There are the stay-at-home vs working mom "Mommy Wars" that I don't want to get into because these options are unique to every family. I know that working is the right choice for me on many levels. I like that my kids have two hard-working parent role models that also spend quality time with the family.
Do things always flow smoothly?
Of course not. We have a crazy, hectic life. Every stage has had it's own problems to conquer, and once we get into a routine it settles for a bit. Then the life stage changes and we adapt. At this point I thought my life would be less crazy (my oldest is away at college and my youngest drives), but it's still crazy aligning schedules.
When my children were younger, it was really hard to get home, get dinner on the table, and get them to bed on time for a good night's sleep. Young children need 11-12 hours of sleep, and when we get home at 6:30 pm, it's really hard to do anything. I became the queen of 15 minute meals and love my crock pot. My quick cooking is probably even healthier than fancy casseroles because it's a basic heated frozen vegetable, stovetop cooked chicken or a quick fish, and noodles or rice. No fancy cream sauces or cheesy goodness weeknights. Sometimes my kids ate leftovers from the previous night so they could eat within minutes of getting home. Whatever worked at the time to get dinner served quickly so the bedtime routine could start was what happened.
It is important that kids know parents are there for them, even if they aren't physically able to be there all the time. The best way to do that is to show kids. When you're together, really be together. Don't keep checking your phone. Make conversation. Make eye contact. Have fun.
Sneak in quality time any way you can, even if it's just a minute or two.
- Talk on car rides. Make routine trips no-screen rides. On longer trips consider an audiobook that you can all listen to and discuss along the way.
- Make eye contact when your kids ask for your attention. Even if you're busy making dinner or doing the dishes, be considerate enough to look at them when you're speaking to them. So often we get upset by our children's manners, but we forget who they're modeling after.
- Bed time. Definitely at bedtime make the time to connect. Those night time stories, back rubs, and cuddles are the perfect time to bond. Even when your kids can read, take time to read to each other.
- Find quick games to play after dinner. Many games list the time it takes to play right on the box. No one has time for Monopoly after dinner if they plan on getting the kids to bed on time, but family games are a great way to connect, and kids learn many skills from playing.
- It sounds silly, but kill two birds with one stone. Have a family "clean time"- and make it fun. The house needs to be cleaned or picked up regularly and if everyone pitches in with age-appropriate chores, it gets done more quickly. Brag on your children's effort and build their confidence.
- Try to be at activities as much as possible. If they're in a recital, they want you there. If they have a big game, they want you to see it. Even if they say, "it's okay" when you can't go, they want you there. I know it's not possible to be there for everything, especially if you have more than one child and you need to alternate between which activity you go to, but try to be at as many things as you can. Even when it's painful to watch the first season of kid-pitch baseball. And if you must take a pain reliever before going to the band concert for your 4th grader. Still go.
- Make the time with them with them. Turn off your cell phone. Don't check e-mail. Set a good example and talk with the people you're with. So many studies are being done that show parents ignoring their kids due to electronics. You have time to check email after your kids go to bed when they're young. When they're older and their bedtime rivals yours, you can find time when they're doing homework or when they're at an activity. No need to ruin family time with work, social media, or other things that can be done when you're alone. I cannot stress the importance of this. Don't miss your real life and your children's lives by wasting time on screens.
- Family meals are important. Study after study shows benefits. Take the time to talk. Turn off the tv. Keep the phones away from the table. If your family gets stuck with conversation, try some conversation starters or the story game where someone starts with a sentence, then the next person takes it from there.
- Slow down. So often we have a list of tasks we know we must accomplish, but our kids can sense the rush. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment with your kids.
- Take 10 minutes to do whatever your child wants. Read a book. Run outside. Color a picture together. Just 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Make it a tradition, something your child looks forward to every day.
- And finally, remember that no one is perfect. Some days just won't work out as planned. That's okay. Just don't let every day become that over-rushed day.
Enjoy time with your kids. They won't be little forever. Make the time to be present in their lives.
One last thought... Here's an old song that I always think of when I think of busy lives: Cats in the Cradle from Harry Chapin.