Being a parent comes with a lot of self-doubt. Am I doing this right? Someone else could probably do it better than me. Are my kids happy? Are they too spoiled? Did I adequately answer that question about why Uncle Ryan’s voice has started squeaking? As a mom of four, questions like these zap my brain every single day.
Parenting is my job and I treat it like one. But I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes I get lax on the job. Sometimes I catch myself so absorbed in my email inbox that I barely register my son who’s next to me, reading an original story that he wrote for me. I hate myself for those non-genuine Mmm-hmms and Oh reallys? Sometimes I remember days later that I’d promised to French braid my daughter’s hair. I look at those disheveled little locks and think, What am I doing?
Am I maximizing the time I have with these four little beings here while I have it? The single most significant question I ask myself as a parent is:
Do my kids know that I love them?
Because at the end of the day, if my children don’t know the answer to that question then I have failed. They have to know I love them deeply and unconditionally, every single day.
The 10-Minute Parenting Experiment
There is time we spend together as families and then there is quality time we spend together as families. Do you see the difference? For example, an hour spent in front of the TV before bed is not the same as an hour spent playing a game or reading books together. Am I maximizing the time I have with my family? Do my kids know that I love them?
Personal connections are important.
Do we know what our children are thinking about in a given day? What items weigh heavily on their minds? What makes them happy or proud? In our fast-paced world of ubiquitous distractions, the air around us is literally abuzz with connectivity. Email chains distract us from valuable conversations we could be having with our kids. Social media threads consume our thoughts and make us believe that significance happens on a screen rather than within the walls of our own homes. It’s too easy to wake up every morning, scurry the day about, and then hit the pillow each night without ever really bonding with our children.
That’s why I started the 10-minute experiment.
It’s 10 minutes of undistracted, look-you-in-the-eye time where nothing else in the world matters except your child.
What do you want to do? What do you want to talk about? P.S. I love you.
The 10-minute parenting experiment sounds easy, but it does take conscious and concerted effort. Here’s how it works: it’s 10 minutes that you spend at home alone with your child doing whatever they want to do, talking about whatever they want to talk about, and ending with a sincere expression of your love for them. It could happen daily or weekly, but the more regular the better.
Yes, we spend huge amounts of time with our kids, but those times are usually hectic and our attention is torn between our other children and responsibilities . The 10-minute experiment is different: it’s calculated and special. It’s a time set aside and reserved. It’s quick yet intentional and you announce to your child that it is his or her special time with you. The 10-minute experiment makes kids feel like a million bucks because they get mom or dad all to themselves.
Ten minutes is not a lot, but it is enough. And if you have multiple children like I do, 10 minutes times four children adds up. Normally my kids all vie for my attention at once saying, “Mom, watch this!” and “Mom, can you help me with this?” and I get whiplash from all the back and forth demands. With the 10-minute experiment, each child gets their own special time with mom or dad with no competition from siblings. A timer set at 10 minutes ensures everyone gets the exact same amount of time so it’s 100% fair.
The ten-minute experiment always contains the same three components:
1.What do you want to do?
2. What do you want to talk about?
3. “I love you.”
1. What do you want to do?
First I always ask, “What do you want to do?” Each child gets to pick an activity they want to do with just mom or dad. The activity needs to be something we can do in or outside our house. My kids adore this creative control and they often spend hours, even days thinking up their special activities. Sometimes it’s making cookies, painting nails, or playing a sport with just them and no siblings involved (which is a rarity in our house). Sometimes they just want me to watch while they sing or do gymnastics. The important thing is that they have my undivided attention.
2. What do you want to talk about?
Secondly, I always take that time when we’re one-on-one to ask, “What do you want to talk about.” Sometimes we have a trivial conversation about what’s happening at school, but other times we touch on important topics, like “When am I old enough to get a phone.” Those conversations are some of the best opportunities to delve into bigger subjects. The most important thing that my kids come away with from these talks is that I am listening. No distractions. Me and them and I’m all ears.
3. I love you, always and no matter what.
Growing up, my parents always had this saying that held a secret meaning for our family: “Never forget.” They said those two words when they tucked me in at night as a child and then later whenever I left the house as a teenager. That phrase was deep and personal; it was my parents’ reminder to never forget that they loved me.
I remember how much that adage meant to me then, and now when I end my 10 minutes with each of my children, I take a moment to look them in the eyes and tell them how much I really love them. Always and forever, no matter what. It might not cure cancer or end world hunger but that kind of love—the love a parent has for her child—has a power of its own.
Lastly, when to make it happen?
It’s called an experiment for a reason: it’s a test to see what works for you and your family.
Personally in our house, there’s a part of the day I like to call “dead time.” It’s that stretch of time after dinner and before bed that we just kind of bum around. The TV gets turned on and we veg out, waiting for darkness to fall and 8:00 to signal bedtime. Even though we are technically spending time together as a family, it’s not necessarily quality time. It’s not bad, but we can do better.
We’ve tried turning that “dead time” into quality time with the 10-minute parenting experiment. Now, instead of crashing on the couch after dinner, each kid gets 10 minutes with mom or dad. The other kids can watch TV or read a book while they wait for their turn. Not only do our kids love it, but they crave it. They can’t wait for their special time with mom and dad. It’s opened up conversations and brought a lot of happiness into our home.
The 10-minute experiment always consists the same three things: What do you want to do? What do you want to talk about? And I love you. Ten minutes is a blip on our daily radar, but could be easily wasted away. Turn dead time into quality time. Give them 10 minutes and you’ll get so much more in return. The 10-minute experiment isn’t the end-all parenting solution, but it’s a pretty good place to start.
For more parenting tips and tricks that have worked in our homes, check out these ideas: