The Working Parent’s Guide to Finding Family Time
Parenting is a wonderful adventure – full of fun times, hard times, heart in your mouth times… But in our modern society successfully combining work and parenting can be difficult, stressful, frustrating and just downright exhausting!
There is good news – finding quality family time is not impossible, in fact with just a few small changes to your home life routine you can create more quality time with your family, and for yourself.
I am a working mother. I have two children, a partner, pet, a house and a car. I work two jobs, run my own business and homeschool my 10-year-old part-time, on the side… Before I had my kids, in fact up to my 39th week of pregnancy, I worked 10-hour days, 6 days a week in federal politics with all the travel and sleepless nights that entails. Busy and I are old friends. I have spent the past 13 years looking for healthy ways to balance my life so I can continue to obtain the stimulation and creativity I need from my work while still being there for my children. It is not easy, but it is doable, even as a single parent (which I was for a while).
Want to know how I manage it? Here are my 5 hacks to finding more family time ….
The problem: In this always connected world it is so easy to bring your work home with you. You can access your email in the palm of your hand from anywhere in the world! But digital connectedness also leaches into our private lives in a big way with the internet and social media. We have all seen the videos and photos of parents looking into their devices whilst their kids play in the background, heck we have all been that parent. And you know what, that is OK to a point, because we all need downtime and time to unwind, but we also need time to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with those inside our homes.
The solution: Plug your modem into a digital timer. Our internet automatically switches on at 7am and off at 7pm Sunday to Thursday, on Friday and Saturday nights it stays on until 8pm. As an added bonus on weekends and during school holidays it also turns itself off for a period between 11am and 2pm each day. This is our way of ensuring that as a family we have dedicated space for creativity and engaging with each other. We often spend this time getting out and doing things together, reading, playing board games, drawing or trying out different hobbies. It is important for us as adults to unplug to allow our brains time to unwind and process the day but it is also important to teach our children ways in which they can create their own healthy balance between the digital and real worlds as they grow older.
2. Cleaning Day Collaboration
Hands up all those that hate housework!!! It is not a fun job, but it is something that needs to be done – and you know what they say – “many hands make light work!”
Ok, so maybe if your children are a bit younger many hands may make more work, but you know what, cleaning the house together can actually be a fantastic opportunity for quality time. Quality time doesn’t have to be long, elaborate or expensive, quality time is time spent together doing things, anything.
Now think of the positives of embracing cleaning day as a family… Involving your children in the housework teaches them life skills, teamwork, responsibility, and the ever important value of contributing to your family – and let’s face it, it can be fun – the odd pillow fight never hurt anyone!
I have to admit that our cleaning time is strategically planned, to reduce complaints and increase compliance, after all I have a teenager in the mix. It occurs on Sunday morning, during ‘internet off time’, any complaints and they are provided with the option of waiting for the internet to turn back on to do their part – works like a charm! Give it go – what have you got to lose!
3. Plan Your Meals
While I do this, and find it fabulous, at the same time I find this one painful. I hate, hate, HATE spending time on my Sunday afternoon planning the meals for the week, writing up the shopping list and then going to the supermarket. There are many, many, many things I would rather do with my time. But every week I make myself put on my big girl pants and do it, because in the end it is always worth it.
- Saves your sanity: “Muuuum, what’s for dinner?” We display our menu on a magnetic A5 whiteboard on the fridge door. Everyone knows what’s for dinner, no need to ask mum 27 times between school pickup and bath time.
- Saves frustration: Get everyone involved! You can help keep everyone happy by letting little people pick what they want for dinner on a night each a week. Then if you are a vegetable Nazi like me, you can plan around ‘nuggets and pizza’ ensuring the inevitable lack of vegetables are made up for on other nights.
- Saves time: Everything is already in the fridge and pantry ready and waiting. All the time spent on those last-minute dashes to the supermarket quickly add up!
- Saves money: Instead of forking out for last minute takeaway (because trying to make a decision about dinner at the end of a long day is just too damn hard) save your hard-earned cash and invest it in fun family activities instead.
4. Dust off the dinner table
Eating dinner at the table as a family every night of the week can be really difficult, especially when factoring in early mealtimes for younger children, bath time, after school activities, work functions, P&C meetings, the list goes on! We have lowered the bar and only eat dinner together at the table one night during the week.
Wednesday is our midweek dinner table night and to sweeten the deal it is also our family games night. After we have all eaten and helped clean up the kitchen and table we break out the board games. We all love it – it provides an opportunity to connect, talk about the day and plan the coming weekend without the burden of expectation that comes with trying to do it all the time. We find that our kids love the routine and look forward to it, so much so that family games night often pops up by special request on other nights too!
5. Drive the kids to school
Now granted, this is something that only those blessed with working from home or flexible work hours can do, but in my opinion if you can, then you should. I currently spend an hour each day doing school drop off and pick up between my daughter’s high school and my son’s primary school. I could put each of them on a bus, but honestly, I love this time. It gives me dedicated one-on-one time with each of them to really talk about things that are going on in their lives.
My son has just stated back at mainstream school part-time after being exclusively homeschooled for the past 12 months while he developed the skills to deal with an anxiety condition. He still deals with anxiety daily but the car ride gives us time to talk about his worries for that day and discuss strategies he can use to overcome them. My daughter uses the alone time her and I get on the way home from school to offload about her day and teenage frustrations. It is amazing how much your kids will open up when you give them the space and freedom from eye contact.
As an added bonus, I use the alone time I get in the car driving from drop off and to pick up to listen to podcasts and develop ideas.
Make it happen…
Sit down and think about which family hacks will work for your busy life; create your own too.
Write them down as a family, and then stick to them. Not only do you make life easier for yourself by establishing a weekly routine, you will all enjoy spending quality moments together amid the busy working and school week.
Growing your business or career is important for so many reasons, but remember as your children grow up, developing a true connection to each other is its own reward.
What do you do to make more time with your children?