I have a two-part theory. One: The mom is tired and phoning it in. I definitely find myself transitioning to "me time" earlier than I should. "Quit bugging me! I'm checking Facebook! Geez!" I no longer really see my kids; instead, I see needy, whiny, laundry-creating beings I can't wait to get rid of. Two: The kids are also tired, which manifests itself in increased neediness and (inexplicably) energy. That's a pretty bad combination, a combination easily leading to yelling, crying, and flying toys.
So what to do? First, make yourself stay clocked in as "Mom," and second, engage the kids in a simple, non-messy activity in which you can all participate. Keep it realistic...the activity could last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Ending the day on a positive note together as a family is better than getting dishes done early or catching up on e-mail. Seriously. To focus and see your kids as the funny, smart, amazing people they are will refresh you more than any book or phone call. Of course, some days you might need a caffeinated beverage to get you there.
Here are a few ideas to get you started...
1. Dance Party
When I got engaged, I sometimes wondered/worried if I'd still allow myself to dance around the house to music. My dancing is embarrassing but liberating. So, it's been a fantastic discovery that my kids also love dancing around and are only rarely critical of my sick moves. An equally happy discovery is that it is nearly impossible to be frustrated at my five-year-old when he's doing The Robot.
Variations my friends have done:
- Every day at 5pm, the family (older kids and teenagers) stops whatever they're doing and does "bad dancing" to one song.
- Shut the blinds, turn off the lights, and grab the glowsticks...it's a Family Rave! Just building necklaces, headbands, and bracelets provides some fun.
We traditionally read bedtime stories just before lights out, but I'm often grumpy about reading longer books, seeing them as the last hurdle to going "off duty." "Reading Parties" help me enjoy reading aloud again by shaking up the routine. I let the kids choose several books (rather than just one each), and we read them on my bed, on which they aren't normally allowed.
3. Coloring Party
Notice how everything is a "party" so far? That simple word fools you and your kids into thinking you are doing something extra special and extra exciting. And surprise...you kind of are!
I'm sure we all let our kids color and draw throughout the week, but how often do you sit down and participate too? I love to color. There is something so relaxing about choosing colors and staying in those lines. The added bonus here is visiting amidst the Crayolas. Sometimes dinnertime is too chaotic and stressful to engage in conversation. And kids do say the darndest things, things funny enough to undo previous naughtiness.
4. Play a Game
A main component of the "get sanely to Bedtime" activity is that it NOT create a giant mess for you to deal with...that tends to cancel out the whole "re-connect with your children" portion of the event. So, stick with games that don't have a lot of pieces or assembly, or maybe require no equipment at all. Lately, we've been enjoying card games like "Go Fish" and "Crazy 8's." My kids are also nuts about "The Animal Game" (people guess what animal you are acting out) and "Simon Says." You can also make up your own versions of classic games. A long road trip inspired "I'm Thinking of Someone in My Family," which is played like "20 Questions."
5. Photo Shoot
Kids like having their picture taken, whether still or video. Technology lets them immediately enjoy seeing themselves. Let this ego work in your favor. You can use your phone or your camera, of course. But it's also fun to do something a little different. We have an Apple desktop, so we'll crowd around the computer and use "Photo Booth." I also got a free app (thanks to a Crate and Barrel catalog) called "Pocketbooth," which creates a classic 4-photo strip. Your kids will probably ham it up all on their own, but it's also entertaining to shout out commands like "funny faces" and "angry faces." Older kids could create a more complex production for you to watch and video (pssst..that means they will occupy themselves for a bit!). The big bonus here is that you're documenting your kids. The more kids I have the less often I'm bringing out the camera, as my hands and "to do" lists are too full most of the time.
Enjoy your kids! Enjoy your sanity! And feel free to share your own ideas...we're all in this together.