I’m going to share some real truths. Motherhood is probably the hardest club I’ve ever joined, and being a “mother” is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life so far. Every day, I have to make choices that affect not only myself, but my children, and my husband as well.

How much time should I give to myself versus how much I spend on my kiddos? Should I work on two more chores today, or work on an activity with them? Should I take them outside for a physical activity, or should I do something academic or fun indoors? Finding the proper balance seems like a never-ending battle.

As a mother of a five-year-old daughter and three-year old-son, I try my best not to be that lazy, disinterested mom that sits her children on tablets all day just to avoid having to deal with them. Or one of those parents who allows school and a bunch of extra-curricular activities do all the work for me while I focus on myself ninety percent of the time.

I choose to be involved. I want to spend extra quality time in a variety of ways to engage with my children one-on-one, and to play a large part in their development socially, mentally, physically, and more. For example, I make sure to do at-home lessons with my daughter aside from what she learns in kindergarten. I have learned that giving my kids time is the best investment I can make as a stay-at-home mom.

Because lets face it, there will come a time where there will be no more books before bedtime. No more spoon-feedings of rice or forks of spaghetti. No more time spent teaching colors, numbers, and shapes, or making funny animal sounds. And no more picking out adorable clothes for them. They will be independent sooner than I know it, and I will miss these moments of them depending on me. Making the time to be actively involved in every part of their lives will bring me closer to them.  I would much rather that they count on me as a best friend than push me away someday.

So without further ado, I would like to share what I call “Out-of-the-Box” quality time, and why children need it with their parents or caretakers.

Enriching the First Five Years of Your Child’s Life

As parents, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the day-to-day concerns that we don’t realize how important the first few years of a child’s life are in terms of his or her social, physical, and mental development, like this article suggests. These first five years are when their brain is developing and absorbing the most from the world around them. Therefore, rather than letting them sit entranced on iPads or such, filling in the gaps between school and curricular activities with some parent-child bonding time is crucial.

As the Raising Children Network suggests, “Children’s relationships affect all areas and stages of their development,” and “are the most important experiences in your child’s environment because they teach him the most about the world around him.” They also say that while their relationships with their teachers, other family members, and babysitters are important, the most important relationship is the one they have with their parents, as it affects and shapes them the most throughout their lives. This goes to show that the one-on-one time you share with your child truly makes the world of difference in their development

When deciding what type of one-on-one activity to do with your child, do whatever you feel they need to improve on, as long as it is reasonable and works with his or her age-appropriate attention span. This customized learning and engagement is essentially the “Out-of-the-Box” quality time that I mentioned before. But, I’ll go into more detail to explain what it is and how I implement it with my own kids. 

What is “Out-of-the-Box” Quality Time (According to My Parental Theory)?

When I see what preschool and kindergarten are teaching my kids, or how much physical activity a sport is giving my daughter or son, I always try to think about how I can give them more to make sure that their education both in life and academics is well-rounded. For example, gymnastics may be great at teaching my daughter how to balance on a beam or do a back flip, but does it teach her how to properly kick or throw a ball? No. Does it teach her how to ride a tricycle? Obviously not. So, those are things that I devote a day or two out of the week to teach her, whether at the park, in our yard, or on the sidewalk in front of our house.

Moreover, kindergarten is teaching my daughter how to socialize better, how to share and work in groups, and how to do various worksheets as directed. But it is not necessarily teaching her how to do a little more advanced reading or math that I know she can accomplish if pushed. So, I try to challenge my kids further at home in various subjects.

Beyond typical school subjects, I also believe in hands-on learning. That means, once a month, they are allowed to come into the kitchen and make a huge mess on the island as they help me bake and decorate cookies, pancakes, or the like (without being close to the stove or oven, that is!).

These little fun activities help them gain real life skills, and they may even discover a passion or talent for things outside of education, like baking, cooking, or a field in the arts. Their hobbies can turn into talents in other areas, but sometimes they just need to be exposed to things they wouldn’t normally be introduced to in a generic school setting.

Life skills are just as important to learn as academic skills, as they play a role in your child’s independence, and will make them more capable of taking on the real world on their own one day. But what I personally love most of all is that these bonding moments turn into wonderful lifelong memories that parents and their children will treasure forever.

I also try to model and advocate a very balanced lifestyle for my kids. Spirituality is one of the most important things in my life, so I try to pass that on to my kids as another way to bring more value into their lives. For example, I try as much as I can to help my older daughter memorize easy duas and tiny surahs that she can recite when riding in the car, before and after meals, and before sleeping. We memorize a new surah or dua every month, and then keep reviewing it with all of the other ones she has already memorized. I want her to always remember that keeping herself protected is important, and that there is something higher in this world to aim for. This may give her more purpose and strength as she grows older.

The whole idea of pushing your kids “Out-of-the-Box” is simply to fill in the spaces between the fundamental areas of learning. This approach gives them the ability to learn activities that are not focused on as much in the educational institutions they attend. Having them attend Sunday school, camps, religious schools, or extra-curricular clubs and sports, in addition to their primary education, provides a more well-rounded and balanced educational and developmental system that will help them in their overall growth.

How to Manage “Out-of-the-Box” Quality Time

Let’s face it, everyone’s situation, lifestyle, work-style, and home life is different. Some parents may not have as much time as others. Some parents may work two jobs trying to make a living. Others may have businesses that demand a lot even if they are present at home. I totally respect those full-time working parents that really do not have the extra time to give their kids during the week.

But time is something that one must learn to prioritize and manage. So, perhaps hardcore full-time working parents can spend more time with their children on the weekends and use one or two hours of the day to do some type of educational activity that doesn’t necessarily have to be school-related at all. 

It could be taking them to the zoo and teaching them about different animals, for example. Or it could be teaching them how to organize their toys in a certain order, how to memorize a sequence of patterns, or how to make some fun music (they are already in your pot and pan cabinet anyways, so might as well make the most of it!). These are all ways of teaching them skills that will be useful to them when they grow older. Studies show that kids who are musically inclined tend to do better in many other areas and subjects, according to this news article by Science Daily.

You can also expand on what they are already learning from the places they are enrolled in, but in a different way or activity. Not all kids learn the same way, and educational systems don’t personalize the method of teaching according to the needs of each child. For example, your child could be more of an auditory or solitary learner when most of the teaching is done either verbally or visually, especially in younger grades. It’s important to understand how your child best grasps information, and to reinforce what he or she is learning in the method or learning style that best suits him or her at home.

Our Children, Our Future

We have a huge impact on whether our children grow up to become future leaders or followers. They can either think for themselves or let others influence the way they think. So, investing time in them is never wasted even if it is a small amount. It always makes a difference when we give them more of that “Out-of-the-Box time.

We may get lazy. We may think, “Well, I’ll just play this puzzle with them for five minutes, and then let them play on their own for the next two to three hours.” But I urge you to change the way you think. Give them that extra stretch of time. Try to motivate yourself more in this area and actually look forward to these moments.

Keep stimulating their mind with different activities that urge them to think critically, and do not let them become zombies. Because I assure you that’s what they are becoming when we let the electronic babysitters (i.e. TV’s, tablets, cell phones, etc.) do most of the work for us. I mean they literally become “followers” to strangers and lifestyles that are not only unrealistic, but can be harmful to their self-esteem, perception of life, and their expectations and aspirations.

Work Hard. Play Hard.

I will end with this: as much as we give our children time, we also need our own “me-time” to recharge. We should all follow the wise words of Wiz Khalifa, “Work hard, play hard.” Because otherwise, us parents will become dying batteries! For me, that means staying within my family budget and pampering myself once a month. Some women may do more than me, and some may do less. The reason why I stick to once a month is it keeps me sane without feeling or becoming too spoiled, haha! But that’s just what works for me and my sanity.

Of course, I could go out and do manicures biweekly or makeovers every week if I wanted to, but that also takes a huge chunk of time out of my week that I would rather spend cooking a good meal for my family, doing a hobby, or spending time with my children and/or husband.

Moreover, “me-time” doesn’t necessarily mean just getting pampered. Once a month, I may get a manicure, massage or a haircut, but on a biweekly basis, I am usually reading or writing something. I only read when the kids go to sleep, and perhaps a few pages to a chapter before bedtime to escape into something.

I also work on hobbies like arts, crafts, and sewing projects during my free time. It is important to do the things you love that also help you de-stress. It helps to break up routines that quickly start to feel daunting. Make sure to plan ahead for your “me-time” so that you don’t forget, and so that nothing gets in the way. It will keep you motivated knowing that your self-care time is just around the corner. I find that this is the perfect system for me. It prevents me from feeling too overwhelmed. I truly follow this motto to maintain a sane, happy, and balanced life.

To be able to truly enjoy our “me-time,” we need to stop feeling guilty or selfish for choosing to spend some time alone sans husband or kids. As Cheyenne Bell says in her article, “The more you fill up your personal fulfillment tank, the more you are able to pour into your children.” So, no, you’re not a terrible mom for making time for yourself. Quite the contrary, spending quality time with yourself regularly will actually make you an even better mom and wife, and will allow you to have better quality time with your husband and children.

Tough Love

Being a mom is tough. It has, at times, been labelled by many moms and those who can sympathize, as two or three full-time jobs because of how much labor, love, sweat and tears are involved. Stay-at-home parenting in general has been frequently discussed in universities and academic circles about the heaviness of the load and the intensity of it without any pay. For years, feminists have discussed ways to share the load with their husbands or significant others (if not single mothers), and now Democratic presidents are even supporting the idea that stay-at-home parents should be paid as well according to this New York Times article. But of course, that’s a whole other discussion. 

As hard as it is, there is no other job or role we love more. Raising children is such a precious and rewarding part of life that should never be taken for granted. So, to all of the parents, especially most of the mothers out there who work hard at home all day (or even before and after work), cheers to doing the best you can! We learn as we go, and remember to work hard, and play hard!

What do you think about “Out-of-the-Box quality time? Do you already implement this method or something similar? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Aisha Khalfay
Aisha Khalfay

Aisha Khalfay is a sassy and classy young mom who grew up in both the U.S. and Canada. She received a double major in Psychology and Political Science from McMaster University in Canada. She finds that her travels have positively refined her life and her perspective on the world. In 2014, her life was forever changed when she had her first child–a daughter! She has wanted to focus her career on children ever since. Currently, she is working on a mini children’s fantasy book series that instills faith-based morals and values on its young readers. In the future, she hopes to become a child psychologist and/or counselor. She also has a knack for transitional decor, adores modest fashion, making her kids laugh, and a strong cup of tea. Aisha happily lives in the active city of Denver, Colorado with her bookwormy five-year old daughter, sporty three-year old son, and doting husband.

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