Parenting

What Is Draining Your Family Time?

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What’s worse than losing down the drain an untold volume of water from a leaky faucet, along with the money it represents?

A lot of things. But since few of us have the means or privilege of solving the larger problems of this world on a weeknight, most of us must settle for fixing the little ones in front of us.

A good answer, though, would be losing your time down the drain, specifically time that you should be spending with your spouse and children, while you still can.

Sometimes it takes plugging one leak before you can discover a worse one.

The Lesser Leak. For the last two months I have procrastinated a bathtub faucet repair. As with all procrastinators, my first offenses were easy to justify. Nothing a good twist with my hand can’t fix while I get back to real work. For awhile, I could even blame my wife for not turning the handle hard enough after showering.

Eventually that method of “fixing” had destroyed what was left of an unseen, 10 cent washer behind the handle, the last barrier between Fixed and Flooded. So I took my two-year-old daughter on a field trip to our unfinished basement to get my channel locks. Back upstairs, I popped off the handle marked “H” for hot, and used my tool to tighten the exposed spindle thread. The extra leverage, I explained to my daughter, allowed me to turn the faucet farther (incidentally compressing enough fragments of the destroyed washer into a temporary plug). My daughter replied by telling me she would like a pair of pink channel locks for her birthday. All was well.

One morning, after a week of using channel locks to turn our hot water on and off, I walked into the bathroom to find hot water streaming out of the faucet and even out of the spindle thread, which by now my channel locks had so distorted that the handle labeled H no longer fit. Clearly my wife was to blame. Why did she insist on being so clean? But that is–well, you know–under the bridge. I turned off our house’s water, disassembled the faucet for parts, and got in the car. 

I drove my five-year-old son to Home Depot, where we spoke to a worker who knew exactly what part we needed, but not where to find it. He handed us off to a colleague that had no idea what we were talking about but felt qualified to give us directions anyway.

After three trips to return 100 percent of the parts we had purchased (our spindle threads were too old to match), the loss of half a day, and who knows how much wasted water, I replaced the 10 cent washer on the old part and reinstalled it. With my channel locks, I bent the mutilated spindle thread just enough to accommodate (sort of) the H handle. For now, we are set.

What kills me is that the waste was due entirely to my false assumptions: first, that the job was worth procrastinating, and second, that I wouldn’t be able to bend back the distorted part.

The Greater Leak. My leaky faucet, and my leakier repair, is enough to make me ask what assumptions we parents make about how slowly a resource more precious than water is slipping down the drain unnoticed: time with our children.

Finding excuses to procrastinate shoring up time with our kids is no challenge. Many of us face the unavoidable reality that for long stretches of our children’s youth, we will see them for two hours a day between dinner and bedtime, plus a few hours on the weekends. We mean no offense to our kids, but with such a schedule, making the most of those dozen or so hours often requires self-discipline. We can think of all sorts of reasons to justify delaying a faucet repair, and it is easy to fritter away time with our kids in tiny, deceptively wasteful drops.

Leaping to answer every text after business hours; checking for notifications even when our phones have not alerted us; extending quick trips to the bathroom to include checking headlines in the next room, “just in case”; pressing play again on our kids’ movie so that the screen can talk to them for us (even if we’re with them)–these seem like such brilliant improvements upon investing our full attention in our kids, when in fact they only run up the bill.

So this coming week and weekend, give yourself fully to the hard but happy home repairs that stop the leaks.

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