I've been working since I was a kid, starting with babysitting when I was 11 or 12. I kept working through high school and college and have never stopped. So when my husband and I decided to adopt a child, it only seemed natural that I'd just keep working. I'd spent many years, to use a tired cliché, climbing the ladder. My jobs took me across the country. At the time we adopted our daughter, I was working as a News Director at a TV station. I was in charge of everyone and everything in the newsroom - a job that was fun and rewarding, but also demanding and stressful.
Even though I loved my job, we decided to make a big life change last year. My husband and I quit our jobs and accepted a new opportunity in a more non-traditional environment. Even though the stress has lessened (a bit!) and the hours aren’t quite as strenuous, I still face the challenge of how to make the best use of our time together as a family. We’ve found fun ways to make time together and memories, too.
Here are a few of my tricks:
Home Cooked Dinner
We eat dinner at home almost every night. We like to cook and regularly try out new recipes, allowing our daughter to experience different foods, flavors and textures. For instance, she loves Thai food, hummus, salmon and sushi.
Eliza‘s only three, but she likes to help choose what we have for dinner. She’ll flip though a cookbook or cooking magazine and pick out a photo of something yummy. She even helps prepare the meal and set the table.
We don’t have rules about “cleaning your plate”. Instead our rule is that cell phones are not allowed.
Pancakes on Weekends
Weekday mornings are so hurried that on weekends we look forward eating pancakes in our jammies. The pancake event is something that we look forward to as a family and it’s something that we remember about our own childhoods – Saturday morning pancakes and cartoons. Eliza will tell you that pancakes are her favorite food and that Daddy makes better pancakes than Mommy (this is true!).
Family Bike Rides
We like to hop on our bikes and head to one of our many neighborhood parks. Eliza usually prefers riding with Daddy because she says he goes faster.
Ice Cream Before Dinner
Our drive to and from school involves passing an ice cream shop. That means Eliza is always asking us to stop for ice cream. Usually we say no, but occasionally we surprise her with something we call “dessert before dinner”. She thinks this is the best thing ever!
Living Room Dance Party
We plug in the iPod, turn up the speakers and have a dance party in the living room. I’m a terrible dancer, but my audience is a three-year-old, so who cares? It makes us all laugh which is something that feels really good to do!
Saturday Night Movie in Bed
Our social life isn’t real exciting these days. Going out requires hiring a babysitter and that gets expensive. So usually we have a family date night. We pile into our bed with a big bowl of popcorn and watch a movie.
My husband and I used to go to drive-in movies with our parents. One night, on a whim, we discovered a drive-in not far from our house. Pack some snacks and get there early to find a good spot. For just a few bucks, you can catch a double feature of first-run movies and experience a little nostalgia.
What Other Moms Do
Looking for more ideas of ways to make the most of our time together, I asked a few other working moms for their secrets. I thought I'd share some of them here. Lisa Just has six-year-old twins. She says she creates “rituals” for her kids, “After I pick up the kids from school on Friday, we go to our neighborhood frozen yogurt shop, and eat our yogurt and talk without distractions.”
One thing moms told me is that it's not about making all family time a big event. Melinda Carlson-Smith has a three-year-old. She says, "We do some special stuff, like going to the museum or the zoo, going roller skating, planning special 'mom and daughter' dates for lunch or shopping, but I try to balance it out with everyday family stuff as well, like making dinner together, playing sports together, reading stories and little art projects. I don’t like to go too crazy with structured activities all the time because I don’t want my daughter to feel like spending time together has to be a big event with all these bells and whistles."
Tracy Gibb was a good person to talk to about this subject. She runs a website called Less Than Perfect Parents (who isnt'?!). She echoed what Melinda said. Tracy told me, "One of the most important things is to not let your guilt about working make you feel like you have to spend all your free time doing super fun things with your kids, a trap I got myself into. I used to plan whirlwind weekends and vacations that would leave us all exhausted. Then I realized the most valuable times are often quietly connecting such as snuggling up on a rainy day reading books together, planting a garden, going for a walk, playing catch, and just sharing time. Even doing chores together is special time. My son loves folding laundry with me because he gets my full attention."
Wendy Armbruster Bell founded and runs a businesses and says she's always working. Of course, there's housework to do, too. Wendy has made that chores at her house family time. "My girls are four and six years old, so helping me with housework is still fun in their eyes. Also, they know if I can get those chores done, that I will have time for them afterwards. They both love to help me fold the laundry or empty the dishwasher and then we will bake cookies together (kind of another chore done) or go out into the garden. I think if you're creative, you can come up with ways to involve them in activities that need to get done anyways."
Another common theme from moms is to put down your cell phone and laptops and focus on the kids, even if it's just for a bit. Sara Sutton Fell is a CEO and mother of two boys. She says, "Commit the first half hour after work to just playing with your kids, doing whatever they want to do. It helps them know you’re focused on them, and helps prevent the rest of the night being spent with them clamoring to get attention."
At times, I still struggle with “working mom guilt” as I spend my day at the office and Eliza spends hers at the preschool. But I think we need to stop feeling so guilty about being working mommas. I believe that the time spent together is what they’ll remember most. My parents worked too, and what I remember of my childhood has a lot more to do with the times we spent together than the times we were apart. Mom Lisa Corcoran feels the same way. She said, "When I think back to what I remember, it's not a specific time, but the ritual of things."
How do you make the most of your family time? Do you feel guilty because you're a working mom?
A version of this article was originally published in the July/August 2011 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine. Lake Mary Life Magazine is the premier lifestyle publication in the Lake Mary area, dedicated to publishing positive and uplifting stories about our community. GalTime Orlando is a partner of Lake Mary Life and Life Magazines.