It's probably safe to say that nearly every parent is time-poor. We need time to connect well with each child, time to tend relationships with our partners and our wider families, time to tend 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 thirty 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. 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 forty hours a week, and we would work an hour or two a day at most!
We 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. Thirty years ago, one employed parent could usually support a family of four. Today, that seems an impossible feat. Often, both parents are required to work, and often for extended hours.
Given that we are backed so tightly 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?
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.
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 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 childcare or errands or cooking.
Parents in a neighborhood can cook for each other's families, forming dinner co-ops. Parents can organize childcare co-ops, in which time is exchanged, rather than money.
Some city recreation programs and libraries have services for parents of young children. Even weekend exchanges between families, in which 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 can do the same.
It's surprising what a difference this exchange of listening time makes, even if it's just five or ten 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.
If you are not familiar with this idea, read Listen Launch Post: What is a Listening Partnership and Why Do I Need One?
Lift 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 how can I stand things being more undone than they are?!”
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 our children or ourselves. 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 costly.
Given too little contact with us, our children sprout aches and pains and complaints and explosions that end up taking 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 against the overload that so much work creates.
You get to set your own priorities
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 “right way” to run your household. Above all, don't blame yourself for your overwork. It's not your fault.
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 backward priorities at large, not a sign of personal failings.
To take the ease every parent needs, you need to be actively 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.
You are a parent. You deserve it.
Parenting from different pages can be hard on your partnerships with loved ones: Here are some ideas for partnering well.