Most of us are caught up in a hectic whirlwind of activities which start on Monday morning, end on Sunday night and then begin all over again. Cooking, laundry, and working are all essential to parenthood, but it often means less time for parents to spend with those they love most – their family. Both parents are pulled in many different directions which may make them feel frazzled by the end of the day even though we all know spending quality time together is the best way we have to show each other that we care and that our families are important. So how can parents make more time for family without added stress? Here are some practical tips to help decrease busy schedules and increase quality family time.
Make Over Your To-Do List
Divide your to-do list into three categories: Don’t, Delegate, and Do. There is always one thing on your to-do list you know you’re not going to do so cross it off. Go through each item and ask yourself, ‘What happens if I don’t do this?’ If you’re doing a task out of guilt or habit, move it to the Don’t section. Decide if someone else (kids are great for this) can do the tasks in the Delegate column. For the items that must get done, draw or put stickers of a happy face next to the things you like to do, a dollar sign by items that save or make money, and a clock next to tasks that will save time later. These symbols will remind you why these things matter. If this sounds too time consuming, try prioritizing by creating a small index card with a simple list of 5-10 priorities, customized to your family. Make sure “family time” is on the list. Then, when you are making decisions, have the card in front of you to keep things in perspective.
Have Dinner Together
Make it a point to leave work or schedule work for later in the evening so that you can make it home in time to sit down to dinner together. Eating dinner as a family allows you to be a part of their daily conversations and to answer any questions they may have come across during the day when you were apart. Decide how many times a week your family will sit down to a meal and then stick with the plan. Family mealtimes are mini-family meetings. They should never include television and can be the cement that holds family unity together.
Involve the Kids
You may be able to fold clothes and set the table faster than your 5-year-old, but when you include the kids, you turn chores into bonding time while also teaching valuable skills. The job of a mother isn’t to be a personal assistant. Rather, a mother’s job is to teach a child to become independent. Even a small child can put toys in a basket. Invent a family clean-up game, where adults and kids compete to see who can get the most done the fastest, or make up a family song to sing while you work together.
Go On Walks
Once the table is cleared and the dishes are washed, go for a walk around your neighborhood. If dinner is too late for your little ones, try taking a walk after school or nap time. Talk about the changes you see and what your children observe around them as you go on these walks. The act of walking while you are talking may actually make it easier for children to bring up more difficult topics or problems they face because they have something else to focus on when they bring these subjects up.
Reading with your child is one of the most important bonding moments you can have with your child. Not only does it ensure a better vocabulary and help your child to read better and faster, it also is a great way to spend time together. Choosing books to read and discussing them are ways to share ideas and values with your children. Even when they can read for themselves, pick times to read with them or let them read to you.
Make Your Job Work For You
Productivity at work creates more relaxed time at home. Sometimes you can get more done outside the office. See if your company can be flexible with your hours by allowing you to arrive earlier (or stay later) at the office or let you work from home one day a week to reduce the commute. Before approaching your boss, check with coworkers or Human Resources to see if it’s a reasonable request. When you are in the office and can’t cancel a meeting, clarify your next steps before it ends; this will reduce follow-up meetings or e-mails.
Double Up On Dinner
This is an easy way to save time on hectic dinner schedules. If you’re making lasagna, double the recipe and freeze one for later in the week. Steam extra vegetables and put them in the fridge to drop in a pasta salad the next day. Get creative by turning your leftovers into a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch or mix extra fruit salad with cereal and yogurt for breakfast. Look online for recipes that are easy and family-friendly. Keep the freezer stocked with frozen veggies and fruits; they can save you from a last-minute dash to the grocery store if you’ve forgotten a side dish or dessert. It’s also okay to give yourself a break once a while by keeping a couple of frozen pizzas (choose veggie-heavy ones for more nutrition) on hand for those evenings when the kids have activities and you don’t have time to cook.
Cook Your Family’s Favorite Recipe Together
Speaking of cooking, while doubling your recipes, use the time to cook with your children as well. Getting together in the kitchen can be lots of fun for the young and old! Get hands-on and learn from your family’s very own chef and be inspired to find out what makes the dish special to your family. Use the opportunity to snap photos of the children (and the mess) or video each step to capture those special moments.
Stop Comparing Yourself
When you give up trying to be perfect, you create more time. Stop comparing yourself to the mythical supermom who has it all together at work and at home — she doesn’t exist. Figure out what your top priorities are and pursue those. Each person’s priorities are different. Do the things that help you to feel happy and less stressed. If you feel calmer with no papers on the dining room table, involve the kids in helping you clear it off. If you can live with a few stray papers, and would prefer to cook with the kids and try a new recipe, do that instead. Instead of changing who you are to match the task, change the task to match your lifestyle. Spend time on what’s important to you and stop comparing yourself to the mom down the street.
Create New Family Traditions
Don’t wait for holidays or vacations to connect or start a new tradition. Whether it is Sunday breakfast, Friday game night, weekend shopping, or gardening, new traditions can bring the family closer together. Maybe dine out on the same night each week. Make sure everyone in the family knows not to schedule outside activities because it’s sacred family time. Whatever tradition you choose, make sure everyone, including parents, honors the time. Everyone should show up and unplug. No texting, no Facebook, and no TV Just enjoy each other.
We got this fantastic conversation key jar idea from Momastery. She has a unique take on how to get the most from you conversations with fun questions that get everyone in your family thinking. This is an especially great way to involve your older teenagers as well as the younger ones. Another way to connect through conversation is when traveling. Take the opportunity to talk to your teenager when you are traveling together. Seize the chance and get your teenager to open up and share more with you about their lives!
Step into Your Teen’s World
Show your child or children you care by participating in activities they are passionate about. Whether it happens to be basketball, cheerleading, or building model airplanes, talk to your teen about it. Find out if there is a way for you to be a part of it, or if that’s not possible, then listen to them and learn about it from them so you can talk about it and understand why they are so excited about their chosen activity. Share with them what made you excited as a teen as well.