SUMMERtime(r): 4 uses for a timer that are making our days more awesome

Sometimes I loath being subjected to Time. It can feel so stressful. Alarm clocks. Schedules. Deadlines. Limits. Running Late. Pressed for time.

Then tac on kids and, well, it can all feel like sinking. When are we eating? When will we be there? How long is that? When can I go outside? How much longer til I’m done with my chores? Five minutes before lunch? I can’t wait that long!! Only five hours at the pool? That’s too short!!

Kids’ concept of time is pretty subjective, isn’t it? Happy events fly by. Unhappy events drag by. Actually, adults face the same issue, don’t we?  Sometimes I’ll glance at the clock to discover it is only 10am. How has it only been 4 hours since I got out of bed??  But I have no problem spending  4 hours sans kids at the Korean spa on Mother’s Day (true story, and it was glorious!)

mothers day

Peace out, homies! For at least today, I’m resigning from being mom and working on just being. 

Recently, we were wrapping up a visit at a friend’s house. We gave the 10 minute warning to the kids, and then proceeded to chat standing by the door for another 25 minutes while mildly ignoring the kids.  And then when we finally left and the kids dragged their feet, I felt frustrated. Why can’t they do what I say when I say it….25 minutes ago. Oh the double standard.

So in an effort to reacquaint ourselves with the objectivity of time, we’ve enlisted the help of the timer. In particular, this one:

And it’s awesome.  It’s like a third parent. A  tour guide that keeps us moving throughout our day. Or a teacher telling us to sit still. It adds truth and trustworthiness to “only five more minutes”.  Can’t argue with a big square ticking down a red slice of pie. Totally objective. And, interestingly, really freeing.

So, here’s 4 ways we regularly use this timer.

1.Mornings: Our kids tend to wake up between 6:00-7:00am. And for most of my parenting career, I’ve welcomed them with open arms and a warm breakfast and a grumbling attitude. So early. So loud. So many demands. So little alone time. My coffee is cold. If you have kids (or dogs, I’m told), you know.  It’s like Groundhog Day. Except instead of Bill Murray waking to Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe”, you are awakened by dirty diapers and chubby grouchy toddlers who must eat immediately.  And be entertained.


circa 2012

Enter my husband, who harnessed his Marine Corps discipline and covered it in fraternal love to create a new and improved morning routine that looks as follows:

  • Children are reminded at bedtime what is expected in the morning
  • Parents wake between 5:00-6:00 and enjoy HOT coffee and a QUIET morning
  • Timer is set to ding at 8:00am and positioned where each child can view it from  their bedroom but aren’t able to tamper with it.
  • As they peep their cute little bed heads out their doors, we remind them to stay in their room until the ding.  If they don’t, we add an additional minute for each “appearance”.
  • Timer dings and they descend the stairs and are greeted by breakfast and awake, alert, and thankful parents who have already had hours to get dressed and complete tasks so they can be more present with their children. It’s all pretty awesome.
  • A few notes: the 10-month old is exempt from this routine. He usually wakes around 7:00 and sits with us as we go about our morning. Also, the bigger kids are very cooperative and have no problem staying in their rooms reading, drawing, building legos. The toddler, however. Oh boy, the toddler. That’s tricky. Sometimes we throw him up a banana or my iPhone with a movie. Still working on our strategy there!

2. Video Games: Our oldest LOVES playing mine craft and gets one glorious hour every day (sometimes more.) It would be tempting to let him fade into the background of our day, slinking on the couch donning headphones and his happy face. And he certainly wouldn’t object. So the timer sits facing him, and when it dings, he’s done.


3. Playing Outside: One of the reasons we moved South was so our children could explore the great outdoors. We had visions of them giggling and frolicking through the woods, building impressive forts and cataloging creatures caught in glass jars. Our visions did NOT include sulking, sweaty kids hovering by the back door looking  bored out of their minds. But alas, we highly value boredom and endurance and vitamin D, and so they are sent outside. And then I lock the doors, set the timer in the window, and remind them they are allowed in when it dings…or if there’s an injury. A serious injury. I do this for up to 60 minutes, keeping an eye on them from the window, and reminding myself that boredom might just foster creativity. I typically use this time to do things that involve uninterrupted thinking- like blogging or paying bills or making phone calls.

judah water

Pool opened yesterday, and the weather calls for rain all week! Next best thing is apparently drinking road water (photo captured by budding photographer and spy for Mom, Sam).

mia frog

Mia caught a tree frog, but then felt bad for him. So she landscaped his trap and gave him a brillo pad.

4. Bible Reading: Micah reads the Bible to the children most evenings.  And, truth be told, they don’t necessarily jump for joy.  So we began using the timer to help them endure sitting still and quiet. It also helps Micah stick to the allotted time.


There are many other ways we incorporate this timer into our family,  but these are the 4 consistent ones. What I’m noticing is that it helps me and my husband stick to what we say, and it helps the kids understand time. It’s also helping us become more realistic with how long a task actually takes (like the ‘quick’ shower that really takes 20 minutes, or the forever task of unloading the dishwasher that really only takes 4 minutes, or getting 7 humans out the door in less than 2 hours) which then helps us more accurately assess what is possible in any given day.

As always, I’d love to hear your time tricks. What’s working? What isn’t? What would you like to try differently?

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