Wasting Time

When I was a child, we got up in the morning, got dressed, went to school, came back, played with our friends, did homework, spent time with our parents in the evening, listened to the radio or watched TV, and got into bed. We got 3 meals a day; we got enough exercise, enough sleep, enough entertainment, enough social activity, and enough family time.

Our parents managed pretty well too. They did their own work, spent time with us, and never seemed to rush from one person / place / activity to another.

The idea that there ‘wasn’t enough time’ – for anything – had not yet been invented, apparently! 🙂

By the time I reached teenage, time began to acquire focus. I heard my parents tell me not to ‘waste’ time: on the phone, meeting people incessantly, watching TV all evening, day dreaming…

Today, our children hear it from birth: Don’t Waste Time.

I’m sure you’ve said it to your child at least once (not if you are a newly-minted parent, obviously): “Don’t waste time! There’s so much to do – get on with things…”

One day, my irritated daughter shot back at me, “I’m NOT wasting time, okay? I want to read this book.”

“But you’ve read it at least fourteen times already!” I protested.

“Twelve,” she smirked, “but what difference does that make to you? It’s my book. I’ll read it two hundred times, if I wish it. It’s none of your business! I don’t say anything about the books you read; you don’t interfere with my reading.” (Topsy-turvy logic, I agree. After all, I’m the parent, and parents have the ‘right’ to comment on what their kids are doing, whereas the reverse is pretty off-the-wall. But I have always given her equal rights. If this is kind of conversation is what equality entails, so be it, I say.  Sometimes I think I let her get away with a bit too much in the name of equality, but there are some lessons only time can teach. And time needs time…)

I would normally have dismissed this outburst as another of the crazy, inexplicable things she does (that’s one of the ways we keep peace: we agree that the other is ‘simply nuts’! And then we place statements, incidents and outbursts in the ‘simply-nuts behavior box’ and put it aside 🙂 ), but I was in ‘listening‘ mode.

When I stopped to think about what she’d said, this is what I realized:

1. Much as I love her, it is her life, and her time. One way or another, that time will be spent.

2. I have very little control over how she (or anyone else, for that matter) spends her time. If at all I have any control, it is over how I spend my time. But here, I duck my responsibility, and say, “I have so much work, so many things to do, so much to handle, so many responsibilities, that I simply don’t get any time for myself!” Big-time responsibility-avoidance! 🙂

3. I can choose to ignore the reality of how little control I have over how she spends her time, and (i) worry about it, or (ii) explain to her, nag her, plead with her, and hound her to spend her time the way I believe is best for her, or (iii) both. This will create conflict between us, and that conflict will spill over into all areas of our lives. And there is no way to resolve this kind of conflict, because it is based on one of us being ‘right’ and the other one ‘wrong’.

4. Since it is her life, she has first dibs on choosing how she spends it. While she may or may not please anyone else with her choice; the one person she can definitely please is herself. She might as well make choices that please her. At least she will be happy, if nobody else will…  

5. She can be an independent, worthwhile adult (the goal of parenting, in my view) only if she makes her own choices and accepts the consequences of those choices. Choosing how to spend time is also a choice. And the earlier you let your child begin to make this choice, the quicker and better he will learn what works for him and what doesn’t.

6. Time cannot be wasted; just like money cannot be wasted. ‘Waste’ is an opinion or a judgment of someone. If she wants to be word-perfect on five hundred novels, re-reading them for the nth time is a ‘good’ investment of time for her.

7. Everyone’s ‘good use’ of time is a ‘waste’ of time for someone else.

If you stop to think about it, I’m sure you’ll realize exactly the same thing about how your child ‘wastes’ time!

You wasted time too, you know, in the past. You probably still do. Celebrate the fact that you ‘waste’ time. A life in which time is always spent towards the achievement of one goal or another, is ultimately, a life devoid of spontaneity, enjoyment, and joy. Incredibly sad, don’t you think? What’s worse, it’s unnecessarily sad.

The next time your child ‘wastes’ time, let him. Either you will learn that he wasn’t wasting it, or he will feel he could use it differently. Either way, you will still have time with your child – because you both realize that your time is your own, and you will choose, happily, to spend some of it with each other!

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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Where Does the Day Go?

In the 10 days that I haven’t posted, I’ve been busy with the stuff that life hands out to each of us from time to time. As I dealt with one thing after another, at the back of my mind, I was thinking about Time – yes, Time with a capital ‘T’.

24 hours; a full day. And it’s gone before you know it. As you haul your exhausted, tense, sore, pained body and mind to bed and think about your day, you find yourself compiling a long list of all the things you meant to accomplish today but didn’t.

To this list, you add the unexpected additions to your workload that cropped up during the day. Such as the house guest you can’t refuse, an aching tooth that needs to be attended to, the baby sitter cancelling at the last moment so you have to either arrange another one or not attend that important official dinner (with your partner) tomorrow evening…

Your list is burgeoning. In fact, it is bursting at the seams. When you wake up in the morning, you hit the ground running, taking phone calls, checking email, fitting in a workout, getting the kids organized, doing household chores, getting yourself out the door (or ready to work indoors), working … All the words you can think of end in ‘ING’. Yup! You’re DO-ing things all the time.

As you drive (driving), you’re thinking of the presentation you need to make. As you eat lunch (eating), you’re reminding yourself to pick up the test reports from the hospital on your way back home. As your child greets a tired you and you’re responding and listening to her, you’re thinking of how you can get as many things crossed off your ‘To Do’ List before the day is done.

No matter what you do, you bemoan not having enough time to do all the things you’d like to do, to meet all the people you’d like to meet, for as long as you’d like to meet them (Ah! But will they have the time? 🙂 ), go to all the places you’d like to visit…

Your life, interrupted – by lack of time.

Alright. Suppose you do have enough time to do what you’d like to do. What might your day look like?

Stop right here and write what your ideal day would look like. Include everything you can think of, and be sure to build in transition times. For instance, once you’re dressed, you don’t really dash out the door. You take a couple of minutes to collect everything you need to take with yourself, maybe check to see you have switched off the gas, shut the windows – all of this takes time.

My day would ideally look like this:

Sleep: 6 hours. Okay, maybe 7! 🙂

Exercise: 1 hour (I’m a far cry from here right now!)

Quiet Time: 1 hour (another far cry, and it will probably be small chunks that add up to an hour)

Personal time (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, drinking water): 1 hour (minimum!)

Chores (Cooking, Housekeeping, Laundry, Accounts, Grocery shopping, Home maintenance): 2 hours

Transition time (from one activity to another): 30 minutes

Keeping track of what’s going on: 30 minutes (newspaper, social networking – I don’t watch any TV)

Relaxation (Puzzle time 🙂 ): 15 minutes.

Driving: 2 hours (this is something of a minimum for me, on most days)

Hey, wait a minute! I haven’t ‘done’ a thing – no ‘work’, no social stuff, nothing professional or community-related or fulfilling, no phone calls, and more than 14 hours of my day are gone!

I suspect your ideal day would also look something like mine, give or take an hour or two under one heading or another.

On top of this, I have a kid (as do you! 🙂 ), I have family members who expect (rightly) that I am available to them at least some of the time, that we spend time together to share what’s going on in our lives, I have clients to whom I have committed my time and skills, I want to write for myself (the blog, creative fiction, story-telling)…

There’s just one four-letter word that fits this scenario: O-U-C-H!

You turn anxious eyes towards your child, looking at how she spends time, ensuring she doesn’t waste her time. You try to teach her to use her time wisely, productively from the very beginning.

“Hurry up!”

“You have 5 minutes to finish this project before we go for basketball practice.”

“Don’t waste time!”

“Read fast!” “Write fast!” “Eat fast!” “Pack your bag quickly!”

“Why do you take so long to get dressed?”

“Stop admiring yourself in the mirror – we’re getting late!”

And what is she doing? She’s got her eyes turned to you! She’s looking at how you spend your day. She sees you irritable from lack of sleep, but pushing yourself to stay awake so you can finish working on that document. She sees you listen to her tell you about her day as you’re trying to watch the news, cook dinner, and get a load in the wash. She sees you ‘help’ her with her homework while you change her little sister’s diaper, sew a missing button, tidy up the living room, and fix an appointment with the plumber for that leaking faucet.

And the child that woke up happy and bright, eager to face the day, slowly learns to get up exhausted, jump unwillingly out of bed, and zombie her way through the day. From you. The same way that my child learns from me.

When is it going to change? Remember when you first started working? You were in your 20s (maybe even in your teens), and you thought you ruled the world. If you could only push yourself hard enough, you’d be on top of the tree. And once you got there, you’d rest and relax and ‘enjoy’ your life.

Well, it’s been a good few years since then, and if you’re honest with yourself, you ‘enjoyed’ yourself more then, than you do now.

As you’ve just seen, even after you’ve achieved everything you want to achieve, you’ll still be spending more than half your day doing the same stuff you do now (and that is without ‘work’!).

That is half of your life. Might as well enjoy it, don’t you think?

I didn’t think so, till I read a Sufi story, the upshot of which was: People are strange; they keep rushing toward the future, at the end of which is death. They say they want to live, to enjoy life, but they hurry on towards death.

You’ll never have it all done because life is a present continuous entity – always ‘ING’. Free yourself and your child from the tyranny of time. It is a worthwhile gift to give your child.

And if ever you find yourself with nothing left on your ‘To Do’ List, know this: You are dead.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


The Myth of Quality Time

You are a busy person. You wear many hats, and manage, somehow, to stay on top of it all. One day, a baby gets added to your packed schedule.

You have some months’ notice, so you start clearing your schedule to make place for the baby. And when the baby is born, you have maternity / paternity leave to spend quantity time with the baby. As the end of your leave period approaches, you devote serious thought to how you will spend enough time with your child once you’re back at work.  

The solution involves your spending all your after-work hours with your child while he’s awake. Once he’s in bed, you’ll catch up on chores and other work. The stuff you can’t finish will either get postponed or fall by the wayside.

As your child grows, there’s more going on in his life. But your responsibilities have grown too, and you get busier as well. Also, once the novelty of having a child has worn off (sounds like sacrilege to say it, but it’s true! 🙂 ), you want to get back to something that at least vaguely resembles the life you had before he came along.

Maybe you were at the movies every weekend before you became a parent. Now that you have a child, is it too much to want to watch one movie every 3 months, you wonder? The reasonable answer is: no. This puts further pressure on the time you have with your child.  

As time goes by, you want to stay involved in your child’s life, but you aren’t around him for a large part of his waking day. When you get home, you ask: “What happened today? I made your favorite dessert for lunch as a surprise – did you enjoy it? What did the teacher say about your essay on your favorite animal? How was the school picnic?”

He might be tired and sleepy. He might be having dinner while watching TV, so he’s not really in the mood for conversation. He says: “Nothing much. I loved the mango custard, thanks. She didn’t say anything about my essay. The picnic was good.”

He might get animated when it comes to the picnic, and give you details, but it won’t be the same as it would have been if you’d been home when he burst through the door screaming with excitement about all that happened at the picnic.

So here you are, doing everything you can to give your child quality time – focusing exclusively on him -but you’re conscious of something missing.

The fact is that quality time doesn’t work. All children, however old they are, need quantity time. First, there has to be quantity time. Quality time may come later.

This is why many working parents become jealous of their child’s caregiver. The child seems to bond so well with the caregiver, and the caregiver knows the child much better than they do!

 Obviously – what else do you expect? If someone is spending eight or ten hours a day 5 or 6 days a week with your child, they’re with him when he’s screaming, laughing, playing, teasing, talking, sleepy, messy, funny, grouchy – they share all those moments with your son.

And you hurt – because you would rather be the one who shared all this with your child, but you’re not.

So how can you, as a working person, get quantity time with your child?

Build it in.

Driving time is a superb example of this. In today’s day and age, most of us commute significant distances.  If your child is with you, actively use driving time. Asking her “what happened at school this week?” is a sure way to make sure she’s silent throughout.

Instead, you might want to start with a story of your own. How when you were little you dropped a bottle of water in the classroom, and what a mess it caused. You can be sure she’ll respond with some story – about how someone made a mess, or dropped food, or eats messily, and as easily as that, the stories will begin, and you can share her world, her time. 🙂 

Why do you want to do chores when she’s asleep? Let her do them with you! You’ll teach her that running a home involves work, you’ll train her, and you’ll share time and experiences with her. Isn’t that what you want? You simply can’t go wrong with this one.

The best part is that you can start doing this even with babies who are a few months old!

Preparing food? Let her hand you the vegetables. Washing stuff? Cleaning stuff? Wiping the table? Pouring things? Let her stir, season, arrange, put away, wipe, clean, dust. Yes, so long as she can sit, she can do all these things. The only one who thinks she can’t is you!

I’ve had 8-month old babies sit on the kitchen counter and transfer peas from a bowl to a pan. I’ve had them use long ladles to stir vegetables cooking on the gas with the flame on. I’ve taken them shopping, showing them what is a good tomato to buy, and how to pick potatoes. We’ve picked fruit, weighed vegetables, debated about buying one type of chips over another… You are the only one that’s limiting the time you spend with your child.

Want to wash the car? Well, sit him in it. Give him a cloth, show him how to wipe the dashboard and steering wheel, and let the fun begin! Maybe he’ll toot the horn. You can clean the windows and play peek-a-boo…

As your children grow, let them do more things with you. It’s easier, because they are able to do more things. But it’s important that you let them do those things.

Whenever you think the time is right, let them use electrical gadgets – the blender, the kettle, the microwave. Whenever you think they (and you! 🙂 ) are ready, let them use knives and sharp implements – let them peel and dice vegetables, hand you nails to hammer into the wall…

Do it with them – it’s less of a chore, and you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of time you get with your child. As you get things done together, you’ll also keep talking – sharing stories, thoughts and events.

Share your world with them. It’s only reasonable, don’t you think? After all, you want them to share their world with you.

P.S.   My father says I’m in danger of being arrested for breaking the law against child labor! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂