Working parents live and die by their routines. It keeps the family functioning and creates structure for the kids. When my routine is unexpectedly altered—when my son gets sick, I have to travel for work, or, heaven forbid, we take a family vacation—my stress reaches DEFCON 1 levels.
A consistent routine helps my family stay organized, but my routine has historically been accompanied by a few bad habits—seemingly insignificant behavior patterns that, over time, turn into big problems. After talking to a few fellow parents, I realized that many of us are ignoring a standard set of bad habits that can sap productivity, distract from savoring our time as a family, and, in some cases, affect our health.
It’s not realistic to quit all those bad habits cold turkey, but here are a few you should have given up yesterday.
1. Checking Email Before Bed
It’s tempting to scroll through unread emails as you’re brushing your teeth or when you’re crawling into bed, but doing so can seriously affect your precious sleep. The light emitted by your cell phone or laptop blocks the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and your brain is kicked back into action by reading about tomorrow’s to-dos, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. There’s nothing you can do about it until tomorrow anyhow, so there’s no sense in going down the rabbit hole. (Related: What I Learned When I Boycotted My Phone)
2. Cooking Separate Meals
Cooking one meal for you and your partner and another for the kids can seem logical: Kids need to eat earlier, and the adults may enjoy a quiet dinner with less food-flinging and more wine-drinking. But cooking chicken nuggets for the kids and chicken parmesan for the parents sets a dangerous precedent. First, it enables children to be picky eaters, which, in the long run, is a health problem for them and a pain in the butt for you. Cooking two dinners is also time-consuming, and, as a result, you’re more likely to rely on processed, pre-made food for one set of eaters (and it’s bad for both of you!).
So, make an effort to cook one meal that everyone will eat. You may not always eat it together—for example, the kids may eat leftovers from the meal you made last night while you fix another meal for this evening, or you and your partner may eat after the kids are tucked in bed—but a single meal with a single cooking time is better for the whole family.
3. Cleaning the Baseboards
Or dusting the light fixtures. Or sweeping leaves off the front porch. Or any other unnecessary cleaning. Working parents have limited time to enjoy each other and their children, so cleaning should focus on the essentials: your bodies, your children’s bodies, and the dishes. If you can afford it, outsource the cleaning (worth every penny), and if you can’t, make “deep cleaning” a monthly event that involves the whole family.
4. Hanging Out With People You Don’t Like
You know those friends you have, the ones whose names are typically part of a sentence like this: “You know, we really should invite [names of friends that you don’t really like] over for dinner soon?” Stop hanging out with them, now. Your time is limited—weekends, the blissful hour between your kids’ bedtime and your bedtime, and vacations should be spent with people you truly care about and who bring joy to your life. Ditch the downers, the complainers, and the folks who stress you out. Life is too short for painful social gatherings.
5. Mistaking Activities for Memories
When I was 10, my grandmother chartered two boats and took our entire family for a tour of the Alaskan shorelines. It was amazing—I have incredible pictures of my family standing on glaciers, watching whales, and hiking alongside salmon-choked streams. But what I remember most about the trip is running my sister’s bra up the mast to embarrass her and playing cards for hours and hours with my cousins.
My point is that kids just want to spend time with their parents and their families, and the activity is somewhat secondary. Of course once-in-a-lifetime vacations are unforgettable, but there’s no reason to plan hundreds of activities every weekend in an effort to fill your children’s lives with rich memories. Giving them your undivided attention is the most important element of memory-making.
Abandoning these five maladaptive behaviors will help you and your family feel less stressed and more connected. And who doesn’t want that? Don’t spend another minute on them!