Feeling overwhelmed and guilty for not spending enough time with your family? Get an insider’s look on how I spend time with my family, even as a busy mom.
Don’t feel like you have enough hours in the day to connect with your family?
You’re not alone.
I get emails from moms with a common challenge: how to spend time with their families on top of all we have to do.
Perhaps you’re torn between working long hours and the guilt of not spending enough time with the baby. Or maybe you’re scrambling to get home before the kids’ early bedtime, or find yourself buried beneath all the responsibilities you can’t seem to say “no” to.
It doesn’t help when the kids seem to grow so fast, or when we know the importance of spending time with family.
How can you find time to spend with your family?
How I spend time with my family
I’ve worked all sorts arrangements, from your standard 9-to-5 day job to working at home to running a small business. I’ve taken on my share of responsibilities, school volunteer duties, and time spent with my extended family and friends.
Like you, I’ve had my hectic days, overwhelmed with how in the world I got myself too busy to spend time with my family.
While I still have those hectic days from time to time, I learned several tricks to balance my responsibilities so I can spend time with my family, no matter the situation or season.
Take a look at some of the ways to spend time with family, even as a busy mom:
1. Find quick play ideas you can do after work
Those hours after work and school don’t always afford busy working moms plenty of time to spend with their families. Still, finding play ideas you can do after work isn’t impossible. You can often combine simple errands or low-key, easy activities within these few hours.
Don’t feel like you always need to do grand outings, or even have simple plans every day. These are, after all, weekdays where you and your child have been busy most of the day. Stick to simple activities and traditions, and start with one night a week to make it more manageable.
Free resource: Want to see a few of my favorite things to do? Join my newsletter and get my Play Ideas Calendar, perfect for the early evening hours! The first sheet includes ideas for the weekdays, while the second is a blank template to fill with your own ideas. Download it below—at no cost to you:
2. Have dinners (or breakfasts) together regularly
Try to have at least one meal with your kids every day. That might be breakfast over a bowl of oatmeal before everyone heads off to school or work, or maybe it’s dinnertime when you all gather together around the table.
Sometimes we’re so bent on rushing to make it home in time that we overlook a simple but effective way to spend quality time with family. Not only are you able to be together, but you’re also reaping tons of benefits from regular family dinners.
Even if you or your partner can’t make it to the table on time because of work, try to make mealtimes a regular part of your day. Don’t let that stop you from gathering the kids and sitting down together.
A few tips: Have dinner at the same time and place every night so your kids know when to expect to eat together. Use this time together to engage in open-ended questions or ask your kids about school. And eat with your kids.
I know there are times when life gets so hectic that you have no choice but to eat long after they’re asleep. But make that a temporary arrangement, and as a general rule aim to eat alongside your kids. As hectic as it may seem, your kids need you there, and you get more done in less time.
3. Read together as part of your bedtime routine
One of my favorite traditions is reading four books with my kids every night before they head to bed. It’s become such a part of their routine that we rarely skip this step.
Whether with one book or four (or more!), gather your kids for family reading time after they’ve bathed and changed into pajamas.
If the kids have separate bedtimes, you can have two different reading times, but it’s also fine for the older ones to read to his younger siblings. Even babies can participate—I started reading to my eldest lying on the bed as a baby before putting him down to sleep.
4. Do chores with the kids
If you’ve ever had your kids “help” with chores, you know that what would normally take 10 minutes now takes 20 or more.
I struggle with this myself, sometimes shooing my kids away when they ask to cook or help me clean (I know!). I keep thinking how much quicker and more efficiently I can get the task done if I did it myself.
Thing is, most of our spare time is spent doing chores, even at the expense of hanging out with the kids. Think of those long nights when you’re doing so many chores you crash and head straight to bed, too exhausted to even tend to yourself.
While some chores we can save for another time or find a better way to do, others are simply inevitable. We can’t go without dinner or let the laundry pile too high.
But instead of doing them all yourself, get your kids involved. Yes, you might get the task done in half the time, but think of it this way: you’re combining two activities into one that, done separately, might take you more time.
Kids love helping us, even with mundane tasks. The more responsibility they feel, the more positive they take to the task, setting them up for good habits down the line.
And while these tasks may seem boring or tedious to you, they could be the moments that serve as memories for your kids. So don’t discount chores, or even the ordinary tasks like changing diapers or walking to school, as hassles. They might be the fun your kids are looking for.
5. Reevaluate your to-do list
Take a look at any mom’s to-do list and you’ll likely see many well-meaning tasks. Maybe it’s the volunteer duties we sign up for at the kids’ school, or the fitness classes we vowed to take at the gym.
Others even seem like non-negotiable tasks, like picking up a box of diapers on the way home from work, or calling the plumber to fix the kitchen sink.
But I’m willing to bet that if you take a hard look at your list, you can find ways to make them feel less overwhelming.
Why is this important? The more you free up your tasks, the more time you’re able to spend with your family, both physically and mentally (because those tasks take up our attention even when we’re with them!).
You might ask yourself:
- Which tasks do I truly enjoy? Did you volunteer at your child’s school out of peer pressure and obligation, or do you like being able to contribute in this way?
- What can I cut back? Even if you do enjoy volunteering, is there another task or responsibility you can do that takes up less time? Do you justify kids-related duties as more important (never mind that you aren’t spending quality time with family)?
- How can I make this task more effective? Does grocery shopping take up a ton of time? Sign up for grocery pick-up or delivery. Do you hate having to stop to pick up random items on your way home from work? Set reminders on your calendar to buy them all at the same time (or at least ahead of time, so you’re not buying last-minute diapers when you realize you don’t have any left).
- Do these tasks help me with my ultimate goals? In the short-term, many of your tasks seem important, but take a step back and think big picture. What are your ultimate goals, and do these tasks you’re doing now help or hurt you?
6. Be mindful and present
It’s easy to assume you don’t have much free time, but if you broke it down in half-hour chunks, you might see that you have more time than you think.
You see, the lack of time can stem from how you interact with your family rather than the actual time spent with them.
The next time you’re with your family, try this: focus completely on the moment. Don’t let your mind wander to other thoughts or things to do (write them down on a piece of paper if you really want to clear it out of your head). Don’t multitask or do anything else.
Simply be with your family.
I promise that no matter how much time you spend—whether 10 minutes or three hours—you’ll feel more mindful and aware of being with your family.
7. Schedule activities on your planner
I live by my planner. If it’s not on there, I’ll forget all about it. For both major and minor activities and outings, I make sure that I record it on the planner so I know to make time for it.
This is especially useful for weekend activities, from trips to the museum to birthday parties. Even if I wanted to run an errand or take them to the park, I’ll record it on the calendar so I commit to doing it.
Don’t assume that you’ll simply find time to spend with your family. By scheduling your activities into your planner, you remind yourself of the plans you’ve made.
Here’s an extra tip: sign up for free or discount tickets to your local museums and children’s venues. For instance, in Los Angeles, I use the county library to score free tickets to popular attractions. This forces you to block off certain dates to spend time with your family.
8. Connect with your kids
When our kids haven’t seen us in a while, they need their “buckets refilled.” Maybe that’s after a day at school or even at night while we sleep. Meanwhile, we’re thinking about other things like errands or rushing through the morning routine.
When we reunite with our kids, we feel frazzled and less eager to see them as they are to see us.
How about if we open the door to their bedroom and greet them with a warm hug? Or a smile when we spot them in the roomful of kids? We can feel glad to see them again, and they’ll reward us with more compliance and less resistance.
Take it further: spend a few minutes fully engaged with your kids. Sit next to them as they snack and ask them about their school day. Or play trucks on the floor a few minutes before leaving for work. No other distractions or tasks—just you and your kids.
Your life flows more harmoniously when their needs as well as yours are met.
How to find time to do kids’ activities
Before the twins were born, I could easily devote all my time to my eldest, including fun learning activities. I kept him engaged with daily activities even when he was a baby, and read to him for hours every day.
But after welcoming the twins home, time became harder to find, not just for my eldest but for any of them.
The twins weren’t getting the same level of attention as their older brother had, and I wasn’t as mindful about incorporating learning activities into our days. It’s hard to be creative—much less remember to do any of these activities—when you’re just barely trying to survive.
That all changed the day I realized my infant twins couldn’t care less about books. Whereas their older brother had devoured books at their age, my two youngest had no interest and could barely sit still.
I knew then that we had to incorporate reading and learning into our days. We may not have had the same amount of time my eldest and I did, but I still found activities we could all do together.
And I focused on a few strategies that fit into my busy schedule as a full-time working mom, making sure I didn’t feel stressed or pressured in the process.
1. Make a list of activities
Don’t feel pressured to come up with activities to do with your child. Instead, make a list you can go through for inspiration.
For instance, list several infant activities to do with your baby, choosing one per day. The younger the child, the simpler the activities can be (think peek-a-boo or rolling a ball back and forth).
2. Build activities into your routine
One of the best benefits of routines is that it forces everyone to make time for what’s important, automatically.
When I realized my twins weren’t getting as much reading time as their older brother had, I built reading into our routine. I started at bedtime, reading four books before putting them to bed. This made sure I didn’t forget to include reading in our day.
For you, maybe the activities fall into your after-school routine, or first thing Saturday mornings. By incorporating them into your day, you’re more likely to follow through and make time to do them.
3. Don’t discount household activities
In the effort to provide our kids with the best learning experiences, we forget that those can often be found in our household tasks.
Kids are genuinely intrigued by everything around them, including tasks we don’t find entertaining. From sorting laundry to grocery shopping, daily tasks can provide just the right engagement for your child.
It’s more about being present, asking questions, and inviting curiosity than it is about giving the best arts and crafts project. A game of laundry peek-a-boo can be pretty engaging with the right mindset and attitude.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s not about unearthing magical hours, but taking a look at what’s most important and maximizing the time you do have with your family.
Having regular dinners as a family or reading bedtime books together can serve as simple ways to spend time with one another. Re-evaluate your to-do list to see what’s truly important, and schedule family activities on your calendar.
Outings don’t have to take a long time—simple activities after work and school can be all you need. You might even do chores with the kids as a way to spend time with them instead of separating the two tasks.
And finally, regardless of what you decide to do, practice mindful parenting and make the moments count. You might find that the feeling of not spending enough time with your family comes from the quality, and not so much the quantity.
Finding time to spend with your family is totally possible, from grand museum trips to eating breakfast over a bowl of oatmeal.
Get more tips:
- How to Establish a Solid 2 Year Old Bedtime
- How to Spend Time with Your Kids when You Work Long Hours
- 6 Surprising Ways to Balance Work and Family
- How to Make Time for Your Partner (Even If You Have Kids)
- How to Give Your Kids Attention (Even when They Want It at the Same Time)
Want to see a few of my favorite things to do? Join my newsletter and get my Play Ideas Calendar, perfect for the early evening hours! The first sheet includes ideas for the weekdays, while the second is a blank template to fill with your own ideas. Download it below—at no cost to you: