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Who empathises with this sequence of events?  – Finished work after a long day and looking forward to spending time with your 7 year old kid, then you remember the rush-hour traffic, the big wash you still have to put on, tonight’s weekly shop, the broken window, and the evening cooking. Then you’ve got to get on with your follow up emails and calls for work…

 Later on you’re too tired and stressed from work to think up any new games to play, so your kid plonks himself in front of the TV or (preferably) heads off to get on with his homework, or goes off to hassle the other parent.

 It’s ok, I’ve got tomorrow you think, then you remember he’s got swimming club and won’t be around.

I’m sure I’m not unlike other working parents here. This is why I’ve set myself the following guidelines as a general template – missing important time with my kid is no longer an option, and it shouldn’t be for you either.

Get Out of the House – Despite the Weather

Asides from the obvious health benefits of walking and general exercise, getting outside – (even if only for 30 minutes)  means you’re physically removed from any work environment and can’t be distracted. Leave your emails at home and concentrate on the moment.

Chances are also that you (and perhaps your child) have been inside most of the day, so don’t let rain discourage you from exploring your surrounding areas, getting in the car and driving to the nearest park, or simply playing footy in your back garden.

I’ve found that owning a dog is also a great excuse to get the kids outdoors. They might grumble, but chances are they’ll enjoy it. It taps into that innate sense of family activity and cohesion.

Cook with the kids, not for the kids

kids and dad

Image via Kirsten Jennings under Creative Commons License 2.0

If like me you sometimes regret being in the kitchen when you know there’s laughter and activity going on elsewhere in the house, why not get the kids involved as much as you can. Surround this fairly usual and routine task with a bit of childish energy and, hey presto, you’ve got bonding and dinner prep in one.

Cooking with my kids also means I’ve been way more experimental than I would have otherwise been in the kitchen – together, we’ve discovered some of the best loved family recipes.

I also think being in the kitchen is a massively useful thing for the kids to get used to; it gets them away from technology and back to being conversational.

Hopefully they’ll also understand more about where their meals come from, the importance of quality ingredients, and the effort their parents put in on a daily basis on their behalf (insert smiley face here).

Make it enjoyable now so that ten years down the line your child (a student) can get by with more than a cold can of baked beans!

Invite the Little Friends to Tea

Yes, it is one more child to deal with after a potentially stressful day at the office and it leaves you with less 1 on 1 time. But I think inviting a school friend or 2 over is a great opportunity for your kids to focus on play to the exclusion of everything else, important if they only have a couple of hours between school and bedtime.

Watching kids play together is also great fun – is your kid an actor, a joker, a rough-and-tumbler or a builder? In general, I’m just massively keen on getting kids used to the idea of entertaining themselves with their own minds, not just through technology.

Bedtime is the Best Bit

I set certain days to try and get my kids to bed a bit earlier than usual to allow time for bedtime activities. Reading a book is the obvious choice, but if you want to engage the child on a more personal level, you could try creating a story between you based on the events of the past day? (Think tyrannical boss = evil king).

It’s a form of creativity that relies on teamwork and allows your kids to express thoughts they might otherwise find difficult to communicate.

These are my general guidelines but I’m sure there are plenty of others out there. I’m also more than aware that different people have very different family experiences and daily life patterns, whether that’s grappling with the family’s finances, understanding what your divorce solicitors are trying to tell you or just general constant stress.

 It isn’t always easy plain sailing but I do think that setting some family ground rules in your head can work extremely well for keeping the important things in mind.

Who else tries to follow a mental daily or weekly template?