Family Time When Both Parents Work
Everyone talks about how important family dinners are for kids and for the health of your family: I read about it on parenting blogs and forums, find articles in my favorite magazines, and hear about it in my pastor’s sermons. It’s true, too. Growing up, my family always made a point of having family dinners together and it was a wonderful time to review the day and bond with my parents and siblings. As a young child, a teen, and now an adult, I feel a strong bond with my parents and I’m sure it’s partly due to those family times we shared together around the table. The problem is, we can’t have regular family dinners in my house. First, it was because my husband was a youth pastor. If you know anything about youth pastors, you realize that in addition to being a lowpaying, 80+ hour a week job, most of their work happens in the evenings and on the weekends. Back then when my hubby was busy, we were able to have family meals about 34 times a week regularly. The other evenings were taken by youth group, Bible studies, and church board meetings. Soon, the church ran out of funds to pay my hardworking man and so he switched jobs to work retail for a wellknown cellular provider, where his hours are worse, believe it or not, than youth pastor hours. Even when he does the first shift, the earliest he can get home is 6:30, and that’s only once a month. Usually, it’s more like 7:309:30. So, for awhile, family dinners were few and far between. I hated it, but we did our best, having family meals on his early days, and the two days off he got a week. We also, occasionally, have a really late dinner as a family and Bunny gets the treat of staying up to wait for Daddy and then going to bed super late, usually following a movie, some hot cocoa, and a snuggle.
When I went back to work, everything changed. I work mornings—8amnoon—and childcare is expensive so Dave now takes the latest shift—working 118:30 most nights. The upside of this arrangement is that my kids only spend about 2 hours a day, 34 days a week in daycare. The downside is that my husband and I rarely see each other, and regular family dinners are absolutely unattainable. But the fact remains that family dinners are important—and honestly, they’re only important because of the family aspect, not necessarily the meal aspect. Every time I read it or I hear it, I feel so guilty because we aren’t doing them and we literally can’t do them. I keep thinking, “Maybe soon circumstances will change and we’ll be able to have our family dinners,” but in the meantime, life is passing by and our kids are growing up before our eyes. It’s so important to set these strong foundations early on in life so we really can’t wait until the unforeseen day when our schedules get better. So, I got to thinking and I figured, why can’t we do family breakfasts? Sure, it’s different, and yes it means everyone has to be up and at the breakfast table by 7am, but it accomplishes the same thing, doesn’t it? Everyone’s together around the table bonding as a family! My husband and I talked it over and even though he is not a morning person, we agreed it was the best idea.
So, here’s how it works: I get up at 5:00am, shower, get lunches, Bear’s diaper bag, and my pump ready, have some quiet time with coffee and a homemade, prefrozen breakfast sandwich, do some writing or reading, and then I set the table and pull everyone from bed at 7:00. They all eat their cereal while I hold the baby and nurse him if he’s hungry, and read a chapter from the Bible. Then we all pray together—Bunny gets to choose who she wants to pray for first and then Dave and I divide up the rest of the requests between the two of us. Then there’s time for chatting, and sandwich hugs (Dave and I sandwich the kids between us and Bunny gets to choose whether she’s the ham or cheese). Some mornings, there’s even time for me to do Bunny’s hair while she finishes her Cheerios. On days where Dave doesn’t work, I try to let them all sleep in (of course those are the days that Bear wakes up at 5am ready to play and giggle) because our family meal will be dinner that day. And it works. We’ve been doing this ever since I went back to work and I notice much better coherence as a family since. Sure, we aren’t together a lot, but those 30 minutes every day when we are really make a difference and it’s kind of nice to start the day off that way when everyone’s fresh.
I realize that there are lots of families where both parents work full time. I can’t imagine how difficult that is and I have so much respect for you, really. I have a hard enough time keeping on top of things only working in the mornings, so I can’t imagine the mental and emotional backbends that have to take place for that kind of thing to work. But even for families who do have such crazy schedules, there are additional things you do to make family time a priority with opposite schedules. Here are a list of other things we do:
1) Family Breakfasts (as described above)
2) Dave and I have decided that he will take Sunday’s off—even though it means paying for one more day in daycare. It’s been a long time since we had days off together and now that he has some seniority in his company and can choose to have a weekend day off, we’re committing to it. We go to church together in the morning, have a nice, long nap in the afternoon, and do family things or a family Bible study in the evening.
3) Garbage Day: Dave always works Saturdays, which is also the only day the dump is open so we all climb into the car with him—pajamas and all—and ride along while he disposes of the weekly garbage. If he has a late enough shift, or if we’re out early enough, we’ll stop by Dunkin’ Donuts and all get a treat.
4) We take drives together—any and every time it’s possible we spend a little time in the car. Sometimes it’s just to drive, other times we have errands in mind, but we’ve found that being closed up in that space means we can’t be occupied with laundry, dishes, or fixit projects, all of which are prone to taking up more time away from family time than was intended. While we drive, we talk, sing, or play car games.
5) Late Nights—we sacrifice bedtime once or twice a week so that Bunny and I can have time with Daddy. Even though I sometimes fall asleep before he gets home, Bunny doesn’t and it’s nice for her to be awake with both parents in the house together. On Monday nights (when it’s on) we watch “Dancing With the Stars” together and she and Dave and dance around the living room during most of the numbers while I watch and cheer them on. It means so much to Bunny to have those times.
6) Morning/evening/naptime snuggles: On Saturdays, Sundays, or weekdays where I don’t have to go to school, we’ll often invite Bunny into our bed before we get up (Bear’s usually already made his way there for his morning meal) and we snuggle and talk together. In the evenings, we’ll occasionally put a movie in and snuggle in bed together. This way of getting family time is particularly great when one or both parents is exhausted.
7) Story Time: Our family reads a chapter of the Bible every morning and follows it with prayer time. Bunny and I also read through chapter books (currently, we’re on the Laura Ingalls Wilder series) and though this is usually just something she and I do together at naptime, Daddy joins in on his days off.
I’m sure there are lots of other things we could do together, but these are the things we’ve discovered that help keep our family bond strong. Most importantly, the principle behind it all is that family comes first. If a social engagement or a todo list gets in the way of necessary family time, we’re learning over the years that it can wait or be cancelled.
What matters most is how we invest time in each other, not in our outside friendships, overtime, lesson planning, or household tasks. The latter are all important, but family time should never be sacrificed to accommodate them.
What are some ways you have to manipulate your schedules to make family time a priority? I’d love to find some new things to add into our routine!