As a working mother how do I get time with my children?
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The key to making the routine work is to take the rush out and to make sure you have plenty of time for the important things, like reading to your children. Photograph: iStock
As a working mother, I find it difficult to get quality time with my children. The evenings are particularly hectic as my husband works away a lot and there are two of them vying for my attention with only one of me, with homework to be checked, house to be tidied, baths, etc. I have about 2-2½ hours at home with them every night and would like to know how best to use that time. I know I should be playing with them, but I am not sure how to do that. I have two girls – 5½ and two years of age – so they are at different stages. Can you suggest how I should fill in these hours please?
Making the best use of limited family time is a big challenge for working parents. If you work full-time, have a long commute or expected to work extra hours, then your time at home with the children can easily become squeezed. When you arrive home from work, there are pressures to do so much and to fit everything in. Not only do you want to play with your children, there are dinners to be made, a house to be cleaned and a million things to be done in a smaller and smaller window. This is even before thinking of doing something for yourself.
Decide your priorities
In trying to manage the short amount of time in the evening, the most important thing you can do is to decide your priorities. What do you most want to do during this time? What matters most to you? On a good day, what are you most pleased about doing, despite being busy?
When parents reflect about their priorities, usually connecting with and enjoying their children comes top of the list. Housework, cleaning and other projects are usually much lower down. Try to focus on doing these important things first and the other stuff later.
Alternatively, think of creative ways to get the other stuff done. Perhaps you could cook and freeze the weekly dinners in advance, get extra help for the household chores, or just accept living in a slightly untidier, but maybe happier, home.
Being organised is crucial to managing as a busy parent. Do up a detailed pan for the evening routine with the most important things given centre stage. For example, a typical routine might include 1) saying hello and chatting about the day; 2) sitting down to dinner; 3) playtime; 4) short TV time, when you get to do something else; 5) start of bedtime routine; 6) reading a story with kids before they sleep; 7) relaxing time for you.
Look for creative routines that allow you to do lots of different things. Perhaps you can integrate some of the chores into play and fun time with kids. For example, small preschoolers might love to help you sort socks and even think of it as a game. Over time, your children can be taught to help out with all sorts of chores. This teaches them responsibility and shares the burden of work in the home.
The key to making the routine work is to take the rush out and to make sure you have plenty of time for the important things. For example, I think greeting times are really crucial between parents and children. So when you arrive in after work, rather than rushing to do something, sit down with the kids and relax with them for a few minutes. Give them your full attention, let them “crawl all over you and unwind” as you listen to their day.
As they get older, you can even tell them a little about your day as well – this makes greeting an important reconnection time.
Equally, a stressful activity can be transformed by a little bit more time. For example, slowing down bath time so there is plenty of time to play can make it the most connecting fun time of the day.
Playing with two children
When you have two children at different stages, it can be a bit harder to play with them together as they can compete for your attention and often get into conflict and squabbles. A good way to handle this is to set up a regular playtime with them both, when you sit down between them in a position that you can alternate your attention.
Set each child up with an activity appropriate to their age and interest, and then attend to each of them in turn, making sure to switch your attention regularly. Make sure to encourage and praise any times they share or play together as this is the beginning of them learning to co-operate with each other.
Individual time with each child
In addition, it is important to build a little bit of one-to-one time with each child in the evening routine. Often this is best done during the bedtime routine. You might first read a story with the youngest in her bed. Then, when she is relaxed, visit the older girl in her bed to read her a story (complimenting her on how she is such a great girl for waiting).
Little moments of one-to-one time like this make all the difference in building individual connections with each of your children.
Once the children are asleep, the final part of the routine is to make sure you have time to relax yourself. Plan out a few relaxing things you do each evening so you feel refreshed and recharged to ensure you have a good night’s sleep and are ready to get going the next day.
John Sharry is a social worker, psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus programmes. Dr Sharry will deliver a talk on “Promoting Positive Self-Esteem in Children” in Dublin on Wednesday, May 10th. See solutiontalk.ie for details.