Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5 Quick and Easy Ways to Become a Better Parent… When You Don’t Have the Time to Become a Better Parent - Guest Post by Diego Quevedo

I have to start by stating the obvious: I am far from the perfect parent. Being a parent is the single most important responsibility I have and just the thought of that makes me a bit anxious. Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough? Am I creating "daddy issues" in my kids? Is this real life?!?

On top of that, we are also quite a busy family: work, school, daycare, catechism, basketball, exercise, deadlines, social events, plays, and on and on. It's really quite unbelievable how fast time is going by. So that brings us to this all-too common dilemma: How do I improve as a parent when there's no time to improve as a parent? Even though we know we should check the air pressure on our tires, how do we make time for that when we're going 100mph?

While we may never be able to get rid of all our parenting insecurities and we may never be able to slow down time, I've found that there are some simple things any parent can incorporate into their already-too-busy schedule:

1. Be patient... with yourself (with the kiddos as well but let's start with ourselves). From personal experience and from talking to other parents, I know that we can often feel as if we're "not enough." As if we should be doing more for our children, attending more school events, volunteering more, etc. The constant highlight reel of other parents' social media doesn't help either ("Little Billie won Student of the Month TWICE this month?!? WTF?!?). Being patient with yourself, especially in times of frustration or when things are just not going your way, allows you to see any problem for what it truly is: temporary. This is a difficult idea to grasp if we are constantly berating ourselves as parents. I encourage you to s l o w l y  b r e a t h e. Focus on your breath and before making any decision, slow your heart rate down. This is especially useful and important when your kids are driving you up the wall.

2. Schedule time to devote to yourself on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis. Seriously. Do it right now. Talk to your spouse, parent, baby sitter, oldest child, neighbor or whomever you trust to watch your kids. Tell them, "Listen, I really need your help. I have a very important meeting with a very important person this upcoming Saturday morning and I need you to watch my kids for a few hours. I won't be long, should be back bynoon. I'll bring you lunch when I come back." You may or may not want to disclose the fact that the important meeting you are having is with yourself. I've found that whenever I devote even a few hours just to myself, whether I'm reading or exercising or simply just watching a movie, I am then much more attentive to my kids and much more grateful for them. The additional benefit of having a scheduled, predetermined time is that it also gives you a sort of reward for fully investing yourself in the service of your kids. It allows you to eliminate or at least reduce the constant internal conflict between feeling unappreciated by your children and feeling guilty for taking any kind of time to yourself. You can thus focus all of your energy in truly being present with your kids and then fully, without guilt, enjoy some me-time.

There's only one rule for these precious hours: YOU MUST DEVOTE THEM EXCLUSIVELY TO YOURSELF. No running family errands, no catching up on work, no volunteering, no anything else that benefits others. You have the other 164 hours of the week to take care of these things. Some suggestions: Spa treatment, a round of golf, sample all the pastries at Panera, wine tasting, go on a hike, go shopping, sleep, catch up on some reading, do nothing, etc.

If you're married, I would suggest you encourage your spouse to do the same thing. Support them in their "me-time" and not only will your kids see benefits but your relationship will as well.

3. Encourage and Support... someone other than your kids. But try to do it when they are within earshot.  My wife and I have discovered, as I'm sure countless parents before us have, that sometimes the best way to teach your kids is to NOT "teach" them anything. Rather, let them simply observe with no need for explanations or further dialog. We value family support in our household and we try to instill this value in our kids by demonstrating what this actually looks like. But we have found that much more effective than just telling our children that they have our support, is that they watch us encouraging others around them. When our oldest is struggling with his homework, we make sure to encourage and support him in front of his brother and sister. The encouragement may have a positive effect on the oldest but equally important it impresses upon the younger siblings what support actually looks like.

4. Create Simple Routines. Specifically a morning and a bedtime routine. Be explicit about it, create a large board where you kids can follow what the routine is.

I hesitated including this as a step as it seemed rather “obvious.” If you were to ask me a few months ago if my family had routines, I would have said, of course! But honestly, even though we did have certain patterns of doing things, it wasn’t until recently that we made a couple of our routines explicit. We actually wrote them down on a big board for all to see. And wow, it is amazing what a posted routine does to the kids.

We struggled for years, and sometimes still do, to get our oldest to take showers. It used to be a battle that would often dissolve into yelling and tears by everyone involved. Since posting our board up, the kids just follow what it says and voila, like magic the kids are showered and ready for bed. When creating your routines, allow your children to participate. In our case, they added mom or dad reading a book to them.

5. Exercise with your kids. Walk, crawl, do jumping jacks, dance, run a Spartan Race together, play basketball, whatever. Who cares what it is but be physically active with them. The family that sweats together grows together. There is a reason why sport teams develop such strong bonds. Even if you're out of shape, start now by taking a walk around the block with your child. My wife and I are planning on running a 5k next month and our eight year old son is going to join us. There are very few things in life comparable to physically pushing yourself alongside someone doing the same thing. When the person next to you is your child, the experience becomes truly special. The positive effects, even from a simple walk, then spill to all areas of your relationship. Do it now.

This is one may not be that 'easy' but it is incredibly effective: Set, strive for and accomplish your goals. For as much as we preach to our children that they can be whatever they want, that the 'sky's the limit', there is nothing more powerful than for them to watch you fight for and accomplish your dreams. That doesn't mean you have to be perfect or already be the epitome of success. Quiet contrary, it's very powerful to demonstrate to your child that the path to success can actually be very turbulent. Show them where you falter, show them where you struggle. And show them, that in spite of all this, that you don't quit. 

Diego Quevedo is a father of three young children. He enjoys reading and exercising. He's a hilarious story-teller who appreciates the creation process in all things. Plus, he's married to one gorgeous woman! Lucky guy, this one. Make sure to leave Diego a comment below to share your input or ask him additional questions on this topic!

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