Prioritizing time as parents
By Becky Shattuck, guest blogging from “I’m going to make it (after all)” (http://becky-shattuck.blogspot.com/)
It’s been said before. Parenting is both the hardest and most rewarding job in the world. I’m a stay at home mom. I’m with my kids pretty much all day long, every day, so I can attest to that personally.
Little kids need a lot of attention. Actually, that doesn’t quite sum it up enough. Little kids not only need a lot of attention, they need physical help with almost everything they do. Even after they’re potty trained, they need help getting onto the toilet and wiping their behinds. Even when they can crawl up into their car seats themselves, they need your assistance getting the straps in place and the buckles properly snapped. The job is very demanding.
When my husband gets home from work for the day, I usually hand him the baby. I just need a few minutes without an extra 20 pounds on my hip—you know? Just a little physical space. What about him, though? When does my husband get some free time?
Budgeting time for everything is a real challenge. We love the kids, but we also need time to ourselves, and we need time as a couple. We’d like time with friends and time for hobbies. Let’s not forget time to clean the house and get things done! There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
I’m not going to pretend that I have the solution for everyone’s time budgeting woes, but I am here to present a few tips to lighten your load and hopefully make things a little easier.
First things first: housework.
Get your kids to pitch in with housework! When I first became a mama, I would try so hard to get my son occupied doing something. Once he showed interest in a toy, I’d quickly wash as many dishes as I could until he demanded my attention again. It was stressful. Later, I learned that my son was very interested in what I was doing. He wanted to do it, too.
Simplify your job for your child. If you are doing dishes, you can do a number of things to let your child participate. If you have a baby that sits, you can hand that baby some plastic storage containers to play with while you do dishes. If you have a young toddler, you can place your toddler on a towel with a bowl of water, a sponge, and some dishes (or toys). Let your child mimic you as you clean. As your child grows, so should his ability to do the tasks. Before two, your child can learn to put certain (non-breakable) dishes away. My son loved to put the forks and spoons away! Now, he’s nearly three, and he actually gets out the dish machine soap, pours it in, closes the dish machine, and starts it himself. He got there because I slowly added on new responsibilities.
By letting your child learn to help you with chores, you get to get things done while also giving your child attention. We have two brooms at my house so my son can “sweep” while I sweep. When I need to set the table for dinner, he gets the forks out. I’ve started cleaning my windows with just a mix of water and vinegar so he can spray it on the windows for me. He sprays, and I wipe. It helps so much that I can get things done in a way that lets him get involved. I rarely feel like I need to ignore him to get things done.
My next piece of advice is getting time away from the kids—or not. What?
If you are always focused on getting away, then you’re not going to be able to enjoy the time that you have with your family. This is a big one for me. I need to remember to focus on having fun with my whole family instead of just trading off with my husband. It’s hard sometimes because I want to be lazy. I want to have some time to myself to sit there and not have a child climbing all over me. When I really need it, I take it. I’ll ask my husband to watch the kids for a bit, or I’ll offer him a trade (you take the kids for 20 minutes, and then I’ll take them for 20!).
That is good to do sometimes (seriously), but it’s not good to do all the time. If you find yourself constantly wishing there was more time away from the kids, then try changing your scenery. Ask your partner to come with to the park. Take the whole family! Your kids will be able to run, play, explore, and enjoy the outdoors. You’ll feel good knowing that you’re happy with your family—not just being away from them. It really is important to have fun family time, even if it’s just a few minutes of running around outside after dinner. Heck, for us, sometimes it’s just a walk to the mail box. That time reminds us that we enjoy each other, and we enjoy each other’s company. We don’t always need to get away from the kids to have fun!
When it comes time for doing things with friends, there are a few options. The first is finding a trade. If you live with your partner, find a time to trade. My husband often goes for hikes with his buddies on weekend morning. In exchange, he’ll watch the kids for me so I can get a cup of coffee with friends. Those who have friends with kids might be able to come up with a similar swap. Maybe if you watch your friend’s kids on Friday night, your friend can watch your kids on Saturday night. Another great option that I found is a club for moms. I’m in MOMS Club, but there are others groups like MOPS. MOMS Club has activities during the day every week for moms and their kids. You go and get to socialize with other adults while your kids play.
Lastly, I want to discuss couple time. When you are caring for kids and trying to find time for yourself and friends, how can you possibly get quality time with your significant other? Lower your standards! Ha! I’m only half-kidding.
It’s true that my husband and I can’t get out alone together very much. As I write this, I honestly cannot remember the last time we got to go out on a date. I think his mom might have watched the kids so we could get a cup of tea together back in July. Yup, I’m almost certain that was our last date out. If you’re like me, then you know that’s not enough. The trick for us is to create short dates right at home. We do this a couple times a week after the kids go to bed! We don’t plan anything too big because that’s not stress we need. Sometimes, my husband and I bake a dessert together after the kids go to bed. Other times, we do something creative, like paint. There are nights I just make us each a cup of tea, and we sit down and actually have uninterrupted, adult conversation together. Most of our “dates” last about half an hour or so. To me, it’s just enough to remember that my husband is still there, and we still enjoy spending time together. If our regular dates were any longer, then I’d worry they would feel like a chore. We keep them short and sweet, but also frequent.
Try adding one of those changes into your daily routine, and let me know if it eases things a bit. It can be encouraging your toddler to help you with chores, making sure to have at least a little family time in the evening, trading time off with your partner or friend, or creating miniature dates with your significant other at home after your kids go to bed. If you found another way to help lighten your load or enjoy your time just a little bit more, share it with us!