How to raise a human while still being one

Not long ago, organizational guru Julie Morgenstern realized 80 percent of her clients were parents, and all of them shared a common goal: getting control of their lives so they could enjoy more time with their families.

Helping parents achieve that goal is the purpose of Morgenstern’s latest book, Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You (Henry Holt and Co., 2018). In it, she offers dozens of tips and, perhaps even more important, outlines something most parents don’t even realize they need: a job description.

Defining the Job

Maybe the pluralized term “jobs description” would be more appropriate. Morgenstern argues parents actually have two jobs: to raise a human and to be a human. The first job is obvious; the second often gets slighted by busy parents.

“I’m not saying you don’t prioritize your children and sacrifice some things, but you should not sacrifice your health or your marriage,” she says. “That actually hurts your child.”

Within her jobs description, Morgenstern outlines eight tasks — four in each part — that define the scope of a parent’s responsibility:

PART — the “raise a human” tasks:

  • Provide
  • Arrange
  • Relate
  • Teach

SELF — the “be a human” tasks:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Love
  • Fun

“There are just really eight things that you have to balance your time between,” she says. “Everything falls into those eight.”

Balancing Acts

Morgenstern believes knowing you have only eight tasks to do as a parent can help you achieve a better balance among them.

“You start to autocorrect and make sure each of those quadrants gets tended to — although not in equal measure,” she says. “A job [‘Provide’] naturally takes more time than the ‘Relate’ time, and you’re not going to exercise for the same quantity of hours that you’re working.”

On the “raise a human” side, Morgenstern thinks parents most often struggle with relating, which is where you slow down to your child’s speed and see the world through his or her eyes. It’s the opposite of teaching, where you try to get your child to see the world through your eyes.

Fortunately, this is one of those areas where quality is more important that quantity.

“How much time do kids need to feel loved and secure?” she says. “It turns out that kids need short bursts of attention delivered consistently, not big blocks of time delivered erratically.”

On the “be a human” side, Morgenstern thinks parents mistakenly believe they can pick and choose.

“You need to fuel all four of those, or something will collapse,” she says. “And when things collapse, it steals energy and focus.”

Since it can be challenging to shift between the eight tasks, Morgenstern recommends creating mindful transitions before each shift. For example, rather than finishing up a work-related phone call as you walk in the door, spend the last 10 minutes of your commute shifting your focus to family.

“It doesn’t take long, and you get better and better at it,” she says.

What’s more, you’ll be setting a good example of how your kids should be humans — and how they should raise humans once they become adults.

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