For me, winning as a working parent means finding the balance between paying the bills and enjoying time with my loved ones. It’s also having a relationship with my kids, my spouse, my extended family, my friends, my community and myself. That said, it often seems like the purpose of the game itself is to somehow find enough time and money to make all of that happen within one lifetime. For an average player like me, there’s simply no way to survive - let alone win - without using a few cheat codes now and then.
According to Wikipedia, cheat codes are "non-standard methods for creating an advantage." I think we could all use a bit of an advantage from time to time, no matter how we come by it. Some of my favorites can only be acquired with time and advanced age (of children), while others are available to anyone willing to withstand a few odd glances from strangers. These are my top five.
Let your kids dress and feed themselves.
My kids have been dressing themselves since they were two. The deal with my daughter has always been that she can wear whatever she wants if she puts it on herself; I get to pick the clothes if I have to get her dressed. Occasionally she’ll succumb to my deplorable style in order to avoid the oh-so overwhelming task of taking clothing out of the closet and putting them onto her body; most of the time she opts for the extra work so that she can express herself properly. The upside of this arrangement is that I save myself time in the mornings. The other side is that she thinks camo goes with everything.
Let the oldest child (who doesn’t want to go anywhere with you) babysit younger siblings.
My husband and I would never spend any time along together if we had to pay (or find) a babysitter. Fortunately, our 12 year old would rather do just about anything than go thrifting with us on Saturday mornings. We let him stay home and be in charge of his younger sister and we get a few hours of just being adults. This arrangement doesn’t work for late-night bar hopping, but neither of us handle hangovers as well as we used to anyway.
Take advantage of the school’s free breakfast (as well as clubs, sports and any other amenities your tax dollars can buy!)
Another huge time saver for us every morning is sending the kids off to school hungry. I have no idea why the school provides free lunch, but our children didn’t have to beg too much to get us to agree to let them partake. Extra time in the morning means more sleep and less stress for everyone. Plus we don’t have to buy cereal!
Along the same lines, I was thrilled when my daughter decided to join the lunchtime chess club (free extracurricular activities for the win!) and I am looking forward to spring soccer for my son. Sure, we’ll have to buy cleats, but we’re not paying membership dues to the local league or having to drive him to practices. Oh yeah - we take full advantage of the free bus transportation in our district (we tell the kids it’s better for the environment.)
Take "me time" during the week.
In order to save the precious night and weekend hours for family, couple and friend activities, I try and get my "me time" in on a weekday, ideally when the kids are in school. This means I don’t have to worry about childcare or hurting anyone’s feelings by leaving them behind. Depending on the week and workload, my midday personal time can come in the form of a lunchtime walk, an afternoon massage, or a late-morning spa session in my own bathroom. I’ve also been known to go to museums and movies alone in the middle of the day.
Let your house get messy.
Our kids are in charge of keeping their own rooms clean, and we set the bar at "not an invitation for insects or rodents." Our standards for the rest of the house are a little higher, but barely. I do not dust every day and we use our towels for a week, which is also how often I do laundry. The goal is to have everyone put things away immediately after using them, but I’m not running around picking up whatever gets "forgotten." The shoes by the couch can wait until my husband gets home to put them away, the robe on the stairs will remain there until my daughter gets home from school, and I’m finding creative ways to avoid going into my son’s room at all (including texting him from downstairs.)
It turns out that a neat and tidy home doesn’t earn near as many points as I once thought in the game of life as a working parent. In fact, sometimes the hours spent putting everyone else’s things away can actually prevent the parent player from achieving the most important task: spending quality time with the people who matter most. Everything else is mostly peripheral.
What are your favorite cheat codes?