Sometimes at the end of the evening, when we finally pause the daily drudgery to take a breath, we realize (with a shattering wave of mom guilt, naturally) that we haven’t truly talked to our kids all day. Sure, we’ve spoken to them — things like, “Find your shoes!” and “Do your homework!” and “Brush your teeth!” — but not much else beyond the issuing of instructions. Even when we’re physically right next to them, there are so many distractions, and it’s so easy to get caught up in everything else. Then we realize that quality time has fallen by the wayside, and we feel like utter crap.
Fortunately, it’s also easy to reconnect, even if it’s been a rough day and you feel like an extra from The Walking Dead. Whether you’ve got 10 minutes or an hour, try one of these simple ideas to bond with your kids and give them an emotional “fill-up.”
1. Share some screen.
For some kids, technology is a love language, and they’d love to share it with you. Ask them to show you their favorite YouTube videos, then prepare to watch something ridiculous (and watch them light up, which pretty much makes even the most boring vid worthwhile).
2. Take a walk.
Steps on your Fitbit, fresh air in your lungs, and a chance to pry your kid’s face out of their various electronic devices: It’s a win-win situation.
3. Cook or bake something.
Whether you’re slathering peanut butter on a stalk of celery (don’t forget the raisins on top) or showing your culinary protégé the fine art of cake mix, kids love to get into the kitchen. Afterward you can show them another fine art: the art of cleaning up.
4. Draw a picture together.
Sit down with a piece of paper and draw a circle, then pass it to your kids and tell them to add something. Keep taking turns and adding details. Hope nobody turns it into something obscene. (But if they do, Instagram that shit.)
5. Read a book.
Everybody knows reading is beneficial for kids in lots of ways. And if it’s a chapter book that happens to also be a movie, you can turn it into another bonding experience by having a movie night once you’ve finished the book. Mmm, movie snacks.
6. Introduce them to something you loved as a kid.
Unearth your ancient Barbies or books or board games, or pop in a movie or cartoon you once thought was the coolest thing ever. Your kids will love it, or make fun of your terrible taste. Either way, togetherness occurs.
7. Go through their baby stuff together.
Kids love to hear about their favorite subject: themselves. Pull out those teeny-tiny onesies and preschool finger-paint handprints you’ve saved over the years, and talk about what kind of little one they were. Just don’t mention the damage they did to your vag; it kinda ruins the moment. (Don’t ask me how I know.)
8. Have a pillow fight.
It was fun when you were a kid and — if you try not to think about the potential wreckage of your house or your pillows — it’s still fun, especially when you see the looks on your kids’ faces. Just use cheap pillows, not the ones you splurged on at Pier One.
9. Start a two-person journal.
If you have an older kid, this one can be fun. Get a blank book (a notebook works, but a blank hardcover journal is more durable because you’ll probably wanna save it for posterity). Every day, or even just a couple of times weekly, write or doodle something and then pass it off for the other person. Ask a question for them to answer. It’s like a conversation on paper. You’d be surprised what your kids will say when they aren’t forced to look you in the eye while saying it.
10. Keep your hands busy.
Build with Legos, sculpt with clay, or assemble a puzzle together. The conversation will flow more easily when you’re both doing something, and you’ll have a finished product to 1) show off, 2) laugh at, or 3) have fun destroying.
11. Spend some time in bed.
Whether it’s at actual bedtime or you’re just hanging out in the comfiest spot in the house, there’s just something about lounging together on the bed that lends itself well to conversation. It also lends itself well to snuggling, which your kid may or may not be into, depending on age, but my almost-12-year-old, who wouldn’t be caught dead letting his mom hug him in front of his friends, will still sneak into my bed and cuddle with me for a few minutes.
12. Have a dance-off.
Even if this elicits an “OMG Mom” eyeroll at first, just wait. Put on some tunes, and break it down like you’re in da club, and pretty soon they won’t be able to resist joining in. Take advantage of the opportunity to show them just how fabulous you are at classics such as the Running Man and the Roger Rabbit. You used to be the life of the party, dammit!
13. Invent a secret handshake.
Remember that scene in the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap where they do that elaborate series of hand-slaps and hip-bumps, and how you always wished you and your bestie could have such a cool ritual? Well now you can — with your kid. This one may take a little more initial time investment, but once you both get it down, it can be a quick way to share something awesome, just between the two of you.
The best gift we can give our kids isn’t fancy or pricey or overly complicated: It’s us. It’s time. It’s simple reconnection, even if it only takes 10 minutes. Those minutes are worth more than anything else we could provide.
Besides, who are we to deprive them of a chance to learn the Running Man?