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We help a stressed-out single mom find more time for her kids

Jennifer Chan’s 12-year-old son enjoys some solo playtime during breakfast.  Photo by Jennifer Chan

Can’t seem to find the time to achieve your most important life goals? In our new feature, Timehacker, we match readers with the right coach or consultant to help them find the time, develop new habits and get started. Then we check in on Day 21 to see how it’s working out.

The Reader: Jennifer Chan is a 45-year-old divorced, single mother of two who works in digital marketing in the San Francisco bay area. Some days, she feels so overloaded, juggling work, chores, and the kids by herself, that she can’t find time to just enjoy her children.

The Goal:  “I have an 8- and a 12-year-old. This is their time. Every minute with them counts — and it’s going fast. If I can’t hang out and play with them now, when will I? I do spend a fair bit of time with my kids, but it’s a struggle. So often, I’m stressed out, they’re stressed out, we’re rushing off someplace or I’m bugging them about their homework. I just really want quality time with my kids. But I’m a little resentful sometimes of all the organizational things I have to put in place to make my life run the way I’d like it to run. So how do I really change the way time works without adding more routines?”

The Diagnosis: We matched Jennifer with Jill Farmer, a master life coach and author of There’s Not Enough Time… and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. “The pressures of learning a new-ish career position, handling all of the chores and responsibilities at home as a divorced mom, and being really present for her kids all feel like competing goals. Jennifer is not sure she can do it all. She feels like her presence and connection to her children is the most important, but the necessities of the other two squeeze out the possibility of meaningful time. Whenever the things we value most feel like they are being pushed off our plate because of time pressures, it’s pretty stressful. It feels dissonant—like things are turned upside from how they “should” be. After our conversation, it’s pretty clear that creating more systems for efficiency would be met with resistance from Jen. She’s feeling so much time pressure, learning something new feels like “one more thing to do.”

The Timehack: Farmer suggested three:

  1. Notice. “As I listened to Jen talk, it was clear the thoughts swirling around in her head about how she wished things were different, how she wished she had less to do were getting in the way of really being present. They distracted her, made her agitated, and a little panicky. I suggested Jen use a technique from Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT —simply noticing when she’s having thoughts that cause her stress and frustration is a way to come back to the present moment.
  2. Incorporate kids into tasks. Jen resisted the idea of getting her kids to help more with the chores – it would take more time, energy and patience than she felt she had. And she didn’t want to deal with “half-done jobs, tantrums, complaining …” “So instead of emptying the dishwasher alone and getting really frustrated with having that task take time that she could be spending playing a game with her daughter, I suggested that she invite her daughter to hang out with her while unloading the dishes. And to look for ways to make it playful. In other words, look for ways to connect with her children while she’s doing the things that she feels pull her away from them.”
  3. Connect by phone during the day. The most stressful time of day for Jen is often after she comes home from work and the kids dump an entire day of complaints, questions and worries on her. So Jill suggested she have her 12-year-old son text her questions or complaints during the day to get them off his chest in real time, instead of saving them all up for the end of the day. “This should help make some of their evening time together a little more relaxed.”

The Prognosis. “The most potential for change for Jen is in freeing herself up to be less panicked and fearful by becoming aware that the thoughts “I am not enough” and “I don’t have enough time” are causing an action/reaction cycle that are taking her in the opposite direction she wants to go. For Jen, it will boil down to accepting where she is and being more open to creatively parent from love, instead of believing the world is conspiring to squeeze out time with her kids.

Day 21:

Jennifer:: “As simple as they are, these time hacks have been extremely helpful. When I start getting stressed out, I just notice. And it’s like, ‘Oh right, here I am. This is what’s going on. The world is not coming to an end. I have time to take a breath. Now, what do I need to tackle first?’

And as far as sharing their presence while I do my chores, that’s going quite well. One night, my kid was bouncing off the walls wanting me to wrestle with him. Boy, that was the last thing I wanted to do late at night: I wanted to finish the dishes up and go to bed. So I said, ‘Can you just hang out with me while I do the dishes, and when I’m done, we can wrestle?’ So we hung out, and now I can say, ‘Tell me about your day, or this thing you’re interested in.’ It was really nice. I am trying to talk to my son during the day, but it’s a little too soon to tell if that’s making a difference.

“I think I’ve made a lot of progress. I like these hacks a lot. And while it didn’t radically change my existence, what it has done is remind me of the big picture, having at the front of my brain what’s important – that whether the laundry gets done this week is so much less important than having a relationship with my children.”

What has worked for you when you feel time starved and out of control? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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