. When our kids were little, we traded off bath time and putting the kids to bed – we were each in charge every other night.  And we still trade off mornings too – we are each in charge of getting up with the kids and getting them to school every other day, allowing the other person to sleep in (or get a head start on work) every other day.

We found, though, that a surprising amount of the childcare and housework didn’t fit into these buckets. And the “extras” tended to land on my shoulders, and was often very hard to quantify. Recently people have started referring to this as Invisible Labor. Even though my husband is willing to do half of the housework and childcare, things like shopping for clothes, making medical appointments, buying presents for birthday parties the kids were invited to, checking grades, arranging to get the gutters cleaned, buying flights for an upcoming trip, signing up for soccer (the list is truly endless) were still falling on me. And it wasn’t that my husband couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help with these things, the problem was him even knowing which of these things needed doing.

That’s when we realized my love of lists (I am the creator of The Trip Clip, after all), was our solution, once we applied a little technology. We decided to create a shared to-do list online. We chose a simple solution: Google Documents. We created a new document and then shared it between our individual Google accounts. I like Google Docs for our list because the formatting is totally flexible (we can make a ton of detailed notes if needed), and it’s super easy to share with my husband and access it from anywhere – including from our phones and from work.

One of the first things this shared to-do list did was help make us both aware of the magnitude of the problem.  The list is always huge and never-ending, and it was really eye opening to both of us to see just how many tiny, hard to quantify tasks need doing to keep our household and kids running smoothly.

The list also served as an effective way to quickly share information between us. Despite our best efforts to avoid gender stereotypes throughout our marriage, I tend to be the one more in charge of our household and our kids. Some of that really is just us falling into gender roles even when we don’t mean to, and it also happens naturally because I work from home, so I am simply at home and with the kids more than he is. But some of it is thrust upon us. Moms at school are significantly more likely to coordinate with other moms for playgroups, carpools, birthday parties, summer camp signups, etc. Even if my husband wants to be in charge of half of this stuff, he just doesn’t have access to all the information I do. See my article about Using a Joint Email Address as one solution to this problem.  When the joint email doesn’t fix it, the shared to-do list helps.

The list also encourages me to keep my husband in the loop. Many women I know find it much easier to just do the items on the to-do list rather than take the time communicating the task to their spouse. They’re not wrong, sometimes it DOES take more time to communicate the task than it does to just do it. But using the shared to-do list takes away a little of communication burden and helps me make room for my husband to help. It gives us a space and a routine around making sure that he can be effective, and more importantly, be aware of everything that’s getting done. And this feeds on itself. The more involved he is, the more he knows what’s going on in our home life and the more effective he is in anticipating and handling stuff that comes up.

The list has made us better partners, too. When the list was primarily in my head and I just dictated tasks when I got desperate for help, my husband had no input into the list of tasks, or how they were prioritized. By writing everything down, items he cared about made it onto the list in a way they never had before. Previously his priorities either got ignored, or he just did them on his own making me resentful that he had picked his pet projects over my more pressing needs. By writing them down, and reviewing the list together to prioritize how we’d spend our time, we behaved more like partners in how we tackled running our home lives.

Most importantly, sharing the list with my husband made the list, and the tasks on it, ‘ours’. He became a co-CEO instead of just being my employee and doing what I tell him to do.

In order to make sure the list stays useful, we have a weekly appointment to sit down and look at the list together. We talk about tasks that we’ve completed and fill each other in on how it went, we add things to make sure the list is complete, we prioritize the list so that we agree on which things we’ll tackle next, and we divide up the tasks between us.

A great example of how the shared to do list helps is with birthday parties the kids get invited to. One simple birthday invitation (which usually came to me) turned into many tasks that I usually just took care of. Until the day of the party my husband might be only vaguely aware it was coming up, and it wasn’t unusual for him to get handed a present and an address on the way out the door to take our son to the party. Now with the Shared to-do list, I pop “Andrew’s birthday party” on to the list when I get the invitation. When we look at the list together, we work together to figure out what to get, who should buy it and when, we make sure it’s on our calendar (including the address so we both have that information), and we figure out who will drive our child, especially if there are any scheduling conflicts that day with other activities. That means the day of the party my husband knows where and what the present is, whose birthday it is, and we will both be equally prepared to help our son get the present wrapped and the card made. The list made room for my husband to be involved too.

Now, when either of us runs across something during the day that we know needs to get done, or even just shared with the other person, we pop it on the shared to-do list right then and we’re sure to remember to talk about it at our weekly to-do list appointment.

A shared to-do list is a very simple thing, but it can go a long way towards finding more equity in handling what adds up to be a huge chunk of the work involved in raising kids and running a household. And you may find that your spouse is more than willing to help, they just haven’t been able to figure out how to insert themselves into your system. A shared to-do list makes your system more transparent, and you may be surprised by how much help you can get once it’s clear what needs doing. You may also be surprised by the awesome birthday present suggestions your spouse has that never would have occurred to you!


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NEW School Schedule Clipart

I’ve gotten feedback from preschool teachers, special ed teachers, and even parents of high schoolers who are all using the School Schedule. I’ve add 55 new clipart images to help you make any kind of school schedule you need! Give it a try.

I’ve gotten feedback from preschool teachers, special ed teachers, and even parents of high schoolers who are all using the School Schedule. I’ve add 55 new clipart images to help you make any kind of school schedule you need! Give it a try.

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Running Errands: Count On It

Working parents can find it pretty hard to get all of their errands done. Unless you can magically get them done while your kids are in day care, or with the nanny, you will often find you have to bring the kids with you, and you will inevitably be trying to get a lot done in a short period of time. And with young kids, that can feel totally impossible.

I found that making sure my kids were entertained made a big difference in how quickly we made it through errands. One super successful game for us, especially when errands involved lots of time in the car traveling to different stores, was Count On It.

Keep your kids entertained while running errands. Great for busy working parents!

With The Trip Clip you can choose what pictures you put on your kids’ list, and change it each time you run errands. I recommend choosing pictures of things you’re likely to see at least a few times, and things your kids will be interested in. Maybe your kids love buses, or police cars, or dogs!

Once you head out in the car, your kids can color in a box each time they see one of the items on their list. A small clipboard (or even a book) and a pen work great for this:

Keep your kids entertained while running errands. Try it with a clipboard and pen from The Trip Clip. Great for busy working parents!

The whole family can play together to spot as many of each of these items as possible. It’s surprisingly fun (even for adults!) to keep your eyes peeled for the items on the list. And it also leaves room for conversation while you drive and play because it’s not all absorbing. It’s just a great backdrop to errands – and the kids won’t always mind getting back in the car to head to the next stop when they know they can pick up the game where they left off.

If you want to make it educational, too, have your kids predict at the beginning of the errands which item on that day’s Count On It you’ll see the most. All of you can write your prediction next to the picture you choose. The squares on this activity act like a graph, so it will be easy to see at the end which one was the most common, and who the winner is!  Your kids will get a lesson in scientific data collection while you get the errands done – what could be better?

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Dads & Nighttime Feedings

Every family does this differently and like everything else about parenting, each family needs to figure out what works best for them. But I’m going to make the case here for dads doing half of the nighttime feedings.

Every family does this differently and like everything else about parenting, each family needs to figure out what works best for their family. But in this blog post I make the case for dads doing half of the nighttime feedings.

The most common argument I hear against this is that dads have to go to work, so they need to be awake and rested.

This implies moms don’t work. Which is false. Ask any mom of a newborn. They may not work outside the home, which means they don’t get paid for the work they do, but they work. They do exhausting, critical work, being solely responsible for the life of a tiny creature that would literally die if mom didn’t watch it, keep it safe, change its diaper, and feed it. Unless your husband is a doctor, or firefighter, or maybe an air traffic controller, they probably don’t have the same responsibility to keep another human being alive all day long.  For most men, no one’s going to die if dad is tired at work.  If mom falls asleep driving to the grocery store because she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months, that’s a problem. New studies like this one are drawing a solid link between sleep deprivation and an increase in accidents.  Of course we don’t want dads falling asleep on their drive to work either, but sharing the nighttime feedings in a smart way can help everyone get more solid sleep.

Some people argue that moms can nap during the day and dads can’t. That may be true (though it wasn’t for me), but it’s still not enough. Napping and short bursts of sleep are not enough to combat the sleep deprivation caused by getting up with the baby multiple times a night for months on end.

And of course, if mom is already back at work, the argument for dads getting up half the time just gets stronger. Maybe you think dad’s job is more important than mom’s even when mom works outside the home, or you think his work is more important because he makes more money. Or maybe you simply think feeding babies is woman’s work (breastfeeding or not). If that’s the case, I ask that you take a second to think about why we tend to value men’s work more than women’s, and ask yourself if it’s possible women are slotted into less “important” work because so many of them take a step back when it’s time to raise children. I’m convinced there is a chicken and egg problem here that can be addressed by men stepping up to do things like half the nighttime feedings, and giving their wives a leg up on being able to do “important” work too.

To combat sleep deprivation, my husband and I found that 4 hours was the magic number. We needed at least one 4-hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep in order to not be a total zombie, so we arranged our schedules with that goal in mind for each of us.

When our kids were first born, they woke up many times during the night, so we took shifts. My husband is a night owl so he took the first shift, and often just waited to go to bed until after that first feeding was done so that his sleep wasn’t interrupted. I would go to bed early (9pm if possible) knowing I wasn’t on duty until around 2 am. When the nighttime feedings decreased I got to sleep longer and longer, and eventually the feedings went down to one a night. At that point we took turns – so every other night one of us got a full night’s sleep. Glorious.

We ran our schedule this way while I was on maternity leave and my husband was at work, and continued to do this when I returned to work and he took paternity leave. I got to experience what it felt like to be up in the middle of the night with a hungry baby and still have to get up and “go to work” the next day. Whether my job was taking care of my baby all day, or going to meetings at Microsoft, my ability to get up during the night to feed the baby didn’t change just because my daytime job did.

There were many benefits to this arrangement beyond both of us getting some solid stretches of sleep. My husband still talks fondly of the bonding he did with our sons during those late night feedings. I know I have incredibly fond memories of my feeding time with both kids, and I’m glad he has those too. He liked to watch scary movies in nightly installments in the dark in the middle of the night and freak himself out. And just like with paternity leave, it allowed him to feel competent in his ability to feed our sons, change them, and rock them back to sleep all on his own.

Another reason some families have mom do all the nighttime feedings is because she’s breastfeeding. This doesn’t have to be a barrier. We started our sons on bottles as soon as breastfeeding was well established, about a week after each of our kids were born. This gave us lots of time to sort out a pumping routine and learn how to store/use frozen breast milk before I went back to work. Matt remembers feeling great relief when we got this all sorted out because it meant that he had the power to care for our sons on his own without being dependent on me, including during those nighttime feedings so I could get some rest too. And it gave me freedom to be away for more than a couple of hours at a time during the day as well. It was liberating for both of us, and something that all breastfeeding families should think about even if mom isn’t returning to work.

Because of this pumping/bottle feeding routine, by the time our sons went to daycare when they were around 6 months old they were well established bottle users so there was no added difficulty during the daycare transition. By then I was also an experienced pumper so there wasn’t a learning curve for me when I returned to work, either. Taking the step early on to allow people other than me to care for our infants opened up more ways for me to get help and support along the way and through my transition back to work.

I think some moms also take on all the nighttime feedings because they don’t want to give up a portion of motherhood that they feel is their responsibility, or even their right.  I understand this, I truly do. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I did feel like there was an expectation from others and from within me for me to do these feeding because it’s the mom’s job, and I was letting my husband take away something that was rightly mine, or worse, I was shirking a duty. I got over it. Parenting is big, and hard, and exhausting, and I didn’t have to prove I was superwoman. Getting help – getting sleep(!) – made me a better mom. And my husband getting that time to take care of his sons in such a basic way made him a better dad.

I also believe that men taking on jobs that are traditionally considered “women’s work” is the only way women will eventually gain true equality. If women are going to move into the “male arena” in the business world, it’s a mistake to assume they can do that on equal footing and still also do all of the traditionally “female” jobs at home at the same time. If you believe women should stay home and take care of family and men should work outside the home, this blog may not be for you. But if you think the world will be a better place if both men and women hold jobs equally outside the home, then it’s only fair that men take on some “women’s work” while women take on some “men’s work”. Many studies right now show that although many more women hold jobs outside the home than 40 years ago, or are even the primary breadwinner now, women still do the majority of the housework and childcare (Japan, Britain, Canada, USA). This is not a path to success for women. Women can’t have it all because right now that seems to mean women have to do it all. If you believe women can do “men’s work” then you’re doing a huge disservice to men to think that they can’t do traditionally female jobs. Men need to Lean In at home to give the women they love the chance to find equal footing in our larger society.


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Healthy Snack Ideas

We are trying to eat healthier at our house (who isn’t, right?) which means some of my kids’ standard snacks aren’t meeting the bar. One of my kids likes Cheez-its, goldfish, or saltines as his snack. The other likes a frozen waffle with lots of Nutella on it. Since these are all basically solid carbs, I’m aiming to get them to make some healthier choices.  This has resulted in them standing in front of the refrigerator, flummoxed, waiting for me to shout ideas from the next room until I finally come up with something that meets the healthy bar that also doesn’t sound completely terrible to them.

For working moms whose kids are often on their own at home after school, it can be especially hard to make sure they don’t eat Doritos and Coke every day (that’s what I always had as a kid when my mom was at work – those were the days!).

Here’s what we’re trying at my house.  I made a list of healthy snack options that each of us truly likes – including some to help ME to remember to choose something better too.

Try posting a list of your family’s favorite healthy snack choices on the fridge. It’s an ‘in the moment’ reminder to choose something healthy, replaces mom shouting out ideas from the next room (perfect for working moms!), and reminds you to keep these healthy choices on hand when you’re making the grocery list.

One of my kids has gotten super into smoothies, and will add a handful of fresh spinach to almost any smoothie he makes (we got him this individual smoothie maker for Christmas and he really likes it). We avoid recipes that require juice and stick to milk, yogurt, and whole fruits, which is an improvement over Cheez-Its. He also likes black bean burritos, but needs to be reminded it’s an option.

My other son is pretty good about eating fresh fruit if it’s prepped and ready to grab, so I use this chart to remind him (and me!) of the options that should be on hand. He also likes yogurt and peanut butter, as well as nuts and popcorn (it’s pretty healthy and easy if you pop it yourself), all of which are an improvement over the Nutella waffle.

The hummus and apple/peanut butter options are for me!  I pretty much never choose straight fruits or veggies, but with the right dip it turns into a snack choice I’ll actually make, and this chart helps remind me to keep the right things on hand when I do the shopping.

And the best part is that once I made the list, I printed it and stuck it on the fridge so it’s right there when anyone is heading for a snack. Even if I’m not home to shout out suggestions, my kids have a reminder that they should aim for something healthy, and a suggestion of something that ought to be in the fridge!

My kids’ eating choices go in waves, or circles, so I know in a month or so this will be out of date.  But that’s ok – The Trip Clip makes it super easy to edit this and re-print it next month.  I used the Grocery List to make this and it worked great.

Try posting a list of your family’s favorite healthy snack choices on the fridge. It’s an ‘in the moment’ reminder to choose something healthy, replaces mom shouting out ideas from the next room (perfect for working moms!), and reminds you to keep these healthy choices on hand when you’re making the grocery list.

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NEW Grocery Shopping Clipart

So many good suggestions from customers! Here are 40 new pictures that I’ve added to the Grocery List Activity to help make your trip to the grocery store with kids easier (and maybe even fun!).

So many good suggestions from customers! Here are 40 new pictures that I've added to the Grocery List Activity to help make your trip to the grocery store with kids easier (and maybe even fun!).


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Set Up a Joint Email Address

One super important lesson we learned (too late!) was that parents should set up a shared email address right when their babies are born, and then use that address as the primary address for every kid-related activity. You can easily do this with a google email address and have the email do nothing other than forward every email to both of your individual addresses. We didn’t do this early enough, and 15 years later are still paying the price.

New Parent Tip: Set up a joint email address and use it as Parent 1 on school forms and for kid-related website accounts. This ensures both parents have all the information and can be more effective parents!

We discovered that many kid-related organizations (school, sports programs, medical portals), have a tendency to have one primary email address for parents. They may record a secondary email address, but sometimes they don’t use the secondary email, and you can’t predict ahead of time when that will happen. Which means that when my email address is the first one, or the primary one, my husband may be left out of the loop.

Our oldest son is 15, and we STILL have this problem with his soccer program which we first registered him for at age 5. The first time I created an account on the website, I entered my email address, and that became our login name. Despite many attempts to change it, I was unable to do so without losing our family history with the website because I would have to sign up for a new account with a new address. By the time I’d internalized the problem, both of our kids had played on multiple teams, and there is contact information for previous coaches and previous teams , and even some pictures, stored with our old email address. And we didn’t want to walk away from that history. So now, whenever a game is canceled, or a practice is moved, only I get the email, and I have to forward it to my husband. Even if he is the one standing with our son on the wrong soccer field and I’m off doing something else, he doesn’t get the information until it passes through me. Sometimes we get a coach who understands our request to have emails sent to both parents and they manually address the team’s distribution list, but sometimes they just continue to use the default emails in the system.

We had the same problem initially at school. During kindergarten orientation, the teacher passed around a paper for us to sign.  It said “Child’s Name” and “Email address”. My husband and I were both there, and the sign up sheet came to him first.  He put our child’s name on the form, and then his email address, and we passed it to the next family without thinking about it. What followed was me getting a taste of what it’s like to be the secondary parent.  It was a few weeks of me feeling like I was seriously out of the loop before we realized what had happened and asked for my email address to be added too. Another time when this happened and we asked for a 2nd email address to be added, the person handled it by removing the first email address in favor the new one. Again, it took us a while to figure out what happened, and get it fixed.

Similarly, most of the school forms we filled out when we registered our son for school (why do they ask for the same information over and over?) asked for Parent 1 and Parent 2 contact information, and our default in those cases was to put my email address as Parent 1 (the fact that even we think of me as the default parent is an issue for another blog post). Sometimes the person who processed the form would use both email addresses, but sometimes they used only the first one. As a result, some (thought not all) of the communication from school would come to just me, causing confusion about why Matt knew some but not all of the things happening at school.

We had this happen to us many times before we realized that if Matt was going to be as involved a parent as me, we needed one joint email address that we used as Parent 1 on every form, and every website signup, so that we didn’t have to rely on any organization to deal with our family having 2 equally important email addresses.  So now even if Parent 1 has my name, the email address for me is always our joint email address.

This tip is good even for couples that aren’t aiming to parent as equally as Matt and I do. There is no better way to ensure that your husband is out of the loop, unfamiliar with the school, and unable to step in for you when you need him to, if he only gets the subset of the emails that you forward to him. People like to tell stories about clueless dads, but that cluelessness can be hard for them to overcome when they are so naturally left out of the communication loop.

And for the dad who doesn’t want want to be inundated with so much email, or who considers school woman’s domain, pause for a second and consider one of your most important jobs as a parent – educating your child. Be a part of that process.  You have so much to offer. You and your child will both be richer for it.

This seems like a relatively minor issue, and in the grand scheme of things it probably is. But it is one of many ways that dads get marked as secondary, and it’s the kind of thing we have had to work to fight against in making sure Matt is not secondary, but equal. Sometimes it’s surprising how seemingly tiny issues can chip away at our goal to parent equally.

Read more tips for leveling the parenting playing field.

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