Tips for keeping your sanity while shopping with kids

This post was sponsored by BJ's Wholesale

As a mom of four kids who are very closely spaced in age, I am at a sweet spot in the parenting gig. We have rounded the corner of the stage of complete and total chaos, and now life feels same again. Everyone can use the bathroom independently, everyone can make their own lunch, and temper tantrums are at a minimum. Life is so much easier today than it was when they were younger.

With one exception . . .

Grocery shopping.

Yes, Karis. I feel the same way.

I hated it when they were little, and I still hate it. It has just never gotten easier. It is one of those things I just don't like doing. I hate to do it when the kids are in tow, because they are whiny and annoying and start begging for me to buy them things by aisle 2. But I also hate doing it myself, because it is definitely not my preferred way to spend my precious moments alone. So, despite their protestations, I usually take them along with me when I grocery shop.

I have never learned to love it, but I have learned some techniques for making the experience more enjoyable. Here are some of my best tips:

Try a "pick up and pay" option

Yes, that's right. My first piece of advice involves avoiding most of the actual grocery shopping. Many stores have options where you can order your groceries online, and then simply pick them up when you arrive. BJ's Wholesale, for example, has an option where you can reserve your groceries online and pick them up in two hours. They have everything ready and waiting at the front of the club so you can check out right away. It's a fast and easy way to get in and get out.

Be prepared

You don't want to be meal planning as you shop. Make a list so that you can get things done quickly. If you are really type A, you can even make the list in the order of the isles at the grocery store.

Go at the right time

It sounds obvious, but you don't want to be grocery shopping when your kids are hungry. Avoid meal times, and avoid rush-hour if you can. The after-work, dinnertime crush means crowded isles and long lines. I find it better to go mid morning or mid afternoon.

Review expectations and consequences before you walk in

I typically park my car and then have a little chat with my kids about what kind of behavior I expect. I outline what will happen if they misbehave, and try to preemptively project and avoid any negative behaviors. For us, this usually involves begging for food not on the list, whining, and running through the aisles.

Bribe them

I'm not above it. If I offer my kids a reward of a small snack for good behavior, they are often much better behaved. I don't dole it out until we are out of the checkout line, because it keeps them motivated to be appropriate through the store.

Shop in bulk

Shopping in bulk means less trips to the grocery store, and less time wrangling kids. Stores like  BJ's Wholesale can allow you to buy in bulk so that you run out of things less frequently. It's also more cost-effective for a big family.

Use the cart

Take advantage of the prison of the shopping cart if your kids still fit. It is a good way to keep kids contained as you shop. If they are older, you can ask them to keep a hand on the side of the cart as you walk.

Let them help

This can add to the chaos, but it can also teach kids valuable lessons and help quell boredom at the store. As you make your shopping list, you can designate items to certain kids, or simply call out the items you need as you're walking through the store.

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#TBT: I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday

On Thursdays, I post from the vault. This is from October 2010.

Kembe and India (the twins) turned 4 earlier this week.

It was very anticlimactic.  Their preschool schedule their special moment at school a couple days before the real day.  They get to wear a crown and the parent supplies a special snack . . . but we are discouraged from bringing sweets or cupcakes.  However, a lot of parents don't follow the rules, and my kids came home moping several days last year because "so-and-so" got CUPCAKES for their birthday snack, and I sent string cheese and carrots.

As a mom, it leaves you in a weird predicament.  Do you send healthy stuff to be respectful of the teacher's requests?  Or do you make cupcakes because it makes your kid feel special?

I attempted to walk the line this year.  I had the bright idea that I would make healthy muffins (to ressemble cupcakes) and then "frost" them with a mixture of cream cheese and stevia.  I topped them with rainbow sprinkles.  I felt very please with myself for beating the system - they looked like cupcakes only the were healthy!  WIN-WIN!


Except . . . they were DISGUSTING.  I mean, truly.  Not right.  Not right at all. The multi-colored sprinkles on top only furthered the betrayal of brain to mouth. 

I wondered how the preschool classes would take to the bait and switch.  Would I arrive for  pickup to find an unruly mob of four-year-olds ready to take me to tasks for the fake cupcakes?

But really, afterschool was only marked by one bit of drama: Kembe's anger at me over having missed his birthday celebration.  Seems I'd forgotten to explain that here in the states, there might be several, and that the big one would be with our family.  So when a group of adults and other children sang happy birthday to him at preschool, he thought that was it, and that we had not been there.  He was pretty sad about that.

Well, and another small bit of drama.  India's teacher mistakenly wrote the number "5" on her crown instead of 4.  She's the youngest in her class so I think the teacher assumed she was turning 5, and when India saw the number, she was elated, being sure that the teacher must be right.  She came telling me, "Mom!  Guess what?  I'M ALREADY FIVE!!!"  She was crestfallen to find out she was not even really 4 for a few days,

Fortunately, the cupcakes did not result in any vomit-related drama.  That I know of.

So, when we got home, we had an impromptu party in the backyard, because Karis, Jafta and a couple of his friends who were over had not sampled the cupcakes.  They saw the leftover goodies in my cupcake carrier and begged.  We all sat around the table, sang happy birthday to the kids (while explaining that there was still an ACTUAL PARTY that would be happening on their ACTUAL BIRTHDAY, where daddy and more friends would be present).

And the funny thing is, the kids devoured those muffins covered in slimey, fake-sugar frosting.  One of the boys even declared them to be the Best Cupcakes Ever. 

fakecupcake (2)


All of them, that is, except India.  She was not having it.  "These are fake cupcakes, mom."

Their real birthday came and went without mention, because we felt like it was too complicted to explain that in addition to the preschool celebration on Monday and the party with their friends on Saturday, that their real date of birth was another day altogether.  So the real birthday party, on a day that is NOT really their birthday, will happen today.  (Confused?  Exactly why we are lying to the four-year-olds who think they are still three).

But today, there will be real cupcakes.

And hopefully, a fun party where they both feel honoroed for the amazing little four-year-olds that they are.

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Up for Debate with Paul Martin: The First Debate

He's conservative. I'm liberal. And we are trying to have a civil discussion about the election. My friend Paul Martin and I continue our series with a recap of the first presidential debate . . . just a couple drinks in.

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Wednesday's Child: Jaylen

Every Wednesday I feature a child recently highlighted by a local Wednesday's Child newscast to share the stories of children from around the country who are waiting for a family. My hope is that this can broaden exposure for the children highlighted, but also serve as a reminder that these children represent thousands of children currently in the foster-care system. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to consider opening your home to a child needing a family. For more information and to learn about other waiting children, visit AdoptUsKids.

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What I want you to know about being estranged from my parents

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Carrie.

It's been said that Albert Einstein says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

With all due respect to Mr. Einstein, no. No, it's not. My life has taught me differently.

I say the definition of insanity is believing God has chosen you to select the day and hour that "Lucifer will be restrained." I say the definition of insanity is believing you can be your own psychologist and pharmacist and ordering what you think is psychotropic medicine online from a pharmacy in India and dosing yourself. I say the definition of insanity is slipping further and further into alcohol addiction while maintaining that it is part of what keeps your mental illness at bay, even though all the experts say it can only make it worse. I say the definition of insanity is hearing everyone closest to you dare to speak the truth about the darkness they see consuming your life and accusing them of being the sick ones and isolating yourself more and more from the people who love you. I say the definition of insanity is landing your private plane in a top secret military reservation with your small children in the back seat while you're trying to outrun the government spies you are convinced are following you. I say the definition of insanity is believing your phones are tapped, that angels turn the aquarium light on and off, and that a demon rather than a coyote killed the baby calf. I say the definition of insanity is throwing your airline tickets and the contents of your wallet away while your 8-year-old daughter chases you down the concourse in Terminal C at DFW international airport frantically picking up what you've tossed out and crying for someone to help her.

But maybe Einstein is right, too.

Because I'm 33 years old. My Dad has been insane and an alcoholic for most of my life, though at times he's been more well then others. My Mom has her own struggles with alcoholism, and over the last few years has apparently decided it is easier simply to let my father's reality be her reality rather than to try and fight it or to live life without him. And until last month, I kept trying to reason with the two of them. I kept trying to help them see that they need help; to forge something that resembled a relationship with them in spite of all the anger, addiction and mental illness that's simmering just below the surface (sometimes well-contained, sometimes not contained at all) while simultaneously protecting myself and my family from the shrapnel that would undoubtedly hurt us if we got too close to the unpredictable-yet-regular explosions. For years, I've kept trying. And it finally dawned on me that I was acting a bit insane, in the Albert Einstein sense of the word. And I was finally as-ready-as-one-can-be to say goodbye.

And just like that, I'm estranged from my parents.

Estrangement. I'm still rolling the word around in my heart and in my head, trying to picture what this will look like in the years to come. At future family funerals or my nephew's birthday party, will I go knowing they will be there too? What if I casually run into my mom at the grocery store in my small home-town, which I still visit because my in-laws live there as well? Do I exchange pleasantries as if she were a casual acquaintance and there's been no highly toxic water under the bridge? Or do I run and hide beside the boxes of birthday cake fixings, hoping she doesn't see me while I stand there remembering all the Funfetti cakes she lovingly prepared for my birthdays year in and year out?

Estrangement. Every time the word rolls through my heart, it pricks me in a little different spot. Prick is too delicate of a word. It gashes. Will it ever stop hurting?

To my people-pleasing, peace-making heart, estrangement feels like a dirty, angry word, and for the longest time I didn't think Good Christian Girls like me got estranged. But I'm not angry. Just broken-hearted. To be honest, I'd been waiting for over a year for something big to blow-up in my relationship with them... For their behavior to be so egregious that I could justify walking away, because in my gut I've known for a long time what I needed to do but I felt like I needed some amount of anger in order to take such a big step. When I got really honest with myself, though, I knew that I'd never let myself walk away in a fit of anger. I wouldn't let myself feel released from the relationship if I left with slamming doors or angry words. So in the end, the big blow-up didn't happen. Instead, I saw with sudden, heart-shattering clarity that nothing was ever going to change if they didn't admit that they needed help. And as a mother with two young children, I couldn't justify allowing my daughters to build relationships with people I fundamentally knew to be unsafe and unpredictable.

Here's what I know about estrangement so far: It sucks. It makes me ridiculously pissed that this is the hand of cards I have to play. I'm never one to give up hope, but in a way it feels like that's what I've done. I sometimes wonder if a stronger person would find a way to maintain a relationship even in the midst of the crazy. I dream about them almost every single night; vivid dreams... usually involving loud and angry conflict and me trying to convince them to admit their struggles and reach out for help. They are almost without fail the last thing I think about before I fall asleep and the first thing I remember when I wake up and I think about them a million times in between. I am seriously contemplating removing myself from social groups where the women like to bitch about "their crazy mother-in-law/mom" when they are dealing with a more everyday-garden-variety of "crazy." (You know, like feeding the baby ice cream instead of spinach or letting them have too much screen time on a weekend visit. To try and play nice and fake empathy for these relational challenges makes me stare hard at the ground to avoid eye contact so I won't say something biting and sarcastic.) When my four-year-old asked me why we didn't go see grandma and grandpa on a recent trip to my hometown, I felt like my heart would stop beating. Mercifully, she was distracted by a purple car before I had to come up with an answer, and I let the moment pass. Estrangement stress bubbles up in my parenting. I'm a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful daughters. They are 2 and 4 and every bit of the boundary-pushing, sassy-talking, patience-trying, energy-sapping, amazing little humans you would expect them to be. And lately, I feel like I have nothing to give them. That I'm short-tempered and empty and stuck in my own muck before they even wake up in the morning. I can't put my finger on exactly how estrangement with my own parents (and how the dysfunctional relationship necessitating that estrangement) is wreaking havoc in my own parenting, but I know it is. Clearly I need more therapy. Even though I know I must do what I did, I feel something that tastes like guilt when I think about the fact that I'm taking away their chance to be grandparents to my girls, a role I know they both treasure. I rarely cry anymore about all of this. There's just not many tears left.

Here's what I also know about estrangement. My real and solid ground: I'm stronger than I thought. I haven't given up hope. They could get the help they need to get in order to lead fuller and happier and healthier lives, and I would be the first one there cheering them on. God has not forgotten me. I have a solid rock of a husband, beautiful daughters, incredible in-laws, supportive extended family, and even a local surrogate mama who babysits my girls while I go to the dentist and takes them to the swimming pool and to eat chicken nuggets and on neighborhood adventures to take pictures of interesting things that catch their eyes. I feel a deep relief to have finally drawn the boundary line with firmness and conviction and confidence, and it's OK that my hands are shaking and my eyes are watering and my heart feels like it is shattering into a million sorrowful pieces. That doesn't make it a wrong decision. It's going to get better, even if it never changes. I will always love them, and I will always pray for them to hit their rock bottom so that they can crawl out of the pit. But even if nothing changes in my relationship with them, I will find my footing in this new world of estrangement. I will have fewer nightmares. I will be more emotionally present with my children. I will have a table-full of love at my daughters' birthday parties. Estrangement is making me tougher, but it's also making me more tender. I will always hold them with gentleness in my heart, even if I can't hold them close.

Growing up with an insane alcoholic father, an enmeshed and codependent mother, and all the trauma, abuse, and sorrow that mix created is part of my story, just like making the gut-wrenching decision to shut the door on a relationship with them is part of my story, too. But it isn't writing the ending. I don't know what that ending is right now, but it's going to be something better. Something better. That is what I hold onto. This is my truth, both ancient and fresh like the stars that stretch in mind-numbing clarity across this West Texas sky.

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