The 80-20 rule for happy parents
Recently, I went back to school for a maths lesson. It was sold as an opportunity to understand the new methods on the curriculum – and wine was promised. But, really, it was detention for those of us guilty of confusing our kids with vertical algorithms.
If you still think the way to work out 81 x 26 is to stick one above the other, draw a line underneath, then multiply, well, sorry, it’s a big red cross for you. Because in this modern era of mental computation (fancy Gen Z term for guessing), it’s all “the jump method”, “the split method” and something called “counting on”.
Anyway, emboldened with my new maths and a couple of glasses of Shiraz (technically, three, if you’re applying the stumble, I mean, jump method), I came home and tried to solve my own equation.
It looked like this: If one parent has 24 hours in a day and eight of those are spent at work, two are spent getting ready and travelling to and from work, another two on shopping and cooking dinner, one on overseeing homework, one on laundry, one on emails and bills, one on watching MasterChef, one on making a chicken costume, half on a phone call to an ailing parent, half on the next day’s lunches, half on picking up Lego and half on either yoga or sex, how many does that leave for sleep?
If you guessed five, give yourself a tick.
Granted, going to extracurricular maths lessons is hardly compulsory, but it does illustrate how our generation wants to be fully across everything. Not for us a relaxing gin and tonic while watching the news. (In what quaint little world do people get home before six anyway?)
I thought about this when I saw the trailer for the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker; it’s based on a novel written nearly a decade ago by a former colleague, Allison Pearson, who ushered in a whole new genre of chick-lit.
I read it while feeding my newborn and silently declared I’d never be one of those neurotic mothers who bashes shop-bought cakes with a rolling pin to make them look homemade. I – not the nanny – would take my kids for haircuts and I’d certainly never indulge in flirty email banter with someone less careworn than my husband.
Fast-forward and I’m guilty of all that and more, the distressed lamingtons being slightly less lamentable than the babysitter calling during my interview with Anna Nicole Smith to report that my youngest had bronchitis.
Pearson’s book told us we couldn’t have it all (she’d later write that trying led her to depression). Yet here we are, still trying to be everything to everybody, still thinking we can keep all the balls in the air if we make the kids sleep in their school uniforms and feed them Tim Tams for breakfast.
Well, I have a solution – mathematical, of course. The Pareto principle states that 80 per cent of our success comes from 20 per cent of our effort, so if you focus on where you’re most effective, you can achieve maximum results from minimum effort. For example, your child, wearing unironed clothes, reads aloud while you reheat frozen fishcakes (and drink G&T). They won’t be reading War and Peace aged seven and you won’t be impressing Matt Moran, but it’s good enough.
And that should be what we’re aiming for. Because in those rare precious moments when we balance being a parent, partner, friend, worker, lover and carer, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
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