If you’re ever trying to balance being productive with hanging out with your kids, it’s time to reevaluate how you’ve framed ‘productivity’. Being a good parent is one of the most meaningfully productive things you can do.
Now, it’s a different thing entirely to feel some tension because you have to choose between two different important activities, i.e. doing the things that put food on the table and hanging out with your kids. The distinction here is important because it’s not forking “being productive” from “being a good parent”; it’s just reflecting the reality that being a good parent entails providing for your children and spending time with them, among other things.
Let’s hang out here for a moment. When we’re thinking about it from a higher perspective, we all instinctively know that our children need our time, attention, and love more than they need anything else. But in the daily trenches, we forget this and make choices that end up trading that time, attention, and love for material things.
Your kids can wear clothes longer than you think they can. They can wear stuff from second-hand stores. If they could, they would ask you to spend more time with them instead of buying them more stuff.
They don’t have to go to Disneyland. They’d give it up for you, if they had a say.
Sure, teenagers will grow tired of you and rebel at some point. They may choose to go Disneyland or Space Academy rather than spend time with you. But when your son’s girlfriend dumps him, he needs you – not more stuff. When your daughter scores the winning goal, she wants you to see it.
Your relationship with your kids will grow and change. They react to how you interact with them. Cherish them as the sacred little beings they are from the time they’re born to the time they decide they need to do their own thing, and they’ll react accordingly. If you view spending time with them as a distraction and/or something you have to do, they’ll also react accordingly. Kids are far more intuitive and intelligent about social dynamics than most people realize.
You love them. Show them, with three understandings:
- They need your time, love, and attention more than anything else.
- You need and want to nurture your children.
- Being a good parent is being productive. There’s no real tension between the two.
That said, it’s okay if you need some time away from them, too. Your wants and needs are important, and if you neglect your wants and needs for too long, you won’t be able to tend to theirs without resentment. Yes, mothers, I’m talking to you.
In their waning years, no parent ever wishes they had worked more, but most wish they had spent more time with their kids. What will you do today and tomorrow to give your kids the presents that matter most?
brian papa says
Great post, Charlie. I think we have entered a fascinating time where more parents ARE spending quality time with their children including dads. It’s great to see so many Dads getting involved and not just by playing catch.
And, yes, it’s very important that we take time to ourselves so we have that time to give to our kids.
For me, the elusive work-family “balance” is more about sequencing job, child-rearing, etc. than combining it all into the same time-frame.
When my kid were young I worked from home part-time. I gave the children my full attention when they were present. I gave work my full attention when the kids were asleep or in nursery school.
Today my children are teens–and, as you note, delighted to put distance between themselves and me. They still need support and boundaries, but less hands-on care. Now it feels right–and is easier–to work full time while still “being there” for them emotionally.
.-= Lorraine´s last blog ..WritersKitchen: RT @jonathanfields: Great new post from @CharlieGilkey – Being A Good Parent *Is* Being Productive http://bit.ly/rm80K =-.
A friend of mine just sent me a link to this post. I am very happy that I’ve spent a few minutes of my time reading this post (no matter how many other things are on my list right now).
I am a mom of 16-months-old twins and I am currently working from home so productivity is a real issue for me. However I understand that time with my babies is much more important. This is the exact reason why my husband (he also works from home) and I have created a special “baby plan”. One day I devote the entire day to my children – play with them, do fun stuff and the other day my husband is on baby duty. This way both of us have 3 work days a week but this is a much more productive way than before (we were both spending time with the babies and trying to work at the same time, we could not get anything done at all!!!)
Anyway thanks for your post, I really enjoyed it and I hope that a lot of other parents will read it and realize how important their attention is to their children.
Thank you for this, the timing couldn’t be better. I have two boys under three and finding moments of productivity is really difficult. This means there is often a lot of guilt on my part for when I don’t get ‘enough’ done. But you’re too right, being the best parent I can be is pretty damned important and counts for a lot
.-= Amy´s last blog ..Coming Soon! =-.
You make an excellent point, and one that I am often in the habit of forgetting.
For my husband and I, living on a shoestring budget for several years has made it a non-issue to pile lots of STUFF on our kids, but then we’ve had to deal with the guilt associated with NOT giving them piles of stuff. It’s hard to move beyond the idea that good parents give their kids things / spend lots of money on them (like extracurricular activities or camps, and so on).
It’s good to know (and remember) that the time I spend being with them, being their mother, is more valuable than anything else I could have given them.
Thanks again for a thought-provoking post. 🙂
.-= Rachael´s last blog ..I’m Feeling All Random Today =-.
K Price says
Some good reminders here…I’ve been struggling with the balance of time with my baby and time working and it’s not always easy to see it clearly. Sometimes it helps just to hear that others “get it” — in the end, I’m trying to just make the best decisions for my family and not miss out on what is most important or the time I can’t get back no matter how much money I have.
Thanks for this. I was just told today that my husband considers child-raising, keeping a home, etc. ‘staying busy’. His opinion is that since within the word productive is the word product. That productivity means producing some sort of product or service that will equate to money.
Thoughts?? I’m actually floored and extremely offended by this.
Charlie Gilkey says
Thanks for writing, Lisa!
Technically, the root of productivity is not product, but produce. So he’s at best biased and at worst, incorrect.
Sure, some productive activities generate money, but money is only instrumentally valuable – it buys us other stuff. Some productive activities produce love, belonging, nourishment, laughter, comfort, and peace, which is what we often spend money to get.
Another consideration: the cost of living in the US skyrocketed in part because women went from the unpaid labor force to the paid labor force. Once they did, we had to start paying for products and services that women made for free or cheap. How much would your family have to pay to have someone else do the “staying busy” work that you’re doing? Check out the Two-Income Trap if you want to read more about this.
If I was told the work I was doing didn’t produce value worth acknowledging, I’d be pretty floored and offended, too.
You might also like What If Women Cared About Productivity and Why Productivity is Bunk.