Time flies. It’s a refrain I often find myself saying multiple times a day.
So much has been written already about how precious time is and how quickly it seems to ebb away. But what makes that time feel like it’s slipping through your fingers faster is seeing your kids grow up.
It’s almost cliché to talk about, but the fear of how quickly your kids are growing up is never far from any parent’s mind. There are seasons where the time seems to simply disappear entirely. Our littlest was born just a few weeks before we started GRASP, so her little life in particular feels like it has coincided with a rapid acceleration in time.
Of course, we all know that’s not true. Time doesn’t change speed (okay, well it does technically, but we won’t go there), it’s just that our perception of it changes. Haven’t seen your niece or nephew in a little while? – BAM! – suddenly you’re left wondering how many months have really passed since you saw them because they’re now a walking, talking human in their own right.
Tied to that is the underlying feeling of guilt at how quickly time is passing and whether we’re making the most of it. In the granular details of each day - daily routines such as bathing, doing dinner, reading bedtime stories, dropping them off to nursery or some sports club – the grind feels tedious and exhausting. But in the quiet moments when you catch your breath, you’re left feeling heart achingly sad that maybe you didn’t really appreciate your kids. It’s another day gone and you swear to yourself that tomorrow you’re really going to take it all in and enjoy it, no matter how poorly behaved your kids are that day. Tomorrow rolls around… and repeat!
It doesn’t have to be that way though. There’s a popular Jordan Peterson speech going around that reminds you how precious those early years of your kids’ lives are. It’s become a very popular TikTok soundtrack. But while it might sound a little corny, or dramatic, it’s largely true. Your kids are young and yours once, and it really is a very short amount of time.
There’s also the very inspiration Daily Dad newsletter that never fails to jolt me into the reality of how precious time is. They’ve even got a coin you can buy as a constant reminder in your pocket to appreciate the moment.
I think these are enormously valuable tools, but my own particular remedy to stopping and appreciating time, fixing my priorities and making sure I’m putting my head where my heart wants to be, is to be thoroughly rational and analytical about where I spend my time. It looks a little more like this famous breakdown by Tim Urban that is a reminder that by the time your kids reach 18, you’ve likely spent 90% of the time you will have with them already! It’s staggering and it certainly focuses the mind on what matters.
That can be a great perspective as an adult child thinking about how little time you might have left with your parents. But as a parent, looking at my young children, it can be hard to flip that on its head to face the reality of how precious time is today, or this week, or even this year.
So here’s the more brutal analysis of my life right now.
How much time do I get to spend with my eldest son?
I currently work 5 days a week. I leave home at 8.30am and I get home by 5.45pm.
Let’s take my eldest son as the example. He wakes up at 6.30am and we say goodnight at 7.30pm.
That means on a weekday I get 3 hours 45 minutes with him each day.
At the weekend, we get up and go to bed at the same time, but I’m there and have the opportunity to spend all day with him.
There’s 22 hours at the weekend we have to spend together.
So in total each week we have the potential for 40 hours and 45 minutes together. Not bad! A pretty good week. But let’s remove some time when I know I’m doing other things.
Without getting too granular, let’s say I spend an hour each day getting up and ready.
That leaves us 33hr 45mins of actual time together.
Then there’s time I’ll spend just doing jobs around the house that help us function and live as a family – cleaning, tidying up, fixing things, shopping. Let’s put that at another hour each day, plus a little more at the weekend.
Now we have 25hr 45mins each day of ‘real’ time left together.
I’ll also work out for a few hours spread out across the week, and see friends occasionally in those morning or late afternoon slots I would otherwise assume are with the kids, so let’s deduct another 2 hours each week for that. I spend time when I get in from work just catching up with my wife as well so let’s drop another 2.5 hours across the week as well.
That leaves 20 hours and 15 minutes. But what does that 20 hours 15 minutes consist of?
Breakfast 30 minutes each day, dinner 45 minutes each day and on weekends, lunch together for say 30 minutes = 9hr 45 minutes a week total. We’ve got 11 hours 30 minutes left.
Then there’s the getting dressed and getting ready for bed each day – including things like brushing teeth etc = 2 hours across the week. We’ve got 9 hours 30 minutes left.
We spend one Sunday morning at Church each week as well, which means with travel to and from the place we meet, that’s another 4 hours gone = 5 hours 30 minutes left.
Each evening before bed I’ll spend 30 minutes reading or telling stories, and singing some songs to our 3 kids before they sleep – that’s another 3 hours 30 minutes each week.
Then there’s bath time a couple of times a week, so let’s deduct another hour off each week for that.
What are we left with? 1 hour. We started with 40 hours and 45 minutes and we’ve got 1 hour of ‘quality’ time. And that ignores all the time I might spend doing absolutely anything else. 1 measly hour to do something ‘quality’ together to build our relationship. You can’t. go anywhere or do anything with an hour!
You can't be a good Dad with just 1 hour a week Dadding
At this point you’ve probably clocked it. You can’t build a relationship with your son in 1 hour each week. But what’s the answer? Which of those things is going to change? Less sleep for him this year? No. A part time job for me? No, but maybe an option. Fewer baths or brushing his teeth a bit less? Yes, but probably should be no at times.
The secret is that it’s not 1 hour at all. It’s the original 40 hours and 45 minutes (minus a bit for when I’m seeing other people). But it’s only 40 hours and 45 minutes if you allow it to be that.
It’s the conversations while I’m washing up. It’s getting him joining in with a workout. It’s chatting about life during bath time. It’s going to church as a family and being together, it’s kicking a ball around the hallway while I search for some socks, or wipe the table after breakfast. It’s making those bedtime stories really last that long without an eye on my phone the whole time.
If you’re looking for that bit of quality time, that precious time, those undistracted moments, you won’t be left with much. If you looking to that 1 hour to shape and instruct, have fun and show affection then there won’t be much of any of that at all. If you're waiting for that right time to have a conversation or set them straight on something that will prepare them for the future, you just wont get there.
All time is precious, putting it to good use means seeing it all as valuable and making the most of it. Start now.