Family Breakfast
Photo: David Tsay
NAME: Rachel Huff

AGE: 42

PROFESSION: Event coordinator at California State University Channel Islands

FAMILY: Husband Forrest A. Huff, and two children: Andie, 10, and Grant, 6

HOMETOWN: Camarillo, California

It's 6:50 a.m., and the Huff household is in chaos. While mom Rachel coaxes her towheaded son Grant to get off the family computer ("One more minute," he's been saying since 6:30), husband Forrest fries eggs and corned beef hash for daughter Andie, who isn't even out of bed. "I don't want to be that mom who's always yelling, 'Come on!'" says Rachel, still wearing her penguin pajamas and now packing lunch boxes between gulps of tea.

Ideally, Rachel and the kids should be out the door by 7:15. Grant and Andie attend separate schools, which start at 7:45 and 8:30, respectively, and because there's no bus service in the area and her husband has to be at work earlier than she does, Mom is the designated driver. Recently, a late start resulted in a $493 speeding ticket. "Not my best parenting moment," she says. This morning, with book bags not yet packed and Rachel still needing to shower, it's not looking good. At 7:05, Grant is dashing around in his undies, Andie has yet to emerge from her room, and their mother is running through the need-to-know school events with Forrest. At 7:26, she's hustling the kids to the minivan and moaning, "I feel like a hamster on a wheel."

No kidding, says time management expert Laura Stack, whom O had called in to tame the mania. "The morning was haphazardly, spontaneously happening around Rachel," Stack noted, having watched the Huffs in action, "and all four family members seemed frenzied and nervous due to the lack of structure; they really need a system."

Based on what she saw, Stack, whose books include Find More Time: How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It, created a custom list of 18 recommendations, ranging from "Reduce technology use" to "Remember that Mom is a working mother." Rachel's initial response? "Oh boy! That's a lot!" But Stack's assessment helped Rachel recognize where her problems had originated. Within a week, she and her family had a "major powwow" about getting organized, then started implementing changes in these key areas.

Chaos Trigger #1: Catering to the Kids

The Pitfall:
Many of Rachel and Forrest's mornings were spent going out of their way for their children (Dad even squirted the paste on both kids' toothbrushes). With Stack's visit, Rachel realized that she and Forrest were overly attentive because they had both grown up in single-parent homes. "When I was Andie's age, I did everything from cooking to cleaning," Rachel says. "I think we've both been overcompensating by not letting our kids do anything."

The Fix:
"Parents are not servants; they're teachers," says Stack, who suggested chores for each child. Rachel got on board and assigned the kids duties such as cleaning their rooms, making their beds, and feeding the cat. They now have a chore-reward system that will earn the children perks like extra playdates. "Andie especially is feeling a new sense of responsibility," Rachel says.