When Julie Morgenstern had her daughter 33 years ago, she was looking for some guidance.
“I was like, ‘Where is the manual?’ ” she recalls to PEOPLE. “How am I supposed to divide my time and really be there for her, but also cultivate my career, be there for myself and not lose myself in the process?”
An organizing and productivity consultant, Morgenstern was determined to make motherhood work with her full-time career, dividing life into two parts: raising a human and being a human.
“The early parenthood years are the most time-stretched years of a person’s life,” she explains. “You’re establishing a career, cultivating relationships and finding out who you are as a person. We feel pulled.”
She’s since rolled all of her wisdom into the book Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You, combining her penchant for organizing with eight years of research into child development. And what she found was that short “bursts” of focused time with kids can fill up their cups while leaving parents time for themselves, too.
“Children thrive on short bursts of five to 15 minutes at a time, maybe 20 tops, of truly undivided attention,” Morgenstern explains. “Not half on your phone, cooking dinner and glancing over, but truly undivided attention delivered consistently versus big blocks of time delivered occasionally.”
Recommending one minute per a child’s age of life, Morgenstern notes it can be a “big mindset shift” for parents, but “it’s never too late to hit reset” on the way moms and dads spend time with their kids.
“We get into such an all or nothing mindset, and parents feel guilty of taking time for themselves or away from their kids,” she shares. “But once you become a parent you really don’t have big chunks of time anymore.”
She recommends similar short bursts of time spent on hobbies to adults. “People always say, ‘Are you kidding me? Hobbies? That’s for when the kids go to college!’ But you can’t put those things away — finding something that’s a real passion will help you feel like you.”
As for the most important time spent on children, Morgenstern believes there are five “transition points” in each day when kids need the most attention: wake-up time, when they leave for school, when they get home from school and reunite with their families, dinner and bedtime.
“If you spend the first few minutes of each transition point giving your kids undivided attention, that gives them that sense of security,” she says. “They feel really satisfied. Then you can do together but apart time — you’ve connected and now you’re each doing your own thing.”
It falls into what she calls doing your “PART” for your kids. P: Provide for them. A: Arrange the logistics of their lives. R: Relate to kids, spending quality time with them. T: Teach values and lessons.
On the flip side, she wants parents to remember their sense of “SELF.” S: Sleep. E: Exercise and physical, emotional and mental health. L: Love, as in adult relationships. F: Fun.
“It’s so common for parents to put attention on their work and kids and not their marriage or friends, and it can get isolating,” Morgenstern says. “In order to nurture others, we have to be nurtured. When you feel like you it’s a lot easier to give to your job, your spouse and your kids.”
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