How To Be A Parent and Still Achieve Your Dreams
You are sound asleep in bed. It’s a beautiful summer morning. Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, your partner is sleeping peacefully beside you — what could possibly ruin this idyllic setting?
Suddenly, you’re jolted awake by the ear piercing screeches of a screaming baby.
You immediately feel the cortisol begin coursing through your body.
Dazed and half asleep, you stumble out of bed and glance at the alarm clock.
Oh, shit! You slept through your alarm again!
You were supposed to be up an hour earlier to get ready for the day before the kids woke up.
You grab your one-year-old from his crib and groggily trudge to the kitchen to prepare his morning bottle.
That’s when you notice the awful smell.
You look down at your baby and, to your horror, realize he had an explosive shit that blew out his diaper and pajamas, which is now smeared across your arms and shirt.
You groan in dismay, which causes him to cry. His crying wakes your three-year-old daughter who comes downstairs coughing and sniffling.
You feel her forehead and realize she has a fever. You go to grab the Children’s Tylenol but remember you forgot to pick some up last time you were at the store. The day is off to a nightmarish start and you haven’t even had breakfast.
Has this story got your heart racing? If so, it means you relate to the tribulations of new parenthood.
This story is unfortunately true and happened to me recently. It is a worst-case scenario, but it exemplifies how unexpected life is and how beneficial it can be to be prepared and organized.
Let’s face it, being a new parent isn’t easy in the modern world.
Not to say it’s been a breeze in the past, but today’s parents exist in a constant state of worry.
We worry about excessive screen time, socializations skills, learning to read and write before kindergarten, physical and cognitive development, and nutrition (being a plant-based family this is a particular point of concern for us, but that’s an entire post itself).
It’s no wonder new parents feel overwhelmed, exhausted and confused with all these concerns incessantly nagging at them.
These worries consume our attention, which makes it difficult to be a productive, effective parent.
Thankfully, there are a ton of useful articles out there that provide practical and applicable strategies for increasing your productivity.
But as a new parent of two young children, most of these articles are beginning to annoy the shit out of me.
The common productivity tips and routines espoused by most self-development writers are helpful if you’re a young, single 20–30 something with ample free time.
These include getting up early after a solid 7.5–9 hours of sleep (are you fucking kidding me? 7.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep? I’m lucky to get 5 hours at best), making your bed, going for a 6AM run, doing yoga, journaling, writing out your daily tasks, and blah blah blah.
It’s easy to be productive when you have no other serious responsibilities or obligations. As a parent of young children you can basically throw these productivity tips and strategies in the trash.
Yes, I did say serious responsibilities. It sounds trite and condescending, but it’s true.
Being a busy, professional parent is different than being a busy, professional adult. If you’re an attentive parent with a career, you have monumentally more shit to care about in a day than the average person.
Where are the articles offering productivity tips for parents?
For parents who have to deal with washing shit-covered bed sheets at 6AM instead of going for a run? Who only get four hours of sleep and are too braindead for journaling? And who are sick with a cold every week and a half because their kids go to a germ-infested daycare so they don’t have the energy for outdoor yoga at sunrise.
I don’t mean to sound like a whiney dad complaining about his life — which I often am — but the majority of productivity articles have no relevance for contemporary parents.
As a parent, you must operate at a higher level of efficiency, organization and planning if you want to enhance your productivity and continue to grow as a person.
I have dedicated countless hours to developing alternate strategies to be a more productive parent and make my life easier.
Ultimately, these strategies also provide a better life for not only you, but also your children. You are more patient and kind when your life becomes easier, and therefore a better parent to your kids.
I believe these strategies can work for any busy parent if applied consistently.
You must resist the temptation to take the easy route.
As a new parent, it’s easy to resign yourself to the fact you won’t be able to focus on yourself for the roughly two decades that you have kids in the house.
It’s easy to tell yourself that it’s too difficult to find the time to exercise or do something for yourself.
Do not accept this as your fate.
Examine your current lifestyle. Re-evaluate your priorities and change your expectations to better suit you and your family.
This is an effective way to continue developing yourself and working toward success without allowing it to be detrimental to family time.
Quality family time is ultimately the most important aspect of life. It’s what we’re all working to having more of anyways, isn’t it?
But in order to optimize your lifestyle and provide the best possible care for your family, you must continually work to be the best version of yourself possible.
It is your obligation as a privileged human being with unlimited access to the world’s vault of information.
Once you find the correct path and determine what your ultimate goals are, you can work on self-development and stay on course.
This will eventually provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in life, as well as enable you to be the best parent you can be.
Balance is key.
Parenting doesn’t mean every other area of your life must suffer. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices for the meaningful things in life. This is true for everyone.
But it is absolutely possible to be a dedicated parent while also being successful and achieving your dreams.
“Macro patience, micro speed.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
So how do you go about becoming a healthier, happier, more productive parent?
Here are 8 strategies, tips and routines that will help you continually work toward improving yourself in all areas of life.
These will ensure you are balanced, effective and able to be the best parent possible.
1. ELIMINATE THINKING AND DECISION-MAKING
This strategy is critical when you’re in the middle of a hectic morning or high stress situation. It’s so important that there are additional sub-strategies listed below.
Eliminating thinking doesn’t mean shutting your brain off, it means being prepared so that you don’t have to think about the tasks that need to be completed.
Eliminating thinking means establishing effective systems that make your life easier.
Like any household with young kids, mornings in our house can be chaotic to say the least. You have to get the kids fed, cleaned, clothed, and ready for school/daycare, all while getting yourself ready for work.
Don’t forget packing lunches and preparing dinner for when you get home at the end of the day. Not to mention that the simple act of putting shoes and a jacket on a toddler can be a 10 minute process itself.
This is why being prepared and eliminating thinking are essential strategies for parental efficiency.
These sub-strategies may seem like common sense but you’d be surprised how many parents I know that do not do them. They are simple, time-saving, and will remove the cortisol-raising urgency thrust upon you each morning before work.
1a — Pack Lunches and Prepare Breakfast the Night Before
Do no wait until the morning!
Pack lunches and have breakfast made the evening before. This can be done when you’re cleaning up from dinner or after the kids go to bed.
My wife and I typically take turns with this duty. One of us will bathe the kids while the other prepares lunches and makes breakfast for the next morning.
This removes the unnecessary stress of rushing to prepare them in the morning and provides a more relaxed family breakfast.
1b — Have Clothes Selected and Laid Out
Simple yet effective. This eliminates the process of selecting an outfit and fighting with your toddler over what they’ll wear for the day.
It also conserves your brain energy for more important tasks. Every little bit counts!
1c — Have Daily Supplements Ready.
If you take daily vitamin and mineral supplements, have them set out and ready beside the kitchen sink so you don’t forget to take them.
This way you can pop them first thing in the morning so they’re done and out of your thoughts for the day. It is important to get as many non-mind engaging tasks out of the way as soon as possible in the day to eliminate mental clutter.
1d — Plan Your Morning Movement / Exercise
Moving your body, even moderately, within 20 minutes of waking up has been proven to enhance alertness, improve flexibility, kick start your metabolism for the day, and increase sustainable energy levels.
Morning movement does not need to be strenuous. It can be as easy as 10 jumping jacks, a couple push-ups, or going for a 5 minute walk outside.
Basically, do the opposite of sitting down and drinking a large coffee first thing in the morning. This only gives you a temporary, and heart-racing, burst of energy.
1e — Know your main objective for the day. See Strategy #4.
Some of this may sound redundant, but trust me, every little step can produce significant results.
Once you implement them into your daily routine you will feel drastically more prepared and empowered.
This feeling will elevate your mood, strengthen mental health, and minimize harmful stress.
2. WAKE UP EARLY. LIKE, REALLY FUCKING EARLY.
You`re probably not going to like this one.
Unless you`re an extreme morning person, the idea of getting up at 3:30–4:00AM sounds abhorrent to most people. Fortunately, you can become a morning person if you’re not already.
Developing an effective and fun morning routine that you look forward to will be a helpful boost for dragging your tired ass out of bed at such an early hour.
3. USE A CALENDAR
I firmly believe that keeping a detailed personal calendar is a prerequisite for being an effective parent.
Modern technology makes organization and productivity incredibly easy.
I am a huge fan of lists. Instead of writing any list by hand, I use Microsoft OneNote and Google Calendar.
These tools conveniently maintain your appointments and reminders across multiple devices. You can create or change an event using the app on your phone, then view it later when on your laptop.
These make planning, organizing and scheduling easier than ever since it is on your phone and with you at all times. This has seriously enhanced my productivity levels.
4. EMBRACE LIFE’S UNEXPECTEDNESS
Life is unpredictable and filled with unexpected events.
Your car may break down, causing you to pay for the repairs by dipping into your savings. You or your spouse may get sick, forcing you to not be able to work for an extended period of time. And as we`ve witnessed recently in California, a natural disaster could occur that destroys your home and flips your life upside down.
These problems are completely outside your control.
We can’t prevent life’s unexpected events but we can certainly be mentally prepared to meet them head on.
It took me years of things not going “as planned” and countless hours of frustration before I finally realized that life will never unfold the way I want it to.
It serves no one to get angry or frustrated when things don’t go as planned.
Although it’s in human nature, it is plain stupid to let things out of your control negatively affect your life. Change your mindset from “I have to solve this problem” to “I get to solve this problem”.
Every unplanned event or misfortune can — and should — be used as an opportunity to learn and grow.
This must be worked on continuously. I remind myself every day to maintain realistic expectations and embrace life’s unexpectedness.
The sooner you do this, the sooner you will be a happier, more productive person.
5. PATIENCE IS KEY
Patience is not my strong suit. It is a virtue that I struggle to possess on a daily basis and am often envious of when I see displayed in others.
Being a parent of two young kids has been an easy excuse to lose my patience and temper on occasion. Any parent can relate to this.
It has also been common for me to vent my frustrations on family as they are the ones I am closest with and will take the brunt of my bad moods.
This behavior is unacceptable and hinders productivity.
How can you be an effective, productive parent when you are unable to be patient or control your own emotions?
Instead of erupting in a paroxysm of frustration and anger, engage in the stoic practice of self-control. This will help you become the optimal version of the parent and productive adult you desire to be.
I have found that when I respond to a difficult situation from a place of kindness and lightheartedness, the tension is diffused almost immediately.
Try to approach the situation from a place of love and warmth instead of snapping at your spouse for some miniscule, perceived slight against you.
Simply let the negative feelings go and realize it is not a big deal in the grand scheme of life. Either that or have an honest, calm talk with them about how their actions are bothering you.
When your toddler has asked you for 500th time “Are we there yet?”, maintain your patience and remember they are just a child.
Anytime I have lost my temper and made a harsh retort to my kids, I feel nothing but regret and shame.
It isn’t easy to keep your emotions in check, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Controlling your emotions works the same as exercising a muscle. The more you practice and exercise the muscle over time, the stronger it becomes.
6. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION = EFFECTIVE PARENTING
Strong communication skills are essential in all facets of life, but this is particularly true when you are a parent and responsible for the life of a child.
Clear, consistent and healthy communication with not only your partner, but also your children, is critical for a healthy family dynamic which is conducive to enhancing productivity.
Productive parenting also requires consistency in both the rewarding and discipline of kids.
Children quickly learn what is expected of them. You and your partner must be on the same page when it comes to this, otherwise your kids will know they can get away with certain behaviours with one parent which may be disobeying the rules of the other.
This will enable you to be your most productive self as it will strengthen your familial relationships.
Strong family connections provide a healthier life which will benefit your mood, happiness, and mental health — all key pillars for productivity and efficiency.
7. KEEP YOUR HOME ORGANIZED AND CLEAN
My house often looks like a herd of snot-nosed elephants trampled through it, leaving behind an array of toys, books and greasy fingerprints on every surface imaginable.
Any parent knows that you can try your absolute best to keep a clean, organized household, but those two-foot-tall monsters are experts at turning houses into warzones.
I continue to struggle with the untidiness, disorganization and chaos that comes with being a new parent.
I used to stress about every spill, every crumb, every unfolded pile of laundry. I would spend 25–50% of my time cleaning and putting toy after toy back in its place, only to have a new mess to clean up two minutes later.
This was glaringly unproductive.
I eventually realized that my stress accomplished nothing besides turn me into a cleanliness-obsessed asshole toward my wife and kids.
I had to learn to embrace the chaos. It is obviously far more productive to let the messes accumulate and do one solid clean up at the end of the day.
You will alleviate stress and free up so much time for more productive tasks if you embrace the chaos, like having quality, carefree family time instead of repeatedly cleaning up apple juice spills.
Remember that all this is short-lived while you have young children, so learn to enjoy the chaos while you can!
8. INTENTIONAL TIME MANAGEMENT
Highly effective people are intentional with their time. This is the skill of knowing exactly what, when, where and how you will spend your very limited free time as a parent.
Maybe you aspire to write a novel, start an online business, or get into peak physical shape. How can you accomplish this though with 30 minutes of free time a day?
I`ll tell you how — by being intentional and deliberate with how you spend your time.
An effective method for maximizing your free time is using a calendar as described in point #3.
Every Sunday evening I set aside 5–10 minutes to schedule the actionable items that I must complete during the week to progress toward any given goal I have at the time.
I set reminders in advance so I am prepared to maximize my allotted free time. These can also be tweaked throughout the week as plans often change and the unpredictability of parenthood throws curveballs at you.
I’ll give you my typical schedule as an example:
Wake up 4:30AM so I can complete my morning routine in peace before the kids wake up. This ensures my day is started off right. The routine consists of rehydration — drinking a minimum 12oz. glass of natural spring water with 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar and 3g of sea salt (2 minutes), movement — stretching, yoga, push-ups, air squats (7 minutes), and journaling (reflection) on the previous day and what I wish to accomplish in the day ahead of me (5 minutes).
This routine takes a maximum 15 minutes and increases my alertness far more than consuming caffeine.
I still have 30–45 minutes to accomplish something during a peak creative state before the kids wake up. This usually involves writing, meditation, or playing guitar.
It is also important to make your schedule flexible.
Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. In fact, they will not go as planned more often than will go as planned.
Truly appreciate the times when they do go as planned and remember how rarely they do.
Your goals don’t have to be overly ambitious. You can aspire to take a cooking class or simply spend more time relaxing and reading.
Whatever the goal, you must be intentional, deliberate and focused with your most precious resource — time.
This intentionality with time will greatly enhance your mood and provide a sense of accomplishment that will stay with you throughout the day.
The ability to consistently plan ahead will put you in a significantly better position to complete the demanding tasks that are placed on parents daily.
Here is a quick recap:
1. Eliminate thinking and decision-making.
2. Wake up early.
3. Use a calendar.
4. Embrace life’s unexpectedness.
5. Patience is key.
6. Effective communication = effective parenting.
7. Keep your home organized and clean.
8. Intentional time management.
The strategies listed above are common sense if you are dedicated to self-improvement and being the best, most effective parent possible.
They definitely aren’t rocket science.
All they require is some effort at the beginning to evaluate your current goals and living situation.
Are you where you want to be in life? Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Just because you’re a parent now doesn’t mean your dreams are dead or put on an indefinite hiatus.
If anything, our dreams mean more than ever now that we have a future generation to provide and set examples for.