Question: I am a working mother with a beautiful five-year-old son, but I am finding myself struggling to get everything done, especially in the evenings. I have a pressurised job that is hard for me to leave on time. I rush out the door to collect my son from the creche. I get there by 5.45pm on a good day when I am not late (my husband takes him in the morning to school), then we get home after 6pm and there is so much to do.
I have to prepare dinner, get his homework done, not to mention all the household chores that have to be done. Often we end up in a fight, particularly around his homework as he is tired. Sometimes, I just give up and then I feel bad that I am not helping with his school work. He goes to bed at 8.30pm usually, but recently he has been wanting to stay up late, though he is tired. So bedtime has become a battle too.
It is all stressful.
Answer: Working parents reading your question will identify with your struggle. Getting all the important things done in a tight time window is big challenge. This is especially so when you are dealing with work and commuting stresses, which can eat into your home time and this before you have to face the "normal" stresses of parenting a young child.
Focus on creating a relaxed evening routine
In your question you talk about trying to get everything done in the evenings, and I would suggest you shift this focus to getting the most important things done instead. From a parenting perspective, the most important priority is to create a stress-free relaxed evening routine for you and your son. This ideally should include fun play and connecting time together, a relaxing bedtime routine and then some personal time for you to relax with your partner after your son has gone to bed.
Reviewing your priorities in the evening
To achieve a more relaxed routine, you need to be very clear what are the priorities each evening and to let go or change those that aren't important. In your question, you list priorities such as household chores, preparing dinner, doing homework and so on. Let's look at each of these in turn. Do household chores have to be done in the time that your son is awake, when this could be stressing you and taking away time from being together? Are there other ways of managing these? Also, is there any way you can create routine around dinner that makes it more relaxed? In my view, the key priority here is having time to sit with your son and eat together in a relaxed way. Could you pre-prepare dinners or some evening snacks that can be available easily in the evening? This might mean making sure he has his main meal at the creche.
You also are prioritising homework on the list, when I would say this is a low priority when he is only five (please see my article last week on the same subject) especially if it is causing stress. At 6pm he is indeed likely to be tired doing homework, and this might be best done earlier in the creche. In the evening you can focus on listening to how he got on in school during the day, reviewing his school books for a minute or two and then prioritising reading a bedtime story with him.
Addressing external work stresses
Do what you can to address the external stresses that are affecting your family life. I don't know your circumstances or what freedom you have in your working life, but this might mean negotiating with your employer that you leave 15-30 minutes early to miss rush traffic (replacing this time by coming in earlier or working one evening from home and so on).
It might also mean that you learn to separate work stresses from home, so that you can arrive to collect your son in a more relaxed way. This could include organising your day so you have a debriefing or wind-down period at the end or creating a clear transition by listening to music in the car as you travel to collect your son. One parent I worked with organised to leave work a little early so he could do 10 minutes’ mindfulness in the car before he collected his children. This allowed to him to be less stressed and more relaxed for them.
Be really organised
When you are time poor at home in the evening, the key is to be really organised to make sure you really cover the most important things. This might mean writing out a detailed routine that you aim for each evening that might include elements such as:
– Arriving at creche 10 minutes ahead of time.
– Taking time to talk to his minder about the day.
– Arranging a relaxed time in car with option of playing music.
– Sitting with your son to have dinner/ light supper and having a ritual of sharing news.
– Reviewing your son's homework (done earlier), commenting on what he has done well.
– Have a play time for 15 minutes, letting your child choose the activities.
– Set your son up with quiet playtime by himself while you get some chores done.
– Start the bedtime routine to finish with a bedtime story at the end.
– Plan some quality personal time, reading, watching a movie with partner and so on.
You may not get everything done every day but at least you know the priorities and what you are aiming for.
John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He has published 14 books, including Positive Parenting: Bringing Up Responsible, Well-Behaved and Happy Children. He will deliver a number of parenting workshops in Dublin, Cork and Galway in November and January. See solutiontalk.ie for details