Problem-Solving, Mommy Style

Tracy Galuski

What would you do? A farmer needs to get a sack of corn, a chicken and a fox across a river in his small boat. He can only bring one item with him each trip. He knows that if he leaves the fox alone with the chicken, the fox will eat the chicken, and if he leaves the chicken alone with the corn sack, then the chicken will eat the corn. How does the farmer get all three items across the river safely? If he doesn’t think it through, he will most definitely have a very bad day. Take a minute and see if you can help him. See the solution below.

A few years ago I experienced a similar scenario as I was leaving the MOPS meeting. I was carrying my son in the infant carrier; in the other arm I had a heavy laundry basket full of supplies. My 3-year-old-daughter was walking next to me. I thought I could easily make one trip to the car. Halfway there however, my daughter noticed that it had been raining and the ground was damp. She began to cry and complained that her shoes would get wet. Despite my reassurance, she refused to walk another step.

By now I was in the middle of the parking lot. I only had two hands. How could I safely get all three items to the car?

In the rush of the moment, I made the wrong choice. I’m embarrassed to share the details, let’s just say that I managed to get the chicken safely buckled into the car while the fox ran back through the parking lot and around the corner to the church door. I locked the chicken safely in the car and ran after the fox. Fortunately, I was with friends who helped me get my chicken, fox and corn to the car. I’m supposed to be a super mom, how could I have made such a poor decision? Why didn’t I just leave that silly basket behind?

There are a number of ways to follow the steps of problem-solving. We should start by defining the problem, then lay out the options, deliberate the potential outcome of each option, and select the best one with the hope that it gives us the best result. Usually we go back to revisit the plan at some point. However, in quick-decision situations, you don’t always have time to go through the process of problem-solving. Sometimes we have to just take a deep breath, pick one option and then hope for the best. After the fact, you can take a few moments to reflect on how your option worked and plan better for next time.

Here are my suggestions for making good mommy-style snap decisions:

Plan and prepare ahead of time as much as possible. If you’re headed to the store, plan for speed. Throw a few toy cars in your purse, write out a quick list, or plan to stop by the bakery first for a fresh bagel for the kids.

Reflect on what’s working, and change what isn’t. If your plan is not working, stop forcing the issue and try something else. My daughter refused to ride in the shopping cart from the time she could walk. It was frustrating, but I planned extra time and I let her throw extra treats in the cart as we walked along. She was almost 3 before she realized that most of her treats were disappearing from the cart.

Let the little things go and focus on the big picture. Years ago I was at the store carefully reading the label of organic jars of baby food. My 8-month-old started fussing loudly. After a moment he stopped whining and I was relieved. I looked over to see him smiling widely with an orange frosting moustache. My 3-year-old daughter was proud that she had shared with him. I had to laugh. Here I was concerned about the healthiest baby food while he was gobbling down a half-chewed frosted cookie.

The Solution: Did you take time to solve the problem? Here’s the best solution, although there are probably others. Take the chicken first and come back alone. Get the corn, take it across and take the chicken back with you. Leave the chicken and take the fox and leave it with the corn, and come back alone. Now go back and get the chicken.

Tracy Galuski, Ph.D. attends MOPS at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Williamsville, New York. She uses stories of her children to illustrate child development in her courses as a professor in the area of early childhood at Empire State College.

Hello-Dearest-Front-Cover_winter2016This originally appeared in an archived issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.