What The Happiest Moms Do Before Breakfast

Today I read a new ebook by Laura Vanderkam: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life.

I ordered it weeks ago and anxiously awaited it’s arrival into the Kindle app on my phone. I’ve read 2 of Laura’s books (including All The Money in the World, reviewed here) and follow her blog. I’ve become a big fan of her work.

This pithy but practical little book didn’t disappoint. It contains quite a few examples of successful people and how they capture early morning hours to meet their goals. Since my life, and the life of many stay at home moms, doesn’t look much at all like the people Laura profiled, I decided to put my own spin on its advice.

I present:

What The Happiest Moms Do Before Breakfast

One of the habits that contributes most to my happiness is getting up before my kids in the morning.

I haven’t always done so. When my kids were younger I let them wake me up.

I didn’t mind this arrangement, it was sweet to have them all crawl into bed for a few cuddles in the morning.

But later on I realized that the only time of the day in which I could totally call the shots on how I was spending my time was before they were awake.

As my family grew and there were more people who needed me, having some time to myself was vital to my emotional well-being.  Letting my kids wake me up put me into reactive mode for the rest of the day. (And besides, snuggling on the couch in the mornings is just as fun. And I don’t have morning breath or crusty eye boogers.)

This especially became important when I was a single mom working from home. It wasn’t so much about having time to myself as it was having focused time to earn money. I could easily get a couple of strong hours of work time in before the kids got up.

That’s not the situation I’m in anymore, but I value this time so much that even if I’ve had a a bad night with the baby (the one in my womb, not the 2 year old. I’m at that stage of pregnancy where I experience insomnia), I still get up at 6, sometimes earlier.

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t write every day. Other things would take up all my time, and I wouldn’t be able to focus as well. I would give in to the “tyranny of the urgent“.

I asked a couple of moms I admire, who are also writers and homeschoolers, how they start their days.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Crystal Paine of MoneySavingMom.com fame. She recently wrote a book entitled The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, which I reviewed here. (Rumor has it that she arose at 4 AM while writing her book.)

“I use my quiet morning time to drink my coffee, read my Bible, pray, and plan my day. This helps me to mentally and spiritually prepare for the rigors of motherhood, and make a plan of attack for the day. Plus, I’ve found that a little bit of quiet before the day begins helps to improve my sanity and my overall mood during the day.

If I’m really ambitious and go to bed early the night before, I’m able to get up almost 2 hours before my children do. When that happens, I also have time to fit in a run on the treadmill, some blogging, and a shower. By the time my children wake up, I feel so far ahead that I’m almost unstoppable!”

A word about being unstoppable: In the book, Laura writes that by breakfast, successful people *ahem* moms have “scored daily victories that are advancing them towards the lives they want”. I love that. Crystal illustrates that here. And I find the same thing. When I have that time in the early morning to work on my own personal goals, I feel much more fulfilled as a person.

Then I asked Anne Bogel of ModernMrsDarcy.com, who is a homeschooling mom of 4 who works part-time outside the home and writes 2 popular blogs, about her morning routine.

I get up at 5am. I take a quick shower and pull on the clothes I picked out the night before. Then I brew some coffee and sit down to write, every day of the week. (Having the same pattern everyday really helps me stay on track.) My goal is to be writing by 5:20. I make sure I know the night before what I want to work on the next morning so I don’t waste precious alone time getting oriented.

(Note: I love this tip too, it’s something I recommend in a guest post I wrote for Anne about finding time to blog.)

My kids usually wake up around 7:00, and that’s when I get breakfast for them and for me, review my to-do list, do a brain dump while I’ve got the pen in my hand, blow-dry my hair and put on makeup.

On days I work at the law firm, the basic morning routine is the same. I just need to be ready to head out the door at 7:45.

What kinds of things do the happiest moms do in the mornings? Did you see a theme in the examples above?

At the moment, my own morning routine looks like this:

- I get up between 5 and 6, (depending on when the Boxer wakes me up) and immediately eat a snack. (Because I honestly don’t do anything before breakfast. I’ve always awakened a little hypoglycemic.) It’s usually something yummy, like a croissant with Nutella on it, and a big cafe au lait (made with lots of milk and a tiny bit of coffee). It helps get me out of bed.

Incidentally this was a tip in the book. Immediately doing something you enjoy first thing in the morning is important in establishing the habit.

- Then, I boot up my computer and start writing. I have a notebook by my side with blog post ideas so I don’t waste time. I write at least one article and then reward myself with reading what’s in my Google reader’s RSS feed and reading and answering emails.

- Sometimes after writing I’ll do a brain dump, or write a few journal pages. Or pray, or brainstorm solutions to some problem that’s on my mind. I do a few stretches on the floor. Then I get dressed and cleaned up. By then (around 7:30ish) the kids are starting to get up so I begin breakfast.

My morning routine changes depending on what’s going on in my life. When I had bad morning sickness and first trimester fatigue, I slept a little later – but not much – because sleeping too late just exacerbated the nausea. When I have a newborn in the house, I enjoy cuddling with the new baby alone before the other family members wake up. At other times, I’ve squeezed in an entire workout in the cooler weather before anyone arises.

There was a common theme in all of the examples above. Morning time is spent on things that are Important but not Urgent. The things that so often can get crowded out.  Things like Spirituality, Exercise, and Personal Growth/Self Care.

Why Mornings? (Or, The “I’m a Night Owl” Excuse)

I don’t feel that I’m naturally a morning person. I don’t feel particularly great in the A.M. And lots of people would say that waking before their kids wouldn’t work for them. Maybe not. But there actually seems to be some science behind the effectiveness of early morning hours for certain tasks.

One of the books I read recently, called Willpower,  points to research that seems to prove that tasks that require self control are easier to do in the morning. Why? Because willpower is depleted as the day goes on. Imagine it’s like a gas tank, willpower. Every time you resist a temptation or control an emotion or bite your tongue or even make a decision, you use up a little of the gas in your willpower tank.  I used to think I was odd because making decisions all day when my children asked me questions exhausted me. Turns out all people experience the same phenomenon. Decision fatigue is a universal experience.

By the end of the day, in other words, you won’t be nearly as likely to: exercise or write that blog post, because your willpower is all spent. You’ll sit on the couch and eat a chocolate chip cookie instead.

As Vanderkam puts it,

“In these early hours, we have enough willpower and energy to tackle things that require internal motivation, things the outside world does not immediately demand or reward…”

In the life of the stay at home mom, things like laundry, poopy diapers and meals are going to get done because they’re immediately demanded and rewarded. But nobody is going to notice or care if you don’t take that walk, or pray, (well, God notices – but he isn’t going to scream at you for forgetting!) or write that blog post or whatever it is – and these are precisely the things that charge your batteries and change the trajectory of your life.

This is big.

My advice is to buy the ebook and then think about something you really want to accomplish in your life. Maybe it’s losing weight. Or growing your income. Or reading the Bible through. Or reading, period. Or connecting with your spouse (morning nooky is an excellent way to do that – many parents fall into bed exhausted, which is hardly conducive to good lovin’.). Then, use the tips in the ebook to work that goal into a morning routine.

More things mentioned in the book:

  • Why morning habits require less willpower and conserve your energy
  • Suggestions for the best morning rituals that will change your life
  • Specific tips for making over your mornings, even if you aren’t a “morning person”
  • How to create a “cascade of success” in your day

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life sells for $2.99. And you’re worth it.

Now I would like to hear from you.

What do your mornings look like, and how do they contribute to your happiness (or not) as a mom?


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11 Responses to What The Happiest Moms Do Before Breakfast

  1. Tracey says:

    This sounds like a great ebook! I already get up early in the morning, but I’m sure I could learn some habits that would make even better use of my time.

  2. Loved reading this post. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting up earlier but am by nature a night owl so it’s been kind of hard to do. Today however my baby and my lovely cold had me awake by 6 am. and as usual, I am amazed at how much I get done before the children are up and the demands start. And I’ve noticed the times I do this that I am much more productive and also typically have a better attitude/outlook on life too.

    Thanks for sharing this….and for giving me the push I needed! (My hubby will thank you too. He gets up early because of his job and has been wishing I would at least sometimes get up with him.)

  3. carrie says:

    @Tracey – even though I’m in the habit of getting up early, the book had some great advice. It’s easy to squander that time instead of making it count towards something meaningful.

    @Lydia – Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. Marie says:

    Good ideas all around! I am guilty of letting the little ones wake me up. Since we’ve had exactly three nights of the baby not waking up at all, I’m still on sleep deprivation mode. However, it’s one of my big goals to start getting up before the kids once he is regularly sleeping all night. My plan is shower, coffee, Bible, pray, computer, in that order. I have to use the computer as a reward since it’s not my job. If I really love getting up before them, I may even try to fit in exercise eventually!

  5. grace says:

    I love the principle behind this….but it has never worked more than a week for me. by the end of the week i am setting 3 separate alarms and not hearing any of them! but when i can pull myself out of bed early i get quite a bit accomplished…I get a huge burst of (obnoxious) energy at about 8 pm i get a lot accomplished then too (unless im trying to go to bed early to get up early but then im stuck taking sleeping pills :( )

  6. Thanks for the mention, Carrie!

    I also enjoyed Laura’s new ebook. The gold in it for me was to spend my mornings on things that are “important but not urgent.” I love the way Laura thoroughly unpacks that idea in the book.

    I have Willpower on my reading list. Have you read Switch by the Heath brothers? It’s heavy on the theme of self-control being an exhaustible resource, and gives lots of advice on how to work around that.

  7. Sarah Beals says:

    I will have to put this book on my “must read” list which is a mile long. :) I am a recovering night owl with a long lineage of 4:30 am risers. My grandmother was a dairy farmers wife, so she rose early every day. She tells me “Don’t miss the BEST part of the day!” :)

  8. Emily says:

    ITA about getting up b4 your kids. Even though we only have one, DH and I have to get up some time b4 he does, b/c he is SO demanding of our time and attention.

  9. Amanda says:

    I read Laura’s “168 Hours” last week and loved it. The first thing I implemented into my schedule was getting up earlier. Being pregnant, that time changes. But I also make a list the night before of what I want to do when I get up so I’m not tempted to lay there and think about what I need to do or just plain waste my quiet morning hours thinking of what I need to do. This makes me a happier mom because I feel like I can create more focused time with my daughter and feel less guilty that I’m being pulled many different directions.

  10. carrie says:

    @Amanda: Great tips!

    “”I can create more focused time with my daughter and feel less guilty that I’m being pulled many different directions.”

    Yes – that’s exactly how I feel about it too. Thanks for your comment :-)

  11. carrie says:

    @Anne: I haven’t read Switch, but I just put it on my library hold list ;)
    Thanks for the recommendation!

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