What do you remember about your childhood? I don’t cherish the toys I was given or the lavish gifts. I remember and hold on to the late nights when my mom would still be awake when I got home from a date and wanted to hear all about it. I remember looking over and seeing my dad walk up to an afternoon tennis match after he worked all day.
When trying to create special moments with your fast-growing children, especially while trying to juggle work, don’t worry about the things you can replace with money. Worry about the things money can’t buy.
Here are 10 practical ways to spend quality time with your kids when you work full-time:
1. Read to your kids each night.
You can alternate nights if you have multiple children. Reading to two kids every night, let alone more than two, can take forever and you may end up feeling rushed—like you’re checking off a box. I usually read to my daughter one night and tuck her in with all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds bedtime for her…songs, prayers, reenacting some scene from a Disney movie, etc. She needs that. That’s how she knows I’m all hers for those few moments. My son is a little different. On his night, I’ll put my daughter to bed quickly and then go read to my son. He’s usually good with a book about animals and a few minutes of back scratching. We end up talking, and that’s when I’ll see all the thoughts in his tiny young brain start to flow out. I’m reminded of how funny, smart, quirky, and even a little naïve he still is. The following nights I’ll try to rotate back and forth. If my husband is home, we’ll either do it all together, or each take time reading and tucking into bed.
2. Schedule quality time.
Just like you have to intentionally schedule or set aside time to go on dates with your spouse, you have to do the same with your kids. Once a month or so, my husband and I will set aside one night to take each of the kids on a date. We usually let them decide and plan out the date night. They get to help choose what to listen to on the radio, pick the movie, place to eat, activity, etc. This is a simple and fun way to make them feel extra special as well as teach them the practical things about “dating” and interacting socially. Date nights can be “in home” too. If a child is gone or at an activity away from home, but you still have one of your kids with you, have a special date night at home and cook their favorite meal or watch their favorite movie. I asked my six-year-old what he wanted to do on our date night once, and he said build Legos. So we built Legos. Cheap and easy; he still asks for a repeat of this date night! Dates might also consist of going to their school and having lunch with them.
3. Stay up late.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as putting the other kids to bed and letting one or both of them stay up a little later and eat a late night bowl of cereal or a good ol’ Debbie Cake and big glass of milk. You’d be amazed at the sweet (no pun intended) conversation and memories that are made. This is quality time that they usually ask for pretty frequently. I always felt like I had to have our kids in bed at the same time, but let’s face it, that is a daunting task! So, “shift” bedtimes are sometimes the best way to make it all work, and you get a little extra time with each of them!
4. Keep special days special.
Try to plan your day or week around their special events, parties at school, sports, etc. The moments when they look over to the stands or in the audience and see you are the moments that money can’t buy. Learn to say “no” to things or people that might be “extra.” Obviously while working there are going to be meetings and deadlines and responsibilities within your workday. Try not to volunteer or sign up for things that are extra for work, but rather sign up and volunteer for things at your child’s school or extracurricular activities.
5. Cook together.
When you’re tired, and the last thing you want to do is cook dinner, let your kids help you cook. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but let them measure, pour, place on the baking sheet, or stir. They’ll feel needed, wanted, and full of purpose!
6. Listen for cues.
Believe it or not, there is a difference between listening and hearing. You might hear your child asking for the same thing over and over, to the point where you might lose your mind if they ask that question again. Listen. He’s not saying, “Can I play Play-Doh?” He’s saying, “Can we play Play-Doh?” She’s not saying, “Can I play dress-up?” She’s saying, “Will you help me dress up?” Sometimes I wonder why one of my kids is asking to do the same puzzle that she’s already done countless times and then I realize it’s because she wants me. Listen. How many times have they said, “Watch!” That is a clear sign that they need some attention, so watch and genuinely engage. Coloring, building Legos, and playing tag all translate the same way. It’s me being present in that moment and about much more than the act or finished product of those activities. If you have teenagers, they’re not going to beg for you to be a part of much, so it’s up to you to get into their world. Fake it until you make it on those interests they have that seem utterly absurd and wasteful. They’re important to them, so they should be important to you. Ask questions and be enthusiastic.
7. Let them into your everyday.
I’ve learned that it’s important to try and save the “chores” for after the kids go to bed. Or, I try and get up early before they do to finish some domestic things. The last thing I want my kids to remember is that when I was home, I was cleaning or straightening the mess instead of making the mess with them. On the days when it “can’t wait” I try to include them and even teach them things. This goes for everything from doing laundry to sitting on the couch and watching TV to yard work and cooking. When they’re young, chores are fun to do, and they don’t even realize they’re “helping.” Chores can be a fun way to help them take ownership of what happens around the house, as well as sweet and priceless time with you. Take one kid with you to the grocery store sometimes and let them chose their favorite treat or candy to get.
8. Have dance parties and sing-alongs.
Sometimes you just have to stop everything and turn up the music and dance, twirl, sing at the top of your lungs, and let loose. The value of teaching your kids to “let it go” is priceless.
9. Be sentimental with them.
Share sweet memories or stories about them growing up, like their birth story on their birthdays or, “I remember when” stories. You’ll be surprised at how captivated they’ll be and probably have a lot of questions which lead to a sweet few minutes of conversation.
10. When you leave work, leave work.
Put the phone down, turn off the TV, and have dinner together a certain amount of nights a week. Commit to doing these things. It may change on a weekly basis, but doing so can have many benefits, not just for you as a mom but your child too. Since I work all day and only have a few hours with my kids before bedtime, I try very hard to not even have my phone in my hand when I’m around the kids. Any scrolling or things to do on my phone can usually wait until after they are in bed.
Every kid is different. So remember, what worked for one might not for another. Above all, remember the next time you step on a Lego in the middle of the night, drive hours to another athletic event, sit down to color another princess, clean up Play-Doh out of the cracks in the table, pretend to be into a hobby your child likes, or have to watch another cartoon movie, there will, very quickly, come a day where you would give anything to do each and every one of these things. There will be a time where you’ll want to trade a clean and quiet house for a noisy, messy, and dirty house. Start creating a home that is full of laughter, dirt, creativity, and unity now. It will be a place they’ll want to always come back to.
For more encouragement in your mom-ing, start here:
This Is How to Work Hard and Still Be a Great Mom
Dear Mama, You Need to Break up with These 3 Things
How to Reach Your Preteen When They’re Pushing You Away
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be a Great Mom
5 Simple Ways to Balance Mom Life
To the Mom Who Feels Guilty For Loving Her Work
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Ever wonder what “kind” of mom you are? Take a listen to our recent podcast episode and decide for yourself! Stop the Mommy Wars: Every Mom Is Doing Something Right – 045
You’ll also enjoy this episode of This Grit and Grace Life podcast: To the Working Mom: Stop Feeling Guilty – 034