I know you’re wondering (again) if being productive as a parent is actually possible.
Yes. It is.
Reminder: It Takes Conscious Effort
Being productive doesn’t just happen, not for anyone. Not even for Tim Ferris. Not for non-parents. Not for parents of any kind.
All of us have to choose to pursue productive lives. Then we have to make smart decisions and put conscious, consistent effort into honoring the choice we’ve made to be productive.
It isn’t easy. It is rewarding. And if we continue to make this choice, and put in the effort, we’ll not only enjoy the rewards ourselves, we’ll also pass the benefits of a productive lifestyle on to our kids.
If that’s not motivational, I don’t know what is.
Reminder: Focus on the Principles
On a general/conceptual level, the choices and actions required for a productive life are similar. But on a day-to-day, specific level, productive living can look wildly different from one person or household to the next.
If you want to immediately fail at pursuing productivity, latch onto a productivity icon and try to imitate the specific, daily practices she’s built into her daily life. Imitating specific, particular practices can lead straight to frustration and failure if those practices don’t fit you, your personality, your family set-up, your work, your finances or your preferences.
Focus instead on finding the big, important principles that those specific practices are built on, then build your own personalized rituals and practices. Ones that fit you, and your life.
I’m going to share what I think are the most important rituals for productive parenting. And I’ll give you some examples: what those rituals look like in my life, with my kids. Yours don’t have to look the same. Grab the concept, tweak it to fit who you are and how your family works, and build on that.
The 3 Best Rituals for Productive Parenting are:
- Family Morning Ritual
- Evening Ritual
- Cleaning/Chores Ritual
Ritual 1: The Family Morning Ritual
Thanh has previously shared his own personal morning ritual.
Having one of those is important. I have one.
This morning ritual, however, is different. This is for the whole family, whatever that looks like. It’s the routine that everyone follows to accomplish
- Getting ready for the day, and
- Getting to where you need to be for the day.
Our morning family ritual begins when my youngest awakes, usually around 7:30am. I’ve been up for a few hours at this point. She walks in, and climbs on my lap, I wrap up what I’m doing, snuggle her for a few minutes, and then we get going.
For us, the morning ritual contains these four important elements:
- Hugs and kisses (I get as many as I can while they’re still happy to give them.)
- Getting dressed, washing up, brushing teeth & hair
- Chores (More on those later.)
I’m usually dressed already; if not, I immediately go get ready, with my youngest tagging along, and then we launch into the rest of the routine. I make sure everyone’s awake, collect hugs and kisses, and we usually chat or they kind of sit in a daze on the couch as I start breakfast. Breakfast is simple. We repeat a few tried-and-true options: yogurt and granola, fruit & cottage cheese, egg & veggie bowls, or fruit smoothies & muffins. On weekends (or days when we’re out of everything) we do cereal.
Everyone knows that after breakfast we go right into the wash-brush-dress routine. The only kink I haven’t worked out of this system, is having four children try to brush their teeth in one bathroom. It can get crazy. Last week I was scrubbing toothpaste off the dining room walls.
But we proceed through the chaos, because even though it’s not calm and quiet and zen-like, it’s still a ritual and it’s still working.
That’s a key point, fellow parents: your rituals with children may not be calm and quiet and zen-like. In fact, I can almost guarantee they won’t be. That doesn’t mean they’re not working. It just means they involve children.
From wash-brush-dress we each tackle our chore list. Mine is mental, but the kids have their lists on the refrigerator. The littlest gets to mop the kitchen floor (she loves it) and pick up toys (she needs reminding) and spray and wipe the doors (she loves it because of the spray bottle).
Chores take 15-20 minutes, depending on how many times the littlest (who’s 4) sprays the cat instead of the door, and how many ninja vs. pirate fights the boys get into while collecting the trash.
Then we’re done, and we move on to “getting where we need to be for the day.” For us, that’s the dining table to start our homeschooling. Once a week, it’s in the car to head to our homeschool co-op. For you, it might be dropping a child off at daycare or school or grandma’s house, or commuting to work, or waving to your child on the bus and heading to your home office. Or it might be something totally different.
The point of the family morning ritual is to set up a step-by-step routine, with a distinct trigger and a limited timeline, that gets everyone ready and headed to where they should be at the right time.
To create a family morning ritual, just look at what you already do in the morning to make life happen. Write down the steps. Decide which order makes the most sense. Breakfast first, or getting dressed first? Think about what each person can independently handle. Maybe your partner can help the kids get dressed while you make breakfast. Or the kids can take the dog out while you pack lunches.
One word of warning: don’t get too crazy.
Start with the minimum: dress, wash, brush, breakfast, door.
Remember that all new routines require consistent training for a while before they become routines.
Establish a minimum, easy, simple routine; then, later, you can add on some extras.
Dress, wash, brush, meditate, breakfast, out the door.
Dress, wash, brush, breakfast, two chores, out the door.
Dress, wash, brush, breakfast, dinner in the crockpot, take a walk, out the door.
Look out, it’s getting crazy now.
Ritual 2: The Evening Ritual
This is not the bedtime ritual. I bet you have one of those already, because if there’s one thing that parents universally value… it’s sleep. Getting your child to sleep. Getting your child to go to sleep, and more particularly, to stay asleep, preferably rather early in the evening.
I’m going to assume you’re already doing a bedtime thing (if not, leave a comment and we can discuss). But this evening ritual is different and, let me tell you, it is life-changing.
This is the routine everyone follows to
- Clean up/wrap up/put away from the day, and
- Get ready for tomorrow, and
- Get a little quality, family, wind-down together time.
You already know how to do this routine. What are the chores you do every night? What are the things you wish you’d done every morning? Maybe put an outfit together, pack a lunch or thaw something from the freezer, empty the trash, repack the work/school/gym bag?
This ritual might vary a bit from evening to evening, because your days might not all look the same.
On the night before our homeschool co-op, I pack lunches (something I otherwise never do) and snacks, and put our materials and school folders in a bag hanging on the front door.
Other nights I don’t do that: I just do dinner clean-up and – here’s the important part – get everyone else to do some clean up, too. It’s usually at this point that I have the kids clean up any leftover messes from the day, make sure bikes are put away, return shoes to closets and so on. Then while they have baths, I switch out laundry, hang my outfit for the next day, and check my calendar to see if there’s any other preparation I need to do.
At this point, the kids are clean and ready for bed; the house is in decent order; I feel calm because I’m prepared for the next day; and we’re all ready to settle down into something quiet. Books, drawing or coloring, a board game, a movie, a puzzle. You don’t have to all do something together. I might tackle a project while the kids draw or play a game. My husband might start building some random object (this happens more often than you’d think) and get the kids involved with him, at which point I slip away with my book and my beer…
Quiet has a lot of variations. There’s no rule here. It’s just a great ritual to help end the day with an orderly environment, adequate preparation for the next day, and something enjoyable for everyone. Try it.
Ritual 3: The Cleaning/Chores Ritual
We have five family rules. (Well, we did. We had to add a 6th: No Licking Other People. I’m sorry to admit that, but certain incidents required that this line be clearly drawn.)
Anyway, our fifth family rule is this: Clean Up Your Mess (When You’re Done).
Life is, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, messy. Doing cool stuff? Messy. Working? Messy. Gardening? Messy. Cooking? Messy. Building things? Messy. Having kids? Messy to a degree you might never have imagined.
In the course of a single day, I’ve cleaned up poop (of the human and the cat variety), blood, paint, and milk, scraped up dried macaroni noodles and chewing gum, done four loads of laundry, wiped twenty sticky fingers, and stepped on, cursed, then picked up approximately 1,732 tiny Lego pieces.
You parents? You know what I’m talking about. I raise a grimy fist in solidarity with you, brothers and sisters.
Life gives us a lot to clean up. We need routines – rituals – to help make it happen without letting it take over our lives.
This is how it works in my house.
Everybody has a daily chore list. Me, Joe, the kids. You’ve already heard about this; after breakfast, and dress-wash-brush, we do chores.
This works for us because we don’t have to be any particular place at any particular time most days. My sister (who also has two boys and two girls) can’t make this work in her family, because one of her kids has to be on the bus before 7am, and another one needs a ride to school.
If you want to do daily chores but the mornings don’t give you enough time, they can be part of your afternoon/after-school time, or part of your evening ritual. Or you can, if you have time, speed through a list of chores after the kids are at school or daycare.
Or not. You can focus on things like cleaning and laundry on the weekend.
We do a weekend “power hour” almost every Saturday. I call it the Power Hour. My kids have other names for it, which I won’t share here. They’re still learning to appreciate the beauty of a clean house.
But you know what? It’s okay if we don’t all love or particularly enjoy a ritual in our lives. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, or not working. It just means it requires some work that may not be pleasant. Decide if the results are essential. Are they? Then you don’t really have a choice but to get through the work – no matter how unappealing – and there’s no reason you should be doing all the unpleasant work by yourself.
Our weekend “power hour” starts with a list of chores/cleaning tasks that need to be done. I call in the troops, we all pick a task, write our name by it, and get to work. When you finish one task, you scratch it off, choose your next task, write your name by it (so no one else “takes” it) and get to work.
Repeat until the list is done.
We manage to get quite a lot done in an hour or two. Everybody’s motivated to finish, because we all have other stuff we’d like to do instead. Having a list helps, because we can see the end in sight and know that the faster and better we work, the sooner we reach the end.
There’s no particular magic to doing daily chores, or having a weekend cleaning session. There is a particular magic to having a ritual, or multiple routines, that help you to keep things semi-clean and semi-organized. It’s good when life can function and the house can function and people can have clean pants.
Which Rituals Work Best for Your Family?
My original list had seven important rituals, but I’m far too wordy to go over seven rituals in one post, as you can see.
Maybe we can get to the rest another time.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: what are your important family/parenting rituals? Do you use some of these rituals, now? Do you have others that you could share?
We can all learn from each other, and I’d love to learn from you.
Please share, and let’s benefit from these productive parenting choices we’re all making.
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