How to Break Out of Your Mommy Rut

Do you suffer from Groundhog Day Syndrome? You know, where every day seems exactly the same? We have the antidote.

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    Shaking Things Up

    As a mom, I've got fortune-telling powers. I can tell you what tomorrow is going to be like: It will be just like today ... and yesterday and the day before that.

    The daily drill goes something like this: make breakfast; pack lunches; drop kids at school; work; schlep kids to activities; check homework; eat dinner; give baths; read books; kiss good night. Throw in a little dog-walking, laundry-folding while hanging on the couch with similarly comatose husband, and collapse.

    I'm not going to get out of my duties of making beds and PB&J sandwiches anytime soon, and I know I'm lucky to have the family I do. But I wondered: Must every day feel like the one before? On behalf of all of you GDS-suffering moms, I set out to find the answer. I'm happy to report that it's no. Here's the fix.

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    Bring the weekend to the middle of the week.

    I tend to save all the "fun stuff" for the weekend. But by doing something special on, say, Tuesday, everyone gets a midweek boost. "My children look forward to movie night or spaghetti night, and will ask, 'Is it Wednesday yet?'" says Nettie Owens, professional organizer and owner of Sappari Solutions, in Baltimore. As a side benefit, she notes, this helps kids get a better sense of the days of the week and time management.

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    Train your kids like you would a dog.

    Did I just say that? "The best parenting book I've read is How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend. It didn't work for the dog, but it worked for the kids," says Stephanie Schamban, a food photographer in Huntsville, Alabama, and mother of a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, and 2-year-old twins. "I learned to tire the kids out -- the way you need to wipe out a puppy -- so they don't wreck the house and leave me constantly picking up." Schamban finds that screens (TV or computer) make her children cranky and bored, leading to squabbles and messes everywhere. So she heads outdoors every day, whether to send her older kids in search of a pickup football game or to explore a nearby creek.

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    Divide and conquer chores.

    And do it by strengths, not who's got the time. Passing off a household task you can't stand -- but your partner doesn't mind -- even a few times a week can take a lot of the tedium out of your day. "I used to always cook, which I don't love, and my husband cleaned the kitchen. He'd say, 'I'm all done, except for sweeping,' which meant there was still more for me to do," says Molly Gold, a family time-management expert in Apex, North Carolina, and president and founder of Go Mom! Inc. "So now I clean the kitchen, and he cooks several days a week, which is something he loves -- especially since he knows he doesn't have to tidy up." I relate: I've always done the food shopping because I have the flexibility of being at home, while my husband works full-time and commutes. Yet I loathe it and suck at it; I typically come home with $200 worth of groceries -- and nothing to make for dinner. When I bemoaned this task to my husband, he lit up. "But I love food shopping!" he said. "Let me do it on my lunch hour or after work." Armed with his coupons and circulars, he approaches grocery-gathering like a game. (And when I go to cook, I now actually have what I need.) I still go shopping when he can't do it, but just knowing that I don't have to do it every time makes it more palatable. A win-win for everyone.

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    Outsource tasks for cheap -- or for free.

    Moms who work outside the home have two versions of Groundhog Day. There's the one that exists during the week and the one that awaits them every Saturday: a list of chores from doing laundry to cleaning the house to prepping dinners for the following week. "Working moms need to think of what things they can let go, what tasks are necessary, and the value of outsourcing some of them," says Gold. Maybe you can splurge on a cleaning service every other week; if you can't, then use safe, eco-friendly cleaning products so that kids old enough to lend a hand can help spritz and shine with you. For meal planning, sign up for Recipe.com's free shopping-list app: You type in (or speak) your picks and instantly get coupons for them and see where they're on sale near you. And for those of you in Boston, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County, California, check out a cool site called taskrabbit.com. As the slogan goes, it's where you can "get just about anything done by reliable, awesome people in your neighborhood." Name your task and the price you're willing to pay, and watch the (background-checked) bidders come in.

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    Run errands where you all like to go.

    "We've changed things up from shopping at the grocery store to going to farmers' markets," says Owens, who has three children under age 6. "Shopping where the kids can run around a field or go on a train ride doesn't compare with dragging kids through a grocery store." If the supermarket's still your best option, though, give everyone a job to do and an incentive to do it well. This works for me: Good behavior at the supermarket or the mall earns a few extra stories at bedtime.

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    Suck it up, sister.

    "Nobody told you motherhood would be glamorous, and it doesn't really matter if you don't like the drudgery of it," Gold points out, while I squirm in my chair. "Motherhood is made up of a tremendous number of mundane tasks, and it's important to not let them get the best of you. Accept that, and then use every shortcut available to you." Once she says this, I get it: Complaining isn't going to wash my floor. It'll just make a necessary chore drearier. I may never enjoy pushing a mop, but I can cut out the useless muttering and be grateful for the Swiffer.

    Besides, as Gold says, a time will come when I miss these predictable days. "Naps and diapers and Thomas the Tank Engine: You'll yearn for that simplicity as they get older," says the mom of three. "You're taking care of this being. Every now and then you have to remember to see the blessing." That's an everyday task I'm happy to add to my to-do list.

    Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Parents magazine