As much as we had wanted to spend time with our kids, my wife and I were quickly becoming frustrated with our kids’ morning and afternoon routines. It was filled with nagging, yelling, and everyone generally being miserable. This was not a recipe for a happy home life and something needed to change.

Raising kids is not a static act. It involves changing as your children develop because the child in your home today will not be the same child tomorrow. Our children move through a developmental trajectory that changes pace and even direction, often without warning.

Realizing this, we needed to change our approach to parenting. We need to become more flexible, creative, and be clearer in our expectations. In a nutshell, we needed to become more innovative.

Making Your Parenting Innovative

In addressing our afternoon routine challenges, we turned to an iterative process that has you continually adjusting and changing how you approach parenting rather than picking a solution and sticking to it come hell or high water. We needed to become innovative parents.

Innovative parenting means following a process like the one laid out in Ela Ben-Ur’s Innovator’s Compass. While you can start anywhere in this process, we began by observing and asking questions. What is going on when our kids get picked up from school? How are they behaving when they get home? What were they saying and how did we think they were feeling?

Using the Innovators’ Compass to Help Our Parenting

Our first set of observations showed us that our kids were often hungry when they got home which distracted them from their routine. They also didn’t always remember what they needed to do. Our middle child wasn’t a fluent reader, so she was having a hard time understanding written lists which was getting in the way of her getting anything done. We also observed that they weren’t the only ones who were tired and hungry at the end of the day. We saw that staying on top of them meant fewer families meals because we couldn’t nag and cook at the same time.

We then took our observations and thought about the principles that are important. We realized that we wanted to foster independence and a growing sense of responsibility in our children. We wanted to eat with our children and hear about their day. We also wanted to model healthy eating habits.

The next step was to dream of what could be possible. We talked between ourselves and held a family meeting to solicit ideas from the kids. Every idea was listened to and written down.

All of the ideas, observations, and principles then guided our first experiment or iteration. We developed checklists that went on our refrigerator that listed both their morning and afternoon routines. We started getting our kids involved in meal planning and put this plan in place ahead of time so that meals could be easily reheated.

As the first round of the experiment progressed, we observed, thought about our principles, and generated more ideas. The lists got edited and revised. Pictures were added to our middle child’s list to help her with her pre-reading skills. The menu plan got stretched to two weeks at a time and moved from a notepad to our shared Google calendar. The lists got laminated and a dry erase marker with a magnet went up on the refrigerator. A station was created in the hallway for book bags. A reminder tag went on our oldest’s backpack to help her keep track of what needed to be there.

This experiment isn’t over. In fact, it won’t end until we empty nest. Being an innovative parent means adopting a growth mindset and being willing to observe, dream, and experiment with the goal of using innovation to become better parents and help our children grow up to be adults that we respect, love, and cherish.