If your weeknights are anything like mine, it can feel like a long list of unending tasks. In a nuclear family set-up, with both my partner and I working full-time, our schedules are packed. Add a pre-teen and a 7-year-old to the mix, and you have a complete menagerie. Between homework, after-school activities, pleas for screen-time, and appeals to get the kids to bed, it gets pretty crazy. I sometimes wish there was a button to pause it all, so we could catch a breather.
-Ashmita, working with an MNC, in New Delhi
Do you find yourself scrambling to catch up with your frenzied weeknights? Desperately wishing for the weekend (and some peace) to arrive?
Many working parents feel that their evenings are very short, and they don’t get to spend enough time with their children (outside of nagging them to finish their homework and putting them to bed). So, what can you do to maximize time with your kids on weekdays?
Here are 5 ways you can manage the madness that weeknights often entail and make the most of them with your children:
1 Ease the pressure off yourself
As working parents, we find ourselves juggling a whole lot of things. Bills to be paid, food to be put on the table, emails to be answered…on any day our to-do list is overwhelming. Add to this, our most important job, to raise our children, which often gets neglected. Here are some ways you can ease that pressure to get everything done so that you’re able to focus more on your child:
- Changing from a work mode to a home mode can be challenging; we all struggle with shifting gears. When you enter your home (or living room, if you’re working from home) after a long day at work, is your mind still preoccupied with that email your manager sent? Whether you’re working from home or commuting to a workplace, create a brief mindful practice to switch to the home mode. Some parents find that listening to a podcast or soothing music or a 5-minute audio-guided meditation on their way home helps them reset.
- Switch off your phone upon finishing work. Or keep it on silent mode, facing down. You don’t have to be connected on social media, be reachable 24/7, and answer every official email that pops in after work hours (if you do, set aside a block of time for doing so, after your kids hit the sack). Devices get in the way of being fully present with our children. And our children notice. When a fourth-grade teacher recently asked her students to write about an invention they wished was never invented, most of the class wrote- you guessed it- their parent’s phone.
- Run errands when your child is asleep. You don’t have to make a dash for buying eggs and bread on your way back to work- it eats into your time with your child. Utilize apps that deliver essentials along with the morning’s milk when you place an order the previous night.
- Look to hire some part-time help to ease the pressure. For example, if you struggle with your child’s Math homework, could you enroll her for tuition? If you return late for work, could you hire a nanny for ferrying your child from one class to another? This will free up a lot of your time and mental space.
- If you don’t want to outsource help, look at streamlining your to-dos. Could you wake up an hour early to do laundry? Would it help to write a ‘done’ list to feel like you’ve accomplished something? What part of the chores could the children get involved in (without feeling like they’re being punished!)? Could you learn to do one pot one shot (OPOS) meals?
2 Schedule it up
Every (efficient) working parent swears by organizing their chaotic days into a schedule. Let’s see how you can make one for your family to ease up your weeknights:
- Get a whiteboard and install it at a prominent place in your house, such as the kitchen or at the dining table. Write down all family members’ weekly appointments, classes, after-school activities, play-dates, and other engagements along with the day and time. Colour code it for each family member.
- Allocate duties accordingly- if you have pitched in for your younger one’s homework, could your spouse take your older one to his dance class? Who is responsible for helping with dinner prep and laying the table? Who will supervise the children’s screen time?
- It’s not always possible to attend all football games or debate contests. At the start of the week ask your child which ones are important to her, for which she’d like your presence. You can then plan your schedule around that.
- Look at the schedule each morning and brief everyone about their roles. When everyone knows what’s expected of them, it leads to less confusion and more clarity, making weeknights much easier.
3 Make time to connect
Having a warm and responsive relationship with your child makes him feel connected to you, says Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com, and author of bestselling book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. On busy weekdays, you don’t have to set aside time to connect with your child. Here’s how you could do it in simple ways:
- When your child wakes up in the morning, cuddle with your child and give gentle kisses. Who has the time for this on those rushed mornings, right? Spending even ten minutes bonding with your child puts you and her in a pleasant mood and makes her more cooperative to follow through on her morning routine.
- Stepping into your house after work (or living room, if you’re working from home) is another opportunity to connect with your child. Recommends Dr. Markham, “Before you leave your workplace, take a few minutes and breathe. If you can change into more casual clothing, that’s even better, because you will already be in a relaxed frame of mind by the time you see your child. Promise yourself that you will take care of your needs once the children go to bed. And then you walk in the door, put your things down, hug your children, and get them laughing. Laughter reduces stress hormones, puts us in a better mood, and is guaranteed to make you feel connected.”
- Have dinner as a family together. Over three decades of research has confirmed that family dinners offer innumerable physical, socio-emotional, and academic benefits. These include (but are not limited to): higher self-esteem, a greater sense of resilience, lower risk of substance abuse, lower risk of depression, lower risk of obesity, better vocabulary, and healthier eating patterns. Combining food, fun, and conversation at mealtimes is a recipe for a warm, positive family dinner. Here are some ways you could achieve that:
- Switch off the TV. Chat, talk, joke, and generally share good-natured banter (and avoid lecturing or nagging your kids, especially during this time!)
- Play dinner games to lift everyone’s mood (such as, telling a story by having one family member start and then proceed around the table adding to it, or the 10 Questions game in which you ask each member 10 questions to get to know them better).
- Do weekly themed dinners (such as Paav Bhaaji Mondays and Pizza Fridays. Have your kids decorate their own pizza or mash up the veggies in the pot to make the bhaji).
- Bedtime offers another great chance to connect with your child. You can talk to him about his day (such as, something nice that happened), read a book together, and cuddle up. When we cuddle or hug, oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’) is released by our bodies and makes us feel close and connected to each other.
4 Devise family rituals
Family rituals, those special things you do regularly together as a family, give you and your kids a sense of security and belonging. They are a way of saying ‘this is who we are and this is what we value.’
Your rituals might be things special to your family, that you do only with your family members. They could include good morning cuddles and kisses in bed, or words of endearment for each other, or a special wink or crazy handshake you use with your child.
Here are some family ritual ideas you can try on weeknights:
- Having a movie night every Friday, with each member’s movie preference each week
- Watching certain shows together (for example, watching baking or cooking shows and then trying out some recipes together)
- Reading stories to your kids in bed while snuggling with them
- Instituting one evening every week as gadget-free in your family. And voting on what everyone would like to do (hint: playing board games together can be a LOT of fun!)
- Playing ‘high, low, buffalo’ where each member shares the high and low points of their day, and then anything else we would like to share (buffalo)
- Writing in a family journal (each family member writes down a few sentences in a notebook or diary each night- it could be what each member learned that day or what each member is looking forward to the next day, or anything else. This makes for a great bonding activity and ends up becoming a precious heirloom-in-progress)
- Saying a gratitude prayer during bedtime
5 Tame the homework monster
A discussion of tackling weeknights would be incomplete without talking about homework. Homework can be a parent’s nightmare. And if you’re a working parent, that’s the last thing you want to tackle when you enter home tired. But homework needn’t put you down. With some simple strategies, you can tame this monster:
- Set up a homework-friendly area. Make sure your child has a table in a well-lit and quiet area of the house, stacked with stationary (notebooks, papers, pens, pencil, eraser, etc.), so that time is not wasted getting started.
- Include a set routine for homework, i.e., at the same time every day, followed by outdoor play or screen-time. At that time, all gadgets should be switched off and you should ideally sit with your child, either supervising his homework (in a non-intrusive manner), or doing your own office work (if your child doesn’t require assistance). If you return home late, you can give some directions to your child beforehand, “Before I get home, I’d like you to have finished your Math and Hindi homework. If there’s something you require help with, go on to the next problem, and I’ll look at the hard stuff when I get home.”
- Resist the urge to do your child’s homework for your child- the onus of doing the homework should be on her. Remember that the main aim of homework is learning (no matter how tiresome it may seem) and that won’t happen if you take over. It’s also important for your child to make her own mistakes or face the consequences of her actions (such as not completing homework on time or forgetting to upload her project on time).
- “Avoid making homework a war zone,” suggests Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control over their lives. They explain how you can help your child create an effective learning environment—“Help your child create her own system of rewards for completing goals. If she does not meet a goal, respond with compassion: ‘I’m sorry you weren’t able to meet your goals tonight.’ Don’t get angry or threaten punishment. Your job is to help her develop ways to motivate herself.”
Yes, weeknights can be crazy. But with a little bit of planning and trouble-shooting, we can balance work and still make the most of weeknights with our children.