Autopilot Parenting

Autopilot Parenting


by Gregory L. Jantz

Solo parenting is a full-time job that realistically requires 16 hours per day. You’ve got to make sure the kids are well fed, emotionally adjusted, academically achieving, physically active, spiritually challenged and socially integrated. If you throw in your other job — the one that brings in a paycheck — there really ought to be at least 30 more hours in a day to accomplish both!

Unless the Lord decides to stop the sun as He did for Joshua in the battle of Gibeon, you’re not going to have that much time. Is it any wonder that single parents today look for ways to get things done as easily and effortlessly as possible? There’s no getting around being busy, but you can easily slip into autopilot and lose sight of your children’s needs.

Have you ever found yourself at your destination, with no real recollection of how you got there? It’s as if you drove your car the whole way on autopilot. Your eyes were watching the road, changing lanes and making the turns, but your mind was elsewhere. Autopilot isn’t good for driving; it’s not good for parenting either.

A single mom with three kids, Janet realized she’d been operating on autopilot for quite some time. When she took the kids to school, she thought about work. At home in the evening, she vanished to do household chores. While the girls were at soccer practice, she checked voice mail and ran errands. There was always too much to do in too little time.

Janet discovered when her oldest son was entering high school that she had no clear recollection of how he’d arrived there. She couldn’t remember the last time she and her son had spent time just talking together. They’d had plenty of conversations about what he was doing and where he was going, but she’d spent very little time really getting to know the young man who had emerged from her little boy. She’d been on autopilot and preoccupied with so many other things. Meanwhile, her family was growing up, and she was missing out on what was really important — quality relationships with the most important people in her life. So that you don’t find yourself in a similar situation, here are ways to be intentional about solo parenting:

Manage your time

Keep your mind on the journey by managing your time as well as your family’s needs. It’s not healthy, or fair, to shortchange the relationships with your children or their needs for less important demands on your time. Revisit your priorities and parental responsibilities.

Impart spiritual health

Your children need to be part of a spiritual community. This is God’s will for your kids — and for you. If you’re not attending a church regularly, find one and start. Make God and faith a natural part of your family discussions and decisions. Live your faith daily and teach your children to do the same. Involve them in church activities and service. Draw strength from the family of God. Connect your children with good role models and mentors.

Embrace emotional health

Talk to your children every day and, more important, listen to them. Intentionally put the busyness of your day on hold for a while and delve into their world. Find out what’s happening at school, with friends and with other family members. Be attentive to facial expressions, mood and word choices. Be aware of where your children are emotionally, and be ready to lend a helping hand or a listening ear.

Encourage potential

Every child has great academic potential. No matter what subject or interest, encourage and support your children in doing better and stretching their expectations. Know your kids’ teachers and what’s happening at school. Remember, where you spend your time communicates to your children what you value.

Promote physical health

Many of America’s children and teens are inactive and overweight as a result. A child left cooped up in the house day after day is not really a healthy child. Provide ample opportunities for your children to get out and get moving every day, even if you have to partner with them to do it.

Choose nutrition

Keep a good supply of nutritious foods at home. Establish a routine of sitting down to eat breakfast and/or dinner together. For lunch, use plastic bags to prepackage your own fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grain breads and lean meats for sandwiches. For something sweet, choose seedless red grapes or a banana.

Dinner can be a bit more of a challenge in a busy household where kids are going in multiple directions. If you’ve got a night when dinner is on the run, due to school or sport events, pick up a hot, nutritious dinner at the local grocery store, and avoid the panic-induced run to the local fast-food restaurant. Most markets today cater to busy families by providing a variety of quick, convenient and nutritious meals.

Before you go shopping, take the extra time to plan your meals for the week. By thinking ahead and planning your meals around your activities, you can maximize time with your family and still eat healthily.

Provide social integration

Encourage your children to join teams and youth groups, and be available to help and participate yourself when possible. After you’ve checked out their friends’ parents for that occasional sleepover, make sure to reciprocate and provide fun evenings at your own home. Allow your children to act as host and train them in the biblical art of hospitality.

The autopilot mode of parenting can be timesaving in the short-term, but it is a long-term expense for your family. Instead, stay focused and engaged in your children’s lives.

Keep your hands firmly on the wheel during these parenting years. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This is your season to build a healthy family.