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The Four Hour Parent

If you think about it – on most days, you spend about four hours a day with your children. This means you must pack each of those hours with as much wisdom, love and teaching as possible – without your children THINKING you are packing the time with lessons and ‘work.’

Unfortunately, your time is limited and you likely don’t spend even those four hours each day with your children. In fact, while it might seem difficult to believe, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, parents spend less than 5 minutes a DAY in deliberate conversation with their children.

Ask them how their day went after school and you’ve used up your five minutes for the day. Forget about dinner together or interacting after dinner. Forget about breakfast in the morning or sending them off to school – according to these statistics the AVERAGE parent spends less than five minutes a day in deliberate conversation with their children.

Now think about the fact that the statistic is about the AVERAGE parent. There are parents who spend more and those who spend even less time talking with their children each day.

It’s mind boggling.

The Office of National Statistics tells us we spend between two and two and a half hours a day with our spouses (when we had them). This means we spent 24 times more time with our ex’s than we did or do with our children – on average.

That doesn’t mean these statistics reflect your behavior – but they do reflect the average behavior of parents in the U.S.

As parents of the next generation of adults who will eventually run this country (now THAT’S a scary thought!) – it is our responsibility to give them the tools they need to become productive, moral and ethical adults.

How can you do that in less than five minutes a day?

I’m proposing that you can’t – that it takes more time than five minutes to communicate and share your ideas about morals, work, ethics, sex, femininity, masculinity, relationships, education, music, appreciation, athletics, art, fun and all the other ideas and information you have floating around in your head.

I’m proposing that as parents we have to take back our children from the digital world into which they have immersed themselves if we want to have a hope that the next generation and the one to come after that will know how to conduct themselves as reasonable and educated human beings.

I’m sitting at the orthodontist office now, while my daughter is getting her braces worked on. As a dental assistant has her hands deep in her mouth, attaching bands and stringing wire, I’m trying to string three thoughts together.

Have laptop, need Wifi, will travel.

It’s one of the ways I use as much of my time each day so that I HAVE more than five minutes to eat dinner with her and learn what’s going on in her pretty little head.

I’ve had an interesting advantage of watching four children grow over the past years. In those years my oldest didn’t get their first cell phones until they were 16 – and they were flip phones 🙂 My middle boy got his when he was 11 so I could find him as he was running the neighborhood playing football, basketball and swimming with his five friends.

Each of them used their phones for functional reasons – to call me or text their friends.

My youngest got her first phone when she was 10 also – it just didn’t have any service. She spent hours on free text aps that worked over Wifi, Snapchat, Instagram and any other imaging social network.

It was just a couple months ago she got cell service – but nothing changed. She doesn’t use her phone for calls. She texts, messages, uses Snapchat or Instagram – and she has her face buried in that thing as long as I let her. Netflix, Youtube and Amazon are her other three favorite aps/sites to visit.

Having a relationship, including meaningful conversation, with her means her phone is in her lap and NOT in use. Last week I walked out of my son’s room twice when he started texting a friend while talking with me. He doesn’t do it anymore. Of course, he’s 25 and learns more quickly than my 13 year old!

We were talking about our vacation this past week and I let her know that while we’re away she could have her phone for 20 minutes in the morning in the hotel and about an hour before bed – otherwise, our vacation would be digital free.

Although she wasn’t happy, there was also a glimmer of something else when she understood I meant what I said. I’m not sure what it was, but it looked good to me.

Your child might be home and awake an average of four hours each day (the rest of the time closeted in their room or at school), but realistically, you have four hours a WEEK to parent your child, not four hours a day.

And in those four hours, it falls to you to teach your sons and daughters how to make responsible decisions, how to integrate their sexuality with how they think about themselves, how to look to the future while learning lessons from their past (and your past), and to build character in them that will withstand the ravages of school, jobs, relationships and their own self-doubt.

Sort of a monumental task?

That’s why it DOES take a village to raise a child. No one person can do everything for their children – even if there are two parents in the house.

Over the years I’ve learned to rely on other people in my children’s lives. Mr. L. taught at my children’s extension program when he developed cancer. Unable to care for his immense yard, he called on my oldest son to help. Zachary, and then Nicholas, worked for him for years – painting, mowing lawns, building a barn, putting up Christmas trees and even hanging out laundry.

They watched him deal with his wife’s sharp tongue with love and grace – and learned how to do that themselves.

Megan was a mother’s helper and then consistent babysitter for a family up the street for five years before moving to college. She got a front row seat in a relatively functional marital relationship.

Nicholas has become an adopted son in his best friend’s family. They’ve been friends since they were in fourth grade – and now they’re both in college. They take him on vacation, he sleeps over and he worked with his friend in his sound business.
Unfortunately, there were as many bad experiences for each of them with other adults as there were good ones – but the good ones certainly outweighed the bad.

I suppose that is the point – you CAN be a good parent in the short amount of time you have between work, school and after school activities WHEN you choose your words, are intentional with your communication and choose other people who will interact with your children.

I didn’t always know how to do that well, and since other people are important to the life lessons your children learn, it’s also important you choose these people intentionally.

Coaches, bosses, teachers, friend’s parents, and anyone else who spends time with your children are fair game for imparting knowledge and wisdom. The question is whether it’s the wisdom you would have shared.

Watch these people. Talk with your children about how they’re being treated by them. Keep the lines of communication open between you. I didn’t learn about a coach that was verbally abusing my son in the locker room until he had graduated from high school.

He thought he could handle the situation. He did – but it was years before his self-esteem recovered. We could have avoided years of rebuilding if I had been more observant or if he had been more forthcoming.

So, yes, you can parent your children in four hours a day. And, in this day, it’s almost a necessity to be as focused and productive as possible. Watch their behavior, be aware of the adults they interact with, watch their grades and be intentional in your interactions with them.

Every minute is precious.

Every moment is worth it.

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