I have always had great admiration for those creative people who can take a difficult or complicated task and make it easier. And when it comes to parenting, who is not looking for a few shortcuts? Here are a few ingenious parenting tips I have picked up over the years. Many thanks to my creative friends and relatives for these clever ideas! 

For fewer spills at breakfast, fill a Tupperware "oil" container with milk (this holds about 16 ounces of liquid). The container is small, so even little hands can manage a cereal-and-milk operation. And the spout is so narrow that, even if the container does tip, spills will be minimal and so will the cleanup.

Get temporary relief from the "Tell-me-a story" routine by putting a few stories on tape. It takes about 10-15 minutes to read three stories into a tape recorder. This investment of time yields 15 minutes to prepare supper, take a shower, or engage in some other activity while your child receives your "attention." (If he or she is old enough to rewind, you can double or triple your time!) If you're really industrious, try a video version, by focusing a video camera on the pages of a favorite book as you read it.

Keep a bag or box containing the following items in your car:

  • paper, pen, tape - For last-minute notes to teachers, hanging a note on your friend's door telling her that you tried to reach her but her line was busy and her doorbell was broken, writing "broken meter" signs for your windshield, etc.
  • nail clippers - Because someone's nails will inevitably need a trim as you pull up to Bubbe and Zaide's house.
  • a pack of wipes - Even with no baby in tow, these have hundreds of uses, including removing stains from clothing!
  • first aid kit - This can be homemade, and should include Band-Aids, some antiseptic such as Bactine or hydrogen peroxide, and an anti-bacterial ointment like Bacitracin.
  • box of tissues
  • a bottle of water and cups
  • a large towel - Doubles as a blanket when necessary but takes up much less space.

Bath toys drain easily in a nylon net bag (used for washing delicates in the washing machine). Attach a rubber band or short string to the netting and loop it around any handle in the tub.

Get boys to pick up their dirty laundry (your future daughters-in law will bless you) by installing a cheap basketball hoop over the hamper. If you want to go to extremes, make a nightly game of it and keep score. Payoffs for high scorers can be prizes, treats, or money.

Keep ponytail holders handy by attaching a bunch of them to the handle of a hairbrush. (This will save you one of the many searches in the morning. I still have not found the solution for missing shoes other than having the children wear them to bed at night!) To keep hairbrushes from getting lost, secure a strip of magnetic tape to the back of each brush. Brushes can then be kept on the side of the refrigerator. (Magnetic tape can be purchased at any hardware store.)

Freeze drink boxes so kids can take them to school frozen. The drinks will thaw out in a couple of hours, leaving ice cold drinks for snack or lunch.

The next time you are at the bank or grocery store, change two dollars into pennies. Keeping the pennies in a sealed container (that cannot be opened by a young child who might swallow them) eliminates the daily scramble for Tzedaka. Place the container in a strategic spot near the front door and children can grab pennies on their way out.

To help control the mountains of paperwork and craft projects that pile into the house from school, especially before the holidays, buy an inexpensive scrapbook and label it "School Year ----." As the paper trickles in, affix it to scrapbook pages. This keeps the refrigerator door clear for the important notices, and the children get a kick out of looking over the year's events each time they leaf through the scrapbook (it is unnecessary for each child to have an individual book — one for the whole gang is plenty.)