Plan B Parenting: 5 Tips for Dealing with the Unexpected

A friend of mine recently flew with her six-year-old son Ryan across the country to visit her mom. Grandma had been looking forward to their visit for weeks. Ryan was excited to spend time with Grandma and his East Coast cousins. And my friend was anticipating a long overdue visit with her family. Then the unexpected happened. Ryan got a fever on the plane and spent all four days there in bed with a bad cold. There were no visits, no family meals and no games or play dates because Ryan was contagious and needed to sleep. Then to make matters even worse, the plane home was re-routed and delayed.

Welcome to the world of Plan B Parenting — that world where perfect plans and little peeps plummet!

How do you handle it when your routine gets disrupted because of your children? What do you do when your kids force your plans to go south? Truthfully, there are only a few options. You could have a meltdown — simply fall apart and become useless. You could get angry and start the blaming game. Or you could buck up and cope the best way you can.

It’s not that it’s easy. Sure, parenting is full of joy and fun. But it also has its disappointing moments. Even though we might like to be in control, of course, we’re not. You’ll remember that you weren’t in control when your children were born, so there’s no reason to think you could become the commander of a perfectly ordered life afterwards.

Here are 5 strategies to shift your day when it starts to take a course of its own.

1. Shift your perspective. Let’s say you’ve planned a dinner party for friends and have bought ingredients for a complicated, gourmet meal. The day of the party — the day you had planned to prepare the dishes — little Johnny gets sick. You sit at the doctor’s office for an hour, you get stuck in traffic coming home, you spend time soothing your son because he is so uncomfortable. And suddenly you don’t have time to cook the dinner. You could panic, get snappy or move so fast you start to break dishes. Of you could shift your perspective, pull out the Plan B Parenting motto and say to yourself, “Let’s not take everything so seriously here.” It’s only a dinner party. My advice? Get carry out or order in pizza. If your friends don’t understand, they probably aren’t very good friends anyway. And you can always reschedule the gourmet dinner.

2. Practice flexibility. Learning to adapt and go with the flow is probably the most widely used parenting skill in the world. The only things that’s constant with kids is change, so parents need to be prepared to switch plans at a moment’s notice. On Halloween a young mom I know had the perfect plan for her kids. First, they all went to the hockey game of her older son, then they were planning to go trick or treating. They’d even invited friends to go along. All was going as planned — until her son fell on the ice toward the end of the hockey game and broke his arm. She now had five kids in pirate, witch and pumpkin costumes and a sixth with a compound fracture. She stayed calm, pulled out her Plan B flexibility skills and adapted quickly to the new situation. Within minutes she shuffled five little goblins off to a friend, and while racing her son to the ER, she made overnight arrangements for the five trick or treaters because she feared their hospital visit would run into the night. She was a master at flexibility, a parenting trait that makes her kids feel safe and secure because they know mom can handle anything that comes up.

3. Become resourceful. If you know there are times when you simply must be at the office, then plan ahead and make sure you have a couple of babysitters, a family member or a babysitting service available in the background for a last minute emergency. When something unexpected happens to your child, ask yourself if you absolutely need to be at the office all day. Maybe you could get child care help for the two hours of that morning meeting or for the one hour of the conference call in the afternoon and be home with your child the rest of the day. A young mom who works from home told me that she planned an important call during nap time of her toddler. Only problem was, that day, the toddler decided not to nap. Mom started her call, the toddler was playing at her side, and suddenly she began to cry and get clingy. After all, doesn’t every child get clingy when the parent is on the phone? Mom kept her cool and pulled a trick out of her Plan B Parenting bag. She scooped up her child, put her in a safe room with toys, closed the door and walked away. The child instantly became absorbed in the toys and quieted down. Quick thinking and resourcefulness saved the call.

4. Tap into your empathy. I’m sure you’ve had days when you’ve over planned. A mom told me that one day she got her young daughter up extra early to drive her husband to the airport. They went immediately to the grocery store, then to the park for some play time before they drove to the mall for some fast-paced shopping. On the way home she stopped off to see a friend who also had a small child. By this time her own daughter had missed her nap and was feeling overwhelmed and tired. So she acted out by crying, getting cranky and hitting the other child. It was only then that mom realized what her daughter must have been feeling. Rather than getting upset with her child, she pulled out her Plan B empathy skill, scooped up her daughter and cuddled her and took her home for an overdue sleep and a return to normalcy. Remembering to get inside the skin of your child — at any age — so you can see and feel the world from her perspective allows you to be patient and give your child the empathy she may need.

5. Learn to prioritize. Plan B Parenting encourages you to focus on what’s really important to you. If your child comes home from school sad and downtrodden, forget the laundry and spend the evening with him. One young mom I know is a physician, treating patients and doing research at a university hospital. Professionally it’s a perfect opportunity for career growth, but time-wise it’s a job and a half. So she’s re-prioritized what’s most valuable to her and taken a position in a private clinic which will give her more precious time with her baby. And don’t forget to take care of yourself by putting YOU at the top of your priority list. If you take a family vacation and want to maximize your own fun and relaxation, bring a nanny or hire babysitters at the hotel. It’s totally fine to say, “This one’s for me.”

Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever have. It’s also the most important one. So take the time to strategize what will work for you. The whole family will appreciate your creativity when you need to shift your day.

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Past Member
Past Member 7 years ago

I completely agree with your parenting tips. According to me at the certain age of the children they want friend more than parents, so its better you to be a friend of your child and make them understand about all these serious issues.

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago


Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago


Ashley McIlroy
Ashley McIlroy7 years ago

This was a very helpful article.

Betsy M.
Betsy M7 years ago

I agree with Diana S., but from a slightly different perspective. When I was little kids were not constantly on stage. Boys often spent their entire Saturday with no adult supervision, roaming as far as they liked [this could easily get your kids removed for "neglect" today.] Girls even had hours where they could explore on their own close to home. Children who are not constantly judged and have time for their own needs, can be easier for adults to deal with. I hope this world will eventually make room for healthy childhood again.

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare7 years ago

Of course they will get mad over a candy bar and fight over cereal, Catherine; their kids are being obnoxious at the grocery store!!
I hate it when kids cant save their "obnoxiousness" for when they are back home, like why show the world how dysfunctional we are?

ruth a.
ruth a7 years ago

These hints are not for just those with kids. Thanks!

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

great... thanks

Marcus B.
Marcus B7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Karen W.
Karen W7 years ago