I want to start by saying, though I love my kids more than life itself, that I would have a tough time being a Stay-at-Home Parent. And don’t even get me started on Work-at-Home Parents, the thought of either makes me want to cry a little bit (ok, a lot). I have so much admiration for Moms and Dads that are able to “stay home” with the kids and remain normal, sane people. Much less those that are able to accomplish anything during the day. HOW DO YOU DO IT?
At the other end of the spectrum, I work 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with a 45 minute commute each way. I drop the kids and dog off at their grandparents in the morning, and pick them up on my way home from work. This means that I am gone for eleven hours a day. I’m literally home with the baby for about an hour a day, and the 5 year old about two hours a day. Not to mention squeezing time with the husband in there somewhere, who works closer to home at least.
So how do WE manage to do it? Keep a loving, healthy, close knit household together on two hours a day?
1) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CAR TIME – Regardless if you’re going five minutes or fifteen, make sure to engage them as much as possible during that time. This is your chance to have quality conversations, either one-sided or two-sided depending on their age, and they can’t run away from you.
There are even times that the two kids will start talking to each other (more like one talks incessantly and the other babbles back) and my heart just melts. I cherish this time with my kids, and I work hard to accurately answer every single “why” question my daughter will ask.
2) DON’T TRY TO EAT DINNER TOGETHER – This one was literally killing me. The kids and I get home around 6:15 pm every night. Even when my husband had dinner ready the second we walked in, it was still 6:30 before we were eating and already WELL into the witching hour. Our son who eats like a fiend would be done eating by the time I finally got my plate and sat down, and then our daughter would start in on her routine of turning dinnertime into a two hour process. This was not quality family time.
We had tried everything, when one day my mom so kindly offered to start feeding them before I picked them up. It worked like a charm. I realize this is not an option for everyone, and if so then maybe you are able to all sit down together at 5:00 or 5:30 for dinner, or feed the kids before you eat. For me it was about getting over the idea of NEEDING to have family meal time together. It is more important that they eat dinner early, when their little bodies are ready for it, and then the rest of the evening can be spent having quality time together.
Once we figured that out, we were able to start spending what little time we have in the evenings being with our kids… not yelling at them to eat or being yelled at by a bored baby. My husband and I are still eating home cooked meals that he has ready when we get home, but there’s no pressure to all sit around the table together struggling to finish a meal. We’re spending more quality time as a family.
3) PUT YOUR PHONES DOWN – I will admit, I am the biggest culprit here. It’s so tempting to want to catch up on all your social media accounts right after work. Don’t do it! All those posts will be there after the kids go to bed. Your kids, on the other hand, will start to think you love your phone more than them.
Then as they get older, we will be begging for their attention, and they will have learned the behavior from us that their electronics are more important than family. Our time is precious, spend it with those that will love you back. I promise, Facebook cannot truly love you back.
4) GET DOWN ON THE GROUND – I’m always amazed what a difference this makes. Sure you can put down your phone and watch your kids play while your butt is still parked on the couch. But what is that accomplishing? I can always tell a difference in their attitudes when we play with them, instead of watching them. My husband will help my daughter build intricate Hot Wheels tracks and all of a sudden Daddy is the coolest thing ever. That’s a great feeling.
5) READ AND SNUGGLE EVERY NIGHT – These are the parenting moments we all live for. Don’t let them pass you by. My husband gets even less time with the kids than I do because he doesn’t get the car time every day, and he works Saturdays so he only gets one weekend day to have family time. Every night he’s the one that helps our daughter brush her teeth, then reads her a book and lays with her.
I’m sure there are tons of people that would argue that laying with your child at night is creating bad sleeping habits. Honestly, who cares? I fully believe that it’s forming a bond that lasts longer than any sleep training will. Like my mom always says… it’s not like they’re going to head off to college needing their parents to lay with them every night.
6) PICK YOUR BATTLES – Seriously, let the little things go. This is another one I struggle with hard core. I have such a controlling, stubborn nature, that I will push the subject just so that I can win the battle. Our daughter has an eccentric flair for fashion, and is famous among our circle of friends for changing clothes at least five times during a given party. For the longest time I tried to get her to at least match when we went out in public. Her idea of matching and my idea of matching are two very different things.
Finally one day I realized, this is not my battle. It is, however, my in-laws’ battle. And our daughter lets them win the fashion battle. So they can have it. We now have fewer tears in the morning, and our time is focused on more important things than whether her socks match her sweater.
Eating was another big one. I was so focused on having the stereotypical home-cooked meal around the dinner table that I lost sight of what was important. That time is so very precious when it’s all you have, that if she wants to eat carrots as her vegetable every night… so be it. There are worse things in the world, such as spending their entire childhood fighting with them. Spend your parenting energy on what’s really going to matter in life, and shaping and molding them to be good human beings.