By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 22, 2015
Suzie Kane, 45 Los Angeles Married to Paul, 47; mother of Elliot, 14 (far right); Avery, 11 (in front); Owen, 9 (near right)Three years ago, mornings in Suzie Kane’s house were so hectic, at times she literally could not stand to face them. “Having to continually go to the boys’ rooms to tell them, ‘Please get up. Please get dressed. Come and eat. Put your shoes on,’ was making me so angry. In the past, I had been a morning person who jumped out of bed happy. But I would lay in bed 20 minutes after my alarm went off, already feeling tense,” she says. Suzie, a stay-at-home mom, realized that she needed to come up with strategies to make the family’s morning more pleasant―for her and the kids. First she devised a clever contest that played on the boys’ love of competition. She bought two giant wheels of raffle tickets from a local office-supply store and set out the rules of the game: The first boy to get out of bed, get dressed, and brush his teeth won a “premium” white ticket, as did the first to report to the kitchen. Then, every Sunday, the boys were permitted to comb through a prize box Suzie had put together, trading in their accrued tickets for small toys she had picked up at a dollar store. Instantly their mornings went from a drag to downright suspenseful. Last year, Suzie started employing other lighthearted approaches to keeping the boys moving. If somebody sleeps through his alarm, Suzie plops the family’s miniature dachshund onto his bed to bark and lick the sleeper awake. As an incentive to come downstairs, she fixes tantalizing breakfasts, like chocolate croissants or smoothies, while blasting a classic-rock radio station the kids like. Her sons still occasionally wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and when that’s the case, Paul, a marketing executive, is called in. “He’ll torture them with a performance of his ‘awesome’ 80s dance moves or challenge them to a ‘grump-off,’ ” says Suzie. “That usually dissolves into silliness, and all sour moods are forgotten.” If there’s any extra time, Paul and the boys toss around a football or skateboard down the driveway. Suzie, in the meantime, will sit on the front steps for a few minutes. “I take that time to just watch and appreciate my growing boys. It’s also a moment for me to exhale and get into a peaceful mind-set for the day.”
Susanna Howe

1) You must always carry money in your wallet. Especially if you are driving 20 miles away to your ultimate frisbee league game and the car’s computer tells you you have 15 miles to go until you run out of gas. And it’s nighttime, Dad is working late, and Mom is at home with your sleeping 5-year-old brother.

2) If you throw your jeans on the floor of your bedroom, they really will never get washed. As crazy as this may seem, the only things that get washed are the things that go into the hamper.

3) It is never, ever helpful or productive to blame it on your mother that you did not know there were pancakes staying warm in the oven, and so you ate a bowl of cereal instead. It is not her fault that, although she made the pancakes for you at 8:30, you did not get up until 11.

4) Slowly using cups and plates out of the clean dishwasher over the course of 8 hours is not what your mother meant when she asked you to empty it.

5) Moms like to get letters from camp. Especially if you are away for a month and each of the three letters you do manage to write are basically just very short demands for care packages. This might hurt your mom’s feelings or, worse, make her really mad. Which actually does not further your own personal agenda in the long run.

6) Telling your mother—at the age of 5, no less—that dinner was “so, so delicious” will earn you more brownie points than you can ever imagine. Really, they’ll last for years.