4 Types of Parent Time
The first step to organizing the job of parenting is separating the different types of parent time necessary to raise little humans. These are the four core responsibilities you need to allocate your time across to be an effective parent.
Together, they spell out the acronym PART — as in doing your part:
• Provide (basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, safety, education, money)
• Arrange (schedules, transportation, paperwork, activities, social life)
• Relate (listening, soothing, reflecting, talking, enjoying, playing)
• Teach (values, life skills, self-control, social skills)
Take a minute to digest this breakdown. The PART model takes some effort to absorb because we’re not used to itemizing parenthood in this way. But consider this: Everything you do as a parent—paying for food (Providing), filling out school forms (Arranging), playing a board game (Relating), showing your kids how to make a sandwich (Teaching)—falls into one of these buckets of responsibility, each of which is vitally important. And while they sometimes overlap, each type of parent time requires a very different set of skills, energy, and brainpower.
Here’s where it gets especially interesting. While parents are well aware of the long hours we’re putting in, each type of parenting time creates a dramatically different experience for our children. In other words, although you may feel that the total hours you put into parenting count together as “time in,” your child sees and perceives the various activities you spend time on differently than you do.
Why is that? Well, some of the activities you do for your children are visible to them and others are invisible. Some of the activities you do as a parent occur in the adult world and some take place in your child’s world. Provide, which is time spent working and managing money, takes place in the adult world and takes a huge amount of time, yet the hours we spend providing are largely invisible to our children. In other words, we can break our backs providing — sacrificing our lives for our kids, working long hours — yet children don’t register the hours of toil it takes to provide them with the resources they need.
The same can be said of Arrange — time spent organizing schedules, carpools, and appointments; filling out paperwork; and registering for school programs. These activities take place in the child’s world — and so your children will certainly notice if you drop the ball — but the amount of heavy lifting it takes to make their lives run smoothly is largely invisible to them. In fact, you are often doing this arranging at night after they go to sleep, or you’re squeezing it into small breaks during your workday or while they are at school, specifically to keep it from interfering with your face time with them.
Relate and Teach are each highly visible to your children, as they represent time spent directly interacting with them. But they differ in a subtle and powerful way. When you Relate, you are in the child’s world, talking about and doing activities that are of interest to them. This is the crux of the quality time parents and children crave and that scientists are discovering the value of — time spent talking, listening, soothing, reading, playing, sharing interests. When you Teach, you are also spending time directly engaged with your child — which is therefore visible to them — but when you Teach, you are bringing kids into the adult world, imparting values, life skills, and discipline that will help them succeed as adults.
An example of how this can help: Clara and her husband, Sean, came to me because of a huge time shift that took place when their daughter entered adolescence. When their kids were younger, the family had developed a great rhythm with plenty of quality time. Both parents always got home in time for dinner, cooking time doubled up as being nearby for homework help, and weekends were spent doing fun activities as a family.
Although you may feel that the total hours you put into parenting all count as “time in,” your child sees the various activities you spend time on differently.
Time spent together as a family now wasn’t quite so enjoyable, especially when it came to their teenage daughter, Nina, who always seemed to be grumpy and intent on rejecting offers for help or guidance. Clara thought she needed to cut her work hours so she could be more available for her daughter, who was struggling with many of the issues that often befall adolescent girls. Competitiveness about where she fit in with her friends, who had better grades, boyfriends, and so on, were wreaking havoc on her daughter’s moods. To begin the process of exploring where we might be able to trim and adjust things to make space, I drew the four-quadrant parenting matrix for Clara. Clara’s eyes went wide with a huge realization that solved the problem in an instant.
By simply looking at the matrix, Clara realized that she and her husband were unconsciously spending all their time with Nina in “teaching” mode. They could see her day-to-day life becoming more fraught with teenage angst, and as her parents, they instinctively wanted to protect and support her. Out of love, they always assumed the role of mentor and guide. But Nina didn’t always want to be in learning mode. It was too hard, too stressful. Nina never felt like she was able to relax or just be.
Clara didn’t need to cut back on her Provide time. She and Sean needed to devote more of the time they were already devoting to Nina to just relaxing, connecting, and having fun without an agenda or pressure to learn. What Nina needed from her parents in order to fortify herself was less Teach and more Relate.
Clara and Sean immediately made the shift, and everyone in the family felt the tension drain and the connections during family time become stronger.
Understanding the distinctions among the four types of parent time gave Clara and Sean a different and useful perspective. It also helped them see that although the types of parent time can seem similar, and even overlap (as in the case of Teach and Relate), each has its own unique and distinct purpose and value, and understanding and applying that knowledge can help you stay balanced and fueled.