3 (parenting) ways I make the most of downtime
When my oldest was a toddler and I was carrying my newborn middle in my arms, I made my parenting goals fairly lofty. I acknowledged the messes and the early mornings, of course, but I also envisioned a patient mother who taught her kids how to cook from the kitchen at an early age, who embraced all the holidays with seasonal crafts, who spent hours on the floor playing with blocks and stuffed animals.
This was before I knew what kind of parent I was, of course.
Fast-forward a few years to now, with three kids in tow and the youngest is six. I’m still learning and growing in my role, but I have a clearer grasp of my mama strengths. And crafting ain’t one of them. Neither is playing, to be honest.
I’m totally okay with this.
My strengths lie weightier in the teaching, reading, and learning by example department, and gratefully, these things are things I actually enjoying doing (isn’t that usually the case? The things we’re good at tend to be those things we enjoy, and vice versa).
It’s also handy that these things mesh into the family life we already love—spending lots of daily life together. And? Like last week’s essay on minimizing screen time, this embodies another time management maneuver: doubling up everyday life with teachable moments.
Here’s a few ways I do this.
1. Learn from me as I go.
Okay, I want the kids to learn to cook—so much so, that we’ve had a longstanding goal for all the kids to know 10 dinners from scratch by the time they leave the house.
But I don’t spend that much time in the kitchen in real life. In fact, I keep our meals fairly simple and stick to more elaborate menus and baking to the holidays. When to teach them cooking?
We simply invite them into the kitchen to help with meals whenever it’s time. Kyle and I typically split the cooking 50/50 (leaning more heavily towards him), so the kids get even time with both of us.
They slice the veggies, stir the sauces, run the blender and mixer (buttons and knobs—fun!), and as we do our thing, we talk. This is why spinach is so good for you, here are the reasons we use real butter, it’s easiest to dice an avocado like this.
No special, set-apart cooking lessons, in other words. They just learn as I go about in the kitchen.
This is true with many other spots in our day: how I change lanes safely as I drive, why we buy this and not that at the store, this is a good way to fold t-shirts.
Real life, learned as we live real life.
2. Listen to good stuff.
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my dad playing me his records in the living room, explaining to me the nuances of The Beatles, Queen, The Who, Cat Stevens, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, and to this day, I credit him for my love of good music.
I want the same for my kids.
I also love, love, love reading—more than just about anything—and I’d love to send off my kids into adulthood as readers. It’s sometimes hard to transfer that love into action when life gets full, and now that we’ve got a longer commute to the kids’ school this year, I’m all the more grateful for audiobooks.
Every morning in the car, we listen to a daily devotional reading, a song that matters (everything from ancient monastic hymns to ‘I Am The Walrus’), and the rest of the time? An audiobook.
Sometimes we listen to longer chapter books, but right now, shorter one-off stories are perfect for our drive. We genuinely adore the selection from Around the World Stories—they’re funny, they’re engaging, they’re endearing. Each one is about thirty minutes long, which means the kids get out of the car right at a cliffhanger (No! Can you just circle the drop-off a few more minutes?), then we finish the story as a treat on the way home.
These are also well-suited for my kids’ ages (6, 8.5, and 11.5), which is nice—other audiobook subscriptions tend to focus on the younger set.
These stories really are the highlight of my kids’ morning—we get one a week, and there are about four stories per country. We adore them.
Psst: Matt and Tania, the good folks at Around the World Stories, want to give AoS readers a free month! Use the code ARTOFSIMPLE30 to give it a try.
3. Care about the world.
The audiobooks from Around the World Stories also infuse a global perspective I’m passionate about passing on to our kids. There are four stories per country (starting in Europe, so far), each one teaching us something new with each listen. (Today I learned that the Danish word for grandfather is farfar, which is oh-so fun to say.)
If I want my kids to leave the house with a global perspective, I want it to be a group effort—all five of us, talking about the world and its beautiful diversity.
Our three kids on our round-the-world trip, tracking where we'd just been.
I also want to expose them to the world’s realities in an age-appropriate, gentle approach, so instead of letting them watch the news, I stay informed—and then fill them in myself. We don’t shy away from politics and news-worthy events around the dinner table, but we discuss things with an infusion of hope and responsibility: Is there anything we can do to help? and What can we learn about this? are two good questions to pose.
Lately, these chats have been happening on our family post-dinner walks, a habit we’re trying to re-establish. Our new neighborhood’s best quality is its walkability, and we want to make the most of it. It’s been a great backdrop already for some good discussions.
All three of these things are tied to time management because my plate is full. I work, I help co-lead this family, I want to be a good friend and neighbor, and I need to take care of myself, too. But heaping on guilt never helps. I don’t need to add more events, errands, or extracurriculars to my parenting repertoire—I just need to make the most of the sacred time with my kiddos.
We ride together in the car. We sauté dinner and set the table together. We stroll the neighborhood streets side-by-side.
My friend Myquillyn likes to remind us that we have approximately 18 summers with each of our kids. Adding those school years with those summers, that’s roughly 216 months under our roofs. I’m already down to only 77 months with my oldest. Whoa.
It whooshes by. Let’s infuse the downtime with our kids with grace and meaning.
This essay was written in partnership with Around the World Stories, wonderful people giving us delightful, memory-making stories each week. Thanks for supporting ethical businesses that keep the AoS lights on, friends! (And don't forget to use the code ARTOFSIMPLE30 for a free month of stories!)
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