We’ve all heard the story before. Eight hours of sleep has become a luxury afforded for the likes of royalty. There are as many things on your Christmas to-do list as there are LEGO’s under the couch. And in the middle of packing lunches for your tiny crew, you come to the frightening realization that you don’t remember the last time you showered. It’s the time of year when we’re frantically trying to get the last of the presents wrapped and the final strand of trim on the tree. In the blink of an eye, the holiday hustle and bustle will be behind us, and we’ll be storming into a bright and shiny new year without so much as stopping to take a breath.
Time is tight. Don’t panic, and even more importantly, don’t beat yourself up over it. Today’s modern families have an agenda more packed with swim lessons and play dates than those of our parents and grandparents. We expect more of ourselves. We believe we really can “do it all.” And while we know your freshly laundered Supermom/Superdad cape is part of your daily wardrobe, there’s also something to be said about resting it on the hanger for a moment, especially during the holiday season.
Slow down. Notice the smile on your child’s face. Shower (you, too, deserve a shower). It is not always about how much time you spend together as a family, but about how you spend the precious time you have. If slowing down and scrapping a couple of things from your Google calendar means you can be more present for your kids, it’s totally worth it. And with a few easy adjustments, you can get the most out of your family time.
Drop the Devices. Checking our smartphone or tablet has become a reflexive action for the in-between moments. It fills spare minutes when we are waiting in line, during car rides, answering questions like “how many tablespoons in a cup.” While you may swear that your device makes the world go round, it’s not necessary to unlock your phone every five minutes. Set aside some time at the end of the day to catch up on social media and email instead of checking it periodically throughout the day. When you put down your device, it automatically allows you to participate in your environment and engage with your kids. And sharing a laugh with your child is so much more rewarding than sharing the latest Buzzfeed article to your Facebook friends.
Work Together. Chores don’t have to be something you save for after the kids are in bed. Instead, make it a family activity that you can all enjoy. Although it may seem easier to wait for peace and quiet to do the dishes, you may be surprised at how much fun cleaning can be when you do it as a team. Give little kids easier tasks like cleaning up their toys or wiping down kitchen counters. Bigger kids can handle tasks that require a little more effort, like sweeping or vacuuming. When you clean together, you make the best out of otherwise boring, and let’s face it, unrewarding tasks. Kids are often eager to help out around the house, and doing so gives little ones a sense of pride. Let them choose some music and blast it throughout the house while you put those dust bunnies to rest. Fair warning: an impromptu family dance party in the living room may follow.
Mealtime Matters. Several studies show the benefits of sitting down for a family dinner. While it may not happen every day, trying to make it a regular occurrence can help you spend more quality time with the family. Sit down at the table and turn off the TV. Make the dining table a “screen-free zone” to help encourage conversation. Sometimes keeping a small basket near the table where you and your kids can leave their phone or tablet can serve as a reminder to keep them off the table. Family meals can serve as space to recap everyone’s day and talk about the week ahead. Ask kids questions that make them think and can’t be answered in one word – instead of “How was your day?” try “What was your favorite part of the day?” Or instead of “What did you do at school?” try “What was the funniest thing that happened during class?” Sometimes all it takes to get the conversation going are the right questions and some yummy food.
Let Them Choose. Kids often navigate schedules scripted for them rather than by them. When the opportunity arises, allow kids to make their own decisions. Doing so can be fun for everyone in the family. Opportunities may be as small as allowing kids to choose dinner one night a week or as big as letting them guide a family activity on a Saturday. Letting kids make the decisions instead of guiding their every move encourages independent thought and provides an overall positive family dynamic.
As the holiday season approaches and your calendar fills with Christmas parties and wintertime activities, remember that being present for your kids is the best gift a parent can give. Don’t forget to laugh with them, to play together, to breathe. Just because you can do it all doesn’t mean that you should. In the end, it’s not about zooming from one activity to the next, or filling their plate with sports and play dates. It’s about slowing down, allowing yourself the space to enjoy yourself, and turning small moments into memories your family will cherish for years to come.