How to Pivot when the Plan Doesn’t Work

By Lori Orlinsky

There is no job more overwhelming than being a parent. Between school, after care, sports practice, dance lessons, tutoring and doctor appointments, you’ve carefully planned your family’s life to a T. While shared Google Calendars, a schedule on the fridge and sticky note reminders all over the house definitely help serve as reminders and keep a nice division of duties with your spouse, there comes a time when the plan falls apart. Whether it is the dreaded call from the school nurse that your child needs a pick up or an unexpected work trip, how do you work it out and what are some last-minute solutions to attempt to keep a reasonable balance?

“It is never a question of if something comes up, but when,” says Suzanne Brown, a work-life balance speaker, consultant, and author of the award-winning Mompowerment series. “Something will come up that will cause your plans to go off the rails.”

Flexibility is key

Brown says that while the plans are important, there is a need to always build in flexibility for these one off situations.

“When you create a routine, it’s never a set it and forget it thing,” she says. “You’ll always need to make adjustments over time. Parents need to remember that when they pivot their plan, while it can be stressful in the moment, they haven’t failed.”

Planning ahead together
Every Sunday, Brown suggests that parents sit down and compare calendars to see which spouse can be on call in the event of an emergency. Each night, it is important to do a check in for the following day to see if anything has changed. A quick assessment of who can do something when so one parent does not always have to drop everything and save the day can make a big difference. As a couple, parents need to decide how to tackle an unexpected shift, she says.

“Working parents may find that the best way to make this decision is who has fewer meetings, or who has less important meetings,” says Brown. “If you don’t know what the priorities are and what can be moved around, it’s really hard to move anything around.  Moving things in the moment is overwhelming.”

Tapping into your tribe

Whether it is a family, friend or neighbor, having a trusted backup for emergencies is essential. Parents should tap into relationships they’ve already established and see who they are comfortable asking for help.

“Having those people in your tribe who you can lean on is so important,” says Brown. “Most times, these people are more than happy to help you, and you can also be that go to person who can provide help for them another time.”

Hypothetical crisis moments
While the philosophy is the same in coordinating schedules and planning ahead, some logistics may vary as parents face different situations. Brown offers advice for some of these hypothetical crisis moments.

Sick child

We’ve all looked down at our phone in a panic when the school phone number flashes on the screen. Your child needs a pick up, and immediately. 

Brown says that before this happens, it is helpful to know if your employer offers the benefit of emergency childcare or remote work days.  Especially after COVID, many of these benefits became standard.

“You want the policies to be flexible enough for working parents,” she says. “And no parent should have to negotiate these policies – they should be baked into how a company does business.”

Aging parent

Just like you would coordinate schedules with your spouse, Brown says it is important to do the same with siblings if you have shared care of an aging parent.

She says it also helps to define who manages care for a parent should a specific event arise, especially if travel may be involved. For example, if an aging parent is in a nursing home, the facility should have a list of family members to contact in various instances.

“You want to be able to use the resources that are available instead of making it your thing to manage every problem,” Brown says.


In the event of spousal trouble or divorce, oftentimes, the plan will be in writing, with most emergencies accounted for.  A mediator or court appointed documentation should clearly define who deals with what instances in the event of various circumstances.

Each parent’s individual tribe will also be essential.

“If you are going through a divorce, your tribe becomes even more important,” Brown says. “You need two versions of a tribe so you have more help when you need it,” she says.

Work travel

When a last minute work trip arises, the traveling parent should work with the stay-at-home parent to see how they can help make things easier before the trip occurs.  It can be as simple as doing a few loads of the kids’ laundry or filling up the gas tank to take something off of their plate.

Brown also suggests always having an emergency casserole in the freezer so dinner is one less thing to worry about. 

“In this instance, the solution is dividing and conquering in a different way,” she says.

Personal health matter

If something is going on health-wise, planning ahead to give yourself more wiggle room in the moment once again becomes key. It can be anything from doing work in advance to hiring a mother’s helper for a few hours. 

For last minute doctor appointments, parents should also have their own shortcuts and rely on them to fall back on.

“If your shortcut is food delivery, get your food delivered,” Brown says. “Take whatever shortcut you can put in place to make your life easier.”

Cancellation of planned activity for child

If a sports game or planned playdate gets canceled and you still have to work, creating boundaries with your child is important. Set them up with an activity while you work and tell them you are only accessible for a certain period of time in the event of a true emergency.

Brown says she relies on the four B’s – bleeding, barfing, broken or burning – to define a true emergency to kids.

“If any of those true emergencies happen, let your child know that they should come get you immediately,” she says. 

Lori Orlinsky is a freelance writer and award-winning, bestselling children’s book author.

Recent Articles