The reality of today’s parenting landscape is that most families are trying to raise their kids as best they can while maintaining two careers and some form of commute. These careers aren’t getting any less demanding and, with most people becoming parents in their 30s, the time when you should be “pushing” at work seems to be increasingly parallel with the times you should be molding your child’s development.
My wife and I both work full time jobs and our commutes are 45-55mins each way. We have a 4 year old son and a daughter who was recently 1.
Typically we wake the kids at 6.30am and drop them at nursery at 7.30am. I’m usually the first to leave work, at 5pm, so that I can pick them up from nursery at 6pm. We’re closing the kids’ bedroom door for nighttime by 8pm.
In total, we see our children for 180mins each day.
Of the 13 hours (780 mins) they spend awake that doesn’t feel like much. 23% of their day to be precise.
Unsurprisingly we’re not alone. The charity Working Families, and their partner Bright Horizons, released some statistics from the 2017 Families index this week stating:
A whopping 41% of UK working parents do extra hours in the evenings or weekends, after they have gone home, all the time or often. This rises to over 60% of parents in London;
One in 10 UK working parents spends less than an hour with their family as a whole on a working day;
For two in five UK working parents, work is regularly stopping them putting their children to bed. This rises to three in five parents in London. Parents in Scotland are most likely to be there at bedtime (42%).
This was why they recently ran the #GoHomeOnTime campaign on the summer solstice.
So, how can we be the brilliant, inspiring, loving, engaged parents we want to be in only 3 hrs?
Here are my tips:
1. Get up early
Get up 20mins early to wash and prepare yourself. No one likes volunteering for time out of bed, particularly when you may have spent a proportion of that night awake tending to a young child. However, that extra 15mins buys you time to wake up and get ready so that when your kids do wake up you can maximize this hour with them. You will be less groggy and bitter at being awake. You can wake them with a smile, throwing back the curtains to welcome the new day!
2. Prep your breakfast
Prep your breakfast table before you go to bed. Before I started doing this I sat the kids down at the table, spent 10mins scurrying around the kitchen finding bowls and cereals and favourite spoons. If the “getting dressed” phase had run on then it was likely it was my own breakfast that would be squeezed off the timelime. Now that I’m prepped I can sit straight down at the table with the kids and we can talk while we pour our milk.
3. What did you dream about?
Ask your kids about their dreams. You can’t feasibly ask kids under 5 what they have planned for their day. They have incredible imaginations though and they have just spent 11 hours exercising these. This one question leads to a wealth of conversational material for us.
4. MY car, MY music
Play your music in the car. Kids don’t HAVE to listen to Frozen. They are perfectly capable of listening to and liking adult music. It is important that you don’t feel like you are “putting on your ‘dad’ persona’”. It can be surprisingly easy to feel like this when you only exercise that persona 3hrs a day. By playing your own music in the car you feel like yourself but can also engage your children in a shared interest. I’ve discovered that my child enjoys Punk and Punk Rock but isn’t really into Metallica. He adores his mum’s Ska collection.
5. Turn your phone OFF
Turn your phone off between 6pm and 8pm. It is so easy to “just check…” or “just look up…” something on your phone. I’m very guilty of this. If a thought enters my head I must find the answer. A quick Google, or maybe check something on IMDB, or simply check if has work emailed anything through. These evening hours are two thirds of your entire time with your child. Put the phone away somewhere and turn it off. Focus and engage. That work email can wait till after 8pm.
6. Play what THEY want to play
Play what your child wants to play. We all have lofty ideas for what our kid should be learning. Most of our expectations are vastly ahead of their developmental level. If your child is delighted to see you after the 10hr daily absence and has been thinking about playing cars with his daddy all day then don’t try to force him into repeating his Spanish alphabet backwards before you give him your attention. It’s also not a time to feel guilty about screentime. If they want to decompress from a busy day of toddler room politics by cuddling mummy on the sofa and watching back to back Sarah & Duck then enjoy it. It won’t be long before you are fruitlessly yearning for cuddles.
7. Help me cook dinner
Involve your child in cooking with you. Of those two evening hours I usually spend at least one of them cooking. This doesn’t have to be separate from time with your kids. We have bought my son his own apron, his own kids’ cooking knife and plenty of other gear that makes cooking a special activity for him. On the days when he isn’t interested we have the computer in the kitchen so at least his screentime is in the same vicinity as us and we can be partially involved.
8. Bath time is Chat time
Bath time can be the special chat time. While my wife was growing up her mother was rarely home from her high-flying corporate job before bath time. So, her mother created a system where my wife understood that bath time was a special time she shared with her mother and that anything she wanted to talk about in that room would be their secret. It gave her a chance to express her feelings openly with her mum without fear of repercussions and allowed her mother a direct and established line of communication with her daughter.
9. Don’t beat yourself up
It pulls on the heart strings when your kid is begging for “one more snuggle” at bedtime, or protesting that they “don’t like being alone.” It takes all my strength to not jump back in bed with them and stay there all night. At least then we’d get 14hrs together, right? The problem is that there will never be a good time to extricate yourself from that cuddle but kids need to understand routine and to get their sleep. They can be great at emotional manipulation but you only have precious few hours this evening to dedicate to your relationship and yourself. No one said this was easy.
10. Love and patience.
I know a woman in her 60s who is a professional “baby nanny” to the rich and famous. She has A LOT of experience with raising kids and many different styles, personalities and familial situations. I openly plagarise her when I suggest that the most important things a parent can have, whether they spent all day with their child or just bedtime, are Love and Patience. It’s easy to come home from work riled up and it can be a struggle to switch off. Try. The kids don’t know what type of day you had and frankly they don’t care. They just want their loving and patient daddy or mummy.
When they grow up your child won’t remember that they spent 88% of their week in the care of nursery or a childminder. They will remember the love with which they were greeted when they woke up in the morning, the moments their dad was engaged enough to give them the hug they needed and that mum read them a story every night.