Tips & Tricks for the Busy Working Parent

Initially, when I wanted to write this article, I thought it would be about Tips for the Commuting Parent.  I’ve been a commuting parent as long as I’ve been a parent.  When my daughter was born, I commuted from Belleville, Illinois, where we lived, into St. Louis’s Central West End, where I worked.  That drive took anywhere from 30 minutes if there was average traffic or little to no traffic to 2 hours when a Cardinals game was going on.  We moved back to Quincy when my daughter was 2, and I started a job in Carthage, Illinois, which most days takes 40-45 minutes one way.  The further I got into planning this article, the more I realized that the things I wanted to say were helpful for all working parents with demanding careers, so I changed the title.  These are still mostly super beneficial ideas for commuting parents, but I’m sure everyone can glean some tips along the way!

One of the things I found the most frustrating about my drive is the mindless nature of it.  I get bored very easily driving, and if I can’t keep my mind busy, I find it very difficult to stay alert (and awake), especially during the winter months when the sun is slow to come up and fast to go down, so I looked for things to keep me occupied.  I worked my way through audiobooks at first.  You can get a paid service like Audible, which I know people love, but I love the free route on anything I can!  Quincy Public Library has a few audiobook options; if you have a library card, you can download these apps and download free books to your phone to listen to any time!


• Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants 

• Amy Pohler’s Yes Please

  Hot tip: use your phone’s 1.5x speed for slower books to get through them faster.

After a few books seemed to drag on forever, I took a dive into Podcasts.  Podcasts are faster and more bite-size pieces of information that you can listen to in one way if you have a longer drive, and it can make the drive breeze by much faster.  If you’re driving with your kids, there are even podcasts you can listen to with your kids to help pass the time.

  Hot tip: use the 30-second skip and 15-second back options to skip through commercials.  

Kid podcasts:

• Sound Detectives (LeVar Burton)

• Disney Magic of Storytelling

• Brains On! Science podcast for kids

Adult podcasts:

• The Daily-New York Times news

• American History Tellers-history told in stories

• Cautionary Tales-true stories of history with a twist

• Fly on the Wall-Dana Carvey and David Spade talk to guests from Saturday Night Live past and present

• Office Ladies-Jenna Fischer and Angel Kinsey from The Office TV show rewatching the show and doing some special interviews with cast and crew

There are so many more out there. Scroll through your podcast app or on Spotify, and I’m sure you’ll find something interesting!


More surviving the drive suggestions:

• Call friends and family- if you have cell service along your drive, I highly recommend this.

• Carpool- If you can share the driving with a co-worker, I recommend this. It is worth doing if you can share the drive, socialize, and share the vehicle wear and tear and gas.

• Learn a new language-there are tons of language learning apps out there, so pick one!

• Bring your caffeine with you- I will go back to my previous comment about finding it difficult to stay alert while driving in the winter with the most obvious piece- caffeine!

• Breakfast-and to follow up, bring your coffee, tea, Mountain Dew, or whatever, be sure to bring your breakfast for the drive. 

Hot tip: prep some breakfast on the go, like egg bites and breakfast burritos- if you microwave them while running out the door and wrap them in a paper towel, they should be cooled enough to eat by the time you hop on the highway! Or prep some trail mix or grab a banana if microwaving is tough to manage.

My daughter is now 12 years old, so I’ve been commuting for over 12 years, and I have found that making the most of my lunch hour is critical to staying sane. Below are some helpful things I try to do during my lunch period each week as workload allows.

• Exercise-I’m sure I’m not alone, but I found it practically impossible to exercise with my kids around, especially after my son was born six years ago. I joined the local gym and found that physically getting out of the office during my lunch hour and doing some physical activity, even for only 20 minutes, did some major good on my mental and physical health. If I couldn’t go to the gym, I’d walk around the neighborhood of my office for 15-30 minutes to get my heart rate up.

• Shopping-If you are not already using the curbside pickup options of our local stores, you could be saving valuable time in your week! You can pick out your groceries or household items online and schedule your pickup time on the same day most of the time!

• To do lists-stay with me on this one. It is beneficial to know everything I need to do for the day, week, or month and write them all out. It helps me to mentally organize what we need to do as a family as well as personal To do items like calling to schedule a hair appointment or get the dog into the vet, etc.

• Family Calendar- Along the lines of the to do list, I will add that having a family calendar is super helpful. My husband and I put everything on it, like when he has training for work, off days, kid activities, reminders to pick up or drop off for said activities, appointments, etc.  Also, if your child is older and has a cell phone, you can add them to calendar appointments to ensure they know what to do. If your child only takes the bus home on certain days, this is very helpful for them to remember when they need to do it, etc.

• Apple Car Play/Android Auto- This can be a lifesaver if you have a car with the option to connect to your smartphone. I have Apple Car Play on my vehicle, and it’s how I use my podcast app, listen to audiobooks, and send texts while driving. Voice-to-text in-text messaging is great, but you can also send emails (with some added directions to Siri). I have emailed myself reminders that I need to add to To-do lists, and I don’t have to hold that information in my head or worry about forgetting it before I get home or to work.

• Dinner prep can be a huge pain; no one wants to come home after a long drive or a grueling day at work and then spend an hour cooking dinner.  I find it very helpful to have a few cookbooks that I like and pick meals out of there 2-3 times a week, make sure that all of the items needed for those meals are in my house, and plan to make them sometime during that week.

Hot tip: Check out the Food Talk section for my article on using an Instantpot or multicooker to make your meal preparation faster and easier!

Tips on how to save money

•Most of the time, gas is a contentious topic because of the up and down prices throughout the year(s). Use gas apps like Gas Buddy, Up side, Checkout 51, or even some gas stations with specific apps that can help you earn money to be paid out later or reduce the price of a tank of gas in the future. If you live on the Missouri-Illinois border, as many of us do, you know that Missouri has lower gas taxes, so when feasible, travel across the river to save on gas prices.  Some retailers like Sam’s Club have great gas prices for their members, and Hy-Vee also has a decent fuel-saving option for loyal customers.  Check out what is available based on your shopping and fueling activities.

• Going back to an earlier mention of using curb-side pickup options for local retailers, many during-the-week deals can save a lot of money if done timely.  Check out their ads and set up pickups as they become available to get the most bang for your buck.

My biggest tip of this entire article is to delegate some of the daily and weekly household responsibilities to your family. Think of things your kids can do to help; below are some appropriate things for different ages that will surprisingly help a lot and, as a side effect, teach them responsibility, which is a major win-win!

2-4 years old

• Sorting and matching socks

• Feeding pets

• Putting dirty clothes into the hamper as they take them off

•Putting shoes away

5-7 years old

• Cleaning up their toys

• Tidying their room

• Making their bed

• Dusting/sweeping

• Folding/putting away laundry

• Bringing dirty laundry to the laundry room

• Putting away groceries

• Putting away dishes, they can reach

Hot tip: clear a drawer in your kitchen to store kid dishes; they can put away their dishes and get themselves water and even a snack if they can reach their things

8-10 years old

• Vacuuming/mopping floors

• Washing dishes

• Clean up after dinner

• Laundry sorting

11-13 years old

• Cleaning bathrooms

• Cooking simple meals

• Doing laundry independently

• Yard work and gardening

13 and up

• Cleaning the house

• Preparing meals for family

• Babysitting siblings

Most importantly, make time for yourself and the things you do simply because you want to do them.  Schedule yourself a massage or pedicure periodically and dinner with friends or significant other. Don’t let yourself feel constantly worried about what isn’t getting done. If you can manage it, a few things to remember is to hire out what you can to give your family more time for fun.

• Housekeeper- even if they only clean once a month, this can give you more time.

• Taxi service, someone who can shuttle your children to activities while you cannot, helps a lot with relieving guilt that your kids cannot do certain things because you can’t take them to or from those activities.

• Meal prep-there are great options for preparing meals that are healthy for your family and limit the time you have to spend preparing.

• Dinner in the bag

• Hello Fresh/Blue Apron

• Lawn Care

Take Care!

Nikki Eddy