Productivity advice often tells us to make time for personal activities that we love during the early morning hours or after the kids go to bed. This is understandable, given how busy we can often be after work and on the weekends. And we think that we are doing what is best for our kids. We believe what our kids need is intensive parenting; ensuring that we devote all of our waking hours outside of work to taking care of their needs.
But our kids don’t simply need endless hours of our 1 on 1 attention.
They need to see us doing activities that we love (even if we love spending time with them.)
In an interview many years ago, Fred Rogers explained his show by saying:
“I hope that it has given a few more honest adults. If adults can show what they love in front of kids, they’ll be some child who says “I’d like to be like that!” I’d like to do that!”
“A great gift of any adult to a child is to love what you do in front of the child. Let them catch the attitude that it’s fun. Because you know that attitudes are caught, not taught.”
When is the last time that your kids saw an adult doing what they love?
When is the last time that your kids saw YOU doing what you love?
“The most creative people are also the most disciplined. Structure liberates. We have to have a structure inside of which we can be wildly creative.” – Glennon Doyle
Structure for yourself, and structure for the kids.
Trying to rely on a routine when there are kids involved is sometimes an exercise in futility. Notice I said sometimes – not necessarily often. I might have a story running through my head saying that “Getting up at 5am for time to myself wouldn’t work; my 2 year old sometimes wakes early if I try to wake up early.” But if I really pay attention to what actually happens over time, I would find that she only wakes up like that 1 day out of 20. But in my head, that 1 day become the norm and I use that as an excuse to not try at all.
(note: your child might genuinely be waking up at 5am, despite every method you’ve tried to keep them asleep. It happens. This is where specific tactics aren’t important; the underlying principle is – finding time alone at some point in your day and stick that routine.)
Sticking to routine and schedule is so critical because of course- one small thing can throw everything off.If I want to have my time for myself in the morning, I need to get up on time. To get up on time, I need to go to bed on time. To go to bed on time, the kids need to be in bed on time. To have them in bed on time, the evening kid schedule needs to go on time…etc etc.
Create a routine, and just do your best to stick to the structure. Nothing every totally goes to plan, but don’t use that as a reason not to start.
A few years ago I transitioned from being a stay at home mom with 1 kiddo whose solid sleep left me with loads of free time to a working mom with 2 young kids, the youngest of whom is apparently a vampire. Needless to say, my ability to freely spend time working on creative endeavors changed drastically.
As my time become very constrained, I became obsessed with productivity strategies and learning how to make the most of my life given my hectic weekdays. I wanted to make time for the things I loved, but just didn’t see how I could do it. I was leaving our home at 4:30am each day to get on the road before traffic started and didn’t get home until after 6pm. And add a baby who was still waking up in the middle of the night.
Yet all the productivity experts I read said similar things – “wake up before the rest of your household” – “you MAKE time for what is important to you” – “carve out 3 hours a day for uninterrupted time.” I’m sorry, what?!
We knew, of course, that my weekday schedule was not sustainable and were actively considering lifestyle changes (e.g. relocating) so that I could live a more manageable life. But big changes like that take time, and I was left with a couple of years managing that grueling schedule while listening to bright eyed “experts” tell me to just have a nanny stay a little bit later each day so that my husband and I could have a date night. Oh that’s right! Our imaginary nanny was the solution to the problem.
What I wish I would have known (in addition to knowing it’s ok and sometimes necessary to ignore all the “experts” who are trying to force prescription advice on people) is that it’s ok to START SMALL.
Even 5 or 10 minutes a day is enough. When I think back on that time, especially when I was waking up not to an alarm clock but rather to a baby’s 3am crying, I don’t know that even waking up 5 minutes before my family would have been effective, since I wasn’t woken up on a totally predictable schedule. But I could have spent 5 minutes at lunch every day reading something inspirational. 5 minutes a day, over and over, would have added up to a lot.
It’s easy to end up feeling like you can’t life your best life because you don’t have enough time as other people do. And the message of “you make time for what is important to you” is only partially correct. You can make the time….it just might not be as much time as you would like…and that is ok. What you have is enough – enough to get started on your goal; enough to know that you are the type of person who doesn’t let your purported lack of time stand in your way.
“the chores of the day kill the dreams of a lifetime.” – Melinda Gates
“The overwhelm…is not an epidemic of personal failures, of whiny moms unable to juggle work and home efficiently. It’s a massive structural failure in society, and it’s holding everybody back.”- Brigid Schulte
Are you so exhausted – burned out from the minutae of everyday life- that you can’t even imagine life any other way?
It’s not your fault.
You didn’t get to this point because of your inability to prioritize, or an inability to be as productive as you think you should be.
You got to this point because you are living and working and parenting in a country that is set up to leave you like this. As a society, we do not support parents; we do not support kids; we do not support families and most of all – we do not support women.
Stop blaming yourself. Your exhaustion is not your fault.
But you can begin to change it. Slowly, and over time. You CAN have a better life.
Since when did the goal of life become checking a list of accomplishments? It doesn’t matter if it is a list of career accomplishments or personal accomplishments; this all centers around a mindset that says life is about doing as much as possible. The recent shift from work to work-life just means there are more “fun” things on our bucket list.
What if our bucket list wasn’t about places to visit and things to do, but rather ways to live?
Do you want your eulogy to be about the things you accomplished, or the type of person you became in the process?
It evolved to keep you alive, and your offspring alive.
Accordingly, your brain is highly resistant to change or anything that is even slightly new; the brain perceives this as risky.
Almost immediately after you start to think of doing something new, creative, or interesting, your brain will kick in with ways to keep you from pursing those ideas.
Stephen Pressfield calls this “The Resistance.”
There is something interesting about naming it.
And understanding that everyone experiences this. Everyone.
It took Oprah MONTHS to agree to do a Harvard Commencement speech, despite her billions of dollars in the bank and all her success. It was only after Stephen Pressfield explained The Resistance to her and told her about his understanding of it: “The more important a call to action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel about answering it.”
Once you understand what it is, you can work with it.
Understand that it never truly goes away.
And that your job is to sit down and do your work despite it.