Everyone knows that one of the hallmarks of any good relationship is that both people spend quality time together.  This is true of couples, extended families, and friendships – and is particularly true of parent-child relationships. This is because time is a symbol of love, and where we put our time is often seen as a direct measure of what we deem to be most important.  And children are particularly sensitive to this because they tend to think in more concrete, rather than symbolic ways.  So, kids are particularly drawn to people who spend time with them – and see it as a direct expression of love.

As we have said, nearly every parent wants to give their children all of the time they need.  We all know that time together with our kids and family is important, but sometimes spending quality time together can be a challenge, even for strong families. But our lives often pull us in a variety of directions, often in directions away from our kids and family life. So how do you make sure that your parenting is a priority for you?

The key is to find strategies that help you live in harmony with your values and priorities.  Research shows that people who feel that the behaviors and patterns of their daily lives are congruent with their values are happier and more content. But it often takes very intentional efforts to make sure this happens. Without regular intentional effort to align our lives with our values, it becomes easy to drift and to find that our time and attention end up going to things that don’t matter as much to us as our core values – like parenting.

The Intentional Parent

Striving to be an intentional parent who focuses on our top priorities requires effort.  In fact, researchers and therapists have called the effort we put into our relationships “relationship effort.”  Family and parenting experts define “relationship effort” as how much family members their relationship in relation to other parts of life. For parenting, they also emphasize that relationship effort involves how much parents engage in behaviors that are aimed at improving or maintaining their parent-child relationship. These behaviors involve paying attention to the current levels of connection and communication in the relationship and making intentional efforts to spend time together.  It also involves striving to address areas of struggle and to improve the relationship over time. For some parents, this involves setting goals and making changes in their parenting practices that improve the quality of the relationship for both them and their child.  Research on family relationships shows that relationship effort in parenting is not only the time we spend with our child but also includes how much mental energy and time commitment parents give to their child’s needs.

So, what are some strategies that can help you live each day in harmony with your priorities? While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for everyone, there are some proven strategies that you can consider. Remember, the closer you are to matching your parenting priority then your needed changes may be smaller tweaks and minor course corrections. However, if you feel that your daily and weekly life don’t match up very well with the parenting priority you want to have then you may need to consider some more dramatic strategies to get to where you want to be.

Strategy #1 – Adopt a Season’s of Life Approach to Life

One of the most notable family research findings of the last several years is that almost all individuals and families report that they do not feel that they have enough time in their lives - and that their daily life feels frantic and rushed. And when it comes to parenting, many parents today report that they feel like they are simply trying to do more than they can realistically fit into their daily lives.  In our modern media culture, we are all being encouraged to strive to have it all—generally have it all at the same time! So, we are striving to have careers, marriage, parenthood, friends, money, travel, fitness, hobbies, volunteer service, and dozens of other worthwhile pursuits all to the highest degree at the same time.

One strategy that some parents are embracing more and more is to simplify their lives and intentionally take on fewer commitments while their children are living at home. Of course, this isn’t always possible for everyone when it comes to work and other commitments but taking some major commitments off the table can be a way to simply and bring focus to our lives.

Many of us are reluctant to consider this strategy becomes it feels like we are settling and giving up on other important goals in our lives. Some of this is unavoidable, effective parenting will always require some degree of personal sacrifice. But another way to address this concern is to remind ourselves that our lives can have different stages and seasons where we emphasize different things.  As a wise person once said, we don’t need to try to sing all the verses of our life’s song at the same time. The amount of time it takes to parent a two-year-old is different than the time it takes to parent a twelve-year-old – and this is different than the time it takes to parent a twenty-two-year-old. As the times and seasons of life change, so will the nature and demands of our parenting.  By allowing our lives to have “multiple verses,” parents can think of different ways to live in harmony with their priorities in each stage of their life.

Strategy # 2 – Make Sure You Are Sharing the Load

Another strategy to consider is to look at how much support you are getting from others in your parenting efforts. If you are in a relationship, it is important that both parents are sharing the load of parenting and that the responsibility for meeting your child’s needs are not falling unfairly on just you. If you are not currently in a relationship, then you may look at ways to include other family members and others who can help lighten your load and help you have more time to devote to your parenting efforts.

With parenting partners, this strategy involves having open communication about issues of fairness in your relationship. Couple experts emphasize that fairness is fostered when partners are equal parents and share the work of parenting and family life together. Perhaps nowhere is the degree of fairness more displayed in a parenting partnership than in how partners share the work of maintaining a household and taking on parenting responsibilities.  In this aspect of family life, partners must strive to have a respectful responsiveness to each other, as they find mutually agreeable ways to balance work and family life. Partners need to find ways to show their devotion to each other and their family through completing the needed tasks and responding to their children’s current needs.

It might be helpful to have a “parent-planning meeting” with your parenting partner each week to help divvy the load and keep communication open on how you can both step in and meet the needs of your children.

Strategy #3 – Organize Yourself and Making a Plan

While some of us are very organized people, others of us sometimes struggle in our parenting priority because we are not as organized as we could be.  If this is you, then focusing on your life organization may be the strategy to focus on.  This may involve keeping a list of the things you need to get done within the week. Maybe it involves keeping a calendar or making a family job chart to share the load of family chores.  There are a lot of people giving advice these days about how to organize our lives and make plans to reach our goals.  Maybe now is the time for you to look into ways that you can turn a weakness into a strength and take some time to improve your organization skills and patterns.

Strategy #4 – Cut Yourself Some Slack

 Make sure that you are being fair to yourself. As a parent, sometimes we worry that we are not doing enough for our kids when we are actually doing a pretty good job. It is important to have realistic expectations of our kids, and it is also important to have realistic expectations of ourselves too! So, make the changes that you can make – but also be good to yourself too.  Make a sincere effort every day to prioritize your parenting, but don’t beat yourself up for not being a perfect parent.  All of us have bad days and bad weeks.  Look for concrete things you can do to live true to your values and priorities and trust that those will show through in the journey of parenting – it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

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