“Mom, what is dad’s favorite color?” my friend’s daughter asked recently, pausing to look up from her coloring page.
Incredulous, my friend exchanged a look with her husband. “Honey, ask daddy. You’re sitting on his lap!”
It’s a humorous story, but it speaks to a larger truth. How often throughout the course of the day do we, as mothers, get interrupted by our kids, questioned, or asked to intervene in sibling disputes? My kids will bypass my husband to ask about snacks, when they can use their technology, how big of a treat they can eat after lunch, if I’ll find a missing stuffed animal for them, if I can start their bath, or why I’m working. Honestly, it’s a wonder that we can get anything accomplished!
Though I’ll often gently redirect them to sort it out for themselves or ask their dad for help, a few other strategies have helped in our house:
As much as you’re able to, plan ahead.
At the beginning of the week, identify pockets of time and decide what you’re going to do during those intervals. During summer months, my kids often stay up later (which I don’t love) and sleep in a bit more (which I do). My best time to get work done right now is from 5:30-7:30 a.m. Earlier bedtimes usually mean a shift in my schedule, and I’m more likely to have pockets of time during the evening or while my kids are eating lunch.
Maximize your time in short bursts.
It’s frustrating when kids interrupt or distract us, but oftentimes we don’t need a full, solid hour in order to accomplish a task. In fact, studies show that we can really only work for 20-minute time blocks without getting distracted. When you’re planning your daily tasks, list what you’ll accomplish during those time blocks. For instance, “Return five emails” is more specific than “Catch up on emails” and increases the likelihood of accomplishing the task.
Spend time with each child one-on-one.
Focusing on kids in specific, targeted ways can actually cut down on interruptions. Jennifer Keys Adair, an early childhood education professor, calls this the “15/45 minute rule.” Basically, when you give a young child 15 minutes of concentrated attention, that sets them up for 45 minutes of self-directed play. (With my older kids, the self-directed time lasts longer than 45 minutes.) In our home, I set a timer and do whatever the child chooses during that time. The other day, I played LEGO school with one child, colored with another daughter, and played LOL dolls with the third. I don’t try to influence what they want to do, I just sit down and participate. Because they know when their one-on-one time is during the day (typically late morning, before lunch) and that they can rely on my undivided attention at that time, they don’t ask me to play a million times during the rest of the day. If your children are younger, try repeating the 15/45 rule during the course of the day.
Incorporate a tradition or event to give your kids something to look forward to doing together.
One recent tradition we’ve added in the last few months is “Sunday Sundaes.” Every Sunday night, we pile on two scoops of ice cream—the flavors vary from week to week, although there’s usually some kind of chocolate if I’m the one picking it out at the store—marshmallow creme, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cherry on top. As adults, we anticipate long-term fun events like a dinner date with our spouse or an upcoming vacation. Similarly, give kids something to anticipate that encourages connection. Look up Summer Bucket Lists online for ideas, or ask your kids what kind of experience or activity they’d like to try as a family. “Breakfast in bed” and “ice cream for dinner” are family favorites that resurface once a year in our home.
Don’t get me wrong: There are still plenty of days that my kids interrupt me countless times or my to-do list goes unfinished. But that’s okay! And these simple strategies have really helped. As moms, we need to give ourselves the grace to remember that we’re working toward progress, not perfection, always growing in our parenting and in our relationships with our kids.
How about you? What tips or ideas have helped you cut down on interruptions?
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of five truth-telling books, including the latest 100 Days of Kindness, and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including USA Today. She still works behind-the-scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. Find more from Kristin at theruthexperience.com.