Photo and Words By Brittany Carlson
“Mom, will you play with me?” my three-year-old asks hopefully.
In my head, the battle rages. I want to spend time with my son, but more often than not, I also have a long list of things I need to do, including caring for his little brother, cooking, cleaning, running errands and ensuring everyone in the family has what they need.
I usually end up trying to do many things at once and “playing” with my son devolves into me half-participating while I try to finish up housework, check e-mail or look through my to-do list.
At the end of the day, I sometimes can’t remember if I spent any quality time with him at all, beyond tending to his needs and ensuring his safety.
What I really want, and what I know many other moms want too, is a way to get the important things done and still find time to have fun with my kids (and husband too!). After all, these are the relationships that mean the most in the world to me.
But in order to achieve this goal, I’ve learned that I need to let some things go, let others help, and focus on what’s most important.
In a Women’s Lifestyle Magazine article, Kerry Hart, LLMFT, suggests getting chores done as a family or hiring others to help out, such as a babysitter or cleaning service, in order to make more time for bonding together (“Maximizing Family Time”). Hart notes that involving children in helping with chores is a good way to cut down on your own workload while helping them become “more self-sufficient.” I’m currently teaching my three-year-old, Adam*, to put away silverware, pick up his own toys, and clean up spills with paper towels.
Another way to make more time for family is to whittle your to-do list down, according to Ansley Roan in a parents.com article, “9 Ways to Maximize Family Time.” Roan suggests dividing the list into “Don’t, Delegate and Do,” moving any tasks done “out of guilt or habit” to the “Don’t” list and recruiting help from family members, sitters or neighbors to tackle household tasks and errands.
We are a military family and since my husband deployed last month, I’ve enlisted the help of many others to help me take care of myself and my two boys (ages 3 and 8 months). For example, I hired a “mommy’s helper” to come watch the boys while I’m home for two hours each week. She plays with my boys while I catch up on housework or errands, or even get some time to myself. I’ve also joined some community groups that include potluck meals, which reduces my cooking time, and helps my family to get out and enjoy making new friends together.
Roan also suggests keeping things neat and organized to avoid wasting time searching for things. Personally, I’m not a big organizer, but I do notice a huge difference in how much calmer I am when I don’t have to hunt for what I need. So, I try to keep key areas organized, such as my diaper bag and the kids’ closets.
Another way of saving time is to cook larger batches of food and freeze some for later in the week, rather than cooking every night, Roan writes. Online delivery services, such as diapers.com, can also help families save time by allowing them to order staples for home delivery, she adds. (Personally, I order as many staples as I can through Amazon, such as diapers and wipes, to streamline my grocery store trips.)
Finally, some of the best advice I read about was Roan’s suggestion to “know yourself and your priorities.” Roan writes that instead of pursuing perfection in everything, parents (and especially moms) should focus on what’s most important to them at home, whether it be cooking meals or keeping certain areas clean, instead of trying to do everything. This frees up time to spend together, rather than on endless cleaning, cooking and household tasks.
Right now, my top priorities are to make good memories with my kids, even in a challenging season of life, and to take care of myself. If I’m exhausted (all too easy when taking care of two small children, never mind cooking and cleaning), how can be who I want to be?
Instead of supermom, I’m trying harder to be “present” mom. I don’t have it all together, but I’m here. By enlisting the help of others, relying on our community for support and taking some time to myself each week, my family can make the most of the time we spend together.
I still have a running list of areas to clean and meals to make, and I work on it little by little, but at the end of the day, I’ve also decided to give myself some grace if I don’t get it all done. It’s okay to order pizza sometimes. It’s okay to let the dishes pile up.
It’s okay to say “yes” to my son and really play with him, getting down on the floor and joining in, chasing bad guys and solving mysteries, finding treasures and laughing at nothing at all.
He won’t be asking me to play forever, so as much as possible right now, I’m going to keep finding more ways to say “yes.”
*Names changed to protect privacy
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (3) and James (7 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY.