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5 Sneaky Ways I Fit in Quality Time With My Kids

The other day, someone commented on my Facebook profile about how lucky I am to have so much free time to spend with my kids. I was genuinely confused. Free time? What free time? I don't care if you're a working mom, stay-at-home mom or part-time-work-from-home mom, free time just doesn't exist anymore.

If I have free time, it usually gets taken advantage of by my household duties and other responsibilities (including but not limited to: cleaning and cooking, making sure we're not living with spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling, emailing the dance studio about that extra charge on the credit card, sending the press release to the local paper about the preschool's fundraiser... and writing, oh yeah, my job these days).

You too? Thought so. In a mad dash to also spend time with my daughters while they're so young and only in school part-time, I've come to rely on 5 sneaky ways to spend time with my kids while also getting my responsibilities taken care of.

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1. Grocery shopping

Yes, it might take us longer to do it with two young kids in tow, but grocery shopping has proven to be a backbone of my girls' and my tight-knit relationship. We talk. We walk. We pick out our food. We exercise control and restraint (sometimes amidst minor tantrums and back-talk) if Mommy says, "No, we can't get that Fruit Loop Double Sugar Breakfast item today." Quality time is about relating and learning; why not at the grocery store?

I'm a big believer that quality time can be carved out in the most unlikely of situations, and every minute counts.

2. Folding laundry

Ever since my older daughter (now 5) was 2, we'd stand at the dryer together and fold laundry while playing a game I like to call "Who Does This Belong To?" (One of my tricks for cutting laundry time in half is folding the laundry into a basket as I unload the dryer, rather than loading it into a basket, taking it to another room and then folding it). My daughter still loves this game. I pull out a piece of clothing, ask "Who does this belong to?" and she yells "Papa! Mommy! Sissy! Me!" Believe it or not, it's a hoot-and-a-half. Clothes get folded while we play a game and giggle. Quality time is about laughing, and laundry does it for us.

3. Waiting at the car wash

I don't know about the car wash you might go to, but the one we often hit up takes about 25 to 30 minutes from start to finish. That's sitting duck quality time! For my girls, going to the car wash means the following: Playing with dolls (with me) on the bench and no phones or videos allowed (except to take silly pictures like the one you see in this post). Quality time means undivided attention, and there are few better places to give and get undivided attention than the car wash.

4. In the car

Raise your hand if you're in the car a lot. (Me!) Sometimes I'm by myself, many times I'm with kids. Think of the 5-minute drive to school, the 10-minute drive to dance class, the 3-hour drive to visit grandma and grandpa. Being in the car means one of three things in our family: You either listen to music (and sometimes sing), you talk (Mommy asks questions about school, friends, etc. and you answer and ask questions back), or you look out the window quietly and take in the world around you (while Mommy points out that mountain in the distance or talks on the speakerphone with her sister who lives far away). Quality time doesn't have to mean that everyone chatters nonstop. Quality time comes in quiet time together too, and the car is a great place to practice it. (No, we don't do videos or electronic devices in the car. Call me old-fashioned.)

5. Working in the kitchen

I'm often on some kind of writing deadline that requires me to work beyond the eight hours per week I have access to childcare. How do we make this work? We all do our thing in the kitchen. I explain to my girls that I have a bit of work to do and that I want them to draw me pictures so that I can have a beautiful prize from them for when I finish my work. They spread out paper all over the kitchen floor (pretty much right under me) and start drawing and drawing and drawing (my girls happen to be obsessed with drawing, so this is why this works at our house). We're all in the same room, close together, which allows me to say "I love what you're doing" and "That's a fun picture!" here and there. Quality time can also be about being productive together, and us "working" in our kitchen together ... works.

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All this said: Yes, we go to the park and play games on the floor in our entryway when time permits. But as we all know too well, extra time usually doesn't present itself so easily in conjunction with the spectrum of responsibilities most moms have these days. I'm a big believer that quality time can be carved out in the most unlikely of situations, and every minute counts. I'm finding that, more and more, kids just want to be with us, even if we're picking out bananas and tossing them into a cart.

Photograph by: Jill Simonian

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