Dad comes strolling in the door after a long day of work. Mom welcomes him with a smile, dressed in an attractive outfit (no, not those pajama sweats). The house is in order, everything in its place (sort of like Leave it to Beaver) and she happily informs him that dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes (or is this the episode of Last Man Standing where nobody is allowed to speak to Dad until he has been home for 30 minutes?). The children shuffle in, helping set the table and courteously take their places around the table just as Dad enters.
Hmm… Are these productive parents? Well, yes, in the very strict sense of productivity—tasks are complete, everything seems to be in order and in place, laundry done, children behaving considerately, etc. However, a better question might be, “As a productive parent, what am I trying to accomplish?”
Is it just about getting meals on the table or the laundry done, making sure homework is finished and nobody was left at sports practice or music rehearsal (not that I’ve ever done that!)?
What if the goal is to create a refuge for family members, so they know that they are always welcome and loved here—no matter what kind of day they have had? What if we’re motivated by instilling values and character in our children so they will be “productive” citizens of our communities, learning to be responsible and giving while embracing the joy in the journey?
If these are the effects we are trying to produce as productive parents, perhaps instead of being pre-occupied with putting together a perfect home environment (with everything exactly in its place)—even though that is very nice—we can choose to focus on the priorities of relationship, interaction and creating lasting family traditions (while not ignoring the fact that the house still needs to be cleaned and laundry done, of course…).
Is there a “secret” to this kind of parenting: keeping focus on the most important things while still managing the everyday tasks that need attention? It’s not really just one big secret, but rather six different ways you can change the way you think about parental productivity.
- Be intentional. Define the end goal, and don’t be distracted by anything else.
- Divvy up and share some of the “everyday” tasks so that the whole family helps get those accomplished—building a sense of teamwork, individual responsibility, as well as learned skills that will benefit all of the family members.
- Choose some of the tasks to build a game or family tradition around. I love the scene in Mary Poppins where the children have to clean up their playroom, and she begins to lead them in singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” until the work is finished. Something as simple as this can start a family culture and tradition your children will always remember (and perhaps one day pass on to their children).
- Be present in the moment. While organization, a routine, and orderly environment are helpful in keeping a peaceful home and setting for everyone to enjoy, let the family see that sometimes just stopping the tasks to enjoy a fun conversation, an impromptu dance contest or choosing to be present in the circumstances of that moment (eyes connect over a comment—give a hug) are the most important things in the long run.
- Build family memories around the little things as well as the big things. Maybe you choose to have grand vacation experiences every year to create huge memories for your crew. That’s an amazing thing to be able to do for and with them. Remember throughout the year, though, to celebrate and build memories around the little things—a special meal served to celebrate certain holidays or accomplishments, a happy dance for finishing a task well, an evening of s’mores around the fireplace for no reason at all—just because. These are the things our children will remember of us as parents—that instill in them the joy of the journey, the importance of recognizing and encouraging those around them, all while carrying inside the investment we’ve made towards their enjoyment of the future and their own families.
- Take a few minutes today to choose one thing to do differently. Take two minutes to sit down at the kids table while they have the chalk or Play Doh or bubbles out and join in the fun; take a minute with an older child to tell them about the kind action, responsible behavior, or simple accomplishment they had recently that you noticed and appreciated; spend a few minutes at bedtime reading a short story to the children, saying a prayer with them, or simply listening about their day before saying goodnight.
These are the priceless ways of being (secrets, if you will) of a productive parent, whose children and families know that their home is a welcoming place filled with meaningful traditions, kind and adventurous memories, along with a call to aspire to be something greater—and inspire those around them to do the same.