Pareto Principal for parents

Pareto Principal: You may or may not have heard it called that before, but it’s the 80/20 rule, which seems to pop up in every area of life: 20% of your clients give you 80% of your business, you wear 20% of your shoes 80% of the time, etc.

It’s a useful tool for prioritizing, because if you can figure out what the most important 20% of whatever is, then you can get 80% of whatever you need to get done done.

I’ve started using it to think about how to streamline my parenting life. I figured out that 20% of the stuff I was doing in parenting was causing me 80% of the stress I was feeling parenting. Once I was able to identify that 20%, I could decide what to do about it: stop doing it, outsource it, suck it up and keep going while allowing myself to dislike it, or wait it out.

Let me show you how it worked in my life. I identified that my 20% consisted of two things: 1) keeping track of all the stuff (baby wipes, Legos, socks, underpants, socks, sippy cups, socks, mittens, socks, and socks), and 2) having to pay attention all the time and not having enough solitary thinking time to myself.

Right around the time I realized this, #2 started to resolve itself because my kids were old enough to be in school and I had a long enough subway commute that I got enough solitary thinking time in to keep myself on an even keel. (Weekends, though, could be tough, but I realized that so I could deal with it.) So I unwittingly waited it out.

#1 I did a combo of outsourcing and waiting it out and sucking it up. As my kids have gotten older there’s less stuff to manage (no wipes, and they’re moving to electronic toys and Legos only so there are fewer parts of things around my house in general), and I’m shifting some of the management to them (socks, although not along the whole value chain, which may be a project for this summer). And then I just realized that I am not good at managing stuff and that doesn’t make me inadequate, it just means managing stuff isn’t my thing. So if I can keep a decent handle on it I can cut myself some slack.

Figuring this out and mentally processing my 20% took a lot of the stress off me. It may be time for another round, in which I look at what the new 20% of stuff causing 80% of parenting stress is, in fact.

Think about it. What’s your 20% that causes you 80% of your parenting stress? Can you process that 20% into either stop doing it, outsource it, suck it up while hating it, or wait it out?

24 thoughts on “Pareto Principal for parents”

  1. Somebody, somewhere (and that is the best I can do with that) talked about socks etc by saying that they did one child’s laundry at a time so all the Wednesday socks belong to child X. I thought it was amazing. 🙂

  2. Dinner and laundry.It helps to do my child’s laundry in her own load as much as possible, so hers is segregated for her to put away (or not, as she sees fit) without the sorting and segregating as I fold.
    It helps to serve meals that are deconstructable since neither of them will eat commingled foods and a nice easy casserole or soup is out. Liberal takeout also helps. What I have to do there is give myself permission not to feel like it’s a failure when it’s just hard to sync our schedules and preferences enough for a classic meal. Right now it’s enough to eat together, whatever that may look like.

  3. undesirable behavior. as in, 80% of the time my kid is amazing: kind, helpful, loving, funny, etc. 20% of the time he’s being a turd: acting out, being aggressive, throwing tantrums. (OK, so to be fair he’s probably amazing more than 80% of the time, but that’s my estimation at this point.) That 20% turd-time is what causes 80% of my stress, and what i spend the majority of my energy addressing. specifically the aggression part (curbing the hitting, tackling, pushing, etc.). sure, it’s probably all age-appropriate for a nearly-3-year-old, but that doesn’t mean that i like hearing negative reports from school (which, again, only come home 20% of less of the time–i suppose i should remember that to put things in perspective and reduce that aforementioned stress, right?)

  4. I like the application of work thinking to life, something I do very naturally. Sort of relevant, then, is that strict prioritization is the key to not feeling bad or guilty. If you know what your first, second, third and fourth priorities are, you also know what they aren’t, which means you actively choose what won’t get done so that you can make sure you do what matters. (I’d argue this is another way to implement the Pareto principle.)Here’s how it works, most generally:
    My priorities are my kid’s well being (first because he can’t look out for himself) > my family’s health (includes the dogs and cats) > my job security (I’m a sole provider) > my sanity > my relationship with my husband
    So if my kid is sick or school is cancelled, my actions are clear. I’m on the hook unless my husband can be, but no matter what, I make that work first. On those days, I am unlikely to find time to pay attention to my relationship with my husband since I’m lucky if I get to unwind at all, but that’s okay. I know (and he knows) those days will end with alone time for each of us.
    If my own needs aren’t being met, that directly affects my kid’s well being so I deal with that way up there at the top. If that’s not affecting him but it something I need, then as long as he’s fine, we’re healthy, and my job is under control, I’m next. Until my needs are met, I find it very difficult to support my husband well, so that gets done first, then I find something to do for both of us.
    If I’m about to lose my damn mind because I need time to not have anyone need anything from me, first I have to make sure my kid is in good hands, everyone’s healthy, and my job is mostly taken care of, then I get to be next.
    Lucky for me, my real job entails teaching people how to make decisions through prioritization, so this is a natural extension of what I do, but I suggest it to people who feel overwhelmed. Decide on your priorities, use those to figure out what won’t get done, and then do the things that matter.

  5. Love this post!At the moment my 20% is apparently typical 3.5-year-old behaviour. We’re in disequilibrium here with boy/ girl twins and I have lots of screaming, shouting, tantruming and whining (oh, the whining about does me in)

  6. I’m coming to an epiphany about socks. I have about 15 different types of black socks, maybe two pairs of each. I never throw anything out until they are unwearable. And so I waste minutes every morning trying to match nearly identical socks, or being annoyed all day because I didn’t match them correctly, so one droops and one stays up or whatever.I think I’m just going to throw out (or donate? who wants old socks?) those old socks and start from scratch and buy only one brand, one style, one color. Yes, it will be an expense, but I think the time and annoyance I recoup may be worth it.
    Similarly, is it unrealistic to think that I could just buy one type of white cotton sock for my baby due in June and never have another pair of socks to match up?

  7. @Maura, I would not only buy the baby socks all in one type and color, I would get some laundry mesh bags too. Fill one with dirty socks, launder, and put it back in the drawer clean, without matching them up. Take out two as needed. Put the dirty socks into the second bag and launder when you are out of socks. Besides not having to match those teeny socks, you never have to fish them out of sleeves, either. Food for thought. I didn’t stick to one color of socks, but I did use the bag just to make retrieval easier.

  8. Another sock suggestion! We had a sock basket, all the socks went directly into it from the dry washing basket, paired if the person dealing with the clean washing had time, and if there were pairs. The socks were communal – anyone in the family could wear them. If any of us had ‘special socks’ we had to find them and put them in our own drawers ourselves.

  9. Celeste’s sock trick with the mesh bag is brilliant; we used the mesh bag, but I wasn’t coordinated enough to buy all-one-kind of sock.It has taken me 5 years of parenting to realize that sometimes it is worth the extra $10 to have many, many more pairs of [whatever] than you think you will ever need, so that you never need to do an emergency last-minute load of laundry.
    My 20% in the last two years has been poop: namely, the very very lengthy challenge of helping our now-5yo manage it. I don’t want to jinx it, but we may possibly be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on this one. It wasn’t something we could outsource or, realistically stop doing, so we just kind of waited it out. And enlisted our pediatrician. And a lot (a LOT) of M&Ms.

  10. My 20% is sleep. My 21 month old is and always had been a terrible sleeper. She slept through the night in her own crib for about two weeks at 17 months. Then the 18 month sleep regression hit at 17.5 months and it has been hell ever since. She does not respond well to major changes and quite frankly I don’t have the energy to fight her at the end of a long day or in the middle of the night, So I’m implementing a few small tweaks at a time (right now we’re working on consistent bedtimes and naptimes). I’m trying each change for two weeks. After two weeks I either decide that what I’m doing is working and we stick with it, or I decide it is not working and abandon it. Either way the plan is to implement another small tweak after two weeks. It’s not much, but it makes me feel like I have a little power. At some point I may need to do something more drastic, but this is keeping me somewhat sane for now.

  11. My 20% is/are mornings and to a lesser degree bedtime. My 5 year-old is in day care and they have a mandatory two-hour nap every day. On weekends there is no napping. But on weekdays, given the opportunity, my boy naps. Therefore he doesn’t get to sleep until 9:30 or 10 PM (he’s in his bedroom around 8 PM though). So when 6:30ish AM comes along and I need him to get up, attempt to dress himself and eat breakfast he’s like a teenager. “But Mama, my bed is so comfortable..” Tell me about it.Added to that is my husband’s upcoming three-week, around the world business trip leaving me to be a single parent for that time. I know I have no right to complain since plenty of people do that full time with more kids than me but the stress is starting to get to me.

  12. She is awesome!I was just reindag up on your previous posts and I am sorry to hear of her light sensitivity issues, but I see that she got out yesterday and had some fun. I hope things are getting better.

  13. Getting kids to brush teeth, wash hands and get ready for school.Getting kids to brush teeth, wash hands and get into PJs.
    What is it about these activities that causes foot dragging and merrimient to the point of distress( mine)?
    I have started handing out conseguences if it takes more than 10 minutes to do the above ( it shouldn’t for 6 and 8 yos)). But seeing this has been going on for years now, I wonder if I am being unreasonable and expecting too much. It might even be a natural reaction to a glucose hit seeing it is always after a meal.

  14. Does Cindy feed you realy good so you can be a happy little Siamise cat? I have a ginea pig andum I feed him a coarrt every morning before I go to school and he the fattes thing! LOL (Laughing Out Loud) His name is Twister because he a big mohock and he has a twist of brown,black,white,ect. Not purpe or any of thoes ordonary colors. Put on that cap that makes you able to talk to peaple and tell Cindy that I sure hope that she can find a publisher for her book.

  15. Wow, thanks — this is really helpful! My 80% stressors are feeding the kids and having both kids want me at the same time. The food thing I’m getting better at — accepting that on days when we are all busy, I will have to lower my standards for variety/nutrition, and hope that we’ll make it up some other time. And recognizing that my kids are naturally picky eaters, which means that I have to scrap my mental ideal and recognize that we are working from a lower baseline than some other folks. For all sorts of reasons, this just isn’t going to be my parental/familial area of excellence, so I should probably stop giving it (so) much weight.The both kids wanting me at once thing is tough, since it produces such overwhelming spikes in adrenaline for me, but it will help, I think, if I try to recognize it as an inevitability and coach myself into not dreading it and not treating it as a disaster when it happens.

  16. We’re moving soon. I think we only use 20% of our stuff 80% of the time. How can I convince my husband that we don’t need to bring EVERYTHING with us in a x-country move??? I want to shed and he wants to hoard. I think we’re at a point of agreeing to move 75% of the stuff. Ugh. Guess who gets to unpack most of it?

  17. I think my 20% is literally 20% of the (school day) – 4-8. I run out of steam trying to get kids settled, fed, bathed and to bed without the end of day meltdowns and bargaining. I just give up and some point and retreat into my iPhone which makes the process that much more drawn out. It’s a new school year here and I made a new schedule for the period and posted it in the wall for all to see. So far so good because we can just hang to an objective thing rather than it just be me against them. The tantrums by the 4 year old still sting, but I know that I can invest in some behaviour management groundwork that can pay off.

  18. @paola – have you tried making a list of separate tasks for them to Rick off and celebrate on completion? A silly dance when teeth are ticked. A fist bump for pjs. Just something to get momentum going with a cheap and happy payoff?

  19. The 20% of my parenting time spent on looking for a better daycare and/or preschool for my 4yo and schelping him and his 10mo sister around between their various daycare/school situations causes me 80%+ of my parental stress.We moved from a town (pop. ~40,000) to a village (pop. ~4,000) where there is no full-day or full-week preschool. My son went to a 4-day per week, full-day preschool program in the larger town and loved the structure. Now, he goes to a two-half-day per week preschool and two full days of daycare with his baby sister. He loves the school but is not keen on daycare. I watch both kids for two half-days and 1 full weekday now.
    I’m also trying to re-start my law practice so, eventually, I hope my business will justify having the kids in school or daycare 30-40 hours a week. However, I’ve turned over every possible stone and the choices are terrible. I think and stress about it all the time.
    I’ve outsourced the morning drop-offs to my husband and two daycare pick-ups to my husband. I’ve tried to outsource to a “nanny” but so far my only viable option will be moving away in 6 months. My son’s preschool closes for the summer so his schedule will all have to be rearranged then anyway so I guess I’m just going to suck it up and re-evaluate in June.

  20. Transitions! Getting to school; a nightmare. Middle child is in Kindergarten and is a very sloooowwww walker. It’s embarrassing the number of times I’ve had to sign her in. This morning eldest walked on his own ahead of us. I drove her and stood by my car (toddler inside) and yelled “Hurry UP! Get in the building!!!” from the (deserted) drop off line. She was like a little pink glacier gliding up to the school doors…School pick up;also running late, always. Nap for youngest doesn’t always start/end ideally. I have to wrangle the oldest as soon as he emerges from the building to keep him from wandering down to his friend’s safety patrol post to chat, which is not safe. So I’m always like one of the last Kindergarten parents at the Kinder suite door. Once we’re home there’s a mini burst of chaos; endless requests for snacks complaints about homework or lack of playdate, etc.
    Bedtime/bath/stories is a mess too.
    The worst is when I have to take them to their back to back martial arts lessons. I’m mostly just pissed off that my husband won’t take them to both of their lessons each week (they both go 2x per wk). He brings a magazine or his ipad. I bring our toddler and keep her from climbing on other parents and the mat for an hour and a half. Who got the better deal? Of course we are always late.
    I was never punctual when it was just me and now that I’m in charge of three more people it’s gotten worse. Please factor in empty treats and yelling into all of these scenarios. It’s awful and I can’t imagine going on for the next 10+ years like this.
    I need to fix this.

  21. I’d say our 20% is, like an earlier poster, the 20% of the time bad behavior from the almost-4 yr old. And the managing both kids at once when one is a needy preschooler who wants me to play with him and the other is a 12 month old who wants to be picked up all the time, or is getting into the older brother’s stuff all the time. Managing both of them in the evening while trying to also get everything put away from the day, wash some dishes, feed everyone and get ready for baths and bedtime is the craziest time of day and I get more easily frustrated with both of them.I guess I should give myself a break on more frequently outsourcing the meal planning (via take-out, delivery, prepared frozen things, etc) though I really wish I could be cooking more b/c I enjoy it but there’s just no time. As for managing both of them I just have to suck it up until the baby gets a little more independent. Power through til my husband is home and we get them both in bed each day.
    Glad to know I’m not the only one ladies. : )

  22. @Marta (if you see this)For a girl, tights are even easier. Or, if it’s warm, bare feet (grippier anyway!) and sandals. And a few identical pairs of white socks. Plain white with a little scallop top met all of our requirements from casual to fancy.
    For a boy, 6 or 12 pairs of white socks. And here’s another trick–buy all GAP. Then, when you need to buy one size up, buy Old Navy, so you can tell when a too-small sock creeps in there. When you get to the point of needing dressier socks, you can do all of those in navy or beige.

  23. Love this idea of applying the Pareto principle to what causes you stress. I figured out long ago that drying dishes made me angry, because I considered it a waste of time. Now, I let them air dry, put them away a few hours later and I am much happier.

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