Sometimes parenting is super hard. And sometimes being a single parent is super-duper-über-hard. And sometimes you’re so busy, you wonder when the last time was that you actually had fun and bonded with your kid. Then the guilt starts to pile up like that laundry you haven’t tackled all month.
Here are some really simple ways to have fun with your kids that will make you feel like mom or dad of the year:
- Put away your phone. Set a designated amount of time when you tell your kids, “The phone is going away for the next xx minutes.” Turn off all alerts and stick to your promise. This step applies to all that follow.
- Designated movie night. Somewhere along the way we were told that watching TV with our kids didn’t count as quality time. I beg to differ. As long as your phone is away, and your focus is actually on the movie or TV show, you are engaging with your children. You are sharing something with them that you get to discuss later. Common Sense Media has lists of age-appropriate movies and TV shows, along with some handy prompt questions for further discussion later on (see “Families can talk about…” section). So pop some popcorn, get small bags of candy– maybe even a soda– and make it a special night.
- Read aloud. Read to your kids in bed every night– even older ones. This is precious time when children’s bodies and brains are unwinding and unraveling. Allow for interruptions and discussion, as this can also be the time they want to process their feelings with you about school…or your divorce.
- Blast music. Almost anything that you do in the house can be done better with music. Whether cleaning, doing dishes or folding laundry, if you want to engage your children in the task, let them pick the music and get down and boogie it out.
- Let them cook dinner. I know it sounds insane, but (depending on their age) engaging your kids in cooking dinner one night a week will give them a sense of control, agency and responsibility they’ll really enjoy. Don’t expect any gourmet meals, and control your urge to dive in. Allow them to make a mess and do it all wrong. It’s about the fun of the process – and eventually they might even learn to do it well!
- Spa night. Every mama needs a spa day. Enroll your children in giving you a spa night at home! Let them paint your nails, curl your hair, soak your feet and do your makeup. As with the cooking above, they’ll make a mess and do it all “wrong” (don’t plan on going anywhere that night), but they will love the process — and you might just find it relaxing as well.
- Board games. Believe it or not, board games are a box of fun waiting to happen. Find one that’s appropriate for all ages, or allow your kids to rotate choosing. One week you’ll all play Candyland, and the following you’ll help the littles play Monopoly. Up the ante by creating a tournament night, complete with hand-made trophies and concession speeches.
- Make a reading fort. Gather sheets, blankets, pillows and chairs and make an elaborate fort, then gather together some books for each kiddo – and a grownup one for you. Tell them it’s a super-secret hideout just for reading and must be made perfectly and cozily. By the time the fort is made, the kids will be excited to get into it and might even comply with your request for quiet time.
- Slumber party. Set a designated night for a slumber party in a part of the house of the kids’ choosing. Set up sleeping bags and pillows,stuffed animals, snacks and flashlights. Heck, dress up and make it a costume party. Recycle the reading fort, or pitch a tent in the back yard. Once the kids are asleep, go ahead and sneak out into the comfort of your own bed. If you usually wake up before them they’ll never know – and if they do, they’ll forgive you, because you rock.
- Have an annual scrapbook party. Go through all your photos from the last year and have your kids choose their favorites. Print them from your local drugstore or photo shop’s website and have them assemble a photo memory book or a scrapbook. Make this an annual event, and watch the memories stack up.
Having fun with your kids doesn’t have to be mind-numbing or tedious. Even one night a week of dedicated, focused attention can make a huge difference in how your kids relate to you – and more importantly, how you feel about your own parenting.