The Time-Crunched Parent: How to Make the Most of Your Time With Your Kids

The time crunched parent playing with wooden blocks on the floor with two kids.

If you’re like most moms these days, you’re feeling the constant pressure of an ever-expanding to-do list, and what feels like an ever-shrinking amount of time to get it all done.

We all intuitively understand the importance of spending time with our kids—but how can we make sure that we’re truly spending quality time with them? That we’re not just occupying the same space while focused on entirely different things (sound familiar?), but rather actively engaging with our children, giving them our attention, and helping them grow into their full potential?

Here’s why you may be feeling the scheduling crunch, what you can do to carve out time for meaningful interaction with your kids, and why this is so important.

Work Obligations

The percentage of families with both parents working is growing. In just under half of households with kids, both parents are working full-time. For many working parents, it feels like there’s just not enough time. In fact, about four in ten full-time working mothers say they spend too little time with their kids.

But beyond this, parents also feel the effects of this time crunch in other important areas of their lives. 55% say they don’t have enough time to get together with friends or pursue their hobbies. 42% say they spend too little time with their partner.

Clearly something has to give. Spending time doing things we enjoy outside of work is essential to our well-being, and allows us to be good parents.

It is possible to find a balance between work life, home life, and having some time for yourself, but first you need to identify how you’re currently spending your time. Many of us spend a good portion of our day at work, but what about our schedules outside of work?

Organized Activities and Over-scheduling

If you’re like many families, you’re increasingly spending your “free” time on organized activities. Things like organized youth sports—which have grown 55% since 2010—are taking up much of our evening and weekend hours outside of work and school.

Even play has become scheduled, with many parents booking social engagements for their children weeks in advance. What once was a spur-of-the moment game outside with the other neighborhood kids is now more often a carefully orchestrated “play date.”

Of course, much of this overzealous organizing and planning for ourselves and our children comes from the feeling of never having enough time. If we’ve only got a little bit of time and a lot to get done, we think, shouldn’t we make sure that not a minute of our day goes to waste?

But what if, rather than solving our time-crunch problems by packing our schedules, we’re simply making them worse? What if we deliberately made room for unscheduled quality time instead?

Benefits of Spending Quality Time with Your Child

But what exactly is “quality” time? And why is it important to spend quality time with our kids?

Quality time is free of distractions and multi-tasking. It’s time that you spend where you’re fully present with your kids.

Spending quality time with your kids has long-lasting benefits for both kids and parents alike.

  • It helps develop your family’s bond

  • It builds kids’ confidence

  • It sets a good example for positive behavior

  • It improves learning skills and development

  • It helps to avoid tantrums by reducing bad behaviors aimed at getting your attention

How Much Time Should You Spend with Your Kids?

Everyone wants a healthy work-life balance and happy, well-adjusted kids, but you may be wondering if it’s achievable on a daily basis.

Hopefully you’ve thought of some areas where you might cut back on your scheduled activities, opening up more time for you and your kids to spend together. But even if your schedule still feels tight, most of us can find 15-30 minutes per day to commit to our kids and their wellbeing.

We don’t need to feel guilty if we don’t have long stretches of unbroken time. Even 15-30 minutes of regular focused time with our kids is enough to see the benefits listed above. The most critical thing is that your kids feel that they have your undivided attention.


How to Make the Most of Your Time with Your Kids

To that end, it’s important that your kids actually do have your undivided attention.

Turn off your phone:

“When you are with your child, set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Or better yet, put it away. This gesture says, ‘Right now, there is nothing more important than you!’ Setting aside time when you can unplug and not be interrupted is essential to quality time with your children. They will know you are with them 100 percent. And as a bonus, you are setting a great example by not being glued to your phone.” (from Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World, by Susan Groner)

If you have more than one, spend alone time with each child: Although it may be more difficult to designate one-on-one time if you have multiple children, it’s important for them to know that you see them as an individual, and that you are attentive to their individual needs.

Especially for children who often have to share your time with siblings, a little bit of individual time can go a long way towards making them feel secure in their place in the family. Individual attention can also help curb attention-seeking misbehavior that stems from feeling overlooked.

Acknowledge their interests:

If it’s possible (and reasonable), allow your child to choose the activity or guide the way you spend your time together. By centering on your child’s preferences, you’ll send the message that this time is about them.

Especially for younger children, giving them a sense of agency in limited ways like this can help curb acting out in situations where their preferences cannot be accommodated.

Activities for Quality Family Time

If you’re looking for new ideas for ways you can spend time together, here are a few to get you started.

Tell them a story about your childhood.

Kids love to hear stories about their parents as kids. They’re fascinated by the fact that you weren’t always a grown-up!

Have a dance party.

There are many kid-oriented playlists on Youtube or your music-streaming service of choice.

Teach them something new.

Is there something your child is curious about that you can teach them how to do?

Go on a walk.

Studies show spending time outside improves your overall health and can reduce symptoms of depression. One study compared concentration between children with ADHD who played outside versus those who played inside after school and on weekends. Kids who spent time in green, outdoor spaces reported fewer symptoms of ADHD.

Go on a scavenger hunt together.

Here is an easy one to try.

Draw a picture for your child’s grandparents.

You can deliver it in person, or let your child mail it to them it as part of the process. Either way, your parents will love getting it. Double win!

Decorate a room and ask for their ideas.

This could involve decorating your house for the holidays or giving their bedroom an update.

Plan a trip together.

Show them a map and photos of all the places you’ve been and point out places you could go together.

Play the “try not to laugh” game.

Who doesn’t like a good laugh to lighten things up a bit?

Spending fully engaged quality time with our kids is crucial to their well-being (and ours!), but it doesn’t have to feel like just another task. Take a look at your schedule to see if you’re over-booking, commit to a short period of one-on-one kid time each day, and use the tips here to make the most of your time with your kids!

About the author: Hayley Nivelle is the Co-Founder & CEO of ellie, the new app for parenting groups. Originally from Kansas City, she lives in the NYC area with her husband and two boys. She has relied on her moms groups for everything from breastfeeding supply tips to dealing with the fun and challenges of a two year old!