I thought I had it all figured out, this work-life balance thing. I am lucky enough to have a toddler who sleeps pretty regularly until 7:30 or 8, so if I get up at 6, I can get some work done in the early morning quiet. My husband handles the bedtime routine, so I can get some work done then. My toddler naps for about an hour and a half at a time, so that’s some more daily work.
I added it all up. That’s four or five hours a day to work in peace! What’s so hard about balancing it all?
Well, I forgot to account for the fact that the rest of the world wasn’t on my erratic, split up, constantly-changing schedule. It’s true that there are a lot of hours in the day when I can get stuff done, but sometimes you just need a few minutes to handle the stuff that comes up right now. There’s an email that needs to be answered. There’s a deadline you forgot about. There’s food in the fridge that’s going to spoil if you don’t prep it for dinner tonight.
In those moments, you need to find a way to get some peace so you can get it (whatever “it” is) done and off your plate. Here are my three ways to get 20 minutes!
- A bowl of water and a spoon
I can take my laptop out on the deck, hand my son a big bowl of water and a spoon, and get a guaranteed moment of peace. Inevitably, he’s going to end up soaked from head to toe before I hit “send” on that email, but a change of clothes is a small price to pay for being able to get stuff done (and, let’s be honest, he was wearing half his breakfast on his shirt, so it needed to be changed anyway). Are your toddlers getting bored with just a spoon? Take it to the next level and build a DIY water table. Keep some plastic boats or measuring cups and funnels on hand. (Too cold outside? No safe outside space? You can get the same effect with a big bowl of rice on the floor, but make sure you put a sheet down first!)
- Make quiet boxes
The trick to these is that they have to be special. They can’t just be toys you grab out of the always-accessible toy bin. They can’t just be the same toys your kid always sees put into a new box. These need to be activities that are only available during “quiet time” to make them attractive and exciting. You can create your boxes based on themes (there are some great ideas at this blog post from Wild Flower Ramblings), change them with the seasons, and swap out materials to keep them fresh. Remember that you want this to be engaging but also mess-free. Paint and crayons might not be the best option for independent play. Think about magnets, puzzles, manipulatives, and board books. You’re teaching your child the important skill of self-directed, independent learning, and you get to complete your task with focus. It’s a win-win!
- Give in to the lure of TV
Look, I’m not going to open a can of worms on this debate. We limit screen time a lot in our house because we have an older child who is extremely sensitive to it. TV is not a constant or a given. That said, it has its place. There are times when the 20 minutes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or a loop of Elmo dancing videos serves the exact purpose it needs to serve. My kid is happy and engaged (and sometimes even learning something), and I get the momentary reset to give me the tools to be an active, intentional parent for the rest of the day. Just getting that task off my plate removes my distractions and allows me to be more present. I trade 20 minutes of TV for hours of better parenting, and I call it a win.