We all have to work. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when it was perfectly feasible to support a whole family on one income, but not anymore.
In most modern families, Mom and Dad both have to spend the better part of their days at work just to make enough for the family scrape by. We spend our days in cubicles or worksites, miles away from our children, and it can feel like we’re hardly getting the chance to see our children grow up.
It’s tough when you don’t get to be there for your children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make every moment we get count. Being there for our children is important, but it’s what we do when we’re with them that really matters. There are ways for a parent who’s never home to make the most of the time they have.
1 | Clear your head before walking through the door
My whole family can tell when I’m thinking about work. That’s partly because of how I am – I tend to mutter to myself and gesture with hands when I’m thinking – but they’d know anyway. They understand me better than anybody, and when my body is at home but my mind is still at work, they can tell.
I like to tell myself that I can be present with my family and figure out a problem at the same time, but I can’t. Human beings aren’t actually capable of multitasking, we can just do a lot of things in a row really quickly. This means that when I’m thinking about work, I’m not really listening to my son. I’m just planning on tuning into him soon.
That’s why it’s important to clear out your mind before you come in. There might be a lot of big problems at work, but write them down so you can deal with them when you have time. Let them all go and don’t let yourself think about anything other than your family, because they know.
2 | Keep dinner sacred
When Dad’s running late at work, a lot of parents don’t bother waiting. The kids get their meal on time, Dad takes a microwaved Hungry Man meal in front of the TV, and everyone avoids a lot of grumbling. It’s a practical solution for most people, but you might not realize just how much it costs.
Family dinnertime is one of the best things a family can do. It’s the main time most families bond. It’s a moment when everyone sits down and talks together, sharing experiences, problems, and perspectives, and getting a new insight on every one of them.
The benefits are incredible. Family dinnertime exposes kids to more new words than reading. It improves their health, makes them more resilient against stress and depression, improves behavior and self-confidence, and, most of all, keeps the family together.
So if Dad comes home a little late, give the kids a snack and wait for him. It might be frustrating, but it could save your marriage and your kids’ mental health.
3 | Let them help
Doing chores doesn’t have to be time you spend apart from your kids. It’s one of the best bonding experiences you can give your children and, most of the time, they’ll love you for letting them help. Kids are fascinated by all the things we can do that they can’t. They hate the feeling that there are things they can’t do, so when they see you cook or fix something, they’re dying to help.
That goes for mechanical work, too. I realized this while fixing my son’s bike. He was so fascinated and eager that he kept trying to climb over my knee so he could watch. At first my instinct was to tell him to give me a little space, but instead, I handed him the wrench.
It was a chance to teach him how to be self-reliant and how bicycles work. More than that, it was a bonding experience. It was time he got to spend sharing a common interest with Dad, and that helped us grow a little closer.
4 | Exercise by playing
I don’t have time to go to the gym. Some people might call me out on that, telling me that if I really cared about my health I’d make time. That’s just the problem. If you’re going to the gym, you have to make time, and you can only make it by giving up time with your kids.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your health. By the time your kid’s three-years-old, you can at least get in a full cardio workout while bonding with your kids. All you have to do is play with them.
Granted, a three-year-old isn’t exactly going to run a marathon with you, but there are ways to push yourself harder than your kid. My son and I race laps around the local square, him on a bike while I chase after him on foot.
This is more than a chance to bond, it’s a chance to show your kids that health is important. It’s nearly guaranteed to make them more active and healthier throughout their lives, and it keeps you close at the same time.
5 | Keep a bedtime ritual
Some parents don’t even get time to share dinner with their family. For a long time, I had a horrendous commute. By the time I made it through the door, my son’s head was hitting the pillow, ready to fall asleep. The only moment I got with him was his last moment awake.
I had to make it special. If I didn’t want him to forget I existed, I had to make our bedtime ritual something he looked forward to all day long. Every night, we’d brush our teeth together. We’d chat while he got into his pajamas, and then we’d read together. Books became our thing. They became such a part of his life that he was reading by the time he was three.
We’ve never stopped, even now that he can read on his own. I plan on reading to him every night until he begs me to stop. It’s one of the best you can do together, and if you take the time to talk about what a book makes you think about, it can do more than just improve their reading – it can give you an insight into how your child sees the world. Asking him what he did that day will never match it.
6 | Make them part of your hobbies
Parents need to take a little time doing the things they like. A cranky, tired, and depressed parent isn’t doing the children any favors. We don’t just have the right to do things that keep us happy, we have an obligation to our kids.
That doesn’t mean we always have to cut our kids out. There are ways to work in time with your kids while doing something you love. As part of my son’s bedtime ritual, I play him guitar after wishing him a good night. I indulge in a hobby I no longer have the time for, while my son gets to feel closer to me.
As he’s gotten older, I’ve been able to involve him more directly. We put him in music lessons and it’s paid off, because now I get to play music with my son. I get to accompany him while he practices his songs, and he’s even learning how to improvise in a jam session with his dad.
That’s what we tend to forget: spending time with our kids doesn’t mean we have to give up time for ourselves. We can do things for us and for our kids at the same time, and it’ll just bring us closer together.