While moving away from a dream job (working with new teachers) played a large role in my current career trajectory, I was more able to welcome the change because of a project I did while working on my MEd last year. Our baby was 8 months old when I found an eye-opening statistic: that the average family has less than 40 minutes a day together (Highland Spring Group report; Visit Anaheim report). And, for many families, especially those in my military community, 40 minutes a day would be a DREAM. Family time enables children to form secure relationships with trusted adults that then allow children to explore and learn. When children face adversity, a strong family unit and/or relationship with a caring adult can help children bounce back. Quality interactions with trusted adults, especially parents or guardians, decreases the risk of drug use and increases school success in adolescence (Brigid Schulte, Washington Post). Luckily, quality time is more important than the quantity of time. So, how do we make the most out of what we've got?
Keep it simple, silly! As a mostly stay-at-home-mom, I know that sometimes by the time my spouse gets home, I'm ready to tap out for a while, thus reducing our time together. Some days I do go hide in the bathroom with the fan on for 5 minutes (or 20...), but more recently we've been settling in to simple routines that let us boost time together. We'll try the yoga sequences I'll be teaching soon together, walk the dog, sit and color, dance to a silly video or song, goof around on my spouse's home music studio, use leftover forest putty from Tinkergarten to create something, go outside and play hide and seek on the playground, etc. So, hide in the bathroom if you need to, then step back in to a simple activity. If you're like me and notoriously awful at simple, try a schedule of things. For example, we're trying Mindful Mondays (try mommy's yoga sequence or do a Cosmic Kids video) and Tea Party Tuesday (That's as far as we've gotten! Feel free to share ideas using #watchwonderbloom!).
Practice self-care and lean on your community. The Washington Post article above cited research that suggests the guilt we feel when we are away from our kids, with our kids full time and worrying about money or "doing the right thing" decreases the quality of the time we do get with our kids. I cannot speak enough to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. If you stay at home with kids, find things to do during the day. Go to story times at your local library or bookstore, sign up for a class together (ahem, Tinkergarten and Story Time or Family Flow Yoga (we also LOVE Kindermusik)), lean on extended family. Finding something to do with other adults during the day can help you maintain energy to spend time together with your small family when you have it. A bonus of meaningful experiences during the day is that they lead to ongoing exploration, play, and conversation when everyone is together so you don't have to come up with something to do (ie, If you make a nature crown in Tinkergarten, your kiddo may want to make one for each family member at home. If your kid learns a new skill in soccer, they may want a practice buddy). In our family, we also love the opportunity to do classes or workshops together. When HG was 6mo we started going to Kindermusik. We were both working at the time and having someone else tell us what to do for a while was a lovely break that still gave us quality time together. Now, we are fans of Home Depot's Kids Workshops which are free! These shared experiences provide more opportunities for meaningful conversations, play, and more. Make sure all adults in the family get some just them time, even if it's just a bath (or hiding in the bathroom for 5 minutes...). We cannot pour from an empty cup. You can see some of our favorite things in the photos above! Families at Tinkergarten and yoga and our family coloring, playing music, and building!
If you can't get past the 40 minutes a day, see what you can shift. I could not get past only 40min a day together, so we are spending less and delaying buying our own house so I can spend more time with our little one. This also increases whole family time because I don't have to leave early to drop the little one off at daycare or pick her up during rush hour and we get to have lunch most days as a family (we live on a military post less than 10min from my spouse's place of work). I am aware that we are very privileged to make these decisions, and there are much smaller ways to sneak in time. Turn off the TV at dinner. Charge all phones during family meals so no one is tempted to be on a screen. Get up 5 minutes earlier to extend breakfast with a dance party or a game of "Would you rather?". Ask for classes you can go to together or supplies for a family hobby for holidays. Do chores together in silly ways. Talk together in the car. Do one silly yoga pose or see who can balance on one leg longer. Small moments matter.
Remember, quality over quantity. I felt SO terrible on the days I'd pick HG up at 5:45 just to put her to bed by 7:00pm (half of that time was spent eating...). Reminding myself to make the most of the moments we did have together was helpful. Even if all you get one day is a 5 minute snuggle and story, love it, make the most of it. Repeat in your head, "I'm here now. It is enough.
Share a picture of a your family's favorite way to spend time together with #watchwonderbloom!
Want more info on the benefits of family time and tips on how to make the most of the time you have? Check out this resource from Michigan State University's Extension program.