Joey hasn’t practiced his piano yet this week. Suzy has to finish her homework. Have to change the baby’s diaper and Carlos better take his bath before bed. Better find that library book that’s due. Need to send that work email too. And load the dishwasher and fold the laundry, of course.
If they’re not careful, parents can start to feel pushed around by an endless barrage of responsibilities—stressors that gobble up all the time they wanted to devote to the special stuff.
What’s the antidote that helps parents see beyond the endless completion of tasks, chores, and to-dos?
One remedy is spending focused bursts of time on your highest priorities—15 minute blocks that help you cultivate warm relationships, stay grounded and centered, and feel more mindful and peaceful. While you may continue to reside in the pressure cooker of modern existence, at least you will know that you’ve squeezed in the activities that are most meaningful to you as well.
Here are some research-based examples of how 15-minute bursts of focused time can help you build more joy in your life and that of your family:
15 minutes to listen at bedtime
The most powerful part of child’s bedtime routine is when parents listen to them. Kids spend much of their days being talked to, talked at, or ordered around, but bedtime creates a space for them to lead the conversations. Research suggests that one-on-one conversations at bedtime not only give kids space to process their emotions and the day’s events, they also deepen your relationship and help children grow in their capacity for communion with others.
While some children will chatter away, others may not spontaneously open up. Help them review the day’s details to assist them in remembering what they want to tell you. Details might include:
- Sensory details (“Weren’t those muffins we made delicious?”);
- Logistical details (“Did you have indoor recess today?);
- Social details (“What do you think we should get Nick for this birthday?) or
- Emotional details (“I was disappointed that I couldn’t take you to gymnastics today”)
Leave giant pauses for your child to tell you about their thoughts or feelings about the day’s activities.
15 minutes to play outside before dinner
When kids get home from school or child care, it’s easy to barrel into a rushed efficiency mode. However, playing outside for 15 minutes before you start doing homework or making dinner can help with bonding, boosting or settling moods, relieving stress, and easing the transition back home. Ride bikes around the block, kick a ball around, play catch, blow bubbles, or play in the sandbox. Research also suggests that exposure to green space reduces depression, anxiety, and stress (Beyer et al., 2014) and makes people more caring, generous, and nice (Weinstein, 2009; Guegen and Stefan, 2016). Exposure to “green exercise” has also been found to result in improvements to self-esteem and mood (Barton and Pretty, 2010).
15 minutes of complete presence with a partner
Giving your partner 15 minutes of complete presence — where you’re looking at them, talking and listening, snuggling, and being truly engaged — can work wonders for your relationship. Giving your partner your attention is one way to, as John Gottman describes, “turn toward” (instead of away from) your relationship. It helps build up your Emotional Bank Account, which is the collection of positives exchanged between you and your partner that helps you build resiliency to cope more effectively with stress.
15 minutes toward friendships
Satisfaction with one’s friendships (not just one’s number of friends) has been identified as one of the two strongest predictors of life satisfaction (Gillespie et al., 2015). Research has shown that while reciprocity —say, returning a friend’s phone call — is a top predictor of the longevity of friendships, many people do not make this effort (Zyga, 2008). Sadly, friendship researcher William Rawlins found that many middle-aged people report that “they rarely had time to spend with their most valued friends” (Beck, 2015). Spending 15 minutes texting, making phone calls, commenting on friends’ Facebook posts, sending birthday cards or get well cards, or engaging in a kind gesture for friends (like making them soup when they’re sick) builds joy and improves your quality of life.
15 minutes of snuggling
The benefits of touch for young children— such as lap-sitting, snuggling, baby wearing, kangaroo care (skin on skin with premature or other newborns), scooching close while reading books, holding a child who is hurt, and hugging goodnight — are clear. Touch releases the neurochemical oxytocin, making both parents and children feel good. Early touch can also help regulate hormones, decrease parental stress, and improve children’s cognitive and emotional development (Harmon, 2010).
15 minutes of interactive play