Tara Van Den Heuvel
Mom of Cade, 5, Brody, 3 and Charlotte, 15 months, De Pere, WI
A typical day
If you want Tara Van Den Heuvel, you can usually find her at home, doing laundry or picking up toys. She tries daily to keep on top of it all. She and her husband, Ron, rise at 6 a.m. The kids get up at 7:00, and Ron helps with breakfast and gets Cade ready for kindergarten before leaving for work.
Then Van Den Heuvel bundles up all three kids and walks Cade to the bus stop. Back home, she gets the two youngest ones involved in something, does the dishes, and unloads the dryer from the night before. After Charlotte's nap she takes her and her brother out to run errands and returns by 3 p.m. to pick up Cade from school.
"Then things get crazy because Cade's so pumped up," she says. Over the next few hours, she tries to occupy three energetic kids and start dinner.
The family eats at 6:30, then it's bathtime and bed by 8:00. Mom and Dad have lots of plans for their evenings, but usually they end up watching TV before falling asleep by 11:00. The next morning, it all starts again. "Sometimes I feel like I haven't done anything all day except get dressed and clean up after the kids," she says.
It doesn't help that their relatives aren't available to pitch in. "We couldn't get a sitter for our recent anniversary," says Van Den Heuvel. They celebrated by eating takeout with the kids.
1. Day-to-day chores and childcare overload
2. Longer-term projects such as de-cluttering the basement or scrapbooking fall by the wayside.
3. Without close friends or relatives available, there's no help.
What the experts say
"Every mom needs a planner or a calendar to write down daily activities and goals," says Esther Simon, mom of seven and a professional home organizer in Santa Monica, California:
* Van Den Heuvel can plan her week -- all chores, errands, and meals -- to help her focus. She'll be able to keep track of what she's done and feel better about herself.
* To get started on her project of de-cluttering the basement, she could work 20 minutes a day for it into her planner. She could turn the space into a playroom in a few weeks and would no longer have to trip over toys in the living room.
"She needs to view herself as the CEO of her family, and prioritize and problem-solve," says Melanie Benson Strick, founder of Success Connections
As for feeling guilty about falling asleep on the couch every evening: "Don't make every night a 'should,'" suggests Benson Strick, "or you'll burn out." One or two nights a week, she and Ron could trade the bedtime responsibility so one of them can work on a longer-term project or just relax.
For occasional help, they might "adopt" a local teenage girl -- by paying her to babysit and inviting her to birthdays and dinners, they can bring her into the family. The kids will grow to welcome her, the girl will earn spending money, and everyone benefits.
One month later
"The first thing I did after hearing the advice was buy a big planner," says Van Den Heuvel. "I don't cross everything off the list every day, but at least I can see what I've done." She's been most amazed by a simple tip: taking her kids to the park after school. "They're actually worn-out when we get home," she says. All that pent-up energy -- poof!
Does she feel more on top of things? "Honestly? No," she says. "There's always something. But I'm accepting it more. It's just the way life is with little kids." And recently, the boys stayed home with a sitter while the Van Den Heuvels and their youngest went to brunch. "That was relaxing," she says.