A clever trick to get me some me-time

When my kids become unruly, I use a nice safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out – Erma Bombeck


This is a four-part series on how I used my smart devices to change or start certain behaviors in my two year old son. You will find the links to each of the other articles at the end of this post.

In this part, I will share how I used my phone to get me some me-time and, to strengthen his intuition or sense of time. I was impressed with what a good sense he had, and I am convinced all children have this gift.

I used my phone for this hack, but you can use your timer or clock or anything with a timer to achieve the same effect.So here, goes!

Every mom or dad likes to have me-time especially after a child comes into the picture. I used my smartphone for this hack. Read how I did it.
Every mom or dad likes to have me-time especially after a child comes into the picture. I used my smartphone for this hack.

Being a mom means operating on a totally different dimension to people with no kids. Everything that we do, is determined by how much time we have left to put the kids to sleep before they get cranky. How well we do is a direct consequence of how much sleep they get and how and if you ever crumble to the floor in a tired heap, you will get to rest for what, 5 seconds.

My son is very clingy. He was breastfed until he was two years old, he co-sleeps with us till today and from the time he was born I would spend nearly every minute that I was not at work, interacting with him, talking, singing, playing, discovering and developing thought processes. So in other words, my son is very typical case of a modern day toddler.

My husband and I spend about 10 hours a day each weekday, away from home. This meant that we only get to have about 4 hours of quality time together each evening, less than 2 hours on evenings that I have conference calls. Little wonder that he is very clingy to the point of being unreasonable. I’m not allowed to talk to other people (my fault as he is used to me giving him 100% of my attention each time when I’m with him) unless the context of our conversation is centered on him. I can’t take a shower unless my husband steps in to interact with him (to him, my husband is a poor replacement but preferred over his caretaker). No one else can feed him, bathe him, clothe him, change his diapers, brush his teeth etc but me when I’m at home.

It’s tough and tires me out. And I’m certain that I speak for many working mothers with young children when I say that sometimes we really wish that we could just leave our kids with a reliable caretaker and escape on a holiday, but we end up not doing that anyway because we can’t bear to leave our kids.

I believe changing our routine will help. He’s going to full day childcare soon and as he learns to allow other people in his line of sight he will learn to trust another person. As he picks up certain skills he will feel more independent and with that he should be able to peel away from my shadow and play independently or with other children or grown-ups.

That is a slow, developmental process. In the meantime, I turn to my timer again, to help myself do the things I need to do.

Bonus benefit

This method has a side benefit in that my son has learnt to grasp the concept of time and duration of time. His little body clock is somehow able to tell how long five or ten minutes feels like. It is pretty remarkable.

The other great thing is that this method is scalable. Once he is used to me sticking to my word – when I say ten minutes for a shower and I adhere to it, he will trust me to take leave for half an hour, followed by two hours, half a day and gradually, as I’m sure when he’s older, I will be able to go away for short trips with my husband or friends.

My logic

One skill I find really important in modern day work culture is to be able to plan your day and not get overwhelmed with work. Work is an important part of who we are, but it’s not more important than family or our health or our leisure.

Successful people often speak of hacks that they do with their emails.

The CEO of AirBnB, Brian Chesky said in an interview with angel investor Reid Hoffman for Reid’s podcast series, Masters of Scale (which I highly, highly recommend), that he groups his tasks for the day into ten-twenty categories by asking himself the one question, “Can I complete Task A by completing Task B?”. He then regroups those categories into fewer and fewer categories until he is down to only three broad categories. So he simply needs to prioritize those three broad tasks and he is set for the rest of the day.

Ashton Kutcher told Thrive Global’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington that “Email is everyone else’s to-do list for you”. His method of keeping an exploding email inbox under tabs while preserving his sanity is to check his emails only after writing down the tasks he had set for himself to achieve that day in his journal and completing them so that he has sent out what he needs everyone else to do for him. Even when he checks his emails, he doesn’t respond to all of them. In fact he has made it clear to people that if they emailed him, they may not get a response.

I do not imagine an easier world for my son when he grows into a working adult. So I would like time management to be a inbuilt part of his nature, something he perfects over all these years of growing up and applies almost instinctively.

Social proof

One dear colleague has a 20-month old nephew who is a social wonder. His mom does not work in the corporate world and brings him out often in social activities with her friends. Ever since he could sit up steadily by himself she would let him play independently with toys. He observes how his mom interacts with her friends and he in turns interacts with their children of similar age.

Building up independence like cultivating any new skill, mental or character development, takes place over time. It just doesn’t occur naturally. The parent has to make a conscious effort to encourage the development of independence in his or her child, and if you’re successful your life will be much easier. It’s a long way from where I am right now, but I will get there eventually.

How I do it

  1. I am making baby steps with this building up of independence.
  2. I would tell my son (though sometimes it feels more like requesting for permission) to give me ten minutes to take a shower or to for me to take my dinner, if we happen to have separate meal times on any given day.
  3. He would instantly drop whatever drama he had put up, and let me go do it for ten minutes.
  4. But like I mentioned earlier in this article, I must live up to my promise of keeping my activity within ten minutes or he will kick up a fuss.
  5. Now that I am successful with ten minutes, I will experiment with twenty minutes, slowly increasing it while his threshold increases on par.

Reality in practice

I am pretty happy with my rate of success so far. I don’t get any dramas, I don’t feel drained from fighting the drama, and I don’t need to feel discouraged that I’m fighting an impossible battle. No child listens to logic when he or she has escalated to bawling till he or she is red in the face. And every single time that you give in, you’re only being expedient at dimming the ruckus but you’re layering on the damage because the child is only going to believe that screaming will get them what they want, and that’s bad news for you.

Other child-friendly hacks that I have successfully used the timer for are:

  1. Building up time management skills in my son (I was surprised how quickly his body clock adapted and what a sense of time he had)
  2. Getting him to fall asleep (it’s a creative game and it only works for day naps for us)
  3. Delaying gratification (this corrects a really bad behavior that he developed from swiping through photographs of himself on my iPhone)

If you want to find out my methods, read on! Please try them out and let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. I love tweaking processes and making them work better.

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