I’ve been a mother now for two and a half years, but I am still surprised daily by how much more time and energy it takes to do things with kids.
Recently, I went out to brunch with a girlfriend, my baby and toddler in tow. After getting everyone in their seats, pulling out some crayons and paper for my daughter and then cutting, blowing on and distributing the kids’ food, I made a mental note to leave them at home with my husband next time. It would be easier and more relaxing that way.
I’m always trying to think of ways to manage my time better so that I can achieve all the things I need to, whilst still having time for myself. More often than not, I find this means getting the kids “entertained” with something, so I can rush off and put some washing away or do some filing before they notice I’m missing.
Parenting and time management
Our society seems to have an obsession with making things more efficient, more streamlined and more organised. Get the maximum return on your time investment. Work smarter, not harder.
Why wash dishes by hand, when a machine can do it for you? Why struggle through a grocery shop with the kids, when I can get it done in half the time alone? Why teach my daughter how to measure, pour and mix ingredients when I can just pop on a TV show and do it by myself without the spills and sticky fingers?
But is excellent time management really what we should be striving for as parents? Because I’ve been thinking about this from my kids’ perspective, and wondering what kind of message they hear when I shunt them off to the toy room once more so I can go and do something important. What do they think when I go off to do the groceries on a Saturday, just so I can do it alone? How does my daughter feel when I decline her offer to “help” make dinner, because “Mummy just needs to get it done quickly this time”?
Yes, my children are very young, but I have a hunch that they are more perceptive than we give them credit for. And if the consistent message being spoken through my words, actions and body language is that they are unwanted, unimportant and a bit of a nuisance, I don’t think that’s worth it, even if I do complete my to do list.
The benefits of inneficiency
I am now trying to embrace the messiness of parenting young children for three reasons:
1. It shows my children that they are valued. When I allow my children to be a part of what I’m doing, this tells them that I like spending time with them and they are important to me. If you asked me what was a higher priority - housework or my children - I would answer “my children” without hesitation. My actions therefore need to reflect my priorities.
2. It teaches them important skills and attitudes. Welcoming my children’s involvement teaches them how to do things like wash dishes, bake muffins and put clothes away in the right drawers. If I had simply popped on a TV program and did these things on my own, I would have missed a valuable teaching opportunity. In addition to this, I think it teaches them the value of hard work. If my children grow up seeing me constantly trying to make my life easier and avoiding anything that breaks a sweat, you can bet they will leave home with the same attitude.
3. It teaches me patience. Perhaps this is the hardest part about embracing the hard things in parenting. I am forced to slow down, take a breath and wait. And in the waiting, I hear a song drift into my head – the song I love to sing to my daughter when she is getting impatient – “Be patient, be patient, don’t be in such a hurry, when you get impatient, it only makes you worry. Remember, remember, God is patient too, and think of all the times that others have to wait for you”. It is so humbling to remember how patient God has been with me, as he waits for me to learn each lesson, graciously leading me as I stumble along at toddlers’ pace.
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