Q: My kids are 3 and 5. Why is it so hard for us to get out of the house? The kids will be playing nicely, and then I say, “Time to go! Let’s get shoes on!” and they fall apart. They don’t want to go (even when I know they’ll love where we’re going); they take forever to put on their shoes, but they won’t accept help, either. I start out calm but almost always end up yelling, and we’re late to everything.
A: One of the biggest adjustments that adults make when they become parents is in their relationship to time.
We are strongly socialized into the idea that time is scarce. As such, it should be used “well,” which means efficiently and not “wasted.” To “make good time” means to be ahead of schedule.
The high value we place on control and efficiency affects how we perceive parenthood and our children. As soon as baby is born, the time-obsessed questions are ceaseless: When will baby latch on? When will my milk come in? When will he sleep through the night? Roll over? Sit up? Crawl? Walk? Talk? Catch a ball? Read? And what is a mother’s most common lament? There aren’t enough hours in the day.
When her young child wants to “help,” efficiency directs the most loving of mothers to brush the help aside. She rolls her eyes in exasperation when her toddler insists, “I do it!” as if she has no idea where this desire for control comes from.
To Save Time, Let Go.
Releasing expectations for how long things – from the first latch in infancy to lacing their own shoes in childhood – will take, and when things – first words, complete knowledge of math facts – will arrive is our child’s life-long challenge to us. When we accept that challenge, we paradoxically save time and effort.
Let’s apply this philosophy to help you get out the door on time and with greater ease.
Drop your (culturally-engrained) attachment to efficiency.
The reality of life with children is that they do not care at all about efficiency. They care about mastery, and their vehicle for mastery is play. How can you work with that?
Shifting your energy in this way – from attempting to control your children to working with them – is huge. They will feel the difference and be more likely to work with you in return.
Now you can slow down and notice what the sticky places are. Do they both have a problem, or is it really just one? Is the problem that they have not yet developed mastery of putting on shoes? If so, use their play to help them develop mastery. Play with shoes when you don’t actually need to leave the house. Have them teach their stuffed animals to tie laces. Have them help you put on your shoes.
Respect your children as their own people, with their own agendas and feelings.
First, understanding of time is very slow to develop. Rather than giving lots of warnings (“In 30 minutes we’re leaving.” “Okay, it’s almost time.” “Five minutes,” etc.) simply tell them it’s time to wrap up what they’re doing because it’s “park time” or whatever the next activity is. (At my children’s Montessori school, they used special songs to transition from one activity to the next, and it worked like a charm.)
The key is to announce the transition well in advance of when it must be completed. How much time do they truly need to end their play, clean up, go potty, and get on shoes? Add 10 minutes to that and you’ve got your transition time. This respects their agenda, which is to play as much as possible and to gain mastery.
Second, be respectful of their feelings. If they complain, acknowledge their feelings like a sportscaster: “You really want to keep playing at home.” Don’t comment further or try to persuade them to feel otherwise. Like adults, children feel better simply when the struggle is acknowledged matter-of-factly, without drama or judgment. Allow them time to have their feelings.
If they continue to complain even after being acknowledged, you may want to ask yourself if you really need to go out. Maybe you do. But young children are easily over-stimulated, and chronic upset about going places may be a sign that they’d prefer to slow down the pace of life for a while.
Don’t think of getting out of the house as a transition. It is an event.
Rather than mentally rehearsing the next steps or imagining the next event, let this be an event. It is for your children.
So, get yourself ready first, before you tell your children it’s time to wrap up and go. This creates time and space for you to be calm and mindful during this process.
Now you can watch your children learn and do during the “get out the door” event. Breathe. Relax your body. See them, smell them, listen to them. Be available to answer questions that arise. Rather than criticizing what they do not do, acknowledge what they do: “Wow. You really stuck with those laces until you got them tied.” “Wow. You helped your little brother.”
If this sounds like a lot, remember that, as with all things in parenthood, nothing lasts forever. They are having a problem now with getting out the door, but they are on a sure trajectory to independence and efficiency. One day you will wake up and they will be waiting at the door for you.
Also, ask yourself how much energy you are using to fight this battle? Imagine how it would feel for getting out the door to be easy and fun.
That’s what I call “making good time.”