Do your research
For me, this next step was a game-changer, significantly increasing the quality of my time with my daughter. In the past, I’d tried to think of games and activities on the spot, while sitting in the playroom or on the playground. I rarely came up with anything that held my kid’s attention – or mine – for more than a few minutes.
I’d also shrugged off mummy blogs with activity ideas because they looked too complicated. I had no artistic talent, few supplies (especially in my newly-purged home), and little patience for complicated crafts.
Now, I committed to setting aside some time each evening to plan ahead by searching the digital universe for inspiration. And, among all the impossibly complex Pinterest masterpieces, I began finding simple, age-appropriate activities for my toddler.
Because I focused on projects that involved minimal prep time and supplies – from sensory play with flour to pillow jumping to expanding soap in the microwave, this preparation took just a few minutes per day. But these minutes were an excellent investment – rather than approaching quiet days with dread, I found myself looking forward to sharing new activities with my little girl.
Practice, practice, practice
Of course, reading about how to play with toddlers is one thing, and implementing your ideas is another. Some of our projects were stellar successes, some turned out to be abysmal failures, and others fell somewhere in between.
There were days when my daughter rejected every suggestion I’d come up with. But far more often, at least one of the activities I’d suggested sparked her interest. We’d start playing and, before we knew it, we’d both be engrossed in discovery, creation, or overall silliness.
The more we played, the easier and more enjoyable it became. It didn’t take long for me to begin suggesting new variations on our activities. Soon after, I started creating completely new ideas from scratch. Even my two-year-old took to inventing new games and projects, as well as asking me to repeat her favorites from my rotation.
Track your progress
For years, I’d I gauged the success of each day by counting my accomplishments. Work completed, rooms cleaned, dishes cooked, playgrounds explored. This may have made sense for my earlier focus on filling each day to the brim. But, with my new approach, more wasn’t necessarily better.
So, I found new benchmarks – toddler giggles, works of art created, moments when time seemed to stand still. I asked myself, “Was I able to spend quality time with my daughter today? Did I truly have a chance to relax? Did I have fun? Did she?”
I won’t lie – taking this new perspective doesn’t come naturally. But by explicitly reminding myself to focus on these alternative yardsticks – to gauge joy rather than efficiency – I am getting there, step by step.
Today, I am still very much a work in progress. I still get caught up in the fear that I’m wasting time or not achieving enough. I still fight the compulsion to cram my days full of productive tasks. But, I am immeasurably more comfortable with a simpler lifestyle. I’ve learned to find joy in those “little things” that used to be a complete mystery. And my daughter and I have shared countless magical moments that I will treasure forever.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Next time you have a few minutes free, resist the temptation to check your phone or cross a task off your to-do list. Instead, consider these questions:
- How often do you get the chance to simply play with your child? To relax alone? To enjoy an unhurried afternoon – no schedules or time constraints?
- When you do have unstructured time with your child, what do you typically do? Do you honestly enjoy this time?
- In an ideal world, how would you change or improve downtime in your family? Would you increase it? Unplug from your devices? Do different types of activities? Spend more time together as a family? One-on-one with each child? On your own?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
If you feel that you’re not taking full advantage of unhurried, joyful family time, fear not. This is a skill that can be learned – and, with some practice, become almost second nature.
Start by setting realistic goals. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, think about quieter times of the day when you can set aside an hour or two to simply play. If you’re a working parent, you might want to start by eliminating some weekend or evening commitments to create periods of quiet family time at home.
Next, spend some time looking for activity ideas online. When you’re just starting out, keep it simple – you don’t want your motivation to take a hit from struggling with a complex project. You can also ask for ideas in any parenting groups you’re part of (on social media or in real life).
When it’s time to relax with your kids, suggest a few of the ideas you’ve come up with, and see what strikes their fancy. Don’t force activities on kids – it’s supposed to be unstructured play, after all! Follow their lead – perhaps you’ll want to switch up an activity to better fit your family’s interests.
Don’t give up – if the mere thought of a quiet afternoon with your child makes you nervous, or if your child rejects your ideas, just keep trying. Like with any skill, practice makes perfect.
And finally, don’t forget about yourself. Focus part of your downtime on activities for yourself. Think of hobbies you can work on while your kids play nearby (Hint: If your hobbies involve screens, it’s going to be hard to convince your child to play instead of interrupting you or requesting a screen of her own). Crafts, cooking, decorating or fixing up something at home, or even reading a book could all work.
Before you know it, you’ll be relaxing like a pro while your kids reap the many benefits of unstructured play. And, perhaps, the taste of those simple but essential joys will inspire you to keep simplifying, building a purposeful, balanced family life for you and those you love most.
Originally published on A Fine Parent.
Katerina Manoff lives in New York with her husband and daughter. She is a freelance writer, editor, and education consultant whose work has been featured on sites such as Mommy Nearest and Blunt Moms. You can also find her on Instagram sharing super-easy activities for parents of toddlers.