One of the mums at our Mumager workshop summed up a dilemma that many parents experience – the challenge of being fully present when at home. She shared “I often feel guilty that I don’t see my kids during the week as they’re in crèche 4 days a week, but then when I do come home I find I’m rushing around, always promising I’ll ‘be there in a minute’. There’s so much to get done between home-time and bed-time, I just feel like I’m not really there for them. That makes me feel even more guilty.” Sound familiar?
If so you’re not alone, Theresa confessed “I find it hard to switch off from work. I sneak a look at my phone whilst cooking dinner convincing myself that I’m being productive, then before I know it I’ve answered 3 emails and am accepting a LinkedIn invitation – none of which was really that important or urgent”. Sally, a mum of older children told us “I used to pride myself on the fact that I could read a bed-time story whilst mentally preparing for a meeting at work the next day – I look back now and think what on earth was I doing.”
If any of the above resonates with you, here are some ideas and top tips from Mumager to help you make the most of time with your children:
- Write down achievements and to-dos: rather than racing out of the office try to create a 10 minute window where you’ve got time to reflect. Our brain is programmed to remember all the things we haven’t done, so over-write that by jotting down three things you’ve achieved in your day that you’re pleased with. Then write down your urgent to-dos for tomorrow. There will always be more to do but noticing what you’ve achieved can help you switch off when you leave work.
- Set boundaries (and stick to them): if you have to check emails at night be clear about when you’re going to do this. Knowing that you will have half an hour after the kids have gone to bed to attend to any unfinished business helps to avoid the temptation to quickly send an email whilst you’re cooking dinner or helping with homework. Tip: set a timer so that your whole evening doesn’t disappear and you lose out on quality time with your partner, or precious you-time.
- Put it away: As the saying goes ‘out of sight out of mind’. Avoid temptation by hiding away phones and tablets – preferably in another room when you’re having family time.
- Change your Clothes: get out of work-mode by changing when you get home. Switching outfit can help you switch to a different role.
- Chunk your time: Break your evenings or weekends down into smaller time segments and have a routine. Even the loosest of structures around when you play together and when you need to do things on your own can help let everyone know what to expect. For those who like tasks and lists, scheduling ‘play’ time can help you stick to your plans and resist the temptation to clean the skirting boards when you’re supposed to be playing with Lego.
- Get down and play first: It can be challenging coming straight in from work when everyone is tired and hungry. You’re frantically trying to get dinner on whilst your little one is demanding that you’re needed, like now, to look at something important. Many parents find that giving just 10 minutes of undivided attention first means that when you have to go and do something their child is much happier to go and play by themselves for a short while. This doesn’t just apply to after work; it’s a good tactic to use at any time.
- Make the everyday special: quality time doesn’t always have to mean special activities or getting out the play-doh, involving children in everyday activities and chores can be a great way to spend time together, and also a good learning experience. Childcare expert Catherine Lawler says “so many children miss out on learning about how a home runs. They come home from crèche and find the house has been cleaned and the online shop delivered, so they have less opportunity to learn important life skills. Helping with age-appropriate chores like folding the laundry or setting the table is a great way to boost their self-esteem and also spend time with their parents”.
- Look to the future: My 4 year old already tells me ‘Mammy when I’m a teenager I won’t want you around, I’ll be with my friends’. There will come a time, probably sooner than we all realise, when our kids won’t want or need us as much. (I’m reliably informed by fiends with older children I’ll be lucky if we make it to teenage years!) Thinking about that can help us focus on enjoying the now. Plus, think about how you’re being a role model. Can you really give out to your teenager for always being on their phone or iPad when that is what they’ve grown up with?
- Find your time: Have just one time of day that is sacred and special. Be it early morning snuggles in bed if you have an early riser, bath time, or reading stories as you’re tucking them in the for the night. Regardless of how the rest of the day has gone you’ll know that for that time you’ve been there. Totally there.
So, try a few of these out and see how you get on, or let us know what works for you. Many experts suggest that spending just 15 minutes of quality time each day with our children is enough – surely that’s the very least we can give them. And on a plus note, you may find that you’ll get better at being more present in other areas of your life too – leading to better relationships all round. What’s not to love about that?!