It started out funny. “One more minute,” our then-2-year son would say when he wanted to delay bath time, bed time, or whatever else. “I wish I could negotiate like he does!” I’d joke, genuinely admiring his confidence and unwavering commitment to get what he wanted. We were impressed that his young brain was putting together sentences, in awe of his ability to express his desires so clearly.
But soon it felt like everything became negotiable by one more minute and we were on the losing end of the deals. We tried to take ownership of the phrase as a way to set boundaries. Knowing that toddlers need routine and predictability to thrive, we would say things like, “One more minute of play here and then we have to put our shoes on.” Though the structure helped, I would still often feel frazzled and exhausted, thinking to myself: “We’re going to be late” or “Why can’t he just listen the first time I ask him to do something?!”
And then, our daughter started with the one more minutes. It was almost as if as soon as she turned 2, she learned about this phrase and how to use it. We laughed with our son, pointing out that she must have picked it up from him. She’d even hold up one of her little fingers, demanding “one more minute” in a silly voice. We’d record this to show extended family how cute, smart, and determined she was.
“One more minute,” she’d say, settling into my lap before getting dressed. “I want to hug you for one more minute,” she’d say, before walking into school. “I want to read the Ruth book for one more minute,” she’d say, before going to sleep. It was hard to say no to requests like these. I felt guilty, like I was pushing her to do something she didn’t want to do or like I was rushing through our time together. After all, she just wanted to snuggle with me!
But the “one more” minutes quickly turned into many, many more minutes. Once my daughter’s bedtime routine took more than an hour and my son was going to bed much later than even older kids should be, I knew I needed to make some changes. I practiced mindfulness and changed some of my habits. I learned to better enforce the parameters created by the agreed upon-more minutes and to feel in the moment during those minutes.
I’m still learning. The other day my now nearly-5-year-old son asked me to get him something from another room while I was working. “Give me one minute,” I said, barely looking up at him away from my computer. “Please!” he replied about a minute later, getting upset. “One more minute, buddy,” I said again. Then he burst into tears and exclaimed, “You’re not listening to me!” And I realized… How often am I the one saying one more minute? It’s natural for kids (or adults) to hear that and feel they are not being listened to, or to feel out of control because time and other boundaries are not being respected. And it’s natural for them to model this language and behavior.
Of course, no matter how present we try to be in the moment, there will be — and should be — times we have to delay doing something even when our kids ask with the best of intentions. I have to stick with my own one more minutes if I am working on something that needs my full attention and my kid is not actually in need, or if I am driving and need to safely come to a stop before passing back a snack, or if I am talking to someone and my child has to learn to patiently take a turn. But explaining what I’m doing while I take that minute has been one tool that helps me and my family tremendously. Actually following through on what is promised after that minute is another. We’re seeing how meaningful it is to actually do what we said we’d do after that one more minute.
There are times the minutes of the day can drag, particularly in quarantine or when we feel especially tired. But this stage of parenting young kids who want and need us at all times is fleeting. I’m working on doing what I can to respect and appreciate all of the very precious minutes.
Lauren A. Tetenbaum, LMSW, JD works with parents, aspiring parents, millennials, and teens. She has two children of her own: a daughter born in late 2018 and a son born in spring 2016.