By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
Julie Morgenstern, an organizing consultant and best-selling author, was named by USA Today as “The Queen of Putting Things in Order.” Her most recent book is Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You. She will present a webinar as part of PEP’s Noted Parenting Author Series on Thursday, November 15, at 8 pm Eastern.
Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a PEP certified parent educator and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior, spent some time with Julie to explore some core challenges facing parents today: How do I divide my time between conflicting priorities? How do I choose between being there for my kid and not losing my self or being there with my significant other if I have one or getting back on the computer to get some work done?
Q: What guidance do you give to parents who are torn and feel there isn’t enough time in the day to meet all of these needs and to handle all of these priorities?
A: What kids need is short bursts, 5 to 15 or 20 minutes, of truly undivided attention delivered consistently. We get trapped thinking . . . you’re supposed to spend these unlimited massive hours of time with your kids. The key here is to deliver that short burst at each reconnection point in your child’s day: when they first wake up, when you send them off to school, when you get home from work or they get home from school, whichever one comes first, then dinner, bedtime. Engage, enter your child’s world at that moment. How are they feeling?
Your kid will feel that connection, and feel that they’re so important to you and you’re looking at them and you are tuned into them. You have to separate yourself from the to-do list in your head and the things you need to do to keep everyone fed. You need to separate yourself from your phone too. We’re all pretty addicted to our technology, to our screens.
Q: So often when we talk about parenting, the question of guilt comes up. Can you address how do we pick between our different priorities?
A: Guilt comes from the ambiguity of the job. When you don’t know the edges of the job and it feels infinite. Whatever you spend time on, you feel you’re neglecting something else. Guilt steals time and energy and it takes us out of the pleasure of a moment. When you carry guilt around, you’re carrying it into every interaction with your kid. You’re spending time with your kid but you already feel it’s not enough. It’s a very destructive, nonproductive emotion.
As a time management coach, job ambiguity in any position in any role is a recipe for overwork, inefficiency and insecurity. A lot of the guilt can go away, first by creating a clear job description. Break the job into two parts: raising a human and being a human.
The years we are raising our children happen to be the prime of our own adult development. While you’re raising your kids, you’re cultivating a love relationship with a significant other if you’re married or with a circle of friends; you’re establishing a career while you’re raising your kids; you’re at the peak of your earning capacity. You’re discovering who you are as a person. We have to recognize that fact.
The secret to that is the same short bursts of undivided attention, but for yourself. As a parent you need to learn to work in 20-minute chunks. Sitting down quietly to eat a sandwich and drink a cup of tea, not multitasking, can be profoundly restorative. You can achieve a lot in 10 or 20 minutes: chatting with a friend, sitting on a couch with your significant other, not talking about the kids but talking about each other and how you’re doing and cultivating that relationship. Meditation can be done in one minute. Exercise can be done in six minutes.
Raising a human has four components that fit into the acronym PART. Provide for our kids: make money, manage money, pay for stuff they need. A is for Arrange: organizing the logistics of their lives, where do they go to school, what are we eating, physical organizing, the time routines. Then we have Relate. That is where you’re connecting one on one with your child and really doing things of interest to them and talking about topics of interest to them. This is different from the fourth activity, which is Teach. We have to teach our kids values and life skills.
It’s really important for parents to recognize the difference between Relate and Teach. When we’re teaching, we’re bringing kids into the adult world. When you’re relating to your child, you’re entering your child’s world. You are the student of them. It’s really interesting to look at the world through your kid’s eyes.
For every overwhelmed parent, start with these first 5 or 10 minutes. You’ve got to light up when your child enters the room. You check in. How was your day, how are you feeling, what was interesting to you, what did you dream about?
Choose a 10 to 20 minute daily self-activity, exercise or fun or total relaxation. Two short bursts that you anchor into your day. Then you can start worrying about how to organize your closets or the kitchen or fueling yourself.
Learn proven strategies for prioritizing what really matters to your family and realistic, research-backed guidelines for what quality time really looks like. Register for Julie Morgenstern’s webinar at pepparent.org/npas or visit her website at www.juliemorgenstern.com.