We are busy people. Moms who work outside the home, dads who stay home with their children, parents who work from home. One child, two, four, or six, we are all busy and it is easy to lose those precious connections with our children. Parents – moms and dads – are pulled so many ways at once. Work demands attention, and so do the dishes, the laundry, the house, the garden. It all takes time, and time is a commodity that we just don’t have enough of.
All too many times I’ve told my son as he tugged on my shirt, “Honey, I can’t pick you up right now, I’m doing the dishes.” I chose dishes over a snuggle? What? Time to step back.
All too often, we compartmentalize our time. We separate out our tasks into solitary chores instead of group efforts. The next time you simply don’t have time, the next time a task is calling you away from your children, take a moment to connect and turn the task into some family time. There are so many ways to share a special moment when you literally have just a moment.
If she’s not crying, hungry, wet or otherwise distressed, an infant can enjoy connecting with you while you take on household tasks. Invest in a good carrier or wrap and wear her while you garden or clean. If you can do so safely, put her in a comfortable seat up on the counter or table while you prepare meals. She’ll love having a mommy’s-eye view of what you are doing, and you can talk to her while you finish your tasks. Describe what you are doing – she may not understand what you are saying, but just by exposing her to the cadence of your words you are fostering early language skills.
You can even foster good connections during your “me time.” Bring the baby’s swing into the bathroom and put it safely on the floor while you take a bath. The sound of the running water and the warm air may very well soothe him. You can use bathtime to talk and sing, or just put on some quiet music and enjoy the company.
Toddlers are challenging. They demand lots of attention but do not yet understand the concept of waiting a few moments while mom finishes a task. Toddlers also get a lot of joy out of the simplest interactions. An investment of a just a few minutes can be so rewarding for both of you. Take time to sing a song while you do housework. Sounds silly, right? The last thing on most people’s minds when they are doing chores is song, but give it a try. Make up the words as you go along – you can use it as a vocabulary teaching tool if you really want to multitask. “Here we wash the fork, the fork, like the Duke of York, we wash our fork. Here we wash a spoon, a spoon, like the man in the moon, we wash our spoon.” Don’t be afraid to get silly – those moments make the best memories.
It can be so easy to forget when focused on a task at hand, but remember that toddlers want to be involved in what you are doing. They want to learn, dig in, and participate. Let them! A garden is a great way to let toddlers get involved. Yes, they will get dirty, messy, even a little filthy, but treasured memories don’t begin with spotless hands and a spotless house – they begin with quality time spent together.
Inside the house, a Learning Tower, Kitchen Helper, or similar device can let your toddler safely reach countertops to offer supervised help with meal preparation. Turn the little tasks into teaching tools or games. Count the carrots as you cut them. Talk about their flavor and color. Encourage a little taste-testing. Let them participate in clean-up time, too. Don’t hand off the good china to little hands, but let him run a towel over a plastic cup a few times to “help.”
It doesn’t need to be perfect – there’s a lot of happiness to be found when you let go of perfection. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that a task isn’t going to get done to a certain standard, and that’s okay. The connections you build will make the investment of time and energy worth it.
Readers, how do you connect with your children when you have limited time? Do you find that making these connections is easier with infants, younger children, or older kids?