Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Can You Give Attention to Everyone?

Time & Energy.

Limited quantities of these two commodities have plagued me for the last fifteen years or more.  

I've been contacted by someone who is most interested in managing several children in different age groups that aren't ~quite~ able to do home school learning tasks independently.  "How did you spend time with little ones before you had bigger ones to help when so many school age things require your attention?"  It's just one of the ways I've been asked about how to spend time and energy with such a diverse set of needs under one roof.

The way I spent time with my littlest children changed as our family grew.  It had to.  When I had just one little geezer who would sleep on the couch while I vacuumed the carpet every single day (another blog post all of it's own right there), I could spend my time differently than when I had seven children and my oldest just turned eight years old.  

 "How can you give attention to everyone?"

If I had to pick only three concepts that helped me navigate that question, I would choose Priority, Need, and Routine.  I'm only going to give them a short spot here because this is a crazy-huge and crazy-good question and a single blog post isn't nearly a fair answer.  I'll keep coming back and you keep hitting me with follow-up.  Between those two tactics I should be able to give it my fair treatment.

Identify Priorities
Prioritizing is a difficult concept when choosing wall paint.  When living with people and running a household and parenting children, it's more than complicated.  But it will be the foundation of how you make decisions about spending time and energy.  Consider things like:

What is the primary goal?
Why is that goal primary?
What are the secondary goals?
What would it take for a secondary goal to rise in priority?
What would it take for it to drop from secondary to tertiary?
Which goals would be completed with a short-term plan?
Which are long-term goals?

These are all big questions and the answers are different for every family. It could get even more complicated when you attempt to answer these questions:

What is my primary goal?
Would an adult watching my actions be able to identify my primary goal?
Would a child watching me know that?
Are there goals that are in conflict?
What if the primary goal becomes unattainable?

Hokey-Pokey!  Those are big questions.  Re-read that list.  Consider it as you proceed with your week.  

Question yourself. 
Question your motives.  
Test them for truth.

What is a need?
I have been told I have an odd approach to a lot of topics.  If that's true (and the witnesses are swarming around & chuckling in the cyber-background here), my understanding of a "need" is likely to be influenced.  I practice lots of things based on what is or is not a need.

My newborns don't need a bedroom.  They need a safe place to stay.
As we don't have allergies to them, breakfast can be toast & spreads.  Every day. Always.
Working together is time together.

When my children were all under eight years old, we had a busy house.  I didn't have time to play Candyland with pre-readers everyday. Mercy, that would be torture.  Candyland?  Oy!  Learning to cooperate was a need.  Menu variety at lunchtime was not.  Skills in family safety were needs.  Deep cleaning was not.  Team building within the family was a need.  Toddler playgroup was not.

Identifying the needs from the whole list of things young parents are TOLD are needs is a job that can make a Mom's life focused or diffused.  Consider some things you have been told are needs for your family.

Sunday dinner
Movie night
Family Game Night
Personal Time (Vague! MYTH! ARG!)
Peer group playtime
Date Night with Daddy/Mommy
arts & crafts hour
Couple's Date Night

Are those needs?  Really?  Do you really think that *insert famous achiever of choice* had all these things?  Do the emerging citizen leaders in struggling cultures point to Family Game Night as the met need that gave them the drive for greatness?


Consider what is truly a need and attend to that.

There are many approaches to the metering of time. I know schedule folks, routine folks, and relaxed folks.  There are positive and negative spins on all of these plans.

I've come to appreciate the routine.  And my kids have as well. 

Routine is predictable at its base.  Time is full of predictable events in sequence.  All things will be tended to in turn.

But routine is also flexible.  There is no crisis when people need to alter events.  A new need always supersedes the list of times and events.

When I had only young children, my routine was a great comfort to me as I looked at those faces.  It was a plan to address a great concern to me.How will I ever have time to spend with them all?  "Chill, Sarah," I would say to myself.  "Let's look at the routine.  Include some guys in clearing the table.  We can even do it as a bucket brigade.  Then we'll all fold laundry and maybe listen to an audio book.  These two will have time together with this toy set and the other two will have solo playtime while I check email and feed the baby.  Be mindful with your actions, young Mom, and you will be on your way!"

At the end of the day, I did spend time with them all.  It was intentional, focused time with them on a task of one sort or another. As the tots grew up in this, they could trust that I would spend time with them.  They didn't need to hang on me and demand.  The routine we had was predictable and all the reinforcing and encouraging times of the day would come again tomorrow.

Editor's note:  This is a HUGE topic.  I barely scratched the surface.  I have more to say here and intend to keep coming back but your specific questions can guide how I go about answering.  Comment here OR view "my complete profile" in the right margin under my picture and email me.  That's how this post came up next.  Someone asked.


  1. It is so refreshing to hear "you don't HAVE to do xyz to be a good parent". AND, doing a job with mom is good time with mom if you purpose it to be so- listening to an audio book and talking about it while folding socks is fine, it doesn't have to be a game or a "fun" thing just for the purpose of being together. We do meal prep and cooking with mom, or laundry or other things too. I look forward to what else you have to say on this, as we have much to learn and you've "been there done that". I glean so much from your experience.

    1. Thank you very much for your encouragement here! It's such a huge topic I fear I will make it either too long for a post or so short that I say nothing at all. If it was helpful then I'll keep on going.

  2. This is really helpful and encouraging for me as a young mom, still trying to figure this stuff out. :) Looking forward to reading more from you on this topic.

  3. Can we go back in time and figure out how i can recoup the time/energy/money i spent on the things i though small children "needed?"
    I don't want to do the math - because i bet i would cry. In future posts let's hear what pre-teens don't need so i don't fall into the traps!

    1. Oy! I hear ya on wanting to recoup time/energy/money. It's crazy.
      I would LOVE to talk about older age groups, too! Gonna copy that into my idea files so I don't forget to do some age/pre-teen specific posts like this. There are traps at every age. Grrr.....