During most of my daughter’s first 10 years, I was lucky enough to be able to pull off working 25 hours a week or less. When she was a baby, I didn’t work outside the home at all. We definitely made financial sacrifices during all those years, but it was absolutely worth it to me and my husband.
But now she’s older, and I’m back in the world of 40 hour weeks. My job is wonderfully flexible, and I’m doing something that feels really important, but I can’t say I don’t miss the old days. No matter what my position is, the job title that means the most to me is “mom,” and every day I try to make choices about my time that reflect that.
A few months ago, my daughter was complaining to my husband and me that, “You’re not around enough.” My first response was, “Well, you’re not around so much either – you’re a lot busier with your activities and your friends these days.” Then she replied with some of the sweetest words ever uttered by a fifth-grader.
“But I like you guys better than anybody else.”
Cynics will say, “Just wait a couple of years….” But I think we are on track to keeping a good amount of that warm-fuzziness alive and well. We’re on the cusp of adolescence, and I know it’s not all sweetness and harmony ahead. It’s never been all sweetness and harmony. But I recognize that time together is probably the best investment I can make toward staying high on my daughter’s favorite people list.
The fact remains, though, that we, like every other family I’ve met, are busy. The best way I know to get around this is to be aware of not just the obvious quality time opportunities – vacations, weekend hikes, movie nights – but also the little moments that pop up every day. Driving to school is when some of our best conversations happen. There’s something about staring out the window instead of into your mother’s face that makes it easier to bring up weighty or slightly uncomfortable topics.
In our house, this also means limiting TV and electronics use, because good quality interaction drops precipitously during those activities. (Just try having a real conversation with a kid who is sucked into “Subway Surfer.”) TV and electronics aren’t off limits, we just treat them like candy: A little bit is fine, a lot is not so good.
Even running errands can turn into a fun outing together if you approach it right. We try to mix in fun with the mundane every now and then, like getting a cherry-limeade from Sonic before grocery shopping, and playing with the adoption cats at Petco when stopping for dog food.
I’ve found that acting like you’re not in a hurry, even when you are, can transform the moment. Be present, focus on your child as though you have an hour instead of five minutes, and then make sure to come back to the topic when you have more time to give. Everyone feels better when they feel heard.
When you do have a night or an afternoon available for something that requires a little more time, try one of these ideas for making it special.
Put it on the calendar, make it happen as often as you can, then share your favorite “quality time” ideas in the comment section below!
Sarah Johnson is a mother and coordinator of The Parenting Place. She is also a member of the Healthy Mesa County parenting action team. Read her every other Thursday on HealthyMesaCounty.org.