Most people wake up to an alarm clock each morning. My alarm clock is my 4-year-old.
It’s 6 a.m. and mostly dark outside, with just enough daylight piercing through the bedroom curtains to alert him that it’s time to rock ’n’ roll.
In a zombie-like state, I “ninja” my way down the hall to his room, trying to avoid the creaky floorboards so my wife and 4-month-old daughter can keep sleeping. As soon as I peek in, my son is ready to bring all of his “friends” (something like 30 stuffed animals on his bed, no joke) downstairs to the den couch, along with a pair of kitchen tongs (he’s currently obsessed with “claw games” and likes to recreate them with his furry friends).
With one eye open, I dump what feels like a small zoo on the couch and B-line it up to the kitchen to prep breakfast. As the juice is poured, the banana is sliced and the oatmeal is microwaved, I hear on repeat, “Daddy downstairs?! Daddy downstairs?!” I bring breakfast down and pray it’ll keep him busy long enough for me to relieve my extremely full bladder in peace. “Daddy go pee?!” I hear from behind me. “Yes, buddy.” Back in the den, I see a few nibbles taken from his breakfast in one eye and him running to put on his shoes in the other eye. “Daddy outside?!” “Daddy play dirt?!” It’s 6:10 a.m. We’re both outside now — one of us playing gleefully with shovels and dirt and the other sitting like a sack of potatoes sipping on coffee and scrolling on social media.
Then I stumble upon a thought-provoking post from a beloved school superintendent in Wilson County who recently retired. Here’s what it said:
“There are 9 minutes during the day that have the greatest impact on a child:
- the first 3 minutes after they wake up
- the 3 minutes after they get home from school
- the last 3 minutes of the day before they go to bed
Make those minutes special and help your children feel loved and accepted.”
I read it once and then read it again, reflecting on how my own parenting measures up during those nine minutes. I wonder, “are these the nine minutes each day where my parenting is literally at its worst?” It’s not just mornings. There are plenty of afternoons when my son gets home from pre-school and I’m scurrying to meet a deadline instead of pausing to ask how school went. And there are plenty of evenings when — exhausted — I speed through the pages of Goodnight Moon instead of embracing the moment and giving our nighttime routine some extra love.
Parenting is hard — partly, I think, because it’s 24/7. And partly because it’s a lifetime thing, which can seem overwhelming at times. But when you break it down to putting some extra focus and effort on just nine minutes out of the day, it feels a bit more manageable — and sustainable. It also helps set the tone for the other 1,431 minutes in the day.
So, aim to make those nine minutes special. Don’t busy yourself with other things. Listen to them. Hug them. Brush your daughter’s hair. Pat your son on the back. Make meaningful eye contact. After all, it’s just nine minutes — and they very well could be the minutes that matter the most for you and your child.