5 Tips to Foster Free Time

I’ve recently spoken with a couple of friends who were discouraged by the amount of homework their elementary-school aged children were bringing home from each night. I was amazed to hear that some of these kids have over two hours of homework each night. It got me thinking about the importance of slowing down and letting our kids experience the world in a child-like way. As working mothers, checking things off the list is at the forefront of our minds, which can lead to busy schedules and overloaded lives. Dinner, soccer practice, date night, and completing homework are just drops in the bucket when it comes to managing our busy lives.   While we can’t do much to control the amount of multiplication problems our children have to complete after dinner, we can try to facilitate a slower pace that allows them to be who they are – children.

Avoid Over Scheduling
I live in Chicago. This is an incredible city with endless opportunities for children. In fact, I could sign my kids up for anything from tightrope walking to French classes. Inarguably, these types of enrichment activities can provide unique opportunities for kids to learn, but the problem occurs when a child has little-to-no free time and is constantly going from activity to activity. Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule on the number of activities a child can have, but the overarching theme is that it’s important for kids to have time to rest and experience free time. Allowing children to fill their time in creative and unscheduled ways can foster creativity and self-awareness. It allows the child to play in a safe and unstructured environment.

Spend Time Outside
Being outside allows children to be active, develop social skills, and break from screen time. My son’s favorite activity is to go to the park next door and run up and down the hill. Not only does it put him in a better mood, but he sleeps better when he’s had time to run and explore. My son can yell, jump, and throw things — activities that inside play does not exactly allow for. Playing outside also gives me permission me to engage a child-like part of myself.  I follow my son’s lead when I examine a leaf on the ground, or follow a squirrel around and watch it jump from limb to limb. This allows me to connect to my son in a unique way.

Be in Tune With Your Child’s Heart
Again, after school actives are fantastic for our children, but it gets into murky territory when it becomes more about us than it does about them. Unfortunately, we as parents can become competitive and want so badly for our kids to be “the best”, that we forget to take their opinions into consideration. If your kid is telling you she doesn’t want to sign up for ballet class again, it’s probably best to accept that and explore what she does want to do. Have a conversation with your child about what they enjoy and what they want to try. And if you find yourself more invested in the outcome of the soccer game, it might be worth some self-exploration to figure out why that is.

Set Boundaries With Your Own Time
Over scheduling is a problem for adults, not just kids! And as with everything, it’s important for us to model boundaries and the importance of slowing down to our children. Perhaps you’re thinking about how demanding work is, or how if you “slowed down” you would never make it to the gym. I get it. And while all of these things we do are important, we must make time for quietness and connection with our loved ones. I know this is hard, but it has to be a priority. Take a look at your schedule and see where you can cut back. Don’t be afraid to say no, because the truth is, you need down time just as much as your child.

Be Intentional
Some of my favorite moments are when I sit down with my 2-year old and he invites me into his world. I get to see how he sees the world around him by the way he plays with his cars and toys. I hear him repeating some of the very things I say to him as his little figurines talk to one another. Sure, I could be responding to emails or doing the dishes, but I’m making time to be a part of his little world. I wish I could say I do this more often, but the sad truth is that the emails and household chores often win. But there’s something scared about playing, listening, engaging, and being intentional in our time with our kids, and speaking from personal experience, I need to do it more often.

Sometimes it’s hard to slow down. But my guess is, once you find yourself making time for nothing, you might realize that’s the most important time of your day.

 

Amanda is a contributor at Liberating Working Moms, where this post was originally published. 

Keeping the Spark Alive

It’s 7:46 and my husband is graciously putting the boys to bed tonight. It’s been a long day and I’m tired. Really tired. I know when he comes down here in a few minutes, I should perk up a little. Maybe even sit up and invite him to sit next to me. I really should.

Chances are if you’re married with child(ren), you can relate. I love my husband dearly, but marriage is hard work, especially with little ones who demand much of our attention. As a couple’s therapist, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy understanding what accounts for a thriving marriage, and so much of it boils down to being intentional with our time and continuing to invest in our marriage. If you do the work in your marriage, you will be able to be connected in the (little) time you share together.

Here are a few essential features of a connected marriage.

1. Maintaining Intimacy

Intimacy does not constitute for sex alone (although sex is a fabulous part of this!). I’m talking about connection; spending time together, staying in tune to what’s happening in your partner’s life, understanding what make him or her tick, investing in yourselves as a couple. Here’s a challenge – go out on a date and talk about everything except for kids, money, or work. Gulp. It might not be easy at first but it’s a great way to tune into what’s going on in your partner’s life. And as for the sex part, chances are once you focus on connection and conversation, sex will be a happy result.

2. Fighting Fairly

One thing I like to ask my clients is, “are your fights productive?”. Some clients are surprised by this question, assuming that all fights are bad. In fact, “fighting” can be a necessary part of marriage. When two people live together and are responsible for maintaing a household and keeping children alive, arguments will ensue. The question is, do your fights produce change? There are a number of constraints that get in the way of productive conflict. Researcher John Gottman cites criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling as the four most destructive behaviors in conflict. Check out more of Gottman’s research in his book, The Seven Principals of Making Marriage Work.

3. Doing Your Part

Couples can spend hour upon hour bickering about the division of household labor or who-does-what tit-for-tat. It seems that a big part of the solution lies in showing appreciation for the things our spouse does do, as opposed to riding them for what isn’t done. Genuine appreciate goes a long way. So don’t be shy about showing your partner how much you appreciate him picking up dinner, or staying home with the kids, or getting the car washed. Some couples work best with “assigned jobs”, as in I cook, you clean, or I take the trash out, you put the kids to bed. You get the drift. Find what works for you and your partner, stick you your part, and thank each other honestly.

4. Presenting a United Front

It's necessary to trust that our partner has our back in difficult times. This fosters an essential part of a healthy marriage – feeling safe.  Having a united front shows our kids that we are in this together and mom and dad are on the same team. Not only does it create a feeling of safety in within the marriage, but that for the kids, too.  This doesn’t mean things always have to appear perfect in front of the children, but mutual trust is key.

5. Maintaining a Sense of Humor

It feels good to laugh, and it feels even better to laugh with your spouse. And let’s be honest, sometimes, life is funny. It’s essential to be aware of the humor in your day and attempt to see humor in your situation. Occasionally, my husband will remind me that we actually created these wild little boys that tear our house apart.  This conversation generally results in both of us smiling in the midst of chaos. So keep an eye out for humor – chances are, if you’re looking for it, you’ll find it.

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Amanda is a contributor at Liberating Working Moms, where this post was originally published.