Parents, it might feel like there is never enough time. Never enough hours in the day between work and school, extracurricular activities and things that make the trains run on time — making dinner, packing lunches, laundry, housework, etc.
Two new parenting books seem to challenge that notion that we can't do it all. Authors Heather Miller of "Prime Time Parenting" and Julie Morgenstern of "Time to Parent" tell us in their new books that we can get it all done if we're organized and if we prioritize. Prioritizing means taking things off your lists as well as making sure time spent parenting is about the quality of time, not the quantity of time.
Both women have grown children. Miller's son is now 25. She owns an education company that works in schools in New York City. Morgenstern's daughter is now 33, and she remembers thinking after her daughter was born, "Where is the instruction manual?"
Morgenstern has been an organization consultant for 30 years. She noticed that while she could organize clients, she didn't feel like she could organize this thing called parenting, in part because it didn't come with a clearly defined job description. One common theme, though, was that she and her clients were all wanting their life to be organized so they could have more time with their children.
Miller's subtitle to her book is "The Two-Hour-a-Day Secret to Raising Great Kids." Morgenstern's subtitle is "Organize Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You."
The skeptic — and exhausted parent — might want to call B.S. on all of this right now, but both authors offer tips that could streamline what you're doing and help you get more satisfaction out of the time you're spending with your kids.
It's worth a look at some of their best advice.
How does two hours a day of parenting work in Miller-land?
First of all, it doesn't have to be two continuous hours. It can be little bits of time stolen from other activities.
Morgenstern talks about the importance of these anchor times and making the transitions go smoothly. If you think about the day being broken up into time periods, think waking up in the morning before school, after school, after work, dinnertime and bedtime. Each of these periods gives parents opportunities to do mini check-ins with kids, maybe five or 10 minutes. You set aside this time so they are not interrupting you at other times and you can give them your full attention.
You ask meaningful questions or do meaningful activities: You read at bedtime, you ask about their dreams when they wake up, you talk about something they learned at school after school, you ask them about a book they are reading or a YouTube video they just watched. And you are physically with them, because often they need a hug, a cuddle, or just to feel your presence. You aren't rushing them to the next thing. They feel valued, and you don't feel like you're being pulled in a million different directions in those five- to 10-minute stretches. Your family also develops a natural cadence where everyone knows when the connection times are so there are less distractions.
For the really harried parent, Morgenstern recommends taking five to 10 minutes to yourself before you open the garage door at the end of the day or before you wake up the kids.
Miller divides that prime-time parenting slot (which she labels as 6 to 8 p.m.) as the time to really be all-in and off the phones. She even breaks the two hours into half-hour segments and advises task-switching throughout, not multitasking, which is different.
Her schedule looks something like this:
6-6:30 p.m.: Check in with the kids with that meaningful conversation. Get the kids set up doing homework. Start cooking dinner.
6:30-7 p.m.: Eat dinner as a family with good table manners. Have really meaningful conversations with your family. Be thankful and express that thanks.
7-7:30 p.m. Sit with your child while they are finishing homework. Check the backpack for messages sent home and check that they are organized for the next day. Pack the bag for the next day.
7:30-8 p.m.: Get ready for bed, including giving them a bath, family reading and tucking your child in.
After 8 p.m.: Your time. Clean up, prepare for the next day, including packing your bag and getting your clothes ready, connect with other adults, and — importantly — relax.
This schedule, Miller says, "allows the busy parent to feel like they have covered their bases no matter what other crazy is happening," she says.
It also is about what she calls "active, intentional parenting," rather than sort of being present, figuring out logistics, but not being all-in.
It builds in downtime for parents after the kids go to bed, and it builds in downtime for the kids before the parents get home or before the homework is started.
For parents who have a job that stretches into the wee-hours, all of this could be done with a different adult, but the importance is that there is a routine, Miller says, and you're creating a sense of calm, a sense of structure, even if you can't be there. Then make sure that on the weekend you're creating that quality in-person time.
"They don't need to beat themselves up," she says, if they don't have two hours on a weeknight. "There's nothing, per se, about just being physically with mom or physically with parents that has benefits," she says. "It's what you're doing with the kids. ... It's more high-quality contact time."
Morgenstern divides parenting time into the Parenting Time Matrix, based on the role you're playing. She divides jobs into Provide, Arrange, Teach and Relate. These jobs are either visible or invisible to the child and in the child's world or in the adult world. Parents have two of these jobs that they are probably good at and two they are not good at. On her website, juliemorgenstern.com, she has a self-assessment tool to help you figure out what kind of parent you are.
Instead of trying to compensate with the things you're not good at by trying to strengthen those roles, Morgenstern advocates playing up your strengths and outsourcing the other two roles.
"When you build a village, it frees time for the things you can do," she says.
You also are emotionally present around the things you're good at, and you're enriching your child's world by having other people in their lives, she says. Moms, especially, are terrible about asking friends, neighbors and relatives for help, she says, because they think it's a much bigger burden than it really is.
Also, in "Time To Parent," she includes a section called "Being a Human Being: Fueling Your S.E.L.F." That stands for Sleep, Exercise, Love and Fun, and one of the ways you get all of those back in your life is by asking for help.
In addition to building your village, she's an advocate for getting kids involved in the work of the family. That means they have chores that either they are responsible for or that you all do together. Those mundane tasks can be times for conversations — especially with boys. Often, they open up to conversations when you are not directly looking at them or when they are not on the spot. Think about the times you might be driving them somewhere and they start talking or as you are cooking dinner together.
For parents who think they've already messed up because they haven't routinely had check-in times or their nighttime schedules are chaotic, Morgenstern reminds that "it's never too late to hit reset, ever. Everyone wants the same thing. We all just want to be seen and loved and valued and connected to."