With all that is going on in our lives, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to spend time with our children.
If you ask the parents around you how much time they spend with their children, you will be shocked.
I remember when I had my first child, I never made any conscious decision to spend lots of time with him or his brother who came three and a half years later. It just seemed the natural thing to do. I went straight home after work and spent most of the weekends with my boys. We watched Barney and other so-called educational programmes together. They played outside under my watchful gaze. I took them with me to the shops or to visit relatives. We also went to church together.
For just over five years, I accompanied my children to Sunday school because it made them feel secure.
It is sad, though, that some people regard this as a waste of time, especially when children are under 10 years of age.
They think that that would be time better spent on other things, like work or “me time”. I have even met adults who would rather work late than go home early.
They spend days planning for alone time, including trips out of town just so they can get away from it all (or rather, from the children). It makes one wonder why anyone would be averse to hanging out with their own children.
When I look at some of my friends, it is the priorities they have set for themselves, careers come first.
While for others, it could be that they do not know what their parenting roles are. For others, to go out and have a good time features prominently on their list.
So whatever time is left over is what is spent with the family. But who says you cannot go out and have a good time with children? Most people think all they have to do is provide for their children, which is a good thing but you also have to be physically present. Majority of my family and friends do make an effort to actively parent their children. They drop and pick them up from school when they can. They attend school events and spend lots of quality time with them despite busy schedules.
As a mother, when my boys get their holiday from school, I am just as ready to take a break from doing the school run.
On the contrary, there are many parents who get stressed just thinking about the holiday. The key to avoiding this panic is to plan ahead of time for the holiday.
I never let the holidays “surprise” me. I make sure that there is one big thing for the children to look forward to. It could be a trip out of town - to the village or out of the country. It could even be a visit to the bookshop, a trip to the shops or to the only amusement park in Uganda.
Children love visiting relatives so that could also be added to the list of things to do.
And if you are one of those parents who are okay with letting your children sleep away from home, you can arrange for them to have sleep overs at a relative’s home (preferably their grandparents’ or a close aunt/uncle). This can be made more exciting by inviting cousins their age as well.
Your children will not be young forever. By the time you realise this, they will be in their teens or early adulthood when they really do not care for parental attention (read interference). The more time you spend with your children, the better you get to know them. It also helps you to learn how to deal with their tantrums or crankiness.
To avoid tantrums, for example, when we went shopping, I told them we could only buy what was on the shopping list and after a couple of trials, they soon realised how serious I was about that. I did throw in the odd treat if they were particularly well-behaved or if the budget allowed.
Have meaningful conversations with them every chance you get. You will be amazed at what they say and know.
You will nip inappropriate language and manners in the bud by catching them early.
I learnt early about their special skills and talents and all that makes them unique. Play games - board games, outdoor games or even made up ones.
My children love to hear about the airplanes we used to make using a leaf and a stick. As a bonus, they have helped me to see myself in a whole new way.
Above everything else, it is important that you do what works for you in your quest to spend meaningful time with your children and to ensure they have a memorable childhood.
Spending time with them makes them feel valued, loved which in turn makes them confident. Who does not want that for their children?
Finding time for your children
So how can you find time when you feel you don’t have any to spend? You can do the following:
One-on-one time. Alone time with your child is best when you are doing something you both enjoy. With one family it may be the time when dad takes the baby so mom can spend time with the older child. If you are a single mother with more than one child you could arrange it so that each Saturday you spend quality time with one of your children and the last Saturday of the month you spend quality time as a family.
Integrate together time into your daily schedule. Children love to help. Need to go shopping? Make grocery shopping “fun time” with you. Need to make dinner? Let them help you by contributing to the preparation process. While it might be messier and it may time more time in the beginning, you will see that the children will become your greatest helpers and they will look back and remember that “before dinner” was always special time with you.
Phantom time. Don’t have a moment to spare until about 3am.? You can still let your children know that you care. Write notes and drop them into their lunch boxes. Other ideas would be to record a short video for them using a camera and leaving it for them at the breakfast table. Be creative here!
Break time. Everyone is busy. Some parents are busier than others.
Slide in a “break time” so that you and your children can spend 15 minutes or a half hour together. Set a timer if you need to so that everyone knows when “break time” starts and finishes. Give warnings to your children when two minutes are left so that it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Don’t even have break time available? Wake your child up 15 minutes early so that you can spend a little extra time doing something fun in the morning. You might not think that 15 minutes is any significant time at all, but to a child, it is 15 extra minutes with you.
Remember: Spending time with your children provides them with opportunities to learn and to be heard. Most of all, it provides you and your children with time to connect. It’s these connections that make your children feel loved. So leave the beds unstripped for another few minutes. Take those extra moments to spend with your children. When you look back, you will be thankful for the memories.