Parenting and Time Management

It's probably safe to say that nearly every parent in the United States experiences poverty of time. We need time to connect well with each child, time to tend relationships with our partners and our wider families, time to keep our households, time to sleep and eat, time to learn new things, and time to relax. And time has been taken from parents in drastic proportions over the last 30 years.

The work of parenting is vital, and it takes time. Connecting in a generous, loving way with our children is at the heart of parenting. So is thinking about our interactions with our children. And playing with them, which we often consider the frosting on the cake of daily care, is what they would love to do with us for hours each day. If our children had their way, we would play with them and their friends 40 hours a week, and we would work an hour or two a day at most!

Parents also have needs. We need warm human contact with other grown-ups. We need praise and reassurance for the job we do as parents. We need a way to release the feelings we store up, day after day, while we do the best job we can with our children. And we need a chance to relax, free from worry and guilt.

But we are hard-pressed to meet our own needs and our children's. 30 years ago, one employed parent could usually support a family of 4. Today, it takes two parents working to support the average family of 4. The work week for each of those parents averages 6-1/2 hours longer than the work week of 30 years ago. This amounts to six weeks of extra work days each year! It's no wonder we're under pressure! Given that we are backed so firmly into the overwork corner, how are we to organize our lives so we can, at least sometimes, be satisfied with ourselves as mothers and fathers? How can we get the time and peace of mind we need?

Dad's Tips on Time Management
There's no magic formula, but there may be a few practices that can help us to satisfy our needs to connect well, to relax and play, and to think about our children. Here are some ideas that parents have told us are helpful.

  • Organize help. We have been trained to think of parenting as a one- or two-adult project. So when we get worn, we blame ourselves for our lack of energy rather than seeing that we are expecting ourselves to do a superhuman task. The truth is, when you are tired, day after day, you deserve help. When you find yourself short-tempered, you deserve help. When you've run out of energy to talk with your partner or get together with your friends, you deserve and need help. Parenting is like building a bridge or keeping an intensive care patient alive through a crisis: it is not work that's meant to be done in isolation. We need to identify the toughest times of our week, and experiment with setting up assistance at these times.
  • Extended family members, neighbors, church or temple members, and teenagers in the neighborhood looking for work can be asked to do child care or errands or cooking. Parents in a neighborhood can cook for each other's families, forming dinner co-ops. Parents can organize child care co-ops, in which time is exchanged, rather than money. Some city recreation programs and libraries have services for parents of young children. Even "weekends free" exchanges between families, in which once every two months or so, one set of parents gets Saturday through Sunday noon away from their children, and the other set does child care, can be arranged.
  • Build a Listening Partnership with another parent. Make the commitment to tell someone what it's like for you, what your victories are and what is driving you up the wall, and then listen back so that parent gets listening time, too. It's surprising what a difference this exchange of listening time makes, even if it's just 5 or 10 minutes of listening each way over the phone. The time you invest in connecting with another parent won't make you less busy, but it will help you see the choices you have, solve problems more quickly, and feel less alone with the challenges you face.
  • Let go of some expectations. Do you really have to have a clean house? Must you really fold the clothes? Is a hot meal at dinner time really essential every night? If you are a harried parent, these questions can be irritating. It feels like, "Of course! What would people think! And me--how can I stand things being more undone than they are?!"

Do Not Beat Yourself Up
When we're overloaded, we often keep working as though the sky will fall if we don't get it all done. We feel resentful, but don't move to change things to benefit ourselves or our children. Instead, we drop time with our children but continue with the cleaning and the housework and the expected visits to the relatives. However, that tactic can prove to be expensive. Given too little contact with us, our children sprout aches and pains and complaints and explosions that take up a lot of our time.

So serving raw carrot sticks and peanut butter on toast for dinner (three food groups!), stuffing the unfolded clothes into drawers or letting them sit in a pile in the corner (they're clean!), and vacuuming once a month (it just gets dirty again, anyway!) are viable tactics with which to fight against the overload that so much work creates. Remember, as a parent, you get to construct your own way of doing things. Anything goes. You get to set your own priorities. There's no expectation that you can't question, no "right way" to run your household.

Above all, don't blame yourself for your overwork. It's not your fault! Remember that we live in a society that cares more about your ability to produce than it does about your time for parenting, so the pressure you feel is the sign of backwards priorities at large, not a sign of personal failings. To take the ease every parent needs, you'll need to be active in working on your own behalf at home and at work. Think, listen, talk, and see what you, and fellow parents, can do to make time and make change.

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