How Google Drive Can Make Parenting Easier

Photo: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

I’I’ve been a parent for 16 years and a Google Drive user for 13. (Such an enthusiastic user, in fact, that I’ve appeared as an unpaid expert on Google’s Digital Wellbeing site.) And somewhere along the way, those two roles began to blend together.

If you use Google Drive at work, you already know that sharing docs, spreadsheets, and folders can make it easier to collaborate with colleagues. But it can also make it easier to co-parent, coordinate with your kids, and generally impose some degree of order on the chaos that comes with family life. Here’s how:

Family policy manual

More than a dozen years ago, I wrote a social-media policy for our family. It started partly as a joke, but I’ve since come to embrace it — and to reproduce it, many times over, for other things. I’ve discovered it’s very helpful to have various household rules and policies documented in a way that’s accessible to parents, children, and other caregivers.

Our Google Drive policy folder offers a peek into the different areas where we’ve had conflict over the years: We’ve had to introduce a toy cupboard policy, a Minecraft policy, a candy policy, and a bathing agreement. We also revise and update our family screen time policy every six to 12 months. (This schedule includes daytime hours because I homeschool one of my kids, who needs access to the internet for online learning.) When we’re introducing a new policy, we have the kids review the Google Doc and suggest any changes before it goes into effect.

Even though our kids helped negotiate these policies, it was hard to get into the habit of living by them, so I created a support request form that the kids had to use for several months: If they wanted candy, a video game, or extra screen time, they had to fill out a support request form, and their answers helped us all ensure we were following through on our agreements. You can make a copy of these policies for your own use:

School projects

We all know that science fairs, history fairs, and the like are really just trials set to test both parent and child. After our first few experiences of last-minute nightmares (you know, where you spend the three days before the fair helping your kid do the project they were supposed to be working on for three months), I started insisting on a documented project plan for each major school assignment.

Now I work with my kids to set up a Google Sheet that breaks down each project into steps. We assign due dates for each task, noting anything else that’s going on during that time period that might affect the kid’s ability to get their work done. I’ve never seen a whole lot of educational value in these mega-projects, but I know my kids have benefited from learning how to break down a big goal into component steps and how to track those steps as they make progress toward the final product.

Here’s a sample Google Sheet you can use to make your own project schedule.

Developmental goals

One of my children is autistic, and we work with a team of educators, therapists, caregivers, and consultants on his continued growth and development. I’ve found it helpful to create periodic game plans that map out what we will focus on for the next six to 12 months and share those plans so the whole team can offer input and comments. This kind of roadmap can be useful for neurotypical kids, too: I recently helped my eldest (who uses they/them pronouns) set up a table of the practical and emotional skills they want to acquire before graduation, so they will feel more prepared for university and adulthood.

Here’s a sample Google Doc we’ve used for tracking developmental goals, adaptable as a roadmap for any milestones your kids are working toward.

Tech support

My kids make so many app, game, and screen time requests that I finally took a page from IT departments and built a simple ticketing system in Google Forms. The first version was designed to handle a wide range of support requests, but I soon found that our real pain point was just game requests. It takes research to decide which games will be suitable rather than harmful for our son, so the form makes him do the work if he wants me to consider his request. The spreadsheet that Google compiles from his answers has turned into a record of his evolving interests over the years.

Here’s a form you can use for your own family.

Costume planning

My eldest has a penchant for elaborate Halloween costumes, so I like to map out the ingredients and construction in a costume planning spreadsheet, which we also use to keep track of progress.

Here’s an example of a costume tracker, which can come in handy whether you’re a crafty sew-from-scratch kind of person or someone who prefers to order a wig online and call it a day.

Gift planning

There is no surer route to holiday hell than a dispute over who got more or better presents. To avoid that nightmare — and keep my Black Friday shopping in check — I create an annual holiday gift plan spreadsheet that keeps a running total of how many gifts (and how much money) I’ve spent on each kid.

I use a separate tab to plan out who will get what on each night of Hanukkah, so both kids get exciting, fun gifts on one night and boring educational gifts the next. This year, I also used that tab to take notes on how I’d wrapped each package so I would know what to hand out each night.

You can see what it looks like here.

Graduation and college planning

Google Drive is so effective that it has apparently allowed me to raise a child nearly all the way to adulthood: My eldest is now in their last year of high school, which means we had to ensure their Grade 12 classes met all their graduation and college admission requirements. Naturally, we set up a Google Sheet to map the specific courses they need for each school they are interested in applying to and then used those requirements to map out the courses they would take this year.

You can adapt your own course planning sheet from the sample here.

On raising a Google collaborator

By now you’re probably feeling sorry for my kids. In making the case for Google Drive as a parenting tool, I’ve certainly compiled plenty of material for them to share with their future therapists. But when the time comes to find and select their therapists, or keep notes on their dreams and therapeutic progress, I’m confident the kids will tackle this the way they’ve been taught — by using Google Drive.

For more brilliant ways to use Google Drive, visit the Ultimate Guide to Google Drive, with templates, strategies, and ideas for using Drive to organize every corner of your life.

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

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