The Ten-Minute Mother

* This post is a reprint of an article published by our Founder & President, Dia L. Michels



We live in a world dominated by time. We must wake up at a certain time, be at work at the correct time, get to bed at a specific time, pay our bills each month at a particular time. We spend hours playing obscure games of Beat the Clock, where we win only by accomplishing multiple tasks in record time. Admittedly, this is because there is so little time. Most of us feel that time is the scarcest commodity in the world. I know I feel victorious if I manage to read the newspaper and floss my teeth in the same day.


Before I was a mother, I always found myself muttering, “If only I had an extra 10 minutes a day…” I dreamed of all the additional things I could accomplish with just an extra few minutes each day. My grandma used to tell me the key to beautiful hair was to brush and brush, 10 full minutes each night. I used to send away for contraptions guaranteed to melt away fat in just 10 minutes a day. I purchased books and tapes that promised me a more powerful vocabulary in 10 minutes a day, and, desiring an international flair, I invested in programs that promised I would “speak in a foreign language like a diplomat” in just 10 minutes a day. I used to buy magazines with covers that shouted “Ten Tasty Meals You Can Make in Ten Minutes,” and I once bought one of those horrid lotions that guaranteed me a golden tan in 10 minutes.

To tell you the truth, I never found a contraption that actually shed fat, and I couldn’t wait until that ghastly orange glow faded from my legs. I never learned a foreign language, and the only meal that takes me 10 minutes to prepare involves both a freezer and a microwave. Yet, I still consider myself both efficient and organized, able to effectively manage my time—at least I felt that way before I had children.

Motherhood had changed the whole framework within which I view my time. For a mother, nothing takes 10 minutes. Changing a diaper should take 10 minutes—but when your other child slips and falls, the UPS man appears at the door with parcels for you and three of your closest neighbors, and the oven timer goes off in the singular moment between fastening Tab A and fastening Tab B, it’s easy to see how the time needed to accomplish the simplest of tasks gets extended.

In my early days as a mother, I chastised myself for being so inefficient. After all, I thought, it used to take 10 minutes to get through the locker room after swimming, so it should take no more than 10 minutes to run into the store for a few odds and ends. But reality is another matter. With children, you can’t get everyone’s shoes, sweaters, and library books together in 10 minutes; and it certainly never takes 10 minutes to walk to the corner store.


As I matured into motherhood, I learned to let go of my annoyance and frustration at getting so little done. I stopped measuring a good day by the number of tasks completed. I came to realize that the time-consciousness of the adult world is exactly the opposite of what makes life magical about a child’s world. Children don’t march to the beat of a different drum: they march to the tick of a different clock. Children are not task-oriented: they don’t become more effective individuals just because they have a deadline. Children couldn’t care less about how many items they cross off their “To Do” list before lunch.


Children care about enjoying the moment, about being able to play and explore until they are tired of playing and exploring. They learn and discover things by being able to do so when they are ready, not based on some external schedule. Children live in a world where they set the pace, a world that is timeless, a world that runs on Kid Standard Time.


Only adults live in a world where things are defined and controlled externally, a world that runs on Adult Standard Time. What I’ve come to understand is that a sane parent is someone who is able to go between a world defined by time and a world defined by timelessness, who can find periods when time simply doesn’t matter, who can let go of the need for external schedules.


Being able to shift regularly from the adult world to the child’s world is being able to let the magic of the child’s world surface. It means allowing an extra 45 minutes to run an errand so the kids can examine and explore the store. It means skipping the bath one night if a child’s activity is taking longer than expected. It means being willing to have your need for structure take a back seat to your child’s desire to pursue an activity.


I sometimes think longingly of all those things I could be doing if only I had an extra 10 minutes a day. But then I remember, I bought a fat-busting belt, and strapping it on for even a full hour a day still didn’t affect my figure. I listened to the foreign language tapes for well over 10 minutes a day, and I still can’t speak French. And even if I could get a rich, deep tan in only 10 minutes, it wouldn’t be good for me anyway. Undoubtedly, there are tremendous things I could accomplish if I had more time in my day, but the bottom line is that I already have tremendous things in my life: my children.


My new goal is not to have more 10-minute periods in my day, but to relish the timelessness of my kids’ world, knowing all the while that the clock on the wall is tick, tick, ticking away.

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