Prior to my son’s birth I was on the receiving end of a lot of advice.
My mother told me how to swaddle a baby and my grandmother explained the importance of newborn mittens. Aunts and cousins shared tips about bedtime and bath time and tummy time and other mom’s, carting their already-born little ones at Babies-R-Us, told me which kinds of breast pads and bottle brushes were the best. Sometimes, strangers on the street even offered unsolicited advice about more personal aspects of parenting such as overcoming the challenges of breastfeeding and post-delivery care.
I thought I’d heard input about just about everything baby related until, almost nine weeks after my son was born, I headed back to work and realized that no one had told me how to make this “working parent” thing work .
In those early days I felt so overwhelmed by the chores and chaos of combining parenthood and work life. It’s taken many, many months to create a routine and a semblance of balance that feels right for my family and, though I often still find myself wishing for just a few more hours in the day, by utilizing the tips below, tips from co-workers and friends and, yes, strangers on the street, I’ve become much more effective at ensuring the time that I do have at home with my son, is as high quality as possible.
Here’s 7 ways we make weeknights work at our house:
When I cook dinner, I make enough for multiple nights
Eating dinner as a family is important to us.
Unfortunately, cooking a high quality meal from start to finish often takes close to an hour, an hour that just doesn’t exist for many parents. To become more efficient in the kitchen, we plan and prepare meals that can be served more than once. Soups, casseroles and pasta meals lend themselves particularly well to freezing or re-purposing.
More home-cooked meals, less work overall for me and my husband. Win-win.
I find outings close to home
I find that as parents, we often fall in to the trap of thinking that the time we spend with our kids is most valuable when they are doing something “special.”
But instead of fighting traffic to get to the best park in town or to the music class three zip codes over, spend time getting to know your neighborhood and stick close to home on weeknights. Libraries, playgrounds, walking trails and restaurants near home can function as weeknight traditions that allow you to spend more time interacting with your little one and less time stuck in the car.
Put chores in their proper place
Most parents will attest to the fact that their home was a little bit neater before their baby arrived.
Not only do babies, and all their equipment, often create messes, they also demand the time parents likely used to spend cleaning.
Trying to clean with a baby on your hip or a toddler tugging at your skirt is frustrating and unpleasant, instead of trying to clean when the kids are awake, so my husband and I committed to spending 30 minutes each evening doing chores as soon as the kids go to bed.
Though half an hour probably won’t leave your house sparkling, it will keep it in good working order until you have a bit more time on the weekends.
Do your to do list—with baby
Even after adjusting expectations and cutting out as many chores as possible, there are some things that parents simply have to get done.
As frustrating as last minute errands or unexpected messes can be, I try to adjust my mindset and view them as opportunities to spend time with or teach something to my little one.
A last minute trip to the grocery store can become a lesson in colors, numbers, fruits and vegetables and cleaning up the spilled Cheerios can become a tasty sensory play lesson session. (Hey, a mom can dream.)
Make bedtime extra special
Bedtime can be frustrating to me as a working mother. Not only do I want my baby to get enough rest, but most of us the time after their little one’s go to sleep to finish work, clean up or prep meals for the next day.
In our family, we’ve worked hard to eliminate bedtime frustrations by creating a routine that is not only effective for helping our son sleep, but that is an enjoyable capstone on a busy day that everyone can look forward to.
Keep it simple, a bath a story a song and a snuggle, and in time both mama and child will appreciate the special, sleepy bonding time.
When you're present, be present
Sometimes working parents like me need to use their devices in the evenings, but most of the time I try to put it away to be truly present with my son.
This has been such a good experience for our family that I definitely encourage other friends to put their phones away from when they get home after work until baby goes to bed.
Time between parent and child is precious, removing screens lets everyone get as much as they can from that special time.
Keep a running list of quick, quality activities
Weeknights are not the time for elaborate sensory play or for activities that take longer to set up than the child will play with them.
I try to make the most of the 20 minutes it takes for dinner to bake or the 15 I have before bedtime by keeping a list of quick, quality activities and by keeping the supplies accessible.
A few much-loved shorter activities in our home include playing with the water table, taking a walk around the block, painting with watercolors or Skyping with grandma and grandpa.
Plus I love seeing my little guy light up with all these (easy) activities.
It makes all the hard work—all worth it.
Julia Pelly has a masters degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. She is currently writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood and sisterhood. Julia lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and son.