By Ron Huxley, LMFT

I recently picked up my copy of Tim Ferriss book “The Four-Hour Chef.”  The author has been listed as one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People of 2007”, Forbes Magazine’s “Names You Need to Know in 2011,” and the wildly successful author of “The Four-Hour Work Week” and “The Four-Hour Body”.  Although “The Four-Hour Chef” sounds like another cook book, it is far more than that. It spells out the recipe for how to learn any skill, regardless of your age or how hard the task. The book’s subtitle is “Learning anything, and living the good life.” Who doesn’t want more of that?

The premise behind the Four-Hour Ethos is help you have more control over your own life by doing more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t. In the example of cooking, many of us love to cook (and eat, of course) but few of us love to shop for the food, do all the prep work or clean up after. Tim Feriss uses the metaphor of cooking to describe his step-by-step process of “meta-learning”. That’s the real recipe for parents.

His idea of meta-learning refers to the Zen concept: “before you can learn to cook, you must learn to learn.” I think this has a lot of relevance for parents who need to learn how to learn before they learn to parent. Parenting education has been around for some time. You can read attend classes, read books, search the internet, watch programs, and listen to podcasts. There is plenty of parenting information out there but still we strive for more. Or are we striving for the “recipe”? Are we looking for that secret ingredient on how to get a teen to do their homework or stop an ongoing sibling rivalry? Perhaps what really need is to first learn how to learn to be a parent.

One step toward this meta-parenting-learning skill is to ask ourselves: “What is one parenting skill I would like to master today or perhaps, one skill I have given up hope of learning with my children?” Ferriss would then suggest we deconstruct this skill to its simple components and reapplies the laws of learning to truly become its master.  

Ferriss describe a deconstruction tool to help us called the 80/20 Principle. This is also known as Pareto’s principle or the law of the vital few and it states that roughly 80% of the effects of an event come from just 20% of the causes. Taking cleaning up the house: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, probably mom. This applies to other areas of life, such as, 80% of the sales of a business comes from 20% of the clients. Or, 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the people.

This economic principle works well in many parenting situations and I have used it for years to describe how 80% of the parenting issues that come up in my consulting office can be answered by 20% of my parenting tools. Most parents have similar struggles:  getting homework done or picking up after themselves or talking back or putting their feet on the furniture. There are typical problems that come up by developmental stages. Two year olds and teens are defiant. Five year olds have short attention spans, etc. It is the other 20% that is creates the big challenges and creative solutions. Dealing with a divorce or say, stealing items from a store. These are more serious issues really only occurs 20% of the time but make up 80% of my clientele. Who needs to see a child therapist for not picking up the dog poop or some other chore, really?

As a personal example, I have four adult children and two grandchildren and the skill I would like to master is how to maintain on-going communication with them spread out over various states. I want to do this in a way that feels warm and fuzzy despite the distance. Applying Pareto’s principle to my communication issue, I realized that regularly scheduled phone calls and text messages (20% effort) could result in my perceived sense of connection (80% effect). I also started being more diligent about traveling two hours away to my grandson’s early Saturday morning baseball games. It was a  drive and there was a cost of gasoline but the level of connection and my parenting needs were met with this minimal effort once a month.

This was a useful parenting tool with my clients as well. Ten minutes of one-on-one contact in the morning before school and ten minutes on getting home from school dramatically improved many families gauge of the amount of respect and cooperation. Sibling fights and morning tantrums decreased as well. It would seem that there isn’t an extra ten minutes in the morning routine to give to a child but really, how long were those tantrums occurring? How long does it take to make a U-turn back to the house to get the forgotten lunch or homework sitting on the kitchen table? A lot longer than the ten minutes it took to have some one-on-one. And parents and children felt so much more connected all day long.  

Another way of getting at this core parenting skills is to ask yourself if I only had 20 minutes to spend with my child each day – you couldn’t see or interact with them at any other time during the day – how would I best spend that time? Do more of that parenting behavior and witness the 80% effect from that minimal parenting activity. I am just guessing but that 20 minutes would be spent doing laundry or watching television together.  

Parenting Action Plan:

Take a few moments and ask yourselves these questions above. Start focusing on how to better manage your time with your child this next week. Start deconstructing what makes up the core elements of your parenting day and concentrate on the main ingredients behind what really makes a good family recipe. It is different for everyone so don’t look at the neighbor parenting activities. Start with works for you. Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment or sharing on Facebook at

Take are 10 Day Parenting Challenge to build even more skills at home by clicking here

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