By slowing down and avoiding multitasking, you won't get as much done—but you will feel more fulfilled.
As parents, we have to get so much done in so little time. However, the truth is that if you're a little less efficient, your parenting experience will be much more rewarding. I urge you to make and keep these six simple "inefficiency" resolutions for 2016:
- When you're with your kids, be with your kids. That means unplug—no phone, no laptop, no earbuds. Try not to do more than one thing at once when you're with your kids. Time with your kids should be sacrosanct, and focused on them. Listen when they are speaking to you, without letting your mind wander to the dishes in the sink, the garden that needs tending, or the taxes to be filed. There will be time for all of those tasks when your kids are asleep or in school.
- "Meditate" on your kids twice a day. When was the last time you truly focused on your kids in a deep and meaningful way? For many parents, that may have been the delivery room, where you counted each finger and toe and marveled at the miracle of creating a life. But since then, amidst the daily chaos, you may have lost track of the miracle you created, distracted by the need to get everyone where they have to be and get everything done. Spend just three minutes, twice a day, "meditating" on your kids, watching and seeing them as you did in the delivery room. Watch them with wonder while they play, eat, fall asleep. They are your miracles, and they're worthy of setting aside six minutes each day, aren't they?
- Walk, don't drive. To save time, so many of us drive our kids even very short distances, so that a five-minute drive replaces a 20-minute walk. But that walk could be very special together time. Time to hold hands, talk about the day, see trees and birds, kick rocks. Next time you're taking your kids to a nearby playdate or soccer practice, bring a backpack with your work or a good book in it, and walk together. When you get where you're going, kiss your child goodbye and find a quiet spot for yourself to do what you need to do, or relax with a cup of coffee. You've earned it. Afterwards, walk home together.
- Eat dinner together every night. Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but dinner is the most important meeting of the day. For many families, dinner has become an all-night buffet, available whenever it's convenient for whoever is around. But dinner should be much more than eating. Think of it the way you think of a meeting at work, a time to put the important people in one place to accomplish mutual goals. Come prepared with an agenda of items to discuss, plan, laugh about. Share the events of your day and of your kids' day. Talk about plans for tomorrow. For some families, dinner together may truly be impossible; if you're one of those families, have dessert together before bedtime, or get up a few minutes early each day and spend breakfast time together. Try not to let a day go by without everyone sitting down together for a "meeting."
- Create new holidays and new traditions. Birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the December holidays we just passed are all wonderful opportunities to create unique memories with your kids. But there aren't enough of these special occasions. There are a few others you should try, no gifts involved, just protected time together. Celebrate half-birthdays with half a cake. Celebrate your pet's birthday. Designate the first Tuesday of every month as "Monthly Mother's Day," and the third Thursday of every month as "Monthly Father's Day" when you have a special dinner or family movie night or game night. Special occasions take a little more time from your day, but the memories will last a lifetime.
- Give your child a flashlight, and have her "help" with your chores. If your kids are doing something valuable—like having a playdate or doing homework, you're on your own for your chores. But don't fix a leak under the sink, change the oil in the car, or replace the furnace filter by yourself while your child is watching Frozen for the 50th time. Give her a flashlight and bring her along to the attic or garage. Ditto for laundry, the dishes, and yardwork. I can guarantee, this will not make you more efficient! But it's unique time shared with the most important people in your life. When he gets a little older, you can hold the flashlight and let him take the lead.
Best to all for a happy, healthy, and slightly inefficient New Year!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting; a Parents advisor; and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com.