Let’s face it, nobody loves a good life hack more than parents. In fact, parents gravitate toward things that are said to be simple, clever, easy, or efficient for one very good reason: our lives and juggling our multitudes of responsibilities are anything but easy. Anything that streamlines, simplifies or saves me time and energy is worth a try, and never has this been truer than in my role as a mother.
Mom culture touts some common parenting hacks, but when I gave them a go, I was surprised by the results – and not in a good way. What I learned is that, although some of these “hacks” are said to make life easier, they only complicated my parenting life in the long run. What may have solved a simple, in-the-moment problem, only served to create a much bigger one as time went on. Ah, if only hacks came with fine print.
Here’s what I learned from implementing three common parenting hacks, and what I chose to do instead.
Hack 1: Screen time, so parents can get things done
We are modern moms. We have smartphones and tablets and Netflix accounts. Armed with the aforementioned, we can #getstuffdone. There’s only one problem – does anyone else notice that giving your kids an undetermined and unscheduled amount of screen time is similar to creating your monster?
One day I noticed that my son, at the time just a toddler, spent a lot of the time that he wasn’t watching a show asking to watch a show. I disliked spending my valuable energy on negotiating the next time he could have screen time. When I gave him the choice of a few activities, it seemed like his first thought and preference was to watch a show. I know that by nature, kids are just way more creative and magical than that. I know I needed to remove the screen-time obstacle for both of our sakes.
Now, we are not screen-free – we haven’t thrown out our TV, and my 5-year-old can still spend 10 minutes passionately telling me about the latest episode of Octonauts without taking a breath. But, I no longer think it makes sense to allow my kids to have screen time at random so that I can get things done.
What works for us instead: I designate a set time for screen time in my kids’ schedule, and outside of that time, we operate like a screen-free household. Why can setting a limited, consistent schedule for screen time make life easier? Because kids are habitual, routine-based creatures by nature, and knowing exactly what to expect gives them a sense of comfort. For us, scheduling screen time has decreased the constant asking for screen entertainment and increased my kids’ ability to occupy time creatively and independently. We all get more done.
Hack 2: Give the kids “kid food,” so they eat easily without resistance
We are modern moms. We have fruit snacks and goldfish and mac and cheese. Armed with the aforementioned, we can feed our kids quickly, easily, and on-the-go and no one will cry about it. There’s only one problem: has anyone else found that the more kid-marketed food your child has, the more they resist regular, balanced, healthy meals or snacks?
A box of mac and cheese was created to make my life easier (and oh how it does it!), but I’ve discovered that stocking my kitchen full of “kid foods” can cause these foods to become my kids’ normal. The more I relied on foods marketed to kids, the more I realized that the food-fights were increased whenever I offered something outside of their “new normal.”
I love the convenience and ease of kid foods, and yes, I sure do have the Costco-size bag of veggie straws in my pantry at this very moment, but I’ve realized that relying on these types of food and snacks only makes the struggle over food harder in our house.
What works for us instead: I try to make kid foods the exception; and whole, healthy foods the rule. Why can this reversal from the norm to exception actually make life better? Because then kids have the opportunity to practice and learn how to eat well, and just like anything else, eating well truly does take practice and consistency to succeed. For us, this practice has decreased complaining and expectation for kid foods, and increased peace around balanced eating during mealtimes.
Hack 3: Buying all the things to keep the kids happy
We are modern moms. We have Target REDcards and Amazon Prime subscriptions. Armed with the aforementioned, we can provide a steady supply of toys we hope will keep our kids’ happy and occupied. There’s only one problem – does anyone else find that a constant stream of purchases actually lessens your child’s attention span and contentment?
If you’ve noticed this pattern, you’re not alone – research says that an abundance of toys reduces the quality and focus of a young child’s play. When my kids’ playroom becomes overrun with toys everywhere (and it does, no matter how hard I try to be cool like the minimalists!), they actually play for less amount of time. The law of diminishing returns also comes into play and reveals that our kids’ joy is actually lessened the more we buy for them. Just because both research and experience tell us this is true, doesn’t mean my kids won’t ask for more, as if their happiness depends on it! They do and they will.
What I’ve realized is that kids don’t possess the discernment to understand the relationship between desire and satisfaction and how those two things truly relate (I mean, that’s something I’m still learning as a 30-something adult). So, it’s up to me to wisely and lead in that way. Both the research and my experience reveal more is not better, so I’ve adjusted my philosophy on buying more for entertainment and happiness.
What works for us instead: New toys are reserved for birthdays and holidays, and on those occasions, gifts are chosen mindfully with an emphasis on simplicity and creativity. For us, this practice has decreased mess, chaos, and demands; and increased play, focus, and satisfaction.
It turns out, after trying them, some of the most common parenting hacks did not make my life simpler at all. Rather, it is simplifying in general (more quiet play time, more whole foods, more just living with the toys we have) that really seems to give me the space to enjoy daily life with my children. For my family, the “less is more” maxim is the real hack when it comes to parenting. Maybe it’ll work for yours, too.