“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, a parent.”
In 1990, Barbara Bush spoke those immortal words to the graduating class at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. And while her speech is now almost 30 years old, this message is even more relevant today. Many people are overworked, distracted, and left constantly wondering if they’re spending enough time with their families.
However, it’s the quality of that time that’s important, not necessarily the quantity. Being present and aware with your children for an hour a day will always supersede two hours spent in their presence while you’re distracted on your phone.
Spending more quality time with your kids can also have a positive effect on your family budget. Instead of going out to eat at a restaurant, you could cook dinner together. Instead of a family outing at the mall where you all go your separate ways, you could do an art project. Spending time together doesn’t have to cost money. Your time and attention are both free, and those two things are what your kids want the most anyway — even though older kids won’t admit it.
So, how can you carve out an extra 20 minutes to an hour every day to spend solely with your family? Let’s take a look.
How to Make More Time for Your Family
The good news is that we’re spending more time with our children than in the past. In 1965, The Economist reports, mothers only spent 54 minutes per day caring for their children, while fathers only spent an average of 16 minutes on child care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, parents now spend an average of 2.18 hours per day helping and caring for their children.
But kids always want more time with their parents. And, quite frankly, they need it. The time you spend together as a family pays huge dividends in terms of your kids’ self-confidence, language skills, and behavior. This time also helps strengthen the bonds between you and builds trust, which is vital in keeping communication lines open when your kids enter the rocky adolescent years.
Here’s what you can do to work more quality family time into your schedule.
1. Start Saying No More Often
It’s easy for the free time you do have to get eaten away by commitments: birthday parties, work assignments, play dates, sports or music practices, requests to volunteer for parent-teacher night … the list can go on and on.
Avoid overscheduling your family by saying no more often. When you say no to people and activities that don’t really matter, you’re saying yes to the people and activities that do. In this case, you’re saying yes to more time with your family. When you realize that your “no” is giving you the freedom to prioritize your family, declining a request or invitation becomes easier to do.
2. Watch Media Together
According to a report by Common Sense Media, children aged 8 and younger spend an average of 2 hours and 18 minutes in front of a screen each day; 72% of this time is spent watching television or videos. Children aged 8 to 12 spend an average of 4 hours and 38 minutes with screen media.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children aged 2 to 5 spend no more than 1 hour per day watching a screen and, ideally, watching only high-quality programming such as PBS. The AAP backed off from stipulating hourly limits for older children, saying instead that parents should use their own best judgment when it comes to the amount of time a child spends in front of a screen.
If you’re worried your children have too much screen time, watching shows together enables you to turn that time into quality time. The AAP states that co-viewing with your children can be a great way to socialize and bond, especially if you talk about your own life experiences or lessons that come up during the show. As journalist Tim Cumming succinctly states in an article for The Telegraph, “good family time isn’t about imposing a blanket digital ban, simply a more balanced diet of play.”
Another option is to cut out media watching at least one day a week and do something else with that time, such as going to the park or playing outside with your kids.
3. Get Physical
Children, especially young children, need a healthy dose of rough-and-tumble play every day. According to doctors Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen in a New York Times interview, roughhousing provides a number of important benefits.
First, children who roughhouse with their parents — particularly their fathers — are, obviously, more physically fit. DeBenedet and Cohen say that these kids also get better grades and make better friends than those who don’t engage in physical horseplay. They also get the benefits of loving physical contact from their parent; this physical contact releases feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins in the brain. Finally, children who roughhouse at home are less violent because, presumably, they learn to tell the difference between roughhousing and aggression.
So, get physical with your kids. Toss them on the couch, play airplane, or start a wrestling match. If you need more ideas on how to start roughhousing with your kids, check out DeBenedet and Cohen’s book, “The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.”
4. Use Chores to Bond
The floor needs sweeping, the laundry needs folding, and you’ve got to start getting dinner prepped soon or you won’t be eating until way past bedtime.
It’s tempting to shuttle your kids off to their rooms for playtime so you can get some of these things done, but that’s more time they’re spending away from you. Instead, do these chores with your kids. Yes, it will likely take longer, especially if your children are young, and you’ll need a healthy dose of patience. However, you get to teach them how to do the chore correctly while talking with them about their day, your day, and everything in between.
Children as young as two can learn how to sweep and fold laundry, and they’ll experience a deep sense of pride once they realize that they, too, can contribute to their family. Teaching them how to do chores at an early age will also help them develop a strong work ethic.
Home repair chores are another way you can bond with your kids and teach them valuable life skills. Young children can hold the flashlight for you while you repair a leaky faucet or reset the breaker box when the power goes out. While you clean out the gutters or caulk the windows, talk to your kids about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They’ll take it all in, and when they get to be a bit older, they’ll be able to take a more active role in household maintenance.
5. Maximize Meal Prep
Planning, preparing, and cooking dinner takes up a huge chunk of valuable time in the evening — time you could be spending playing outside or talking about the day. However, you still want to feed your family home-cooked healthy meals. What do you do?
One way to solve the problem is to cook dinners in double-batches. For example, instead of making just one meatloaf or one tray of lasagna, make two and freeze one of them for dinner next week. Planning and preparing make-ahead freezer meals can save you an enormous amount of time and stress during the week because, even on hectic days, you know you have healthy, already-prepared meals in the freezer.
You can also cook with your kids at least one night a week. Cooking with children can help boost their self-esteem, build math skills, and strengthen basic motor skills in younger children through measuring and pouring. It can also encourage healthy eating habits; kids are far more likely to eat healthy food they helped prepare.
Yes, cooking with your children will take longer, and you’ll likely have more of a mess on your hands. However, cooking together is a way for you to spend some meaningful time with your children during the week and teach them some valuable lessons along the way.
Eating together as a family is also important; studies show that frequent family meals have a positive impact on a child’s development and social skills. One study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that more frequent family meals lead to a decrease in risk-taking behavior in adolescents — such as substance abuse, violence, and sexual activity — as well as lower rates of depression and suicide. Another study published in the journal Eating Disorders found that female adolescents who ate dinner with their family most days were less likely to engage in radical dieting behaviors such as binge eating and purging.
To get your kids on board with family dinner time, plan a theme for some nights of the week. For example, you could have Tuesday Taco Night or Friday Pizza Night. Have fun with dinner, and your kids will be more likely to show up, unplug, and engage. Of course, this also goes both ways; make sure you and your spouse or partner are present and accounted for during dinner. Turn off your phones and give your kids your full attention.
6. Do a Hobby Together
You have your interests, and your kids have theirs. But why not put your own hobbies aside for a while and get involved in what they’re doing? Hobbies are more fun when you do them together, and this is a great way to build memories and spend quality time with your kids. Some examples of fun hobbies you can do together include:
- Martial arts
- Model building, such as rockets or cars
- Horseback riding
- Stamp collecting
- Cupcake baking
- Soap making
- Making puppets
- Drawing or painting
- Lego building
- Camping, hiking, climbing, or mountain biking
- Metal detecting
- Exploring Civil War history
- Ping pong
- Creating science experiments
- Garage sales and thrifting, or transforming vintage finds using arts and crafts
- Jewelry making or metalsmithing
- Coin collecting
- Playing an instrument
If your child is already involved in a hobby they love, take an active interest and ask them to show you how to do it. For example, if your child plays guitar, ask them to teach you some basic chords. If they’re into jiu-jitsu, ask them to teach you some moves. If they go on a daily run, go with them. Showing you how to do something will be a big boost to their self-confidence, and it will make them feel valued when they see you taking a real interest in the things they enjoy.
7. Use Your Weekends to Bond
Many families can’t avoid the stress and hustle that come with the typical school and work week. There’s carpooling to do, lunches to make, homework to finish, sports practices to attend — and that doesn’t include everything you have to get done at work and at home to keep things functioning.
As Parents magazine points out, there are only 940 Saturdays between your child’s birth and their 18th birthday. Sure, that sounds like a lot. But how many have already passed you by? How many are left?
It’s so important to maximize the time you have with your kids on the weekend. Yes, it’s tempting to use these days to catch up on cleaning, run errands, and maybe return some work emails. But Parents magazine has another potent piece of wisdom to offer: one day, when they leave home, your children’s messy rooms will be empty and spotless. One day, you won’t see a jumble of little shoes by the back door, you won’t have a dirty car seat covered in crumbs to vacuum up, and all those toys strewn on the floor will be neatly stacked on a “memory shelf,” a silent testament to a precious time that’s now passed. It’s as inevitable as the sunrise.
I have a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old. I know how tempting it is to try to use every spare minute on the weekend to get caught up so you can take a breath. But one day, we’ll all have plenty of time — so much time that we won’t know quite what to do with it.
So instead of racing through the weekend catching up on chores, take your kids to the farmers’ market and let them pick out some vegetables to cook for dinner. Plan a family game night. Go on a hike. You could also take a pajama walk; get the kids completely ready for bed — baths taken, teeth brushed, jammies on — and go on a short walk outside with flashlights. Your kids will love the new experience, and the fresh air right before bed will help them sleep better.
This weekend, close your laptop, turn off your phone, and give your kids your undivided attention. You can’t stop time, but you can make the most of it.
When my second son was born, a neighbor said to me, “With two little ones, the days are long but the years are short. Don’t blink.”
Most new parents hear this saying often, but my neighbor was absolutely right. It seems like just a few months ago that we had that conversation, but it was several years ago. Both of my boys are now in preschool, and already I’m discovering how quickly our time together is being stretched by work, travel time, and the hustle of our morning and bedtime routines.
One activity that makes a huge difference for our family is roughhousing for 10 or 15 minutes in the evening. We haul out a huge cushion and start throwing the boys around while they cackle like lunatics. This physical play makes them calmer and happier, and we enjoy it because, all too soon, they’ll be too big to pick up.
It takes awareness and effort to slow down and really be with your kids. That to-do list always beckons, and occasionally it would be nice to sit down and do absolutely nothing for five minutes. I get it; I do. But these years are passing by at warp speed and only seem to be going faster. You may very well regret the missed opportunities with your family if you don’t grab them now.
What do you do to make more time for your kids during the week? Do you have any special routines or activities you all do together to make the evenings or weekends feel special?