Strapped for Time? 5 Tips to Spend Time with Children when Parents Have No Time
Between work and martial arts and gymnastics and shopping and piano and swim lessons and school and dance class and babies and laundry and chores…we often find we’re strapped for quality time when it comes to spending time with our kids.
When Susan, one of my newest coaching clients, came to me a few months ago, she was nearing her whit’s end. Cody, her 7 year old son, was talking back to the teacher at school and getting into arguments with friends. “It’s been getting worse over the last year or so since my daughter, Kayla, was born. I love both of my kids but the baby takes up so much of my time and I know that Cody needs me too. I don’t know what to do.”
It was Dr. Anthony P. Witham who once said “children spell love…T-I-M-E.” He was definitely onto something. Unfortunately, if you are like most parents, time is a precious commodity that often eludes us. Whether we have a new job, a new baby, or we just need to make the coffee or strip the beds, we always seem to be wishing for a little bobble from Father Time’s Treasure Chest. We need more. We want more. But we just don’t have it. Does that mean we don’t love them? Of course not.
Spending quality time with our children is extremely important for their development. Note that I said “quality” not quantity. We must find ways to slow down and slip in some memorable time that will let our children know that we love and care for them.
Many children will let you know in their own “subtle” ways if they feel that you are not giving them the attention that they need. Some will withdraw while others will “act out.” You might see it when a child gives “lip” to a teacher, fights with another classmate or resorts back to behaviors that once got your attention like increased crying, throwing tantrums or even bed-wetting. This is a way to capture your attention, albeit often negative, so that they can enjoy “focused” time with you. Essentially the thought process is, “if I can’t get her attention by doing something good, I’ll get her attention by doing something bad.” Nobody wants that!
So how can you find time when you don’t have any to spend? Here are some of the ideas that I am working on with Susan:
(1) MAC time: In Susan’s case, this stands for “Mom and Cody time” but you get the drift. MAC time is special alone time with your child doing something you both enjoy. With Susan and her family, this is the time when Dad takes the baby (another benefit for the baby-quality time with Dad) and Mom spends time with Cody. This could mean going to a movie, going to the local theater to see “Cinderella,” or just sitting at the park on a bench and talking. The frequency of MAC time is up to you. With one of my clients, a single mother of 3, we devised a plan so that each Saturday she spends quality time with one of her children and the last Saturday of the month they spent quality time as a family. Make it work for you.
(2) Integrate Together Time into Daily Schedule: Children love to help. Do you have a mailing to do? Have them put the stamps on the envelopes. Need to go shopping? Make grocery shopping “fun time” with you. Need to make dinner? Let them help you by contributing to the preparation process. While it might be messier and it may time more time in the beginning, you will see that the children will become your greatest helpers and they will look back and remember that “before dinner” was always special time with you.
(3) Family Meetings: Once per month I have any “Powerful Families” working with me, run a family meeting in which they discuss how they can integrate better character into their home. For example, for “respect month” exercises like “brainstorm what your ideal family would look like if everyone was using respect” and questions like “what are some specific ways that we can show respect at home” are included. This process allows for children to contribute to the family atmosphere, show the children that their opinions are valued, and allow for the family to spend quality time together doing something meaningful. You can also take some of the discussions that are ensuing at your Powerful Words Member School and use them as a springboard to talk about important, meaningful things in a short amount of time.
(4) Phantom Time: Don’t have a moment to spare until about 3am? You can still let your children know that you care. Write notes and drop them into their lunch boxes. You can also make a recording that they can play in the morning if you can’t be there. Recording devises are inexpensive and easy to operate. While it isn’t ideal to rely solely on “phantom time,” it provides something so your children know you are thinking of them.
(5) Break time: Everyone is busy. Some are busier than others. Slide in a “break time” so that you and your children can spend 15 minutes or a half hour together. Set a timer if you need to so that everyone knows when “break time” starts and finishes. Give warnings to your children when 2 minutes are left so that it doesn’t come as a surprise. Don’t even have break time available? Wake your child up 15 minutes early so that you can spend a little extra time doing something fun in the morning. You might not think that 15 minutes is any significant time at all, but to a child, it is 15 extra minutes with you.
Spending time with your children provides them with opportunities to learn and to be heard. Most of all, it provides you and your children with time to connect. It’s these connections that make time precious. So leave the beds unstripped for another few minutes and put the coffee on an automatic timer. Take those extra moments to spend with your children. When you look back, you will be thankful for the memories.
Here’s to a Powerful Week!
Photo credit: Jupiter Images
*Article originally written for Bay State Parent Magazine, award winning magazine Parent Magazine in Massachusetts