20 Reasons Running Errands Sucks For Parents (But Doesn’t Have To)

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man pushing his son while sitting in a shopping cart

After two decades of parenting and running errands, I am an expert in ways to make yourself hate leaving the house.

Of course, over the years, I've gotten pretty good at managing it but a lot of mistakes were made to get here. 

Let's get super honest:

Running errands, especially as a parent, sucks.

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It's time-consuming, loud, and often punctuated with tiny emergencies and strident screeches. Running errands is bad enough while your kids are in school or childcare -- in the short, short time you have to do them.

But for most of us, most of the time, it's all about trying to get from the house and back again with at least most of what we set out to do, done.

In these trips, we're trying to juggle bags, kids, lists, transportation, and a schedule. All the while, trying to avoid a melt-down in the produce aisle at the grocery store.

And hearing the incessant cry of...

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As I said, it's crappy. But, it doesn't have to be.

You can learn from my years of mistakes, and I'll even give you the tips I wished I'd have known when my kids were small.

What I learned with 3 kids under 5... and later

Small kids require lots of stuff.

But that just scratches the surface...

Running errands with them requires the skills of a circus ringmaster and the patience of a saint.

Not to mention enough equipment to run a baseball team; the situational awareness of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor; and the packing and improvising knowledge of a Scout troop leader.

It's normal not to have any of those skills when you need them most -- when the kids are still small.

The older they get, the more skill you have with the age group they just left.

While we're on that subject...

Big kids aren't any different, they just keep changing the rules on you.

You see, you won't need a diaper bag.

But when they are suddenly struck with hunger-nausea because "the food at school sucks, mom!", you still need to be carrying a deli. Not to mention your schedule has all of their stuff in it.

The fact is, none of us are born with all of these skills, but with a few tips, you can make running errands look easy.

Not to mention, less stressful for you and them.

First, let's start with the reasons you hate running errands.

20 Reasons Why You Hate Running Errands (And How to Fix It)

child screaming in a stroller with their fingers in their ears while shopping

Children tend to do that. Image via Yazan Karkouti (Pexels)

I am going to list out the top 20 reasons there are to hate running errands with kids.

It's not just the things you forget, it's the things you remember... just way too late.

Then, we'll get to the ways that you can simply and efficiently hack your life so that errands are no longer the bane of your existence.

The things you forget

The worst thing that can happen (barring an accident or traffic jam when your potty-training toddler has to potty) is getting caught without things you need.

Your trip bag -- whether it be a "diaper bag" or your kids are past that stage -- is your life saver here.

It "can be" but quite often - isn't. Why? 

We're parents, therefore, we're tired. 

We forget stuff, while speaking mid sentence and leaving things at home. Our brains are very busy, afterall

So, let's list the most oft' forgot stuff:

1. For Pete's sake, where'd it go now!?!

sippy cup icon

Yep, the sippy cup, bottle, or water bottle, you swear that you had...

You can't quiet the cough, mix the formula, rinse down your aspirin, or dole out the juice without them.

Worse for you...

Stopping at the quicky mart to fix this mistake is as much of a pain in the rear as stopping anywhere.

2. The inevitable mess

Wipes, tissues, and hand sanitizer may be the holy trinity of running errands with kids. It doesn't matter if they are 2 or 12, they need tissues and they're going to make at least one mess.

You know it's true.

And if they're still using them, diapers or Pull-ups are essential...

but there is a reason that grocery stores and malls sell diapers and a couple wipes for a couple bucks in the bathroom dispenser. If you're lucky.

People forget them too. But, that's not all:

Simply put, a mess is coming.

Kids can be mess fountains -- from either end or the middle. Not having these items means you left the cleaning crew at home.

Oh, one more thing, when they grab the bottom of that public toilet to see what the plastic things are? You're going to wish you'd remembered the hand sanitizer.

3. They're going to play with things

Those things are usually the exact ones you'd prefer they not touch. Such as, oh, the base of the toilet.

Or, like your pen, in the car, which now looks like a Kindergarten canvas.

Or, the decorations in the doctor's office, which you are pretty sure are crawling with germs.

The toys you just realized you forgot to bring with you could have been a sanity saver. As well as giving you a couple extra minutes of semi-quiet to finish up at the bank.

4. Infants and toddlers hate their clothing

And you need to be prepared to replace any that they manage to make unwearable before you make it back home.

Let me say this clearly:

Spills, blow-out diapers, and kicked-off socks lost to the maze of Wal*Mart are all par for the course.

It's not like you left with naked kids, but as soon as you realize that you forgot to pack a clean onesie or extra pants, it's game-over for parenting creds. You'll be doing the walk of shame out of the store with a child dressed in nothing but your sweatshirt if you're lucky.

5. They're bottomless pits

They are grumpy, hungry, and bored. Not because you didn't feed them, but because they are bottomless pits for food.

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And, that's ok!

They're growing, after all. But, besides that fact: you forgot the snacks or formula so even though they ate 45 minutes ago, they're starving to death now.

In case you were wondering, a "hangry" kid stuck in a shopping cart can make even a simple in-and-out for milk and bread seem like a trek through hell.

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If only you'd had your errand tote, or trip bag, packed the way you thought you had. The right way!

How to Pack a Trip Bag for Young Kids and Infants

Diapers/Pull-ups - You need one diaper per two hours you plan on being gone, plus a few more. For pull-ups, gauge what you use at home, and go with a few more.

Wipes - These are the Swiss Army Knives of parenting. From handling number 2 to cleaning surprise vomit, don't leave home without them.

Diaper cream/ointment and Neosporin/Bacitracin - simply put, barrier creams are super important, and you're likely to run into at least one boo-boo a day with a toddler.

Changing pad - There aren't enough wipes in the world to change your kid on that dirty floor.

Small empty sacks - From soiled diapers to soaked shirts, used bottles and nipples to quarantining cold-germ-laced used tissues, these are super handy to have with you.

Burp cloth/bibs - There is an exact science to this: Take what you think you'll need, then add a few.

Hand sanitizer - For you or them, it's just a great thing to have with you.

Food and snacks - age appropriate, and one more than you think you'll need.

Change of clothing - at least one, you'll need it eventually. (Usually, the day after you use it and don't repack!)

Hat - winter and summer, it's best to have one with. Block the sun, or keep them warm.

Sunscreen - you may not be outside much, but you definitely don't want to worry about sunburn or skin damage later in life.

Light blanket - this is a multi-tasker too, you don't know why you need it yet, but you will. Sunshade? Chilly? Nap time in strange places? Yep, you'll need it.

Toys/soothers - Pacifier? And, especially if your kids are teething, make sure those types of toys are with. If not, keep two in your bag at all times. Older kids? A book and or an electronic device.

Tools - Safety fingernail clippers, tweezers, etc.

Band-Aids - they're magic for toddlers, especially at the playground for minor scrapes. With a wipie, a band-aid, and Bacitracin you can handle most of what you'll encounter

Don't forget, you are with the kid! - Pack what you need, including needed paperwork, phone, charger cords, extra money, gum, water, and a snack.

Now, the Things You Remember, Only Way Too Late

These things can happen to anyone, parent or not, and they make running errands super frustrating.

You can forget things, but these are the ones you remember, only way too late and now you're stuck.

6. You had a budget, HAD...

Most of us are trying to raise our kids the best way we know how, and doing it on a limited budget. Especially while shopping with kids, our entire trip is a maze of "wants," and some of them are mutual.

That's when we find ourselves realizing we forgot our pesky budget. Usually when the cashier gives us the total.

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That's when we find ourselves realizing we forgot our pesky budget. Usually when the cashier gives us the total.

Now what?

Now, we have to make other sacrifices or use our credit cards, and we swore we'd stop living on those. And, the whole trip is ruined, because that last stop for ice cream you promised?

Yeah, that's even more over budget now.

7. You're here, now... what did you come in here for!?!

simpson carrying daughter and shopping stuff

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Your list, the one you spent way too long on making so that you could be sure to have everything you needed this week?

It's on the counter, at home, or on your now dead smartphone (the cord for which is at home, where you left it.)

Now you are pretty sure you'll be making another trip to pick up, well...

8. ...the ONE thing you went in for

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Speaking of that, after you are done shopping, and have one kid strapped in, one halfway into the car and a cart full of groceries to unload into the trunk, it hits you.

The one thing: milk, medication, diapers, the present your kid needs for a school thing -- whatever it was, it's still in the store.

Now, you're out here. Staring at the empty place it should be, knowing you're about to unpack those kids and head back inside with your ice cream melting in the trunk.

9. Simply buying bags doesn't put them in the car

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And having them in the car doesn't help at the checkout.

If you shop at grocery stores like Aldi for staples, take pride in your environmentalism, or live in a place that's banned plastic bags, you need to carry bags with you.

Of course, you remember that, especially when you get to the cash register and realize you'll be bagging your stuff in the parking lot.

Or worse:

Trying to haul un-bagged groceries into the house with everything else. Because of course, you bought bags, they're in the kitchen.

At your house.

10. That's right, the receptionist here looks at your kids like they're cockroaches.

Most of us pay our bills online these days, but there is always that one place you have to go where the receptionist or employees look at your children like vermin.

Let's be honest:

Those people ruin your trip, and for whatever reason seem to spark the worst possible behavior. You swore last time, you'd only go handle this one alone... then forgot.

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Self-sabotage

One way to assure that you will always dread running errands is that you keep forgetting to do things that make it easier.

11. Parking too far, but not from the door

You have to weigh the walk with the kids against something else.

Distance matters most when your kids are strapped into the car.

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You can't walk back into the store to return the cart.

You don't even want to walk away from the car long enough to get to the cart return.

But, you parked too far from it. Now you have to choose to be the jerk or leave your young kids alone in the car.

12. The paper

Whatever it was you left the house to do, the paperwork you needed to do it is at home.

Because of course, it is. It's somewhere safe, so you wouldn't lose it.

13. Location, Location, Location

Cruising the candy aisle (oh, the humanity!), or finding yourself in the middle of the toy aisle can both be traumatic.

These things are usually somewhat avoidable if we'd only thought of it when we were writing our list.

shopping list note

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And then there's this little issue:

14. Cart placement and a child's range of motion

Parking your cart too close to fruits in the produce aisle? How about not dead center in the checkout lane?

Or just too close beside something breakable.

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All are great ways to end up with a half-eaten item or "clean up on aisle 5" while you are talking to the cashier or picking out apples.

It just happens.

Always be aware of where you are parking your octopus... er, kid, and you'll have a better trip.

15. You may be able to handle three hours of errands, but...

Why did you plan three hours of them with no park time?

kid playing with a toy horse

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Your days are already packed with all the things.

You know you have way too much to get done. You are trying to just concentrate on making it through in a reasonable amount of time.

But, you've got hours worth of errands...

and your kids' attention span and patience just won't stand up to that. That's why you meant to plan in some free time to play at the park.

But you didn't. Or couldn't.

Now you are stuck with overstimulated, under-exercised, likely grumpy, small human beings.

Guess who won't be finishing anything quickly?

Pro-tip:

Your toddler shouldn't be "inactive" for longer than an hour unless they're sleeping. Period.

While it sure feels like you are being active while running errands, they aren't. They are strapped in the car, then the cart, then standing still, and controlling themselves while you handle the banking. They are trapped in an adult world while you run errands.

Set up at least 5 to 10 minutes per hour where the kids can just be kids. If possible, with a larger break towards the middle of your errands.

Fear and Loathing in The Super Store

There are some things you can do to prepare for these, and make the trip better, we'll get to that shortly.

But first:

How much of this sounds familiar?

16. You've been there. Admit it.

My oldest threw tantrums by laying on the ground, silently, and refusing to move an inch.

My youngest was a shrieker. And, my nephew used to hold his breath when he got mad -- so long that he literally passed out from it.

kid having tantrum in the park

Whichever way they throw them, an overstimulated toddler or young child is likely to do it while you are in public.

Of course they are.

17. The game of hide and seek that may lead to a cardiologists appointment

If you haven't been there yet, you probably will be at some point.

Your child will wander off, or hide from you while you are out and about, or shopping. It's just a fact of life, but it's one that makes you so scared you are afraid your healthy heart is going to pop like a balloon.

18. 10,000 things you have to say no to

Saying no is not always easy, but no is necessary.

However, while shopping there is no end to the number of things they will spy and remember the TV told them they needed.

The cereal aisle, as well as every check out, not to mention those "teaser" items (usually cheap toys or snack foods) hung in the aisle. You can skip every toy area in the store and still be forced to say no.

Pro-tip:

It's ok to say no. It's even a good thing.

However, one way to make errands less daunting is to have your child pick one item which fits in your budget when you enter the store.

Have them hold on to it. Remind them while you are shopping (by praising good behavior, if possible) that they are earning that item with their actions.

If they make it through, reward them!

19. Wait, they are supposed to have inside voices?

Kids can be loud.

burping cartoon

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Happy, sad, mad, scared or excited, they likely have zero volume control, at least occasionally.

Part of surviving your errands without losing your sanity is making sure they can use their entire voice for at least 20 minutes somewhere near the middle of that time.

The other part?

The louder they are hollering, the more carefully you should control your own volume. Show them the volume you want them to use, and keep calm. It will help.

20. Think you accidentally brought demons instead of kids to the store?

What do you do when NOTHING is working?

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They are fighting, crying, begging, and simply nothing is going to get done. You need to stop at two more places, and there is no way you'll get done here any time soon.

You can't just leave...can you?

Yes, you can.

It may be, just going to car, strapping everyone in, and standing there -- outside your car -- while you breathe.

Decide then, if what you need to do can't wait until you have back-up, or tomorrow.

Pro-tip:

Occasional tantrums and melt-downs are normal. Especially when the kid is overtired, hungry, or not feeling well. However, there are certain signs that your child's tantrums could signal a larger issue. Pay attention to the type and frequency of your child's so you can decide if you should speak to their doctor.

Here are 5 signs of high-risk tantrum as identified in the Journal of Pediatrics:

  • 1
    Aggressive Tantrums -- trying to destroy toys, or hurt caregivers in more than half of 10-20 tantrums is a warning sign
  • 2
    Self-injury -- if your child is over three and tantrums include hurting themselves (scratching, biting, etc.) it's time to talk to their doctor
  • 3
    Frequent -- More than 10 tantrums at home in one day, more than twice in 30 days, may indicate a problem.
  • 4
    Long-lasting -- 11 minutes, that's pretty normal... though a long time for parents. If tantrums at home are lasting longer than 25 minutes, time to make an appointment.
  • 5
    External help to calm -- If your child is over the age of three, they should be learning to self calm. If you find you can't calm your child without a bribe or giving in to them after this age, seeking help is a good idea.

Bonus round: 6 survivor's tips to running errands like a boss

Want to run errands like a boss? Here ya go:

1. Know what's in your trip bag, and have it with you

2. The list, your budget info, and paperwork you need to complete the trip should go IN the trip bag.

3. Nap time comes first, even if it means sitting in the car while they sleep for 20-30 minutes so you can finish shopping in under 5 hours.

*Tantrums happen, have a plan. Chances are you have a smartphone, pay the next bill while they are sleeping.

5. Plan your route with your list items in the order you'll find them and situational awareness for cart parking.

6. Say no with confidence, reward good behavior regularly, and if your child is in danger of disappearing, keep them contained in some way.

7. Relax, and plan your trip so it can end early if at all possible, and you aren't backtracking.

Your Secret Weapons (How to Survive Errands)

You, as the parent, have several secret weapons.

Errands are not going to be easy every time, but you can make them easier: here's how.

  • Planning
  • Listing
  • Preparing
  • Following through

Planning:

looney tunes cat doing some book writing

Not just your destinations, either. Know where you are going and what things lie in your path that you can use to get through (like a park, plan to pass that about half-way through if possible).

Plan to start with the most important and urgent things, and end with the stuff that's less time sensitive. That means that you can end your trip after the first few locations if you discover today is not your day.

That escape hatch in your day means that you can keep calm easier.

Planning starts with a map and moves to your lists

Listing:

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Make a list of what you need to buy in each store. Not just any list, but one that works as a map as well.

Plan your list based on the stores you are going to, and sections in the store, such as:

  • Bank
    • deposit/withdraw
  • Eye doctor
    • pay bill
  • Salon
    • kids' hair cuts
  • Park
  • Grocery store
    • Cleaning products
    • Household needs
    • Baby stuff
    • Dry goods
    • Canned goods
    • Produce
    • Refrigerated
    • Dairy
    • Frozen food
  • Library drop off

Preparing

slamming door compartment of a car

Pack your bag, and pack it well.

When you are strapping your kids in the car, make sure that you have certain places you put things.

The diaper/trip bag should go in the same place every time, so you can see at a glance it's there. Make a short checklist on your phone, one that you can check in the driver's seat once everyone is in place.


Do you have your:

  • Plan?
  • List
  • Trip/Diaper Bag (see list above to pack)
  • Kids (shoes!)
  • Money and wallet
  • Needed paperwork
  • Phone and charger
  • Bags
  • Water

Following through

This may not seem like much, but when you promise your kids a treat for behaving. Follow through.

This is more important.

If your kids don't respond to reminders to behave, or simply refuse to behave (older kids): follow through.

The treat they were earning wasn't earned... if you want them to take you seriously, you need to stick to your word.

It's Hilarious How Much Running Errands Sucks...

But it doesn't have to. Yeah, there's always going to be good days and bad...

First, remember this:

Your child doesn't have your attention span. They just don't.

Plan your errands as if your kids are kids and can't possibly "hold still and be quiet" for hours on end. At some age groups, their window of ability to pull this off is going to be well under an hour. That INCLUDES driving time, in most cases!

Pack your bag. Pack it well, and know that you've covered your bases, but NOT brought so much that you can't carry it all.

Forgive yourself.

Just do, right now, because you are doing the best job you know how to do.

And understand this...

Every time you are able to reward your children, you are building up their ability to handle errands a little better. But, don't reward bad behavior.

That said, bribery isn't a crime. It's not.

That sucker in your diaper bag is a last-ditch distraction and joy-giving device that can help a toddler-on-the-edge make it the last 10 minutes of your trip. And, save your sanity.

Just, make sure you aren't using anything with a high stimulant value, like sugary treats, too soon. You'll sabotage the end of your trip by ramping up their energy levels to "must run or scream" levels.

There you have it, all the reasons running errands sucks, but doesn't have to. And, the best ways to make it suck just a little bit less!

What are your go-to reward and play time hacks? Let us know down in the comments, because it's quite clear, we all need a little help

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