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Time Management for Parents

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
01/15/24  1:42 PM PST
exhausted parent

Parents, It’s Ok to Do Less

From the minute you first become a parent, your time is no longer your own. Parents spend a great deal of time thinking about what has to be done and then figuring out the sequence in which to do it so that it can all get done most efficiently by the day’s end. That’s a lot of mental work, or “emotional labor”. We keep a running checklist of things at all times, including: the day’s events, our responsibilities, things we need to prepare, keeping tabs on what time we need to leave to make it on time for track or soccer, what to prepare for dinner, remembering to flip the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, do we need more ketchup, etc., etc.

And then the guilt – oh the parenting guilt! Despite everything we juggle, parents often feel guilty at the end of the day because of the unrealistic expectation that we “should have done more.”

I’m about to put an end to all of this should-ing. We should all over ourselves and in the end, we still aren’t happy. We should bake cupcakes from scratch, we should make our children a fresh dinner each night, chock full of fresh veggies that you just picked from your garden. I don’t have a garden, so I am abandoning this idea of fresh dinner. If the kids have food in their bellies, they are fed. Nailed it!

We also compare ourselves to other parents, who we think have it all pulled together and are doing a better job than we are at this parenthood gig. Well, let me tell you – each one of us is struggling and this is not an easy job. This is one of the hardest jobs I have ever had in my life.

So, to help us to become the owners of our time, to be kind to ourselves, and to create the time to take care of ourselves, here are a few ideas.

Choose Your Goals Carefully!

As a parent, you are committing to things left and right. “Yes, I can make a last-minute parent-teacher conference in the middle of my work day.” “Of course, I can bake 70,000 dozen muffins for tomorrow’s bake sale,” or “Plan the next PTA event – of course, I’m on it!” But where does it end? How do you decide which activities or volunteer events that you will – and won’t – participate in?

What I challenge you to do is to identify one to two goals that are important to you. Yes, you heard me correctly – one to two. Not five to six, or 111-112. Choose one to two goals that are both important and achievable.

Now, when you are thinking about how to use your time and where to invest it, you will need to ask yourself, “By doing this (insert commitment here), is this serving me and my goal(s)?” If it is not, then that task may not be important to take care of right now. Or, it may be a commitment or task you can decline, instead of taking it on just because you feel like you ‘should’ or that it would make you a ‘better parent’.

For me, I’ve been taking on volunteer tasks through my children’s school for many years now. For some reason, I felt like this was part of my motherhood gig and that if I didn’t, I would be somehow cheating my children.

I remember when I ran a very large fundraising event. For me, the planning and carrying out spanned from September to May. By the end, I was drained, and cooked, and I was angry and resentful. I spent so many nights, days, and weekends purchasing, planning, and advertising! What I didn’t realize until well-into the commitment is that the time I spent doing all of this took away from the time that I could have spent with my kids. I was stressed, irritated, and overwhelmed while trying to balance the demands of this event, my house, my children, and my practice. I vowed to myself that I would not take on a fundraising event of this caliber again. And I haven’t. If it doesn’t give me energy, a creative outlet or an opportunity to share a cool experience with my children, I’m not doing it.

What Are Our Kids Learning From Us?

I work with many parents who feel that it is their job to do everything for their children, such as laundry, or dropping off items at school when they’ve forgotten. If we are not teaching our children – especially older children – how to accomplish these daily life and executive functioning skills through their daily routines, we are not helping at all.

In fact, I’ve also worked with many college-aged students who left their homes where everything was done for them. When they arrived at college, they were overwhelmed with the number of responsibilities they had and things to remember (e.g., contacting a professor, changing sheets, washing laundry, and what time to get up for class in order to make it on time).

If we don’t allow our children to practice and build these skills while they are under our roof, they aren’t going to magically build them once they hit 18 years old or are living in a college dorm.

Pass on those executive functioning responsibilities to your children as they are developmentally ready, and when they ask for help, ask questions. When they are asking you to take a responsibility back, or don’t follow through, don’t just swoop in and take care of it.

Many of us are natural fixers and great problem solvers. We’re also great personal assistants to our children. We are very aware of their schedule and all of the items they need for each activity. You’re likely very aware of each class, upcoming assignment, project, and assessment. If you find yourself reminding your child of these upcoming things every single time, month after month, year after year, and are still cueing them to engage in daily life activities like washing their face or taking a shower, you’ve gone too far.

Think about it: if you’re carrying this weight and remembering for your child, why would your adolescent pick it up independently? Like I say to many of the parents with whom I work, if you were my personal assistant, I wouldn’t worry about remembering my schedule and all of the things I needed to get done each day. You would remind me all day long, and my life would be much easier.

Moments of Silence

By freeing yourself from the “I shoulds,” you will be freeing up a well of energy that you didn’t even know you had. By simplifying and directing your energy into a few places that really matter, you will find that you will have more time to play. Play with your kids, with your significant other, with your friends, and just do something that you find to be fun, like painting rocks.

By protecting your precious time, you are indeed creating more time and energy to invest back into yourself and into your family. But the most significant difference is that you will feel like you are not being pulled in many directions, doing many things that you can’t keep up with.

My suggestion to you is to also build in moments of silence. I’m not saying meditate – that personally sounds torturous to me and I can’t even attempt it anymore. Instead, I like to find my moments when my kids are still asleep in the morning or at night, and find my cozy spot on my couch and sit in silence. Sometimes with a cup of tea or wine, and sometimes with nothing at all. I just sit in silence. I find that it helps me quiet the noise in my head and I end up solving mini or big problems and coming up with creative solutions. I also find that my sleep is more peaceful because I’m not problem-solving and processing through my dreams or awakening in the middle of the night to think.

Although the days are slow, the years are fast. As a mom, I know this by looking back at my pictures and videos. Parenthood is exhausting; we don’t need to add to it by raising the bar from mom/dad to supermom/superdad. We invest incredible amounts of time and energy into our children, and constantly run the danger of spreading ourselves too thin. Guilt and the “shoulds’ have no place in our homes. It’s time to let that go and give back to yourself by doing less.

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