It seems today that there is never enough time. Spending time with our family is no different. Every mom I know either stays home with their kids and never gets any time for herself, struggles financially on one income, etc., or she works and spends her life feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her kids and hating herself if she actually dares to enjoy what she does for a living. Now add to that sharing custody of your children, which means that even when you have time, they could very well be with their other parent.
First, let’s talk about priorities. I’m sure if you ask most parents, they will tell you their child(ren) is/are their number one priority. But, let’s a take a look at how they actually spend their time. Let’s be clear here, your priority is where you spend the majority of your time. We’ve already discussed this here but it is worth repeating. I know you are all saying, “but Mandee, I HAVE to work”. I understand and agree. I spend about 40-60 hours per week at work. I get it. However. when you pick up your children after work, put down your damn phone, and stop checking work emails.
There is a single father of a client of mine that brags about having 50/50 custody. He struts around in front of other parents and loves telling his significant other how dedicated he is. The truth is, he constantly hires babysitters, has the kids go to “sleepovers”, when he wants to go out, and when that doesn’t work out he gives them back to their mother and says he has to work late. His priority is most decidedly not his children. The children’s mother, is constantly frustrated finding out after the fact that her children were with yet another babysitter. and she wasn’t told where they were (a whole other soapbox). Additionally, he pays child support as a 50% parent while averaging the visitation of a one night a week and every other weekend, dad. I feel for his children when they finally realize their dad is constantly blowing them off when it isn’t a public forum where he gets “credit” for showing up, such as a sports function.
There, is an example of a father with messed up priorities. This is not the case for all parents by any means. But please take a moment and figure out how much time you actually spend with your kids. I bet you’ll be surprised how little it is. Take out the morning scramble, the after school chores/showers/homework/dinner/bed, etc., and actually tally the time spent doing something with them. Now, please state again for the record what your priorities are…. makes you cringe huh?
“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are you busy about?” ~Henry David Thoreau
Let me explain that I despise how our society has set itself up. We spend the majority of our time doing a job we may or may not like, with people we didn’t choose. Meanwhile, by the time we get home to the people we love and actually like, we are exhausted. We give our best to strangers and then try to “survive” the evening with those we want to be there for the most. There HAS to be a better way. Until I think of one though, we have to live life on life’s terms.
It’s nothing you are doing wrong. We have to juggle immediate family, extended family, work, friends, self-care, possibly school, religious practice (if this applies), exercise/health, volunteering/community work, etc., and that’s all after maintaining food, clothing, and shelter.
Here’s some ways of maximizing your time with your children:
- Attempt to work out an alternate work schedule. When I was still married to the girls’ father, I worked from 4:30AM-8:30AM and then again from 6:00PM-10:00PM and stayed home with the girls while he worked regular business hours. Now, I often get up at 4:30AM and work from 5:30AM-5:00PM. This way I can get in the extra hours required by work (and my budget) while not creating late evenings/nights that take away from family time.
- Register your kids for sports and/or extracurricular activities. I know this sounds counter intuitive but I love going to cheer the kids on at their games on Saturday mornings. Moreover, I enjoy getting to see them every Saturday even if it isn’t my weekend.
- Have “family dinners”. I know this sounds hokey and old-fashioned but we have our best conversations while sitting around the dining room table and I can actually focus on what my family is telling me without doing 10 other things at the same time.
- Add your children into activities you need to get done or want to do. I don’t go to the gym when I have my girls but we do run together, take walks, ride bikes, jump rope, do yoga videos, etc. My girls and I even participate in races. I need my exercise, and so do they. I don’t ditch them for the gym, we do it together and we have really great conversations on our long walks.
- Combine responsibilities when possible. Try and do friend maintenance when your kids can be included. If it’s kid friendly, you can see your friends and include your children. [Sidenote: this should not be the only time you spend with your friends!] Additionally, let your kids volunteer with you. They need to learn to give back anyway, right?
- Do something that doesn’t suck. As Jerry Seinfeld says, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”. I HATE Chuck E Cheese and the like. All the blinky, beepy, screamy….no thank you. And by “no thank you”, I mean I’d rather roll around naked in broken glass. But, there are things I DO like. I love animals. So, we have zoo passes,and I take the kids to aquariums, animal rescues, etc. We all love “the city” (our little downtown) so I take them to the kids floor of the library and ride the trolley (both free, BONUS!). These are all things the family can do that may not be sitting on the beach with a Corona and a cigar, but you won’t be trying to think of ways to feign illness to get out of. This will at least motivate you to not sit in front of the television instead; not exactly quality time.
- Break up the things that cannot be avoided. I completes my BS and MA while my kids were underfoot. At the start, I could get all my homework done when the girls were with their dad, or in the evening after they went to bed. Sometimes, I would even get up before they woke up and do it very early in the morning (which is no longer an option with the early work hours). However, the longer I was in the program, the harder and more time-consuming the work is becoming. So, we break it up. I do most after bedtime but if some seeps into our weekend, I split it up. I let them know I need one hour to write a discussion post. but then we will make smoothies. Then I need two hours to work on a paper, but then we’ll play a board game. This keeps me from having to spend all afternoon locked in my office while they rot in front of the television.
Try not to beat yourself up about what MUST be done. Children need to know they are important without the world revolving around them. That said, they need to know they are a priority. Once they are grown, there are no second chances. Unless you want to sit up at night eating ice cream and crying while listening to Harry Chapin’s, Cats In The Cradle, you may want to make sure you are maximizing your time with your kids.