Matt Sweetwood knows what self-inflicted over-activity as a parent is like, and its consequences. He offers this cure.
My five kids, now all in their 20’s, are out of the house. There are three girls and two boys I have raised on my own for the last 19 years since their mother left us. Any dedicated mom or dad will tell you that that being a parent is the hardest long-term job one could ever undertake. Like any long term job, techniques and behaviors that you develop become habits – dare I say they become part of your personality.
One of the personality traits that many successful parents develop is the ability to multitask. And I don’t mean the normal kind of multitasking that one does when you post on Facebook while while watching Monday Night Football. I mean the kind of “multitasking on steroids” that allows you to care for your children (maybe even more than one at varying age levels), while having little sleep for extended periods of time. We do this while handling our work life, have personal relationships, manage the house, maintain friendships, care for extended family, enjoy our interests and make sure everyone is fed.
….The moment where the baby is crying, brother and sister are fighting, sister needs to be at gymnastics in 30 minutes and is not dressed and you can’t find her equipment, all reminding you that you need to send her with a check that was due yesterday, and realizing that you forgot to order the cake for brother’s birthday party on Saturday, while planning what you are going to write to your co-worker about an idea you have for a new business venture, and thinking about the travel plans you have to make for the trade show coming up, all while considering the hour you will have later while the baby naps and the other kids are playing to workout (reminding you that you need to eat something before then, reminding you that food shopping needs to be done in the next few days), and knowing that your significant other is in a bad mood today so you want to do something special for her all at the same time the cable guy shows up to install the new HD boxes for your four TVs and your best friend calls on the phone with an emergency he needs to discuss (you think to tell the cable guy not to disconnect the phone), reminding you that you agreed to arrange a playdate with his kids and that reminds you need to diplomatically tell him that his kid isn’t going be starting in the baseball game this Saturday for which you coach both of your son’s team, which reminds you that you need to improve the teamwork in your business because the departments are not communicating well, but the new messaging system you are installing on Monday will hopefully fix that and then you realize that fortunately the baby has stopped crying which makes you realize you are unsure now of where the baby is and that happens at the exact second brother comes crying to you, bleeding just a tiny drop from his lip, screaming at the top of his lungs that sister pushed him down – sleep for you maybe here in 8 or 9 hours – maybe – you fantasize…
That’s the “multitasking on steroids” that many parents know very well. I had five little kids to raise (8 years between oldest to youngest) and an ex-wife to support. I had a distribution business with 100 employees to run. I wanted a social life, hobbies and to enjoy my interests. It was (is) all for me to do on my own. As the years went by I became better and better at it. My DNA had evolved and this way of living had became part of my personality.
The problem is I still function like that today. I spend time with my adult kids when they visit me or I go to to see them. But I certainly don’t need to ice fat lips or find the baby while the cable guy is ringing the doorbell. I have substituted the child care with a thousand other things – running my business (now a 7-day-a-week retail superstore), hobbies, photography, dating, charity work, counseling, coaching, networking, speaking, TV appearances and even my writing. I end up being a parent to everyone, saying “yes” to everyone and everything and the things I want to accomplish in my life for myself always seem to get last priority. I clearly have developed a bad case of chronic parenting syndrome.
Adding to these burdens is the continuously connected way I live. Between Facebook, Twitter, texting, phone calls, Whatsapp, Google Chat, LinkedIn and email, I have a wake to sleep bombardment of interactions: customers, friends, acquaintances, strangers, co-workers, vendors, consultants, media, and my kids all reaching out to me for something. I am multitasking from wake to sleep. While I am highly productive and living a big life, it’s robbing me of my happiness.
So where does this all leave me now? Parenting five children on my own helped me to grow enormously as an individual. I love my children and wouldn’t have wanted any different kind of life. But I am ready to make an improvement. I want to have a higher quality of life and be able to accomplish what I want now and in the future. And I want to be happy doing it.
To cure my case of chronic parenting syndrome, I have slowed down. I have stopped trying to do everything that comes my way. I frequently turn off my phone. I say “no” more often.
I decided to enjoy my kids and my life rather than to to-do list them. Every parent has that right. Stop, smell the roses, and kiss your kid.
Photo: Flickr/Phil Hollonback