by Diana Bletter
I was chopping onions while breast-feeding my four-month old son. Ari’s head hung over the cutting board while I attempted to cut enough onions to make something edible for dinner within an hour.
It seems like the day before yesterday: Ari is now a 26-year-old vegan. (Does anyone know if human breast milk is kosher for vegans?) I’m still multi-tasking and I haven’t figured out how to jam more seconds into a minute. Ari, my three other kids, my two step-kids and my unofficially adopted daughter from Ethiopia have all grown from rambunctious to responsible, wonderful young adults. I managed to work as a freelance journalist and author while raising them, learning a lot along the way about being a Mom. Here are six easy tips that helped me make the most of family time that I want to share. And I’m sure—knowing first-hand what it’s like to juggle so much in so little time—it’s not a moment too soon.
1. Don’t say, “No.” Say, “I know.” Save time by agreeing with what your child says. When he says, “I want M&M’s!” while standing in a long, slow supermarket line, instead of saying, “No!” you can say, “I know what you mean!” (Doesn’t that sound so much more user-friendly?) Or, “Sounds great! Some other time!” If your teenager says, “It’s so nice out, I don’t want to do my homework,” you can say, “I know what you mean. It is so nice out and you don’t want to do your homework. As soon as you finish it, let’s plan something fun.” Repetition makes children (and others) know that they’ve been heard. And you want to model for your children the idea that even if you don’t feel like doing something, you can still do it.
2. Get into a habit. Habits are routines that save family time for something fun. They limit negotiations on everything with your kids. Routines free up our brains to focus on the important things. Children need order, boundaries and limits. Of course, you can be flexible, but if your children know that 8 p.m. is bath, bed and beyond, they won’t waste time squabbling.
3. Turn the rules upside down. My savvy friend, Sharon, is strict about healthy eating habits. But on the very last day of every vacation, she has Topsy Turvy Day when her kids can have ice cream for breakfast or stay in their pajamas all day. “Strategic rule-breaking gives your kids a sense of fun and power,” she says. “Anticipating a day off helps kids—and all of us—stay within the limits the rest of the time.”
4. Be a child-whisperer. Get down to their level. Ask, “What do you think?” This question can be particularly helpful when you have to explain things children have never experienced before. My friend Sebastian’s six-year-old son, Brock, once asked him, “What’s premarital sex?” Sebastian hemmed and hawed uncertainly and then asked, “Well, do you know what sex is?” “It’s like cuddling,” Brock said. “Exactly,” Sebastian replied. “It’s something that grown-ups do and when you get older we’ll talk more about it.”
5. Give the five-minute option. This works like a charm. Ask your children, “Do you want to turn off the computer now or in five minutes?” This question gives children a boundary—and also a treat. It helps them feel like they’re in control. Then, set an egg-timer for five minutes and say, “When the timer goes off, the computer goes off, too.” Your kids will get what they think is a bonus five extra minutes (even kids are aware of the preciousness of time) and you can guide them to the next activity with minimal disputes.
6. If you lose it, you lose it. If you lose control of yourself, then you lose control of the situation. And if you lose control, then your kids will, too. (They are our mirrors, after all.) Keeping calm and centered is more important than getting your kid to take a bath right now. If we make the most of our time with our children, then we have some time and energy left for ourselves, too!