So much of parenting involves shuttling kids — to school, to lessons, to playdates, to church, to baseball, to naps and bedtimes, to birthday parties, to doctor appointments. At our house, even when we try to keep life simple, there’s still a whole lot of moving-little-bodies from point A to point B. There are shoes to put on toddler feet, backpacks to fill and school bells ringing.

Even though I’ve streamlined the kids’ after school activities as much as I can and try to be intentional about what invitations and commitments we accept, life still seems to charge forward at breakneck speed. I felt like I was always running. Then I realized I actually WAS literally. always. running. Running! Pushing the stroller in full stride! Clicking the seat belts lightning speed! Running when I could leave a few minutes earlier and go at a relaxed, peaceful (even safer) pace. I wasn’t late for things….in fact, I’m usually on time, but I was stressed getting to the “finish line.” My personal breakthrough was realizing I’m in charge of setting the pace for our family and it was up to me to back up the timeline and slow it down.

So what are the two magic words? 

Leave.

Earlier.

That’s it. Just leave earlier. Two meaningful words that hold a lot of power if wielded effectively. The success is in their execution (which is obviously where the work comes in).

Leaving earlier can ease the stress of family life and allow us to connect when we might otherwise nag or yell. It can help orchestrate a school morning that starts everyone off on the right foot, instead of sending the kids off into their giant worlds feeling rushed, insecure or stressed.

Leaving earlier doesn’t just make us on time….it slows the overall pace of life.

Whoa. It felt like an epiphany.

In our home, the ripple effect of running only a few minutes behind can be seismic. Parent impatience and child drama have a direct relationship, and the closer we get to the “drop dead” departure time (after which we’re LATE —  school tardies, missed appointments, humbling apologies, embarrassing interruptions), the more the temperature rises. We bark, they balk…and ironically the slower we actually move.

I’ll offer up up our morning as an example of What Not To Do. It’s Friday…everyone’s relaxed. I accidentally slept in a heavenly 30 extra minutes…but now I’m behind the curve before I even open my eyes. Madeline’s reading Harry Potter when she’s normally dressed. John’s dressed, but will decide in the seconds before the car pulls out that he’d rather wear pants than shorts (but after we take off his shoes to slip on the pants, he decides on shorts after all). Rob’s late hopping in the shower. We all converge at the breakfast table when we should be getting in the car. While we’re eating, we realize Madeline’s homework still hasn’t come off the printer.

And the printer’s not working.

The room’s heating up. You can feel it. We’re glancing at the clock. The calls for “Shoes on!” and “Grab your bags” are getting shorter, sharper — less gentle calls-to-action and more dictatorial orders. Madeline and Rob are working at the computer, reproducing by hand what the machine wouldn’t spit out.

At last, the kids are in the car on their way. One kid’s in tears. We’re all stressed. The car honks, waiting for me and Bitsy to appear at the door — our sweet morning routine where we wave goodbye from our front steps is hurried and the smiles are half-hearted. Off they go, much faster than usual.

There are a million things we could have done differently (beginning the night before). And we will, come Monday; that’s the beautiful thing — we have many more opportunities to get it right.

But at its essence, the solution was really very simple. We needed to leave earlier.

Sometimes running late is unavoidable. Mostly though, I look back at the way it all went down, and I know…I KNOW…we could have trimmed a minute here, a minute there and gotten out the door earlier.

How we manage to leave earlier — that’s the hard part, of course. It takes routines, organization, planning — an entire industry of fabulously helpful books, blogs and Pinterest posts are at our fingertips. But the simple act of starting earlier is pretty helpful too.

Our little family is so much happier when we were running ahead instead of behind — probably a universal truth. I’ve decided it’s one of those things that are worth fighting for. We have hits and misses. But Leaving Earlier — that’s our goal.

How do you get out the door earlier?

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