How to Connect With Your Kids Even When You’re Exhausted

parenting, exhausted parent, parent advice, family timeAre you ready to kick back, relax, and connect with your kids?

That’s right.  KICK BACK.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by it all?

Do you wonder how in the world you’re supposed to connect with your kids when you’re already spent from a day juggling the house, the finances, marriage, cooking, etc…

We’ve been there.

Sure, we love hanging out with our kids, but sometimes we are just too tired to do anything more than turn on the TV.

But maybe you don’t want to turn on the TV.  Maybe you don’t want to give your kid the iPad again.

Many parents feel like if the activity doesn’t involve a lot of money or time or Pinterest that the kids won’t get any value from it.

But quality family time isn’t about a big production, it’s about helping your kids feel loved and noticed.

The truth is:

Quality family time is possible even if you’re feeling exhausted.

Most parents struggle to come up with ideas when they’re with their kids.  They try to reinvent the wheel.  They feel like they have to figure things out by themselves.  Or they feel like they have to turn to technology for the answer.

To help you nurture the connection between you and your kids (even when you’re feeling tired!) with simple and effective tips that really work…

…we created the free videoFour Simple Ways to Connect With Your Kids Even When You’re Exhausted.

It is a compilation of carefully selected activities designed to help turn your family time into a more peaceful, sustainable experience.

Our first step in creating this video was living through hours of parenting fatigue ourselves.

We know exactly how it feels to clean up after dinner and think “can I just lay down for 30 minutes – I’ve got nothing left to give,” only to flop on your bed and then see a little face appear and ask if you’ll help him build a castle out of blocks.

We tried hundreds of ideas.

We asked other parents questions, tried different techniques.

We learned to shed the guilt of feeling tired and attempting to connect while lying down.

We started taking smaller, but really good steps in the area of parenting while exhausted.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Or scour Pinterest.

You can hit the “responsible parenting easy button”.

Some proven, simple ideas are all you need to arm yourself with when you’re feeling tired.

We’re still not perfect, and never will be (and we’re not above using the TV to parent), but we’ve discovered balance and ease in the daily struggle of connecting with our kids.

We want to help others in this journey so if you’re ready, click now to watch our newest resource “Four Simple Ways to Connect With Your Kids Even If You’re Exhausted.”

We hope it leads you to some super easy, super restful quality family time.

Failure and Forgiveness

30890029_s_optI’m writing this today because I feel a little bit guilty.

This morning I walked into the kitchen to find my boys Mr. B and Mr. C taking turns pouring out all of the cereal inside the cereal box into three bowls while gleeful splashing much of it on the table and floor in the process.

My wife Sarah, who is eight months pregnant, isn’t sleeping at night anymore. It’s a result of never finding a way to be comfortable, always having to go to the bathroom and the little person inside of her deciding that the nighttime is the best time for tap dancing.

I was getting ready for work and Sarah was resting in bed while the episode with the cereal ensured. Despite the absence of adult supervision, my boys know better than to do this with their breakfast cereal.

My first instinct was a feeling of indignation and disappointment in them. But as I glanced at my phone I saw I had only a few minutes before I had to dash out the door to drive an hour to my office.

I had to quickly make a decision of what to do.

What I decided was to open our goldendoodle Yoshi’s crate and guide him over to the table so that he could vacuum up all the bits of cereal from the floor into his mouth.

Then I asked the boys to dump their bowls to the sink, while giving myself permission to chalk that box of cereal up to a loss.

Then I turned on Wonder Pets on Netflix, kissed my poor wife on the cheek and hustled off to work.

I chose to make some sacrifices.

I sacrificed an expensive box of cereal. I might have been able to spend some time salvaging the cereal that they had poured out into the bowls so that they could eat it later. Instead, I didn’t even check to see if the cereal was salvageable.

I also sacrificed a teachable moment. This could have been a good opportunity to reinforce how important it is not to waste food, especially by fooling around doing things that they already knew that shouldn’t be doing. We’ve taught our boys better than that, after all.

Finally, I sacrificed an engaging activity. I could have seized an opportunity to initiate my boys into an engaging activity before I left for the office. Building with blocks,  putting together a puzzle, or building a fort out of couch cushions; almost any activity would have been preferable over sitting them in front of a TV screen and running out the door.

I don’t like these sacrifices and I wish I never had to make them.

But what I got in return for the sacrifices was something I really needed right then.

I needed to have a moment of positive, non-confrontational interaction with my boys before I left for work.

I needed to make a quick exit without leaving the boys absent an activity of some kind, given Sarah’s current exhausted state.

I needed to feed the dog.

Parents know that choices must be made, battles must be chosen, and timing is everything.

It’s important for me and you to remind ourselves that we can’t always fight the good fight. We can’t always be the hero in our own story, we can’t always live up to the standards we have set for ourselves.

Life gets in the way, and even when it doesn’t we can do a good job of getting in our own way via overscheduling, bad prioritizing, acting without intention, thinking too much and not acting enough, the list goes on.

Today, I’m giving myself permission to recognize that when I don’t live up to my potential as a parent it doesn’t mean that I am a failure as a parent.

It might mean that I have fallen down on the job. But that can be viewed as much as an opportunity to pick myself back up and try again tomorrow as it can be viewed as a failure. It just depends on my perspective and how I choose to view it.

After all, which attitude will most effectively help me to pick myself up and try again tomorrow? An attitude of self-doubt, guilty feelings and beating myself up about it?

Or an attitude of recognizing that I didn’t do my best, forgiving myself and focusing on my next opportunity to be the best Dad I can be?

I hope you will forgive yourself, too, despite how difficult it can be. I hope that reading this gives you permission to do the same for yourself, or for your spouse, or for your parents.

You are a Superb Parent. You love your child with a boundless depth and you show it to them with your engagement, with your perseverance, with your willingness to read blogs like ours so that you can become even more focused, effective and capable.

I hope to interact with you on the topics of failure and forgiveness in the comments below!

Quality Trumps Quantity

36791681_s_optI recently read this article from The Washington Post which reports the surprising results of a longitudinal study on effects the amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11:

“In fact, it appears the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal effect on adolescents, according to the first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time to be published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The finding includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being.”

My first reaction to this report was to feel skeptical. But after I read the whole piece I find myself understanding how this finding could be true.

1. Americans Spend More Time With Their Kids Than Literally Anybody Else.

The following paragraph alone caused me to raise my eyebrows. For some reason it was unknown to me that Americans spend more time with their kids than any other parents anywhere:

Though American parents are with their children more than any parents in the world, many feel guilty because they don’t believe it’s enough. That’s because there’s a widespread cultural assumption that the time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future.”

What about these Finnish parents, you know, the ones who consistently produce the best educated children in the world? Aren’t they spending all their free time with their kids? Apparently not.

The article includes a graph courtesy of the Journal of Marriage & Family which shows American mothers average 13.7 hours per week with their kids and fathers average 7.2 hours per week. In 1985 those totals were a paltry 8.5 and 3 hours spent, respectively.

The article goes on to state that not only does the total amount of time spent with kids not correlate with increased positive outcomes, it can actually correlate with increased negative outcomes:

“In fact, the study found one key instance when parent time can be particularly harmful to children. That’s when parents, mothers in particular, are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious. “Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly,” said co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University.”

2. Quality Over Quantity

The report goes out of its way to emphasize that the time parents spend with their kids is still valuable, but perhaps only valuable in direct correlation to the level of quality inherent in the time spent together:

“That’s not to say that parent time isn’t important. Plenty of studies have shown links between quality parent time — such as reading to a child, sharing meals, talking with them or otherwise engaging with them one-on-one — and positive outcomes for kids. The same is true for parents’ warmth and sensitivity toward their children. It’s just that the quantity of time doesn’t appear to matter.”

This make perfect sense to me, especially in the context of the current state of restaurants.

Today when you take your family out to dinner to a restaurant, scenes like this are what you will most likely see.

A dinner like this is, unquestionably, time spent together as a family. But what this study shows us is that the positive impact on our kids when we spend time with them in this way is effectively zero:

“I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes. . . . Nada. Zippo,” said Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the report’s authors.”

This study confirms something many parents understand intuitively; that time spent together as a family is not valuable without high-quality interactions, listening to one another with attention, engaged conversation, etc.

3. The Teen Caveat

I wasn’t surprised by this finding at all, the one that shows that the time spent between parents and adolescents has a strikingly positive correlation for positive outcomes:

“The one key instance Milkie and her co-authors found where the quantity of time parents spend does indeed matter is during adolescence: The more time a teen spends engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. And the more time teens spend with both their parents together in family time, such as during meals, the less likely they are to abuse drugs and alcohol and engage in other risky or illegal behavior. They also achieve higher math scores. The study found positive associations for teens who spent an average of six hours a week engaged in family time with the parents. “So these are not huge amounts of time,” Milkie said.”

Time spent in conversation over a meal has probably been the mainstay of family life since the dawn of man.

The results of this study show that when we choose to sacrifice this time to text alerts, television, too many extracurricular activities or simple indifference, we lose invaluable opportunities to improve outcomes for our kids.

I would argue that parents who sacrifice focused family mealtime also lose invaluable opportunities to improve outcomes for themselves.

In Conclusion

This article continues to stir up a lot of controversy. I found myself at odds with the findings until I read the whole article and began to understand how quality time trumps sheer number of minutes together as a family.

On a personal note, I felt somewhat relieved to learn that the limited amount of time I spend with my kids each evening when I return from work can still have a big impact on their outcomes later in life.

It also served as a reinforcement about how important it is for me to spend my limited time with my kids each day in an engaging way.

I hope you’ll read it and come to your own conclusions about where your family stands on this touchy topic. Then, let us know what you think in the comments below!

screens, technology use, iPad, children's apps, parenting, technology use

The Real Reason for Screen Free Week (it’s not what you think)

screens, technology use, iPad, children's apps, parenting, technology useAs I was eating lunch with my four year old boys yesterday one of them asked me what gnats eat.

I had to admit I didn’t really know.

My first instinct was of course to reach for my phone and look up the answer, but as our dining table is a screen free zone my phone was across the kitchen on the counter.

I was shocked at how uncomfortable I felt having to sit there not knowing the answer.

I could hazard a guess, which I did, but I felt a feeling of unease and anxiety bubbling up just knowing that feet away was the answer, but that I was restrained from getting it.

For whatever reason, we live in a world that encourages and celebrates excess.

We don’t much like the idea of restraining ourselves.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about adults, toddlers, or ages in-between.

If we can talk about it, post about, take a picture of it, watch a video about it, we’re probably going to do it.

And feel encouraged in doing so.

This week is Screen-Free Week.  A time for “children, families, and communities around the world will rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.”

The danger in having a blog and business like we do lies in the fact that it’s easy to point out the hypocrisies of the author.  So let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – we are not going screen-free this week.  I am not here to throw stones or to talk down the dangers of technology overuse.

I instead think Screen Free Week offers us all a chance to:

1. Explore our personal capacities for restraint and

2. Flesh out or update our “why’s” behind our “how’s” of technology use.

I could give you a list of activities to entertain and sustain yourself through during Screen-Free week, but I think that would be selling you short.

Activities only cover the how’s, not the why’s.

When the boys asked Chris the other day how wolves became dogs, I listened as he wonderfully explained in a very patient, easily digestible way, the mechanisms of natural evolution and animal husbandry.

Not an easy concept to boil down for toddlers, but he did it.  And did it well.

And the boys were satisfied.

They had enough information.

I, however, found myself wanting to explain more, draw diagrams, show them a quick video, check out some books from the library, maybe find a felt board or some puppets to help illustrate the concept.

Sometimes when I have a question I seek way too much information.

Last week I was wondering how to make “ice cream cone” cookies.  Cookies that are in a cookbook I own.  It would seem the logical thing to do would be to follow the recipe, use the included photo as a guide and just see what happens.

But instead I found myself online trying to deduce which icing worked the best, which sprinkles stuck well, varying opinions on the right kind of cookie cutter to use (who knew there are over 100 types of ice cream cone cookie cutters?!)

Then it hit me, just because we CAN access all kinds of information doesn’t mean we SHOULD, or that we NEED to.

Why do I feel so compelled to intake all this information?

Where was the restraint?

I wouldn’t normally give my toddlers sixteen resources when they ask why plants don’t sleep.  Why would I do the same to myself?

In our “never enough” culture, the question shouldn’t be so much “are you using technology and access to information the ‘right’ way” as it should be “why are you using technology and information the way you are?”

Are you using technology and information the way you want your child to grow up to use it?

We are all looking for the exact right number of hours that is right for a kid to watch TV, or play on an iPad or whether our teenagers should have phones.

We don’t like the uncertainty of not knowing these answers.  We’re confused by the experts, and it’s all happening so fast it’s hard to keep up.

The thing is, no one knows these answers.

Not me, not Chris, no parenting or family expert.

What we do know, is that how we engage with the world is the strongest predictor of how our kids will engage with theirs.

Sometimes values are handed down in very subtle ways.

If my boys see me on my phone all throughout dinner, what is that saying to them?

If I can’t make a recipe with them without Googling more information on the computer, what is that saying to them?

Everyone has their opinion on technology use in regard to family life.

What is important is not the choices we or other families make, but that we stop and consider the intention behind why we are making those choices.

When Chris and I make a decision about something, we think about it, talk about it, and make the best decision we can in regard to what we value.

There are a million ways to be an engaged, intentional parent.

The key is that you are thinking about it.

Screen-free week is an excellent opportunity to revisit the why’s behind the relationships your family has with the TV, phones, iPads, etc.

It’s an excellent opportunity to start a conversation about what “enough” is, what kind of restraint you as a parent want to model, and a starting point for kids to be a part of the conversation if they aren’t already.

So now it’s your turn.

Are you and your family participating in screen-free week?  Do you struggle with technology use as a parent, an adult, or do you have a good relationship with screens in the house?

Let us know in the comments below.