How parents can prioritize their time

As parents, we want to take up the responsibility of raising our children entirely. But many of us think this means we try to do everything we can to contribute to parenting. Juggling between work and home, if not done right, can get stressful and ultimately affect both work and home. Being hard-pressed for time and patience, how can we ensure that we are spending our parenting time and energy in the right ways, especially as our children age and change? Instead of ending up feeling underappreciated or guilty about the time you do or don’t spend with your kids, you can proactively allocate your parenting time and energy. How? By prioritizing based on impact and talent.

Begin by asking yourself two questions:

Impact: Which of the activities I do, tasks I perform, or types of support I provide have the greatest impact on my child’s development?
Talent: Which activities, tasks, or types of support give me the most motivation, inspiration, or energy as a parent?

You can take the two criteria above and create a corresponding 2×2 set of quadrants to help guide decisions around parenting time.

Parenting Time Matrix

Quadrant 1: High Impact/ High Talent
This is the sweet spot of parenting time, as these activities add value for your child and give you an energy boost because you are good at this yourself. You have a talent for this. These are the activities where parents and children truly bond. Start prioritizing your parenting time for things that fell in quadrant 1.

Quadrant 2: High Impact/ Low Talent
Activities in quadrant 2 can be tricky as our kids will have needs that may drain our energy. The answer isn’t to stop doing them but to minimize their energy impact or identify resources that can provide help. For example, working parents can have a caregiver to optimize their energy and time. If you think math is a necessary skill for your children but you know you’re not good at teaching math, then you can find a tutor to take that load off you.

Quadrant 3: Low Impact/ High Talent
Our kids’ interests and needs are always changing. Quadrant 3 is a real danger zone for parents because often we find ourselves engaging with our kids around activities or interests we love but our kids don’t actually value. Even worse, we risk putting inadvertent pressure on our children to engage in an activity because they know we care about it as parents. Therefore, it is critical to set up regular checkpoints with our kids to understand how they regard our contributions as they age. As a working parent myself, make a ritual each year to sit down with your child and ask three things that you do best that the child values the most. This sweet spot changes with time and so stay flexible with changing times. For example, I liked to drive my daughter to school every day and then drive to work. But soon I realized it was not so much worth my time as we could hardly use that time for anything of value. So, I decided to hire the services of the school bus instead. Ensure staying in quadrant 1 versus quadrant 3.

Quadrant 4: Low Impact/ Low Talent
When things are busy or when you try to do everything, you can end up engaged on auto-pilot in activities that neither add value nor bring you passion. It is easy for parents to fall into habits and assumptions and continue doing what they have always done without reconsideration. This can lead to frustrating moments. If you find yourself in quadrant 4, it’s best to stop doing those activities that are no longer relevant for you or your child and gain back precious time.

How do we put this into practice:

  1. Operationalize into Your Calendar
    Learning the quadrants is only the first step. If you don’t have a plan for putting your insights into action, your good intentions to spend time with your kids in the best ways will get swept up in your long list of to-dos. Use your calendar to carve out and protect time for quadrant 1 activities.
  2. Use pre-blocks: Pre-block your calendar with major school events like performances or teacher conferences as soon as that information is available. It’s not perfect, and there will be plenty of weeks where work travel or deliverables get in the way, but proactively planning will enable you to have an honest discussion ahead of time when you can’t be there.
  3. Colour-code: Color-coding your calendar can help you take a longer view of how you spend your time. Colour coding is not intended to make you feel guilty (as working parents often do), but rather to serve as a cue to adapt as needed.
  4. Stay in Active Dialogue: Even with the best of triaging or planning time with your kids, it is important to stay in active conversation with them to keep them involved and adapt to changes.
  5. Use look-aheads: Throughout the year, bring your family together to see what is upcoming on the calendar. For families with older children, you can designate a day and time such as Sunday morning at breakfast to have everyone pull up laptops and calendars, and scan for the upcoming week. Especially with multiple kids, where sibling rivalry over parents’ time and attention can exist, the family look-ahead can help to ensure that parenting time is distributed fairly. For younger children, use visuals such as wall calendars or large whiteboards with pictures denoting when you have work or other obligations. Often, the uncertainty and inconsistency of when you will or won’t be home are what kids struggle with the most.
  6. Talk about it: Talking to our kids regularly about where and how we spend our time gives us a chance to model good communication and time management practices. If the amount of time you are (or aren’t) spending with children is a road bump in your family’s progress, have a conversation rather than avoiding it or letting things fester. Ask your kids to be active problem solvers with you in finding more satisfying ways to spend time together. Let them see you ask for help from other family members, neighbours, or your spouse when you get into a time bind.

Ultimately, you will feel much more in control and effective as you become intentional about your parenting time decisions. My hope for myself and all working parents is that the practices outlined in this article will help us find new confidence in the ways we spend our time and alleviate guilt about letting go of some things we simply don’t have enough time to do. These changes can increase our fulfilment at work and help maintain meaningful relationships with our kids as they grow up.

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