We all know to sleep when the baby sleeps and to take wipes everywhere we go (from now until college). Some lesser-known tricks no mom should be without:
1. Double up on love (objects). "As soon as I recognize a favorite item, I go out and buy extras," says Jennifer Marino, the mom of 4-year-old twin boys in Easton, Massachusetts. My own son Jackson, now 6, fell in love with a blue-and-white satin-and-flannel blanket by the time he was 6 months old. I bought three identical ones and rotated them for washing without his knowing. His brother, Ben, 3, keeps misplacing his raggedy stuffed bunny. After an intensive Internet search, I finally found a duplicate. Now New Bunny fills in whenever Old Bunny is "hiding."
2. Line everything. When my kids were babies, soft 12- by 12-inch waterproof pads went under their heads and bottoms in the bassinet, crib, stroller, and car seat. Now that they're in the bed-wetting years, I use crib-size pads crosswise on twin beds. They're easy to pack for hotels, Grandma's, or even camping trips -- where one recently saved a sleeping bag from the results of my 6-year-old's deep slumber.
3. Take munchies. Okay, so you're not supposed to bribe your kids with food or let them play with it. But go ahead. The sooner you start carrying Cheerios or Goldfish in your purse, the faster you'll be able to calm crankiness. This still works with both my boys, who eat the Cheerios, stack them into sculptures, or use them for a quick game of finger hockey.
4. Tailor toy boxes. Michelle Kelty of Larned, Kansas, keeps a box of small toys, such as blocks or chunky beads and string, hidden away in a closet: "When there's a project I really want to finish, whether it's cleaning the bathroom or piecing together a quilt, I pull out the box and let my two-year-old and ten-month-old have at it. Works like a charm." Elaine Williams of Flower Mound, Texas, keeps "The Box" in her car -- a plastic shoe box that was filled with Happy Meal toys, tiny jars and lids, and plastic spoons when her kids were young and Game Boys now that they're 12 and 8. "They always keep my kids happy in the car and in restaurants," she says.
5. Invest in more than one car seat. Once you finally get it positioned in the car correctly, you'll never want to take it out again. If Mom and Dad both drive the kids places -- or if a sitter or relative often pinch-hits on daycare pickups -- it's much easier if each car has its own car seat. Trust us: Spending the extra money will save lots of time and annoyance for everyone.
6. Make media magic. Most kids have a favorite book, song, and video. For Jackson, it was the Dr. Seuss classic Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, a Sesame Street ABC video with singing pigs, and "Puff the Magic Dragon" -- any of which would distract and engage him. Another mom says her child will always stop fussing at the first few notes of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." Find your child's favorites, then keep them handy for whenever you need to soothe him or divert his attention.
7. Stash extras. Ben is potty-trained, but he sometimes manages to urinate on the back of his pants when sitting on the toilet (don't ask!). I've borrowed a trick from his baby days and now keep a pair of his shorts and undies in the bottom of my purse so I'm always prepared.
Joyce Potter of San Antonio stores baby wipes in various rooms around the house, as well as in her car and purse. Keep an extra stocked diaper bag in your car's trunk, and leave a duplicate set of basic supplies at places your child frequently visits, such as daycare, Grandma's, or your best friend's house.
8. Tote trash bags. Small, scented bags for dirty diapers also come in handy for puked-on clothes (and when you pick up after your dog).
9. Buy batteries in bulk. "Batteries are definitely your best friend," says Carol Assmann of Chevy Chase, Maryland. "My eighteen-month-old still loves a battery-powered musical mobile my mom bought for his crib. He may only watch it for two minutes at a time, but that's two minutes of peace for me."
Diane Benson Harrington is the managing editor of Freelance Success, a newsletter and website for writers.
Strategies10. Keep consistent. Most kids don't like variety. From pacifiers to sippy cups, find what your child likes and stick with it. Load up so you won't have to substitute a less-than-favorite choice at a less-than-ideal moment.
11. Make your own fast food. For little ones, use ice trays and jarred baby food to create convenient cubes of meal choices pop out and heat a squash and beef one night, chicken and beans the next. For bigger kids, put treats from raisins to fruit slices in muffin pans in the refrigerator -- portioned, ready-to-eat snacks whenever they're hungry.
12. Have your baby sleep in her own room. Unless it's easier for breastfeeding reasons, move her there as early as possible -- and don't wait until she's fully asleep to put her down. "We made that mistake with our five-month-old, Alexandra," says Julie Schumacher Ciardiello of Metuchen, New Jersey. "When she woke up in the middle of the night, she wanted me to help her fall back to sleep by rocking her or giving her a bottle she didn't really need. It took a week to get her used to drifting off on her own."
13. Sabotage spots and smells. Keep a stain remover in the bathroom so you can attack stains as soon as you remove the kids' clothes at bathtime -- rather than forget at laundry time. An open box of baking soda, out of reach on an upper shelf in the baby's room, can work wonders to eliminate lingering diaper odors.
14. Save receipts. Hang on to them when you buy kids' clothes, and keep any gift receipts you get. Fold or hang them with the clothes. This way, you can easily return an item if your child doesn't hit the right size in the right season.
15. Call on quick tricks. Kids of all ages are fascinated by hand mirrors and puppets. Deborah Geigis Berry of Windsor, Connecticut, keeps small paper bags and stickers handy at home and in the car so her kids, Acadia, 4, and Hudson, 1, can make their own simple puppets. In a pinch, a sock makes a fine puppet too.
16. Turn goodbyes into fun farewells. Whether kids are 6 months or 6 years, nothing is harder than getting them to leave when they don't want to go. One day when Jackson was 1, I told him to wave bye-bye to the swing at the park because it would surely miss him too. He did and, amazingly, had no trouble leaving. From that moment on, we started bidding adieu to everything from pools to shopping carts. Struggles became a thing of the past. It also helps to chat about what you'll be doing next, so your child can focus on going rather than leaving.
17. Give 'em the sack. Nighttime diaper changes are a pain when you're struggling in the dark with pajama snaps or pants. Long gowns or zippered bed sacks make for easier, faster changing.
Savvy18. Don't force it. It's often simpler to change your life to suit your child's than the other way around. "Every time my husband and I sat down to dinner during our boys' first few months, one or both of them would scream," says Jennifer Marino. "We learned to give them their evening feedings and try to get them to sleep before we ate as a couple. That meant dinner wasn't until eight or nine p.m., but at least we had some time together in peace."
When kids are older, it's better to give them a snack after daycare to tide them over till dinner than to make them wait until everyone's ready for the family meal.
19. Keep it cool. "We stopped heating up breast milk for the baby. When he was in no mood to wait for his bottle one night, we gave it to him right out of the fridge -- he liked it just as much. From then on, we saved a lot of time," says Karen Bucher of Stephens City, Virginia.
When Ben was a baby and would drink only cool formula, I'd just pop a bottle inside a wine-bottle cooler and leave it in the nursery until he woke up at 3 a.m.
Another shortcut: In most areas of the country, it's fine to mix unboiled tap water with formula. (Check with your pediatrician to be sure.) For meals on the go, Miriam Hsia, Parenting's photo editor, carried her son's four-ounce bottles with her everywhere they went. "I prefilled each with a feeding's worth of powdered formula, and when it was time for James to have a bottle, I'd just add water up to the line that I'd marked on the bottle with a pen."
20. Outwit a mess. "Kids scream when you wipe their faces. But if you give a baby or toddler a warm washcloth to play with, she'll end up cleaning herself," says Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book.
21. Forget cute. Leave adorable to the baby, and buy generic-looking kid gear in manly colors. "You'll never get your husband to carry a Peter Rabbit diaper bag," says Carol Assmann. And remember: The bigger the bag, the more likely you are to fill it. "Hagan was nine and a half pounds when he was born. The last thing I needed was to schlepp around a twenty-pound diaper bag in addition to him," she says.
22. Protect naptime. Up until my kids turned 3 and stopped napping, I kept a sign on our door at naptime, alerting friends and deliverymen not to knock or ring the bell. Even if I wasn't asleep, a knock would trigger my dog's barking, which would wake the baby. In Guttenberg, New Jersey, Ana Flores, mother of 2-year-old Alexa, turns off the phones' ringers when she wants peaceful moments like naps and dinners to stay that way.
23. Share the chaos. "Being around other moms at the worst time of the day can actually reduce your stress," says DeBroff. "If you can schedule playdates for the end of the day instead of the beginning, other parents can join you in rolling your eyes and relieving the tension of the witching hours."
24. Relax. "I went crazy the first three months of Megan's life trying to record every ounce of formula she drank, every time she wet or pooped, and how long she slept," says Lara Schnellenberger of Fredericksburg, Virginia, whose daughter is now 3. I know now that babies will do what babies will do." All the record-keeping in the world won't make a bit of difference. As long as your baby's eating regularly and gaining weight, there's no need to obsess -- everything is probably fine.
25. Trust yourself. The most important parenting secret: If you hit on something that works for you and your child -- no matter how unorthodox -- just do it. "I'm sure the neighbors think I'm nuts when they see my five-month-old sitting in a high chair in the driveway, but when she's cranky, a simple change of scenery and some fresh air do the trick," says Mary McLaughlin of Fairfax, Virginia. "I'll do whatever it takes to make her happy."