How to Steal Time for Yourself While Staying Present for Your Kids

Strengthen Your Sense of Self While Still Being Present

exhausted mom laying on couch while child plays behind her

No matter how much we love spending time with our kids, we all have those moments when the thought of building another fort makes us want to rip our hair out. Some of my hardest moments were when my girls wanted to listen to children’s music nonstop. Having been a singer-songwriter in the “before times” of pre-parenthood, I wanted to slip in as much of my musical choices into my days as possible. But most of the time, my toddlers insisted we listen to such crisis-inducing classics as “Wheels on the Bus” or “My Little Teapot.” 

Now, don’t get me wrong: There’s some really great children’s music out there. Raffi, for one, has a soothing voice and I genuinely enjoy watching his concert footage. And I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that singing (and signing) along to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s “Skinnamarink” is a joyful experience.

But let’s get real, here. The average children’s song is torturous. So, what was I to do with my music-listening dilemma? Honour my children’s musical choices? Or preserve my sanity by sticking to my musical tastes? Then, it hit me—my eureka moment! I have to engage with this music in a different way. This can be a win-win situation! I decided to teach myself to sing harmony. The simplicity of the songs was perfect, and before I knew it, I was creating multiple harmony lines on the spot. The music I once hated was now not only bearable but palatable!

This experience inspired me to find ways to strengthen my sense of self while still being there for my children. So, before the relentless pressures of parenting send you into another tailspin, take a chance on my tried-and-true tips on how to steal time for yourself while staying present for your kids.  

5. Modify games you already play. 

My version of “Hide and Go Seek” involves me laying on the couch while calling out variations of the following questions: “Are you under the table? In the closet? Inside the fridge?”

The more questions I ask, the longer I get to laze about on the sofa. Another mom once witnessed how my family plays this game. She marvelled at how good it was for building vocabulary. I pretended that this had been my plan all along, and so can you!

4. Doodle Dinners

This idea is adapted from the brilliant author/illustrator Mo Willems of “Lunch Doodles” and “Elephant & Piggie” fame. My kids, who are now 6 and 9, love our doodle dinners where we can dine and draw at our own pace. I sometimes use this time to brainstorm ideas for a project I’m working on, but when my kids want me to collaborate on their doodles, I gladly do so. Instead of fighting over vegetables, we get to enjoy an artsy dinner together.

3. Exercise while you’re at the park. 

Tired of going to the park? Do some squats in between your swing-pushing duties. Jog in place or do jumping jacks while your child is running across the playground.  (I hate to admit this, but this tip is more of a theoretical one for me as I rarely put it into practice.) 

2. Get your coffee from a drive-through and turn your car into the café of your (temporary) dreams.

If you have an automobile, this is a wonderful way to get your java on without waking your little ones. The first time I got a drive-through coffee, I was over the moon simply because I didn’t have to remove a bucket seat from my vehicle. If my kids woke up before I finished my high-octane fuel, I’d chug it and give my girls what they needed—which was usually to get out of the car. 

1. Movie screenings tailored for babies and their caregivers

The act of entering a movie theatre always makes me feel happy. These screenings are set up so noise is expected from the audience; being present for your child is a no-brainer. You can feed them, take them for a stroll, and even change their diapers. Sure, this is not the ideal way to watch a movie, but it sure is a nice option. 

There is so much pressure on our generation to do all of the things to be an excellent mother. We’re burnt out. So just do what you can, when you can, for the sake of self-preservation. Find your moments of happiness or steal them if necessary. If you ever feel that you’ve stolen too much time, sit your child down, look them in the eyes, and give them your undivided attention. Remind them that they are the most important person in your world. Because they are. Just don’t forget that you’re important too.


Nancy Dutra loves reading, writing, and occasionally singing about the human condition. She is a contributing author to SOCAN Words and Music magazine and is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked as a performing singer-songwriter and released an album, Time Will Tell, that charted on the Euro-Americana Roots Music List and received favourable reviews from CBC, Exclaim, NOW, and No Depression music magazine. 

She is currently hard at work on her forthcoming website and her memoir, Compartments: My Chaotic Quest for Connection.