Most of the time I feel like a terrible parent. My kids fall victim to the “too much” syndrome: too much TV, too much fighting, too much sugar, too much entitlement, too much in the toy box.  They have too much going on and it is too much for me.

Shortly after my youngest child was born, I was holding her and thinking about how it was so easy to remember to hold and cuddle her, because she demanded it, but how I forget to hold and cuddle my oldest child although she still needs it. I’m really good at reading to my oldest, because she asks and she enjoys it, but I’m terrible at remembering to read to my son because he doesn’t like to slow down long enough to listen. On the other hand, he is excellent at getting me to play with him because he petitions me for playtime all day long.

I’m decently good at giving each of my children something but I fall short in something else.  Above all else in life, I want us to have balance because I believe that balance leads to peace and happiness, even if “quiet” is rarely part of that equation.

So, I came up with something I call “CPR Parenting,” which allows me to simplify my mothering obligations into three meaningful activities that I strive to do with each of my three children daily: Cuddle, Play, and Read.

I am a task-oriented person. There is a to-do list for every day even when I don’t get anything on said list done. I can’t always keep track of every need my children have and inevitably at the end of the day I will remember that I didn’t practice piano with her or go outside with him or read to the baby (whose brain is developing faster than the alarming rate at which I’m losing brain cells).  I can remember CPR, though, and I feel like if I’ve done these most basic of basic child-care tasks, I have also done something meaningful with my day.

Cuddling gives them a sense of security in my arms and a chance to calm down and be still, even if that cuddle time only lasts two minutes. Each child has different needs but a princess once told me that “everyone needs another hug.” Children need affectionate, safe touches. Some days they will need you more physically than others. That’s okay.

Playtime allows me to spend time with my child’s imagination. I have one child whose imagination knows no bounds—forks and spoons make families, balloons are a common mode of transport, and nothing is what it seems (is that a orange crayon? Why no, it’s clearly a dinosaur). I have another child who, although she is not as creative when it comes to coming up with plots and story lines, is amazing at creating things. Playtime with her usually means an art project, which usually means a mess, but I spent her whole toddler-hood convincing her that it was okay to be messy. Now she is the one who often reminds me, “If we’re messy it means we are having fun, Mom!” Playtime helps me to relax and have fun with them. I give myself bonus points if I can resist the urge to clean and organize the playroom while we’re doing what Maria Montessori referred to as “the work of the child.”

Reading is my outlet; I cannot survive without it. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t read something. I feel guilty sometimes that my reading becomes more important than reading to my children. I know that I am setting an example when my kids see me with a book in my hands, and that is important, but my silent reading doesn’t do much for their cognitive development. My mother (early childhood expert extraordinaire) told me that according to the research she’s done (along with 30 years of teaching preschool and kindergarten), it takes a thousand hours of “lap time” to prepare a child for kindergarten. By the time they reach the age of five, children have lived somewhere around 1,825 days. If you read to your child 20 minutes a day for each of those days, you’ll be at 608 hours. In other words, children need to be read to EVERY CHANCE you get or you’re already behind. Along with the academic benefits, reading is something that children can come to associate with love, adventure, and stress-relief.

I figure that If I can take time out of each day to give my children specialized, meaningful, separate time with me, then all the moments when I fail them will at least have something to counter balance the scale.

How do you spend meaningful time with your kids? Tell us in the comments!